July 7, 2018

Autonomous Vehicles and Agri-Food Value Chain


Robotaxis, shared autonomous vehicles (AV), will transform the future of international trade especially the agri-food value chain within a country and across borders. In few years, people will board robotaxis by scanning a Quick Response (QR) Code with a standardized app such as Alipay or WeChat pay, or a prepayment through the company website or app. Farmers, processors, and vendors can easily car pool and the delivery of processed and raw foods will be done by stakeholders coming together to work jointly to get to the farm, share delivery like my family friends’ organic coop, and import and export produce together at a reduced rate through profit sharing. This is especially important where freight is transported across borders via land. According to Fagnant and Kockelman, autonomous vehicles may lead to safer roads, reduce traffic congestion, and a maximum of $US4750 societal benefit per AV in a year. The associated costs are liability and privacy concerns.

Autonomous Vehicle
Autonomous vehicles, driverless vehicles, are becoming popular though with reservation from certain quarters on the issue of employment and the limits of automation. In order not to be a laggard, most automobile companies have started working on their AV. Though research and development is at intense level the first set of AV will probably be shared by consumers as ride hailing and ride pooling services – to recoup the cost of production until the innovation becomes cheap to procure. Examples are Waymo’s activities in Phoenix, Arizona, Uber’s in Phoenix and Pittsburgh – though temporarily stalled as result of a fatal accident, Voyage’s services in retirement homes in San Jose, California and Florida. Navya, a French company is already shuttling downtown, Las Vegas. Another French company, Easymile, is operating in 20 countries (Asia Pacific, Middle East, North America, and Europe) with it’s EZ 10 driverless shuttles.

The market has few players so it is oligopolistic and new players may be disinterested because of entry barriers associated with AV. The leader in the market is Waymo, which is active in both hardware and software development. Nvidia, Mobileye are other big players in the hardware sector while Aptiv is a top software developer. The degree of automation varies. Some, for example, Shenzhen Haylion Technologies, have tested only a few kilometers. Players in Sweden, such as Nobina and Ericson, are not completely autonomous because of regulation while Waymo is already using its mini-vans to transport people in Phoenix, Arizona to their daily activities.

Limits of automation
As we explore the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning in the mobility of people, we should take in to consideration that people drive for many reasons including their freedom, convenience, as a signaling device and to be respected by their friends and family. Furthermore, AV will create a disruption in the trucking business and enable little or no need for professional drivers. My interactions with several people including students (in business schools and development programs), professionals and, friends come with a little bit of reservation. Concerns include “what will people do?” “Why do we need AV?” “What are the ethical implications?” “You guys are just interested in creating unemployment and underemployment!” I don’t have answers to all these questions, but I am positive we need the disruption to enhance our quality of life and guarantee safety in mobility and specifically the agri-food value chain. Logistics will be enhanced, transaction costs reduced and corruption discouraged. Drones now deliver parcels in villages in China courtesy of JD.com even though Amazon started the idea but implementation has been delayed. Imagine what will happen if an AV can pick up coffee from Moshi (Tanzania) and transfer the product to Kilimanjaro airport for export to other parts of the world. Traceability will be better because data must be entered correctly before the AV commences the journey. Monitoring will be via satellite and global positioning system (GPS) – very easy nowadays.  Maybe there is an ethical dilemma but we need to advance and create a safety net for the people who will be affected. We should also try to prepare people who might lose their jobs on how they can retrain or acquire appropriate skills as their displacement becomes imminent.  As this sector develops, policy makers need to catch up with workable policies. For example, who should be liable when an accident is caused by an autonomous vehicle? The insurance policies required are an as yet unresolved issue.

Disruption: Niche market
The mobility market is ripe for disruption. Already there are challenges with traffic congestion and pollution in big cities – this is a global phenomenon. When I sweat and I wipe my face with my handkerchief, it’s brown in small cities and towns but black in big cities. To reduce the impact of our lifestyle on climate change, people are already carpooling and using public transit. Based on the recent trend, I think AV will take carpooling and sharing to a more ideal level in terms of ecological footprint. Locally in our alternative food market, friends order online from an organic coop and delivery is to one of the members for distribution or pickup at a selected place. People order for organic food and veggies for delivery on platforms such as my fresh city farms (veggies, organic salad and smoothies and other locally grown produce) and goodfood2u. Efficiency may be enhanced if these organizations have access to AV, they rely on volunteers to reduce cost and not all volunteers are altruistic. The resuscitation of the silk road, also known as the one belt one road (OBOR), coupled with AV will transform the way we order, move and consume agricultural products globally.

Trucking business with AV
Locally, ordering online is growing in the ethnocultural food and alternative agriculture market. The use of AV will strengthen these markets. Furthermore, the use of mobile abattoirs will make slaughtering more appropriate and consistent with the tenets of halal. With mobile abattoirs, animals don’t need to travel and face the associated stress and all activities will be done on the farm. Monitoring is easier. Autonomous (driverless) mobile abattoirs will create an environment where lovers of halal (or kosher) will access their authentic preferred meat. With cross border trade, trade facilitation will be enhanced. This is expected because trade facilitation concepts such as single window, one stop border posts, publication of information about customs, automation, and harmonization of processes and procedures which remove non-tariff barriers will be easy to implement with driverless trucks because all the necessary data are inputted and transmitted before the trucks leave the exporting country.

With the introduction of AV community plots owners can share MOIA to their community garden. Waymo can be involved with the delivery of fresh and locally produced fruits and vegetables and Uber and Starsky can scale up and improve their services across borders starting with US, Canada and Mexico.

To conclude, it is important to mention the impact of long distance driving on the health and social life of the drivers. I have interacted with people who asserted that driving a truck leads to health complications later in life often coupled with breakdown of relationships with friends and family members. If this turns out to be true, driverless trucks will enable drivers to spend more time on activities that will increase their life expectancy and strengthen their social interaction.

Bamidele Adekunle, ECVOntario, SEDRD, University of Guelph

Read More »

June 7, 2018

Digital Payment, Ethnocultural Food and Alternative Agriculture



Information technology has transformed the way we interact with ourselves and preferences. It’s so ubiquitous that stakeholders in the ethnocultural food markets are now catering to the needs of recent immigrants via online platforms such as My chopchop. Customers can order online and the product will be delivered at their doorsteps. Moreover, a few farmers and vendors at the Guelph’s Farmers market are also becoming digital. In the last few months, I have paid for my goat milk using square, a payment platform that is so easy that small businesses can accept payment via a magstripe reader inserted to the phone jack or a cordless peripheral for tapping.


Digital Alternative Agriculture

An environmental and health conscious individual can spend the weekend exploring his/her neighbourhood without compromising the sustainability of the landscape. The day can start with a coffee at Balzac's Coffee which promotes the production of organic, artisanal, and sustainable products. Then one can explore the farmers’ market, paying the local goat farmer using square which strengthens the local economy, reduces transaction costs and ecological footprint. But we still need to do more by learning from China and incorporating digital payments such as Alipay and WeChat pay to the alternative agriculture and ethnocultural food market. Chinese style digital payment requires the use of a smartphone, internet connectivity and a bank account – conditions that already exist in Canada. Even in countries where the internet is not perfect, mobile money is working well. Different variations of mobile payment, handled by telecommunication companies, have revolutionized African countries such as Kenya (Mpesa), Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and Ghana.

Balzac'c Coffee Roasters, Guelph.


Digital ecosystem is so pronounce in China that nearly all transactions are done using digital payment in cities like Hangzhou and Shenzhen. Mobile payment does not require a smartphone (mobile phone can also be used). For example Mpesa is used for nearly all transactions in Kenya. It has also made the unbankable to be included in the financial landscape and economically active. Both digital and mobile payments will enhance the ethnocultural market and strengthen the viability of alternative agriculture. Stakeholders can easily transact businesses in rural Ontario with or without the involvement of a regular bank. A typical example of how small businesses are benefiting from digital payment, is the case of my friend in Shanghai who sells cooked African food and receives payment by his customers scanning his Quick Response Code (QR Code) and payment is instantaneous. Digital payment became popular in China in 2015 and he has been using it for business since then. The big players in this sector are Alipay and WeChat pay. He uses digital platforms for all aspects of his business including ordering, delivery and logistics. Logistics companies have their apps for easy transaction and fraud protection. The implementation of these ideas in the ethno cultural market in Canada will strengthen the economy and create job opportunities along the value chain that are consistent with the 21st century.

Digital payment and electronic agriculture will reduce the power of middlemen and encourage young people to consider agricultural production and marketing as viable entrepreneurial activities. Furthermore, digital payment will serve as an incentive for the development of community shared agriculture (CSA). A CSA is an arrangement that allows community members and farmers to share the risk of agricultural production.


CSA explained

CSA is an alternative agriculture that enhances the collaboration of farmers and consumers. Consumers buy shares from the farmer and the farmer supplies a pre-selected basket of goods based on what is available during the season and produced by the farmer or a group of farmers. To have a better understanding, let’s use the illustration below:

A farming couple in southwestern Ontario bought a 95 acres for vegetables and livestock production in 2009 and the financing of the farm is through CSA with 200 members. This farm has three full time staff and volunteers. The arrangement gives the farmers a reliable stream of income and ability to plan what to grow. The shareholders (subscribers) are updated about the activities on the farm and can contribute their time on the farm in-lieu of specified financial contribution. During the harvest period the shareholders can harvest the produce themselves, pick up their basket of goods at the farm gate or collect at delivery centers in selected towns or cities such as Guelph, London or Cambridge. The couple in this case study has an income of approximately 50,000CAD/annum. Labour is a huge part of the production, because it’s organic, so there is a need for ecological loving consumers to volunteer their time – gardening is therapeutic.

Shareholders of this CSA pay $575 CAD for a 20 week share in the summer. And the basket delivered to consumers is a function of what is available. This farm has successfully grown culturally appropriate vegetables such as Asian greens, spinach and tomatoes and they keep exploring new crops based on shareholders’ preferences. They produce 1200 to 1800 pounds of tomatoes from the greenhouse - no outdoor production of tomatoes. Although, there are capital expenses such as procurement of a tractor and coupled implements, the CSA is bio-dynamic – the farm is its own ecosystem. The planting calendar and land preparation is nature preserving. The sheep on the farm are grass-fed which translates to healthy livestock, no deworming and more omega-3 in the meat produced. Overall, the young owners of the CSA want to continue growing foods and their shareholders are happy with their customer relationship management.


Learning from China

Alternative agriculture, including CSA will benefit from digital wallet (and or mobile pay) by learning from platforms developed by Tencent (WeChat pay) and Alibaba (Alipay). Alibaba has gone a step further with it’s Hema Stores. Shopping behavior is changing as technology platforms suitable for online ordering continue to promote convenience in our global village. In China, the trend is instantaneous shopping based on a social media interaction linked to direct ordering from the producer. Canada has recently stepped up to this reality. For example, a collaboration between Metrolinx and Loblaws will allow commuters to order their groceries online and pick their bag on their way home in any of the few stations where the service is available this spring. I hope we will have a wallet less ethnocultural market in the near future.


The beginning of the future

The future of sustainable agriculture is guaranteed when information technology is blended with agriculture production, preferably organic. Crowdfunding is now used to link middle class people who are interested in farming but don’t have the time and access to farm land. With crowdfunding, ThriveAgric and FarmCrowdy,  co-farmers can buy a maize or any other produce farm in a remote village in Nigeria in a structure that is beneficial to the co-farmers, the tech startup and the local farmers. And very soon crypto-labelling will reduce the asymmetries and opacity in the halal, kosher, organic and alternative agriculture markets.

In a nutshell, digital payment, crowdfunding and other forms of e-agriculture will enhance production via market gardening (growing crops for the alternative market) and marketing through farmers’ markets, farm gate sales, self-harvests by consumers, buying groups, home delivery, and community shared agriculture.

Bamidele Adekunle, ECVOntario, SEDRD, University of Guelph

Read More »

March 28, 2018

How Goats Define Food Sovereignty in East Africa And Beyond


Nani mbuzi?
Nani ng’ombe?”
“Nani kuku?”
Youll regularly hear a server yelling out in a local eatery in Kenya; a whacky way trying to identify who ordered goat meat, who ordered beef and who ordered chicken respectively.

Domesticated goats
Goats are ubiquitous all over East Africa in the urban and rural areas alike. In the urban areas they are considered a menace.  They roam about interfering in the human and vehicular traffic alike. They mingle with the humans in the market places scavenging for something to eat: a discarded cabbage; a fallen carrot stick, you get the idea. They are like their human counterparts- survivors. Their owners let them loose in the morning to go forage for themselves and later at sun set find their way home.  The demand for goat meat is so high that everyone tries to get a piece of the pie by raising goats whatever way possible to make extra cash.  The problem is some of the people trying to raise goats in the urban areas have no idea how to do it.  Firstly, they are violating town bylaws by raising animals in the town or city without proper shelters and provisions. Second, there isn’t enough pasture in the city for the goats to graze on and thirdly; nobody seems to care for them. They just roam around foraging for themselves. But, when the holidays are approaching, suddenly the owners want to sell them at a much higher price to anyone whos willing to pay.

My early encounter with goats was very early on when I was a child being raised by my grandparents; I remember when we go to the Boma - the fenced compound where we lived and where there were pens for the animals to spend the night - and there were lots of goats, sheep and cows coming back to the village every evening after a whole day out grazing. I remember when someone was pointing out to me to a huge cloud of dust from a distance and he would say that those were my grandfathers goats coming home.  I remember not seeing anything but a huge cloud of dust, but I also remember hearing the goatsbleating and their bleating, with the cows mooing became louder as they came closer to the Manyatta – the maasai boma. I hail from the Maasai community of Kenya. The Maasai are pastoralists. They still move around with their animals searching for pasture albeit with shrinking land now available for pasture and tightening government policies.  Besides, the lands that the Maasai occupy now are harsh arid and semi-arid lands that are not good for agriculture. I remember when I was young boy old enough to take the animals out to graze, I would head out with other older boys for a whole day and I remember enjoying the day out in the wild grazing the animals and learning things from the older boys on how to take care of the animals. Thats when you start noticing the difference in goats, sheep and cows. Not just on their sizes, but on how they graze and their behaviour towards each other and to humans.  The male ‘billy goats’ are bigger.  They stand out- with bigger horns and a tuff of beards under their chin. (Thats where the men’s goatee name comes from.) The other notable thing about billy goats is their unique musky odour and how they constantly get into head-butting fights with other goats. The baby goats are cutest things ever. They have these tiny faces, very friendly and they are always running around and jump on anything.


Goats grazing in an organic farm

Goats are very hardy animals and they are easy to raise if cared for well. They like grazing on shrubs as well as grass. I remember wondering how they were able to pick up the leaves from a thorny Acacia shrub and other shrubs while avoiding all the thorns. Because they feed on different herbs, shrubs and grass they dont seem to get sick easily like sheep and cows that just feed on grass. This also gives their meat a unique flavour and texture that people seem to like a lot. Goats raised in the urban areas dont have this unique flavour and thats why people living in the cities would rather drive few hours out of the city to the Manyattas out in the country in Maasai land to enjoy true authentic goat meat. Goat milk is also a delicacy. Even though the goats raised by the Maasai are mostly for meat, they produce milk, albeit in small amounts.

  
The goat meat – chevon: A delicacy!
Goats are very important to the Maasai and any other communities that raise animals. Every part of the goat is used and the meat can be prepared in so many ways that seems to leave the people wanting more. The hide is usually stretched out on a frame to air-dry it. Once dried, it can be sold to the tannery to be turned into beautiful items. Different parts of the goat can be prepared differently. The ribs and the thighs are usually roasted over fire slowly. This is popularly known as nyama-choma or roasted meat, which can be eaten with any other dish. Most people prefer to eat the nyama-choma with ugali or simathe popular corn meal. Others prefer it with sliced tomatoes, coriander onions and salt.  You can eat it whichever way you prefer and I can guarantee you that you will still enjoy it and you will be wanting more in a few days. The tripe once cleaned can be boiled then sautéed. The uncooked meat can be preserved by salting, made into strips and hanged to dry or can be smoked. Bones are boiled to make a stock also popularly known as Supu in Swahili. One can choose the drink Supu whichever way they like. Some prefer to add salt and some people prefer it just the way it is with nothing added. The Maasai usually boil some medicinal roots and bucks separately and mix the stock with the medicinal concoction and drink it that way. I remember how bitter it was and how my grandfather would encourage me to keep drinking until I was usually drenched in sweat.


Cooked chevon

Goats have been a great source of food security and sovereignty to many east African communities for millennia. They provide a source of protein, milk, hide and income. Their hardiness makes them even more suitable to the hot and dry climate and long droughts that east Africa sometimes go through. This ensures that families that usually depend on other activities like farming and rearing of other animals like cattle have something to rely on when all others fail.

For the Maasai and the east African communities living abroad the thought of the texture and flavours of goat meat at home brings about memories of good times with family and friends. So, every time we gather we get goat meat and prepare it like we do back home – roasting over fire- aka nyamachoma. The only problem is that the meat of goats raised on grains has a different texture and flavour than those raise on grass and herbs. But the sharing of the goat meat with few drinks and catching up with friends on the on goings in the home country overcomes the flavour and texture issues. The mention of goat meat to me means traditions, sharing and good times with family and friends. It brings about the smells of the Manyatta which I associate with my growing up and taking goats out to graze. I look back to my goat raising days with nostalgia.


Jeremiah Saringe, Guest Contributor, ECVOntario, SEDRD, University of Guelph
Read More »

March 4, 2018

Ethnocultural Food: A Nudge to Integration


The fundamental role of food is to provide us with the nutrition to keep us alive, however, it is so much more than that to me. It connects me to my heritage and roots. It defines my identity, keeps me associated with my ancestors, influences how I interact with my ethnic community and people from other cultures. It gives me a sense of ownership and pride. This brief review of my personal experience explains why.

As a son of two Somali parents, born and bred in Kenya, food was always a cornerstone in my family and community. In an ordinary day, we would have three main meals and one snack (usually, in the afternoons, between lunch and supper, to be specific). A typical breakfast consisted of three to five pieces of Canjeero (Laxoox) – a fermented pan bread that resembles, but is thinner, than a pancake. This is an all time Somali classic, served in different ways. It is sprinkled with some sugar and drizzled with a little sesame oil or melted ghee and then mashed with black tea; or with goat or camel stew; with tender liver; or with Muqmad (Oodkac) – a deep-fried tiny pieces of jerky-style camel meat cubes. Alternatively, Malawax, crepe-like sweeter, thinner, and oleaginous version, could be served in the place of Canjeero (Laxoox).

Anjeera (Canjeera) served with goat stew and a cup of black tea.


Lunch, commonly, would be a rice cooked with cubes of goat or camel meat, some vegetables, tons of spices and served with banana, fresh slices of lime as well as chili chutney, adding contrasting flavours. On some occasions, Italian pasta could be prepared and served with a spice enhanced camel (goat) stew. A combination of the two dishes (rice and pasta) form unique dish popularly known as Fatareeshin.

Sabaayad (Chapati) – a crispier, East-African version of naan-bread, Muufo -a corn flatbread, or Soor (Ugali as Kenyans would call it) -corn grits - all served with goat/camel stew and banana would also make a great lunch. (The Sabaayad and Muufo could also be served as breakfast). Cambuulo – a mix of corn or rice and azuki beans drizzled with sugar and sesame oil – the popular dish for supper.
Snacks such as Samosas and Mandazi along with sugar-sweetened, black tea spiced with herbs and /or milk is the most common Asaryo – the late afternoon snack session.

Chapati (Sabayaad) served with goat stew. 


On Festive events such as weddings and Eid celebration, Halwa – (Confection-like) and Buskut Somali (Cookies), both very sweet, are the main snacks of the day.
Interestingly, due to the pastoral nature of the Somali community, the dishes contain a lot of meat and fewer vegetables. Also, banana is the most consumed fruit and is usually a part of most meals.

 Food adventures and challenges

Towards the end of the summer of 2016, I waved goodbye to my family and took a fourteen-hour long flight to Canada, I was not only feeling mentally prepared for the stressful new challenges but was also confident enough that I would overcome them, settle in like a duck to water and as the plane touched down at Pearson International Airport, I was happy as a lark, looking forward to getting to my new residence, meeting with new friends, and immersing myself in a new culture.

I eventually reached Guelph, my final destination where I will spend the next four years and beyond if possible. The atmosphere was great, it’s still summer and I wasn’t worried about the harsh weather, as it would take another four months before the winter season starts. The people were warm, ever-smiling and helpful. It felt like I was in Disney, a fantasy world.

Nonetheless, that enthusiasm only lasted until I headed to one of the campus cafeterias with the hope of grabbing something to eat. The menu seemed to be completely different and confusing. I couldn’t find any of dishes I was familiar with. Pork, cooked in different styles and with different names was abundantly available, but because of my Islamic beliefs, trying it was off the table. Apart from few items, most of the other meat dishes were not Halal (meat prepared according to Islamic dietary law), or contained mushrooms (Barkin Waraabe, as we would call it in the Somali language), a fungus I regarded as wild, poisonous weed and that I never had the guts to eat them, at least for that day and the subsequent weeks.

The few Halal options were not tasting good either and I had a feeling that they were contaminated with pork. “Is this chicken Halal?” I would always ask and when the server responded in a polite manner “Yes please”, I had my follow up question, “Are you sure?” I was insecure, over-suspicious and fearful.

Food seemed to be pricey and I never understood why four pieces of chicken fingers would cost eight bucks when that same amount of money would feed a family of three people in Kenya, or why people consumed so much pork. I had a legitimate point on the latter though, as I recently learned that according to a survey conducted by Maple Leaf Foods Inc., when presented with the options of bacon and sex, 43% of Canadians say they’d opt for the bacon. It was a real nightmare.

I was however very fortunate to have had very supportive, fantastic new friends who were always ready to take me out and show me the local restaurants, making sure I had my meals every day. They help me integrate and without them, I believe I wouldn’t have made it this far. But despite all their efforts, it was an uphill for me to develop a taste for most of the food. I awkwardly hated almost everything on the menu.

As days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months, I slowly adjusted to the system and the frustrations vanished little by little. I started going out alone, appreciating and developing a taste for at least some of the food. I realized that because of the multicultural nature of this country, there were plenty of eatery options for everyone including me.

When all the anxiety were gone and was developing a sense of belonging, I began a mission to experience, learn and discover the lots of different foods across cultures while clutching mine. At first, I hesitated, as it sounded weird and crazy to me, but something inside me was telling me to go for it. So I sketched a new diet routine, ventured away from the meals I already knew, and to new ones. Some of the cuisines like the sushi and teriyaki were exotic and first-timers to my diet. They were however breathtaking.


Nevertheless, in the mid of my journey, I found out a hidden gem in the northern end of Guelph, an Ethiopian restaurant that serves Injera – a traditional Ethiopian-Eriterian dish that resembles the Somali Laxoox (fermented pancake). This dish reconnected me to my roots, it reminded me of the blessing hands of my mom, and from my first visit, I knew that it would be a special and sacred place to me.

How can I wind up this piece without mentioning my one week as a vegan? First, I have to confess that, before I moved to Canada, I honestly never knew that there were people who abstained from eating animal products. When one of my friends told me that they don't, I thought that they lost their minds, however, after browsing the topic through the internet, I found out what they meant. Believing that I will never know until I try, I went for it. It was the first time that I survived two consecutive days without meat in my diet. It was challenging but ultimately was a great experience.

In short, my journey with food is a real adventure. All the cuisines I have tried so far were apparently inspiring, each with unique flavours and special aromas, with many similarities at the same time, but none, other than Somali cuisine in GTA came with banana in the package, so I had to always take my banana with me because I have a serious love affair with it, similar to what Canadians have with bacon.


Cambuulo ( a mixture of corn and adzuki beans)


Luqman Osman, Undergraduate Research Assistant, ECVOntario, University of Guelph.
Read More »

December 22, 2017

The Culture Knot: Interpreting Somali and European Cuisine in Canada

Figure 1: A Canadian garden. Photo by Stuart Filson.

Introduction to food sovereignty
To answer why food is vital to culture may seem simple at first. As the energy of life, food justifies itself to be both indulged and elaborated upon. As people move and resources change, food persists as a constant source of consideration. In turn, cuisine is continually reimagined because food does not exist as a blank slate. Given how fundamental food is to the human experience, it should be no wonder that cuisine follows people as an enduring source of culture.
            It is the relation between cuisine and culture that drew me to explore Somali Canadian food sovereignty. While food sovereignty can encompass many ideas, a general definition holds that food sovereignty is the collective ability of peoples to access culturally discernible food, through socially just and sustainable means (Patel, 2009). Instead of viewing food in a superficial manner, food sovereignty is about empowering peoples’ cultural connections to cuisine (Ambalam, 2014).
Fortunately for Somali Canadian food sovereignty, the aspirations of these goals overlap with other efforts that may not initially seem related to food. By merit of food being fundamental to humanity, many activities link back to food sovereignty issues. The promotion of a socially aware and green economy bolsters the principles of food sovereignty (Ambalam, 2014).

Unravelling Somalia’s cuisine
While I am not Somali myself, I became attracted to Somali food sovereignty because of Somalia’s unique past. Through colonization, several European powers vied for control over Somalia; most notably the nations of Italy and the United Kingdom, but also France to a lesser extent (Zoppi, 2015). After Somalia eventually secured its independence, the regional instabilities from colonization continued to threaten Somalia’s nationhood through disputes over borders and separatist movements. In the time between independence and the 21st century, Somalia had ongoing conflict with Ethiopia, as the side-switching powers of the United States and Soviet Union used Somalia as a stage for proxy warfare (Aalen, 2014). Consequently, observers have cited Somalia as a failed state, but this term can be overly dismissive without further consideration (Elmi, 2014).
Although Somalia has endured much strife, its cuisine has gone through a great fusion (Abdullahi, 2001). Given the prominence of Somalia’s former occupiers, it is hard to ignore the European influence on Somalia’s cuisine. Whether it be Italy’s pastas, the UK’s comfort foods, or France’s pastries, the Somali people have come to reimagine many formerly European techniques (Abdullahi, 2001). Be it war or colonization though, the irony of these national confrontations is that in spite of conflict, the continued interaction between peoples promotes the exchange of culture, which can bring people closer together.

To the west of Somalia, there is the similarly diverse cuisine of Ethiopia. Despite the tensions between Somalia and Ethiopia, these nations share a lot of food between each other. In both countries, the spongy flatbread, known as injera, is incredibly popular. Injera is great for drawing up sauce and eating with other food. In my experience, while Ethiopian injera reminded me of a soft pita, the Somali injera was much more reminiscent of a crepe. Another difference I found between cuisines was that Ethiopian food is noticeably spicier.

Figure 2: East African inspired food, such as injera, in Guelph, Ontario. Photo by Stuart Filson.


Although culture can move around quite easily, not all aspects of cuisine are readily transferable. Given Somalia’s persistent conflict with neighbouring Ethiopia, known as the birthplace of coffee, as well as Somalia’s long colonization under Italy, I had suspected that Somalis would tend to drink coffee regularly (Daniel, 2016; Zoppi, 2015). However, although reliable statistics on beverage consumption in Somalia are difficult to find, it appears that Somalis drink notably more tea than coffee, but this could be changing with rising global coffee consumption (Hassan-Kadle & Musse, 2017). Nevertheless, however infused Somalia’s cuisine has become, it must be remembered that Somalis’ culture is ultimately defined by Somalis (Abdullahi, 2001).

Somalis beyond Somalia’s borders
While the previous section provides some summary of Somali cuisine for those living within the country’s borders, I was curious about the cuisine of Somalis living elsewhere. When I talked to Somalis whose family was from outside of modern day Somalia, they themselves identified as Somali. This was because they considered their homelands different from the formal boundaries of Somalia.
Coincidentally, in addition to Italy and the UK being notable to Somalia’s history, I happen to be British Italian myself. Unlike Somalia’s notion of nationhood, Italy and the UK are cosmopolitan formations of now subnational city-states and countries (MacDougall, 1999). As former empires, Italy and the UK each covered many regions and many peoples. Even for the citizens originally from far outside of these countries, many of these people still primarily identify with Italy and the UK as their nationalities (Innocenti, 2016).
In contrast to western conceptions of nationality, Somalia’s clan system underlies much of its national kinship (Zoppi, 2015). With or without Somalia, Somalis would endure because formalities do not define Somalis’ homelands, especially given the contentious nature of Somalia’s borders. For these reasons, many Somalis live outside of Somalia for generations yet still identify as Somali, first and foremost.

Canada’s national identity
2017 marked a milestone for Canada as the 150th anniversary of Confederation. In defining Canada’s national identity, this can lead to many conclusions: Canada is a cultural mosaic to an American melting pot; a former set of colonies to Franglish colonizers; and an inexplicit home to an underappreciated Indigenous diversity. When people discuss Canada, they describe Canada as being young. In contrast, when people describe Italy, they think of the Renaissance, the Roman Empire, and view Italy as being old, but in the past, people did not think of the competing Italian city-states as a singular entity (MacDougall, 1999). Despite the stark differences, people perceive Ancient Rome under Italy’s banner, yet not so for Canada’s long Indigenous past (Johnston, 1994). Whereas Italy has a collective sense of lineage, Canada’s lineage is fragmented. Similarly, people characterize Somalia as fragmented, yet not by national lineage, but by national conflicts over border disputes, clan lines and regional sovereignty (Zoppi, 2015). In comparison, the difficulty of Canada’s lineage is that it is anything but linear.
Although Canadians often compare ourselves to more populated countries, Canada’s population is larger than 80% of all other countries (United Nations, 2017). Geographically, Canada is well over double the combined size of the European Union, the now leaving UK, and the non-EU countries of Norway and Switzerland (Field Listing, 2017). Furthermore, Canada continues being a staple in sports, academia, arts, entertainment and business (Patel, 2016). The humility of the Canadian identity is that Canada could be the most grandiose country in the world, yet Canadians would still focus more on where we can improve rather than where we already excel.
While modest in person, Canadians’ thirst for national fulfilment has made self-promotion Canada’s battle cry on the world stage (Black, 2015; Cotter, 2017). Even in the Canadian flag, its designers did not choose the maple leaf’s 11 points out of symbolism, like the self-expressive American flag, but instead for excelling in being legible during wind tunnel tests (Matheson, 1980). Ever since, Canada’s flag very much succeeded in becoming among the most recognizable flags, despite having only existed since the 1960s (Cotter, 2017). Canada’s national identity is not obstructed from a lack of national recognition or being too young. Given Canada’s enigmatic past, its resulting identity invites individualistic discussion.

My Canadian identity
Although my family has lived in Canada for several generations, I still hold a sense of being an outsider in a country of outsiders. In reflecting upon the Canadian national identity, immigration is inescapable. Many newcomers are excited to be Canadian but do not yet feel that sense of belonging. For many immigrants, especially Somali Canadians, immigration has occurred in waves (Duff & Becker-Zayas, 2017). This was the case for my own ancestry.
I am half Italian, a quarter Swedish and a quarter from the UK (specifically, England, Scotland and Ireland). Although my Italian born grandparents almost exclusively spoke Italian in Toronto, neither myself nor my brothers learned much Italian. For my cultural connection to my Swedish side, my family’s relationship is further distant, yet we still occasionally eat Swedish cuisine. For my UK ancestry, dating back to the 19th century in Canada, my family has no culturally present connection in our activities, except from some external Canadian influences.

Figure 3: A Canadian landscape in Tiny, Ontario. Photo by Stuart Filson.

Without the active drive or exposure, culture can readily give way to other culture. Further still, many immigrants do not directly immigrate to Canada from one country. Instead, a lot of newcomers have already lived in multiple countries, and so they may feel a different linkage to their place of origin than what others may expect. As a result, culture can be difficult to pinpoint.

Canadian markets
Since 1827, Guelph has been the home to the second longest running farmers’ market in Canada (Basil, 2012). In modern times, Guelph’s Farmers’ Market has become a weekly outlet in which both farmers and resellers have sold produce and other items. Observers have often considered the City of Guelph a mid-sized Southern Ontario city (Census Metropolitan Area: 156,029) (Best, 2013: Statistics Canada, 2017). Guelph is situated an hour’s drive southwest of the Greater Toronto Area, and a twenty-odd minute drive from the over half a million populated Tri-Cities of Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge (Statistics Canada, 2017). While the quaint riverside housing and rural surroundings of Guelph present a small-town charm, the City’s ten-plus storey condos remind by-passers that they are nevertheless within reach of Toronto Land. It is this very juxtaposition of rural and urban that has caused marketing researchers to repeatedly choose Guelph as a representative of Canadians abroad (Cranfield, Henson, & Masakure, 2011).
Having been born and raised in Guelph, I have gone to the Farmers’ Market over the years. While there, you can find a snapshot of farming practices and trends. Onlookers can experience a diversifying market segmentation, emphasized in the popular terms of the day: organic, fair trade, locally grown, GMO free, and so on. As with other western assortments, many of the Market’s crops derive from around the globe. Tomatoes originally came from South America. Corn is from North America. Soya beans are from Asia. Coffee beans are from Africa. However, this is not a wide selection. A very small number of crops dominate western farming. Despite Ontario having more ethnic diversity than much of the rest of Canada, Ontario’s farmers are still predominantly Western European (Smithers & Sethuratnam, 2014).

What is adequate representation?
When shopping for produce beyond the common western options, the question of representation repeatedly occupied my thoughts. In the case of Somalis wanting ingredients and meals in the tradition of Somali cuisine, it can be difficult to tell how much demand there is and how enduring the demand is. Across Canada, farming has experienced aging and diminishing workforces. With proportionately fewer Canadians becoming farmers, it can be difficult to promote domestically grown ethnocultural produce for traditional Somali cuisine (Smithers & Sethuratnam, 2014). Instead, local markets are more likely to grow some of the more prominent crops, like okra. Unfortunately, to only grow a limited selection of traditional Somali ingredients is an incomplete solution.

Figure 4: Somali food in Etobicoke, Ontario. Photo by Stuart Filson.

Excessive importing is bad for the quality of food as well as for social wellbeing. Food presents and individual and communal connection which people cherish. If buying produce was always better, people would have little reason to garden. The various mechanisms of experiencing food highlight the importance of empowering Somali Canadians through different resources. However, rather than seek an all-encompassing solution for Somali Canadian food sovereignty, it is more reasonable to recognize the constraints and work through the priorities to achieve an optimal solution.

Answering Somali Canadian food sovereignty
Few things are as emblematic to culture as cuisine. In Canada, people often treat culture as a recreational experience. Although culture can be very enjoyable, we should take time to reflect on the deeper meanings. Without recognizing the origins of culturally discernible food, we can too easily ignore the value in these activities. By neglecting food sovereignty, we neglect people’s connection to cuisine. In turn, people can quickly turn to the lowest common denominator of an unhealthy, cheap and fast industrialized diet (Ambalam, 2014). In an increasingly globalized world, it is valuable to shift our eating habits away from the unsustainable temptations of the industrialized diet by empowering our relationship with food from the bottom-up (Ambalam, 2014).
From talking to multiple Southern Ontarian individuals that immigrated from not just Somalia, but also Nigeria and Uganda, I heard people express that culture should not be restrictive of cuisine. I had gone in with the assumption that culture was what made traditional Somali food important. However, from these interviews, I became more concerned about other qualities of food: freshness, cost, choice, and more generally, access. Simply put, the people I interviewed wanted the freedom to have food the way they felt. They did not want to be boxed in by either an overly restrictive western selection or a preconceived notion of traditional food.
Without trying to speak for Somali Canadians abroad, I have come to believe that to empower Somali food sovereignty, the word “Somali” should not mean others’ conceptions of Somali culture but should instead represent Somali people and their interests. As I have seen, Somali Canadian food sovereignty is valuable, not simply for cherishing and potentially expanding upon Somali culture. It is through ensuring Somali Canadian food sovereignty that Canadians abroad can benefit from the rich heritage between Somalis and their foods.


References
Aalen, L. (2014). Ethiopian state support to insurgency in Southern Sudan from 1962 to 1983: Local, regional and global connections. Journal of Eastern African Studies8(4), 626-641.
Abdullahi, M. D. (2001). Culture and customs of Somalia (Vol. 2). Greenwood Publishing Group.
Ambalam, K. (2014). Food sovereignty in the era of land grabbing: An African perspective. Journal of Sustainable Development7(2), 121.
Basil, M. (2012). A history of farmers' markets in Canada. Journal of Historical Research in Marketing4(3), 387-407.
Best, A. (2013). Non-Point Source Pollution in Quaternary Glacial Deposits, Guelph, Ontario (Doctoral dissertation).
Black, D. R. (2015). Canada and Africa in the new millennium: The politics of consistent inconsistency. Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press.
Cotter, E. (2017). Being Canadian: Formulating and Branding a National Identity (Doctoral dissertation, Concordia University).
Cranfield, J., Henson, S., & Masakure, O. (2011). Factors affecting the extent to which consumers incorporate functional ingredients into their diets. Journal of Agricultural Economics62(2), 375-392.
Daniel, D. (2016). The Comforts of Coffee: The Role of the Coffee Ceremony in Ethiopians' Efforts to Cope with Social Upheaval during the Derg Regime (1974-1991) (Doctoral dissertation, Carleton University Ottawa).
Duff, P. A., & Becker-Zayas, A. (2017). Demographics and heritage languages in Canada. The Routledge Handbook of Heritage Language Education: From Innovation to Program Building, 57.
Elmi, A. A. (2014). Decentralization options for Somalia. The Heritage Institute for Policy Studies.
Field Listing – Area, The World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency. Data last updated on July 26, 2017. Retrieved from https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2147.html
Hassan-Kadle, M. A., & Musse, A. M. M. (2017). Esophageal carcinoma in Mogadishu, Somalia: A four year retrospective study. European Academic Research, 5(8), 3823-3843.
Innocenti, P. (2016). Migrating Heritage: Experiences of Cultural Networks and Cultural Dialogue in Europe. Routledge.
Johnston, A. J. B. (1994). Toward a new past. Parks Canada, 9, 25-27.
MacDougall, J. (1999). Italian creations: Elaborations of collective identity in Milan, Italy (Doctoral dissertation, Concordia University).
Matheson, J. R. (1980). Canada's Flag: A Search for a Country. Boston, Mass.: GK Hall.
Patel, R. (2009). Food sovereignty. The Journal of Peasant Studies36(3), 663-706.
Patel, S. C. (2016). The Politics of Belonging: Cultural Identity Formation among Second Generation Canadians (Master’s thesis, York University).
Smithers, J., & Sethuratnam, S. (2014). New farms and farmers in ethno-cultural communities: Aspirations, barriers and needs. Journal of Rural and Community Development8(3).
Statistics Canada. Table 051-0056 - Estimates of population by census metropolitan area, sex and age group for July 1, based on the Standard Geographical Classification (SGC) 2011, annual (persons), CANSIM (database). (accessed: December 12th, 2017)
United Nations (2017). World Population Prospects 2017: Publications. Retrieved from https://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/Publications/
Zoppi, M. (2015). Greater Somalia, the never-ending dream? Contested Somali borders: The power of tradition vs. the tradition of power. Journal of African History, Politics and Society1(1), 43-64.

Stuart Filson, Graduate Research Assistant, ECVOntario, SEDRD, University of Guelph
Read More »