Sierra Leone to get a new knowledge-based website for sustainable food security

Dr Steven Sam and Dr Ximena Schmidt: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 21 February 2021:

A new digital platform for rescuing indigenous and traditional knowledge of agriculture and food systems to promote sustainable food security in Sierra Leone, is being established by a team of researchers from Brunel University London, the Open University and the Science Technology and Facilities Council in the UK. (Photo above: Courtesy of Munda Farming – Sierra Leone).  

Indigenous and traditional knowledge of agriculture and food systems, which drives food production, preservation and consumption for more than 80% of citizens in Sierra Leone, is at risk of extinction owing to urban migration, land grabbing, modern commercial farming, and the difficulty to capture and store this knowledge.

According to the World Bank and FAO, indigenous and traditional knowledge of agriculture and food systems is innovative and unique among local and subsistent smallholder farmers in Africa, and it is central to sustainable food production and enhancing biodiversity and natural resources in many poor, rural societies.

In Sierra Leone, traditional knowledge of agriculture and food systems held in different languages, cultures and skills has been passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. However, the documentation and dissemination of the knowledge remain a big challenge confronting librarians and other information professionals in Sierra Leone.

The lack of documentation, coupled with the threat from modern practices and continued absence of free access frameworks, greatly reduces the potential for social learning and minimises the active role that the knowledge can play in food security today.

A team of researchers from Brunel University London, the Open University and the Science Technology and Facilities Council from the UK are using citizen science, data science and Zooniverse methodology to pilot the first interactive digital platform for ethically collecting, preserving and sharing the Sierra Leone indigenous and traditional knowledge of agriculture and food systems.

Headed by Dr Steven Sam (Photo) and Dr Ximena Schmidt from Brunel University London, the team collaborates with the Jamjay Agricultural company Ltd and the Institute of Food Technology, Nutrition and Consumer Studies at Njala University to engage and generate useful data from smallholder farmers and other key stakeholders on existing and emerging practices embodied in the Sierra Leone indigenous and traditional food systems.

Learning from smallholder farmers’ perspectives, by exploring what they know and do can improve understanding of food production and consumption, particularly in times of stress or shocks affecting the food systems and communities.

The data, which includes videos, images, audios and texts, will form the basis for co-developing the platform. The full version of the platform is anticipated to have a flexible web and mobile interface and backend database with features such as storing, sorting, managing, sharing and visualising diverse data types of indigenous and traditional agriculture and food systems.

The platform will provide a powerful way for amplifying smallholder farmers’ voice and integrating their knowledge and practices into modern agricultural efforts to achieve sustainable, healthy and nutritious food security. It will facilitate peer-to-peer learning by farmers to improve agricultural productivity, and nutritious awareness food education to promote healthy living in urban and rural communities.

Importantly, it will enhance knowledge sharing between Sierra Leone and the UK on the intersectionality between indigenous and scientific knowledge of resilient food systems, which will be vital for future research and investments in sustainable modern agriculture and health food systems by the government, NGOs and organisations such as the FAO, IFAD and the World Bank in Sierra Leone. (Photo: Dr Ximena Schmidt).

The pilot project is funded by the Science Technology Facilities Council through the Food Network+ (SFN) Collaborative Scoping Project funding.

The team is seeking additional funding to scale up implementation in Africa, to enable knowledge sharing practices and experiences, as well as facilitating South-North learning.

The long-term plan is to address policy, research and practice gaps in linking between indigenous and scientific knowledge for addressing food insecurity in Africa.

For more on the project, visit Digital Platform for African Indigenous Knowledge

About the Lead Researchers

Dr Steven Sam is a Global Challenges Research Fellow at the Computer Science Department in Brunel University, London. He is the founder and leader of an interdisciplinary Computing for Social Good Group. His work focuses on computing for social good, human-centred design, user experience, technology adoption and impact assessment.

Dr Ximena Schmidt, Global Challenges Research Fellow Institute of Energy Futures. She is a life cycle sustainability expert. Her research interests relate to healthy, sustainable and affordable diets,  sustainable food supply chains and technologies and circular economy.

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