The Reawakened Foods Initiative is leveraging the power of storytelling to bring awareness to crops that are vital for supporting biodiversity around the world.
According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, there are more than 6,000 plant species that have been cultivated for food, but less than 200 are cultivated on a significant scale. In 2014, just nine crops made up more than 66 percent of agricultural production. Restoring and safeguarding agrobiodiversity is seen as critical for food and nutrient security, climate resilience, the economic sustainability of communities, and for supporting and maintaining the cultural connection between people and food.
The Lexicon, a nonprofit based in Northern California, created the Reawakened Foods Initiative to help drive their work around creating a healthier, safer food system. The Lexicon built Reawakened with guidance from the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture along with dozens of other organizations and government agencies from across the globe.
“We have a global society that has gone from eating food for nutrition – what food is designed to do – to looking at food from an economic standpoint,” Douglas Gayeton, Co-Founder of The Lexicon, tells Food Tank. “This is to the great detriment of people’s health and the cultural ties in communities that are so often based on food.”
Reawakened works to cultivate greater visibility and appreciation for the value that traditional crops bring to communities, the environment, and the global marketplace. The initiative accomplishes this by capturing the narratives of growers who are reintroducing traditional crops, and spotlighting their success so that it can be replicated elsewhere.
After identifying 25 Reawakened Crops that have immense potential for reintroduction and resilience in the face of climate change, Reawakened Foods conducted five case studies across the globe to help demonstrate the benefits of agrobiodiversity and a fully connected supply chain. Gayeton says, “It was really important for us to document these first five crops firsthand and to show what success looks like and who it looks like.”
In Ethiopia, Reawakened captured the stories of smallholder farmers working with the ancient grain, Teff. Domesticated in the country nearly 3,000 years ago, it can grow during periods of drought and across various elevations.
Ethiopia’s food production largely sits on the shoulders of smallholder farmers, who produce approximately 90 percent of the country’s food. At the same time, Ethiopia faces chronic levels of food insecurity and environmental degradation, which have reached catastrophic levels due to the climate crisis and COVID-19 pandemic.
Through the Ethiopia case study, Reawakened worked with farmers who participated in Seeds for Needs, a project dedicated to cultivating ancient grains such as Teff. In 2020, data from the project showed that ancient grains grown by local farmers were 60 percent more stable across variable climate conditions in comparison to modernized crops. Ancient grains were also more highly fortified with critical nutrients such as zinc and iron, demonstrating their potential in fighting malnutrition in the region.
To further raise awareness about the importance of traditional crops, Reawakened is currently recruiting storytellers who are passionate about food and climate action and can help tell the story of agrobiodiversity. Photographers, filmmakers, writers, and other artists of any level of expertise are welcome to apply by the July 25th deadline.
Reawakened will select 25 storytellers to participate in the Lexicon’s Total Storytelling Masterclass. This online program, led by Gayeton, will equip storytellers with tools for sharing inspiring stories of agrobiodiversity. Participants’ stories will be featured during the 2nd International Agrobiodiversity Congress which will host policymakers, scientists, and businesses from around the world.
Gayeton tells Food Tank, “We need to shift away from a global agricultural model that is based on economies of scale to economies of community. A rewiring of our food system might begin with growing different crops.”
Photo courtesy of The Reawakened Foods Initiative