What can we bring you? Is a standard question when friends and relatives visit. My answer was always mawe from the supermarket, and sure enough, when they explained what it was at Customs, the product was allowed to pass through and the craving was satisfied. Iron deficiency can lead to cravings for Odowa, that classic Kenyan rock that stopped being sold only at Mama Mboga’s stall - it has since made its way as a major product in all major supermarkets, complete with weight details and a Kenya Bureau of Standards certification sticker.
If we can sell rocks, we can sell plant products, from tea to mvinyo. Since the world became a global village, most major cities are filled with immigrants, whose food needs are totally different from the native community. As a result, investments in ethnic stores have flourished and continue to be some of the most lucrative businesses individuals in the diaspora can engage in.
There was a time when one’s next taste of sausage, Royco, Omena or njahi, would be when someone traveled, or if another somehow got it through Customs and past the beagle dog inspectors. Globalization and the internet continue to change that, at the click of a button an individual in Germany can order Omena from 'Mr. Fish' in Nairobi. Finding an African or Asian store in your city is no longer the miracle it once was, and they likely sell Royco, Ketepa tea, plantains and cassava leaves among others. So, when those cravings attack, the store online or physically could deliver the product to you.
As people embrace cultural and food diversity, restaurants like African Fusion in Dallas, Texas now sell matumbo and their clientele is more than just Diaspora Kenyans. There is definitely room for growth as the market is far from saturated.
The UN declared 2020 the International Year of Plant Health #IYPH2020. This presents an occasion to reflect on the business prospects that arise given the increasing number of individuals in the Diaspora each year.
Food culture does not change as fast as location does, and given that 80% of the human diet is plant based what can you do?
Maybe this is the year one could contact East Africa Seed Company for managu seeds and become a supplier. Maybe, start a restaurant selling African delicacies, in a gluten-free world cassava chapatis, mandazi and baked products are a thing for forward thinkers. Write a children’s book about plants, plant diseases or food in Kenya. Start a regulatory business to ease the stress of store owners wishing to engage in safe trade of disease-free plant products. It does not need to be complicated – it may also be as simple as planting sukuma wiki in your backyard, or a pot of dhania in the house next summer.
Thank you in advance for your consideration of participation in commemorating the International Year of Plant Health.
By Sally Mallowa-Nyawanda. Sally is a plant pathologist by training, an Assistant Professor of Biology, and a food security and education advocate.