Top chefs meet rice, sunflower, coffee and cocoa growers in Tanzania and Peru

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New photos bring to life recent trips by elite chefs Gaggan Anand, Andoni Luis Aduriz and Kyle and Katina Connaughton to meet smallholder farmers in rural Tanzania and Peru.

Gaggan Anand, chef at Gaggan, named as No 2 in Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, and Andoni Luis Aduriz, chef at Mugaritz in northern Spain, No 9 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, are just back from a visit to Tanzania’s Babati District, where they met rice and sunflower farmers and cooked a meal with local restaurateur Mama Zai.

Husband and wife Kyle and Katina Connaughton of SingleThread in Healdsburg, CA, USA, winners of the 2018 Miele One to Watch Award, have just returned from the San Martín region of Peru, where they met coffee and cocoa farmers.

The chefs are all ambassadors for the Chefs for Change movement, which was spearheaded by the chefs in association with the NGOs Farm Africa and TechnoServe and the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. The movement aims to highlight the urgent need to invest in sustainable agriculture, which is crucial to the achievement of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a universal call to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.

Rice has always been central to Gaggan Anand’s cuisine, so meeting with rice growers who have worked with Farm Africa to increase yields and reduce food waste was a clear highlight for the chef, who commented:

“Rice is life. It feeds the richest family in the world to the poorest trying to survive life. We worship rice as a grain in India and Asia. Here in Africa, it could be solution to the hunger problems of the modern world. The amazing thing that Farm Africa has done is to involve Andoni Luis Aduriz and me in Chefs for Change in Tanzania. We learnt how they are helping the farmers source the right seed, get the highest yield, minimise wastage and help them store so they can sell at the highest market price, make sure they don’t over farm and allow soil to take time to recover and trying to convince the farmer that good farming ethics can bring happiness and more profitability and more security to their families. We often ignore and don’t care for the products when we use them as end users. From where they come and how they are produced: an eye opening trip for me, I have learnt sooo much.” 

Gaggan and Andoni followed the full journey of rice from paddy fields to plate: helping out with threshing paddy in the fields, watching it being milled into rice, and finally working with Babati’s top-rated local chef, Zain Abu, also known as Mama Zai, to prepare a meal with two different rice dishes at her small bustling restaurant. 

Gaggan commented: “Mama Zai gave me the best meal in this trip. Her food was rustic, raw, cooked on charcoal. Everything was cooked in front of us and her speed – wow, she is no less than all of us as a chef her skills. I ate with hands and was humbled by her food. What I saw in this part of Africa is pride. What we call sustainability is what they practise in their daily life: the journey of a farmer to the process it takes to a plate is incredible, a heart-warming journey that will bring me back to this place in time to come.”

Andoni added: “Zain Abu is a chef who serves food in her restaurant to tens of people every day. She handles herself with such a great skill that makes one look small. Today the menu was Ugali, Ndizi, Mchincha, Maharage and Majani. I’ve been able to help a bit and it seems my contribution wasn’t bad as we haven’t received any complaints.”

Gaggan and Andoni also met with sunflower growers and followed the onward journey of the sunflower seeds into a local mill, where they were pressed into sunflower oil. While the chefs were at the mill, a steady stream of customers arrived with their own empty containers to buy the various grades of oil on sale. The chefs met with a local farmer called Timothy, who is working with Farm Africa to pilot the use of a new breed of drought-tolerant sunflower.  Andoni commented:

“Timothy leads the pilot plantation of sunflowers that substantially improve the quantity and quality of the harvest. Fats, sunflower oil in this case, believe it or not, is a central product in the diet of the Tanzanian population. To make these people self-sufficient in the production of this raw material is to advance food security.”

Later this month, fellow Chefs for Change ambassador Luke Dale Roberts, chef at The Test Kitchen in Cape Town, South Africa, named as Africa’s top restaurant, will travel to Kenya’s Kisumu District to meet fish farmers.

Kyle and Katina Connaughton journeyed into the Peruvian jungle to meet with small farmers who have undergone dramatic livelihood shifts. In areas once dominated by coca production (to make cocaine), TechnoServe has launched public-private partnerships that provide coffee and cocoa farmers with agronomic training, business skills, and market connections that allow them to earn greater incomes through sustainable agriculture.

On the coffee farm of Eli Linares, Kyle and Katina took a turn on his bicycle-powered coffee wet mill (which processes the coffee cherries to a high standard), and learned how Eli went from driving a bus to earning enough income from coffee to support his family, buy a chicken coop, and expand his coffee production.

“Coffee is our morning ritual or afternoon pick-me-up, but to these farmers, it's their livelihood, a pathway to live without fear, and to secure a future for their families both financially and ecologically,” said Katina Connaughton.

The husband-and-wife team then visited cocoa farms and small cocoa businesses like Mishky Cacao, started by a group of local women that wanted to build themselves and their families a path out of poverty that didn’t include the drug trade. After working with TechnoServe, Mishky Cacao became an award-winning, profitable business that led to more than just greater incomes. “We’ve seen a great change in our city and in our homes,” said the cooperative’s leader, Ayli Quinteros. “The men value and respect the women now because we are contributing to the household income, and the women have more opportunities to participate.”

Said Kyle and Katina: “The cocoa farmers and producers touched our hearts and opened our eyes to how incredibly impactful this crop can be These brave women and men are making great strides in creating safer and sustainable lives for themselves and their communities. We were overwhelmed with emotions to learn of how far they've come, and yet how they still live with an element of fear that all of their progress could be halted in a moment’s notice.”

As owners of a restaurant that sources most of its ingredients locally, the Connaughtons were intrigued to learn more about two of the few products they procure from abroad—coffee and cocoa—and the stories of the people who produce them.  

“As a farmer and chef, to be able to connect on a deeper level with our coffee and chocolate food systems was an undeniably powerful experience,” they said. “Meeting the hard-working individuals who tend to these crops has forever humbled our perspective.  With every sip of coffee and bite of chocolate, we are endlessly reminded of where it all begins and of the courageous individuals who shared their memorable stories of determination and perseverance with us.”

Libby Plumb