Life and activities in Holeta town, found some 40 kms to the west of Addis Ababa, were ‘not as usual’ on the morning of Saturday the 28th of December 2015. Farmers and young students were streaming in to the town from all directions carrying various foodstuffs, crop varieties and traditional artifacts. They are coming from rural kebeles in Welmera woreda. Most of them were also in their traditional attires.
One may guess that it is a market day and these people are coming to the town to sell whatever they were carrying. But not. They were coming to the town for something special; Special for them and anyone familiar with their culture and social landscape. They were coming to celebrate their traditional foods and local seed varieties.
This was a celebration organized by MELCA-Ethiopia in collaboration with Welmera woreda and Holeta town administrations. It is entitled the 3rd Telecho area farmers and Schools “Women, Food and our Farmers’ Seed Varieties” celebration.
The play field of Holeta town stadium is surrounded by a number of white tents beginning from the afternoon of the previous day. The tents are awaiting for the farmers and students coming with various traditional foods, crop seed varieties and traditional artifacts, adorned in their traditional attires.Soon, all the tents were filled with the aroma of the various traditional foods. They were also decorated with varieties of fresh crops, seeds and traditional artifacts.
“These are our traditional foods. They are reflections of our identity as a community. The foods are made of our crop varieties domesticated by our ancestors a long time ago. They are like members of our community. They are familiar with the landscape. Our fathers and grandfathers lived on them and transferred to us along with all related knowledge. Now we are living on them and we want to transfer them to our children.
But now the ages are different. New seed varieties, farming methods and ways of living are emerging. And this trend is gradually eroding our culture, tradition and ways of living. This may lead to the loss of all the good cultural values, traditional knowledge and identity that we have lived with for generations. I think this is not something we should accept as normal.
So these kinds of celebrations will contribute a lot in making the youth and all other parties recognize our cultural values, traditional practices and norms and collaborate for their conservation.” Mr. Urgesa Hayu, elder in Holeta town
MELCA-Ethiopia has organized two similar events in the past two years: in 2013 in Telecho kebele and in 2014 at the same place in Holeta town. But this one is unique from the others because of the special attention given for women. Women were the center of the celebration. Their responsibilities and roles in conservation of biodiversity, local seed varieties and preparation of not only delicious but also nutritious traditional foods have been well recognized and promoted.
Ato Sheleme Emana, Vice head of Oromiya Culture and Tourism Bureau, has commended the special attention given for women’s role in conservation of culture and biodiversity in the opening speech he made on the event. He said “All communities have practices and values that reflect their cultures. And all classes of a community have their own role in the manifestation of their cultures and traditional practices. In our community, women have key roles to play in the conservation and promotion of our cultural and biological assets. They are the ones who conceived and developed the varieties of traditional foods that we have, they are the ones who collect and keep seeds, they play vital roles in the protection of environment and keeping the ecosystem healthy. So MELCA is doing an appreciable thing that we all should follow in making women the center of the event.”
In a similar manner, W/ro Mekdes Derese, Head of Oromiya National Regional State, Finfinne area special zone Culture and Tourism Office, stated, in the keynote speech she made on the occasion, that the vital role of women in the development of the country should be well recognized. She further elaborated that the government of Ethiopia has more amplified the role of women in its second GTP and what MELCA is doing to strengthen the participation of women in its development projects will contribute a lot to the achievement of the national development goals.
Dr. Million Belay, the director of MELCA-Ethiopia, also explained, in the speech he made about the event, that the traditional knowledge residing in women in relation to their environment and biodiversity in general and crop seeds and spices in particular is invaluable. This knowledge, however, is being gradually lost in line with the cultural erosion we are witnessing in various aspects. So it is high time that we should work on the conservation of this culture and traditional knowledge and ensure its transfer to the next generation.
One of the purposes of this event is to promote this knowledge and the role of women in conservation of bio-cultural diversity. It is also to make all concerned, including government organs and the community, be well aware of this fact and collaborate around the efforts being made to promote our traditional food and local seed varieties as well as the role of women in conservation of these vital assets. The event is also a learning forum for the youth to ensure transfer of the traditional knowledge to the next generation; Dr. Million said.
The event remained so colorful, alive and fascinating till mid day. Farmer communities and SEGNI club member students have performed dramas, traditional songs and dances as well as poems that recognize and promote the values of their bio-cultural assets.
Varieties of traditional foods, farmers’ seed varieties and traditional artifacts exhibited by the farmers and schools have been visited by invited guests, including government officials at zonal and woreda levels, representatives of NGOs in Ethiopia and abroad as well as communities in Holeta town and its surroundings.
The event was attended by more than 3000 people, including students of 34 schools in Welmera woreda, 9 farmer groups, one youth group and one elders group who were the main actors of the event.