Today the idea of Food Sovereignty is gaining popularity. In fact the concept itself has become the whole philosophy of one public health project from Ngati Porou Hauora, the ‘Mana Tane’ . Roger White who runs the project pulls together a group of Ngati Porou Tane who meet regularly to share knowledge of how to gather, cultivate, preserve and cook kai, all on his whanau land.
Roger says 'It was all about getting our men together for something positive. We’ve got good food gatherers and gardeners in this community who can share the knowledge and really its about being self-sufficient for ourselves and our whanau. It’s also about doing something physical and doing it for a reason, you get your kai in return for the effort.'
On the 9 October 2009, Hon Pita Sharples the Minister of Maori Affairs launched the Mara Kai initiative, in Waipatu, Hawkes Bay. The Mara Kai project assists Maori communities to meet the costs of setting up small non commercial mara kai (community vegetable gardens) on marae and in Maori communities.
The objectives of Mara Kai are to promote self-suffiency, wellbeing and good nutrition; the sharing of gardening knowledge, including customary techniques; and community cooperation. The project is a joint initiative between Te Puni Kokiri and Te Waka Kai Ora, the Maori organics collective.
At the launch the Minister spoke of the establishment of Mara Kai as an act of ‘reclaiming our culture, our self-reliance, our rangatiratanga’. He explained the importance of whenua to Maori,tangatawhenua people of the land. ‘Our land connects us as whanau, hapu, and iwi, it provides sustenance and it keeps us grounded’.
He also spoke of the many beneficial outcomes of a Mara Kai project to Maori, including building community networks and resilience, allowing the transference of traditional knowledge and practices, healthy outdoor activity, learning skills of planting, growing, harvesting and storing fruit and vegetables and the satisfaction of cooking and eating something grown by oneself.'All the activities involved in setting up, tending and harvesting marakai, bring us closer together and enable us to remember the teachings of our tipuna and the way they lived.’
Food Sovereignty does not have to be something that needs a big block of land, it can also happen if you live in town. You and you family can reconnect with food gathering by growing some of your own food.
Starting your own garden, or even just growing some vegetables in pots on the balacony or in the backyard is one way of becoming a food sovereign and being less reliant on packaged and processed food industry products. Simply learning to cook can also be an act of becoming food sovereign. Start thinking about you can rely less on processed foods from the shops and get back to basics.
He kai na tangata, he kai titongitongi; He kai na tona ringa, tinokai, tinomakona noa
You can only nibble at another’s food; but with food you have cultivated yourself, you can satisfy your appetite (Whakatauki cited in Health Promotion Forum, 2002)