World Food Day (16th October) was commemorated in style in Mxumbu Village this year, with an ‘Ilima’ event celebrating traditional farming practices, seed diversity, and food sovereignty.  ‘Ilima’ traditionally involves many people from the community working together intensively for a day in the fields, to make good headway with preparing the soil and planting.

The event was organised by a collective, including: The African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB), the Mxumbu Youth Agricultural Co-op, members of the Imvotho Bubomi learning network, Zingisa, Ilizwi lamaFama, and Calabash Trust. It was attended by farmers, community members, activists, NGOs, researchers and school-children.

The day was a real celebration of food in all its diversity, with a particular focus on the history and politics of maize in South Africa. We were reminded of the levels of hunger in South Africa, the fact that South Africa is the only country in the world where our staple food is 90% GM now, and the many threats to food sovereignty and sustainable agriculture, posed by the industrial food system – and of the importance of keeping traditional farming practices, like ‘ilima’ and seed sharing alive. As one participant said ‘how can we be hungry when we have seed?’ The importance – and challenges – of access to land and water were also discussed.

There was a seed exchange, and we watched some of ACB’s animations about understanding GMOs in South Africa – they are available on Youtube in all 11 languages. We spent time turning the soil and planting seeds in the large fields just outside the village, where the Mxumbu Youth Agricultural Co-op is going to be growing crops.

Despite reflecting on the many challenges to food sovereignty, the mood on the day was optimistic, proud and hopeful. After returning from the fields, there was dancing and singing, buoyed along by our wonderful MC Mrs. Busisiwe Peter. Towards the end of the day the proceedings evolved into complete talent show, with people taking the mic and singing, making speeches and keeping the crowd entertained as we ate our delicious umngqusho, umphoqoko, amasi and many other IsiXhosa dishes. The day was both a literal ‘ilima’, and a figurative ‘ilima’, preparing fertile soils for future work and learning together.

By Taryn Pereira