Have you ever eaten Moimoi before?
Moimoi or Moyi-Moyi is a Nigerian steamed bean pudding made from a mixture of washed and peeled black-eyed peas, onions and fresh ground peppers. Absolutely delicious! In the olden days, Moimoi used to be prepared in leaves. The process was organic, natural and harmless. The leaves gave a nice flavour to the bean pudding when cooked.
Today, as the standard of living goes up, fast food is becoming more of a trend in Nigeria (and Africa as a whole) with various restaurants serving traditional dishes in the “fast food” style. This means a lot of plastic food packaging is used. I recently read an article that claimed Moimoi is causing an increased spike in the number of cancer cases in Nigeria, as nowadays it is often cooked and heated in plastic containers rather than the traditional banana leaves. Often plastic containers in Africa are not BPA free and so heating them causes a release of the chemical into the food. In addition to that, the plastic is non-biodegradable and ends up going to landfill.
This has got me thinking, what other traditions have changed in Africa that have led to a more unsustainable way of living, especially in the built environment?
Looking at the people of Loma tribe in Liberia, seasoned farmers who refuse to employ industrial farming practices or artificial fertilizers in growing their crop, it is apparent that less is more. A study done by the Lancaster Environmental Centre, found that the Loma people plant their crops in fertile man-made soil known as ‘anthropogenic dark earth’, which has twice the energy efficiency of modern farming methods. The soil is created by everyday domestic life, from deposits of charred and fresh organic matter, including manure, bones, ash, charcoal and ceramics.
In the built environment, energy efficiency is vital as the cost of energy is increasing and supply becoming scarcer. Buildings globally consume over 40% of the world’s total energy. Taking a leaf from the Loma farmer’s approach, using more natural elements in a building, such as daylighting or indoor plants, can lead to increased energy efficiency in the long run.
Another tradition that modern day Africans can learn from is the new yam festival among the Igbos of eastern Nigeria. Igbo farmers reserve vital parts of the new yam harvested in the previous season for consecration unto gods for bounty harvest in the following season. A lesson to learn from the Igbo people is that of giving a new purpose to elements that would previously only be used for something else. For example, in construction, often materials from a demolition site are sent to landfill and new materials are used to put up a shiny new structure. A more sustainable alternative to this is to recycle some of the materials, such as wood or metal, and repurpose this into the design of the building. Industrial/recycled materials are often less expensive than virgin materials, so they make good economic sense for builders and project owners. Further, reusing or recycling materials onsite can reduce material hauling and disposal costs. These savings, applied to the total project cost, make it possible to do more work with the same budget.
The Maasai people in Kenya, have learnt to adapt their lifestyles using their knowledge of the traditional resource management system, as well as their awareness of local environmental conditions, which allow them to reorient their lifestyles to address new challenges. An example of this is that the Maasai move their cattle to new pastures for grazing consistently over the year in order to avoid damaging the land and water resources at each point. Something we can adopt and learn from the Masaai people is that of aligning our way of living with the natural environment around us. There are ways in which the buildings we live and work in can adopt and exist in harmony with the natural environment around it. A few examples of how this can happen is where we design a building with the landscape around it, building a structure without chopping down trees or collecting rain water for use in a building in climates that experience higher rainfall and saving on portable water. Adopting with the changing environment is a more sustainable way of living as it ensures we do not exhaust out resources to the detriment of future generations.
In the past, the traditional way of living was ignored due to its perceived “unsustainability” and was put aside to give way to more modern resource conservation which was packaged as adequate and more sustainable. The three examples from the Loma, Maasai and Igbo people are just a few of many traditions modern day Africans can borrow and adopt to live a more sustainable lifestyle. From the food we eat to the way we construct our buildings, there are opportunities to ensure we live healthier and longer lives. In the developed world, sustainability tends to be thought of as a newly articulated solution to challenges of environmental resource degradation however in today’s world we can learn from traditions that have been around for ages and focus on supporting and adapting these systems rather than implementing exogenous concepts of sustainability.