Connect with us

Focus

Bio Burials And Life After Death

Published

on

The lack of burial spaces is leading entrepreneurs to come up with out-of-the-box alternatives such as bio-burials, virtual graves and space disposal.

Mankind has been burying its dead since time immemorial. But what happens when we run out of burial space on a planet that is also running out of space for the living?

A new generation of options are being pioneered by enterprising businesses that could change the way we send off loved ones. For example, San Francisco-based Elysium Space describes itself as a “memorial spaceflight” company planning to send the ashes of dead people into orbit, hitching on to one of South African entrepreneur Elon Musk’s rockets.

Closer home, there are alternative on-the-ground solutions being looked at. A South African startup, Biotree.earth, produces biodegradable urns made out of natural plant fibers and materials that aid in fertilizing soil and neutralizing the pH levels of ashes, creating a healthy environment to grow trees.

It was founded by 60-year-old Dereck Holmes and 28-year-old Christo Cilliers. Generations apart, they are on the same page when it comes to life and death matters.

Holmes, who already owns a logistics company, never thought he would find himself in the business of death and funerals.

“The whole concept of Biotree.earth is that it celebrates the life of a person and not the death and you can see it manifest in the tree of life and [it’s] not a piece of stone in the ground,” says Holmes.

He has four children and four grandchildren and is Biotree’s CEO. Cilliers left his advertising business to start Biotree.earth and is now its Managing Director.

Chris Cilliers. Photo by Gypseenia Lion.

 

“I feel that the funeral industry is very dated, our practices are very dated and they are not considerate of the environment at all. And I just believe that there’s a time and space, that is now, to start addressing that industry and create a more sustainable alternative,” says Cilliers.

The inception of the business was when he had a light-bulb moment about an alternative to conventional burials and cremation.

“Cremation in itself is not necessarily sustainable because when we cremate a body, there is still a carbon offset that we need to deal with because we are releasing carbon back into the atmosphere,” he says.

“One adult tree produces about 170kg of oxygen a year. And then I went ‘but is that enough to offset what we are doing with cremation’?”

The idea was to double that effect by growing a tree for every body cremated.

He developed and tested the product for two years and then approached Holmes with the idea.

Coincidentally, Holmes, who owns a farm next to the Vaal River in South Africa, was also thinking of an alternative way to bury his animals.

“Chris came to see me simultaneously and I told him, ‘look I’m interested in creating a biodegradable urn for animals’. He had ones that were for humans. So we said, ‘how can we combine this’.”

Holmes invested in Cillier’s business idea and the two ventured into completely new turf selling biodegradable urns suitable for humans and animals and in 2015, they started operations.

They tested out their first animal bio urn on one of Holmes’ farm animals, a pet duck named Gosling in 2016.

They cremated the duck, put the ashes into the base of the urn, dug a hole and placed the urn in the ground.

They planted a lavender seed to celebrate the life of the duck, and it grew into a lavender shrub.

The trial was a success and the same year, Holmes buried a chicken named Henrietta, and in 2017, he buried a duck named Norman using the bio urns.

Fiona Kantor from Wynburg, a suburb in Cape Town, lost her mother in 2015 and cremated her.

After researching bio burials, she came across Biotree.earth and purchased an urn. A year later, her dad fell ill and also passed away. He was cremated.

She then placed both her parents’ ashes in the same urn.

Fiona Kantor. Photo Provided.

“It’s almost bringing them back to life in a way… It was more [about being] closer to them spiritually and have a place we could visit, and contribute to the environment,” Kantor tells FORBES AFRICA.

She planted an erythrina lysistemon, known as the common coral tree, that’s bright red in color, in the urn.

“At the moment, mom and dad are in a very beautiful green pot in my patio,” she says happily.

In a sense, the words ‘family tree’ take on a new meaning here.

Cilliers was astounded by Kantor’s story and says: “That’s one of the things where someone really thought out-of-the-box and used the product to make it something unique to their story.”

The pet urns go for R2,290 ($152) a piece and the human urns for R2,490 ($166). Biotree.earth has also grown to a staff of 10.

Trees of life

On touching, the urn feels plastic but it is made of natural plant fibers that bio-degrade in the soil after about two months, depending on soil and weather conditions.

The ashes go into biodegradable bags and are placed in the base of the urn. This prevents the ashes’ alkalinity from damaging the plant’s roots as it grows. The top of the urn gets re-attached and 800ml of water is added to expand a soil disk inside. A seed can then be planted.

In addition to the coral tree, other locally-conducive tree seed options include bolusanthus speciosus known as elephant’s wood, acacia tortilis known as umbrella thorn, cytisus scoparius known as the common broom, castanea sativa known as sweet chestnut, and quercus robur known as the English oak.

Once the seed has germinated, the urn is planted in the ground.

Cilliers attests he has never received any negative feedback about a plant failing to germinate. The trees can be planted in backyards so long as they are not on private land or in a botanical garden.

Can you actually become a tree after death?

Professor Cas Wepener, a theologian and religious studies scholar at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, has done research on rituals in the Christian religion and work pertaining to death.

“People’s beliefs and views concerning death have changed quite a lot and what we call future hope, ‘eschatology’, in theological terms has also changed and it has changed from ideas about heaven to ideas about better ecology,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.

He says that the planting of a tree symbolizes different things in different cultures and shows something about their faith. But there are different views.

From a scientific perspective, Professor Mary Scholes from the School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, says that it is impossible for ashes or for a dead body, if buried close to a tree, to generate energy which could be used by the tree.

Ash is made up of magnesium, calcium and potassium. “Energy is defined in physical terms and ash does not meet this definition. If someone wants to believe that energy is generated in a spiritual way, they are perfectly entitled to their opinion,” she tells FORBES AFRICA.

A multi-billion rand industry

Due to the many different cultures within the South African context, Cilliers’ and Holmes’ biggest challenge is to change the perceptions around burials.

“The funeral industry is a very tight-knit group… when someone new steps into that and poses direct competition, it is not always accepted. So it has been a very difficult journey to get people to accept the idea. It has been a very difficult journey to get the product out to consumers,” admits Cilliers.

“I feel like there’s a very big monopoly in the funeral industry that’s not right. You know, when we are benefitting from people’s death, that’s not right.”

Cilliers says Biotree has seen a growth of 21% from February last year to this February. They have also expanded into seven countries including the United Kingdom, Portugal, the United States, Mexico and Canada.

Twentynine-year-old Lethi Mngadi is one prospective client buying in to the concept of bio-burials.

“Before I used to think cremations [were a] ‘no’. But now I’m like ‘let me just donate all my organs, get cremated’ and I know that my family has control over what they do with me,” she says.

She is the marketing coordinator for Doves, a funeral provider in southern Africa, and has been working in the funeral business for three years.

One sunny spring afternoon in September, FORBES AFRICA visits the Doves funeral home in Randburg, a residential town in Johannesburg.

There are spring flowers and roses in the gardens surrounding the main office.

But these aren’t just your normal garden flowers, they are home to ashes buried in clay urns.

“Underneath each of these rose bushes, there is someone,” says Willie Jansen van Nieuwenhuizen, the branch manager of Doves’ Randburg branch.

He works with Mngadi and has been part of the funeral business for over 30 years.

“The funeral business is a multi-billion rand industry,” he says.

According to Hippo, a financial services provider, there are more than 100,000 burial societies in South Africa and about 18.9 million South African adults are covered by a funeral plan.

They say the biggest expense when organizing a funeral is the coffin or casket.

An average casket could cost around R8,000 ($533) while top-of-the-range coffins could sell for between R37,500 ($2,500) and R50,000 ($3,332) or more. The grave would range from R1,500 ($100) to R6,000 ($400) and a headstone can cost from R1,500 to R7,000 ($467).

Conservatively, all of the above could approximately cost R40,500 ($2,700), whilst a cremation could total up to approximately R7,000 ($467). A private cremation can cost around R5,000 ($300) while a chapel cremation starts at around R9,000 ($600).

Thankfully, preferences are changing.

“Most families would prefer not to leave a carbon footprint,” says Van Nieuwenhuizen. Mngadi agrees: “I think it’s also the millennials, especially in the black culture, we always want to bury. But now our generation is starting to be more educated about what’s going on. Because you are going to be burying your parents, you are now more educated and informed about all the different options.”

 

A buried urn at Doves funeral home. Photo by Karen Mwendera.

 

Grave issues

The prevailing problem in South Africa and many parts of the world is that burial space is limited.

A 2013 survey by BBC Local Radio indicated nearly half of England’s cemeteries could run out of space within the next 20 years.

“By 2025, we won’t have burial space left,” agrees Cilliers.

As per news reports in South Africa earlier this year, families have been encouraged to share gravesites by Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo that’s in charge of the City of Johannesburg’s cemeteries and designated public spaces.

READ MORE: Even If We Conquer Death – Should We?

This means a family member might have to be buried on top of another.

The argument is that being buried in the same grave has huge cost-savings‚ is environment-friendly and affords families a central point to pay tribute and conduct religious ceremonies if needed.

However, Van Nieuwenhuizen says that burying bodies in one gravesite can cause further problems.

“If it is a very wet season, the settlement does take longer, because the coffin at the bottom is going to collapse.”

Of the 32 cemeteries across Johannesburg‚ only four have not yet reached full capacity; Westpark‚ Olifantsvlei‚ Diepsloot and Waterval cemeteries are still able to house over one million future graves, says a report on timeslive.co.za in April. Johannesburg itself has a population of over five million.

“So it is becoming more expensive to bury a person in cemeteries,” says Mngadi.

“It’s becoming very limited as well because of space. So you will find that in rural areas, people still bury in their yards. But us in urban areas would rather not. And purely because you don’t want to leave your loved one in Johannesburg and then relocate.”

These considerations force some to opt for cremation, preserve the urn or scatter the ashes.

“To put it in a simpler form, we are going to get to a point where you are forced; you have no other option but to cremate because where are you going to put your loved one?” says Mngadi.

Another problem plaguing the burial business is theft and vandalism.

During our interview, Van Nieuwenhuizen shows us an image on his phone of a grave that was recently dug up and the body removed.

He says some of the reasons people dig up graves is to use the body for muti (traditional medicine), witchcraft or to make crystal meth.

The Friday before our visit to Doves, they had reported missing marble headstones. People who steal them, they say, varnish the engraved names and resell the headstones to other users.

“[People] are now being abducted for their parts while they are alive, so how [much] worse is it when you are putting your loved one in a cemetery that has very limited security,” adds Mngadi.

This is one of the reasons why both Van Nieuwenhuizen and Mngadi advocate cremations.

“I find more comfort in knowing that my mom is in a beautiful urn in our house than not knowing what’s happening at the cemetery,” she says.

But even so, cremations can be taxing on the environment.

As per an article in the Huffington Post, “the average cremation uses 28 gallons of fuel to burn a single body, emitting about 540 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That’s about 250,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year”.

Experts are therefore still looking for new innovations to come up with answers.

What does the future of funerals look like?

“I think we will eradicate traditional burials. Whether that be in the next 10 or 30 years, I am not sure,” Cilliers offers.

“Burials are going to stop sooner or later, and then we are going to move over to resomation,” says Van Nieuwenhuizen.

Resomation or biocremation is an alkaline hydrolysis process that typically produces less carbon dioxide than cremation.

Another alternative is to create a diamond out of a loved one’s ashes by extracting the carbon remains.

Space burials have also been introduced where they blast the cremated remains into outer space.

You can send the ashes of your loved ones into space on one of techpreneur Elon Musk’s SpaceX rockets for $2,500.

Burials gone digital

At the time of the interview with Biotree.earth founders Cilliers and Holmes, they were launching an additional product to their business, a digital funeral platform.

Memory Lane is an online app that details a person’s life including key milestones, where they have traveled to and their life’s achievements.

With every urn sold, a code is given to the client to create an online memorial and geo-tag the urn.

“In concept, it’s like a virtual grave,” says Cilliers.

Holmes says the app won’t only be for the dead but for the living as well.

“It takes you down memory lane. So you can write a biography about yourself, and then it can take you to all the places you have traveled to, the pets you have had and it puts that on a timeline with the photos and a gallery,” he says.

“Over and above that, you’ve got a life file which is a safe, which keeps your will, any title deeds you have to your properties, insurance properties, all your codes you have to your ATM cards, everything. That lifeline is bank encrypted. So it has one-time pin numbers that no one can get into until after your death.”

Only nominated guardians can gain access to it and your friends and family can continue to contribute to your site with pictures or stories and family trees.

Even people who can’t make the funeral can post online.

Holmes was inspired to create this site after not being able to save his late parents’ photos in one place.

This, he feels would be a way to digitally track a family’s lineage for years to come. Holmes says the app will be free for the first few years.

As for the future of burials, he says: “I think the concept of burial forests will become bigger and bigger as we start moving out of the developed areas and move into the rural areas to create burial forests with long-term sustainability and as gardens of remembrance.”

Cilliers and Holmes hope that with each death, a new tree, a new life can take its place, creating a greener earth in the process.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Comments

Focus

How LinkedIn Is Looking To Help Close The Ever-Growing Skills Gap

mm

Published

on

By

As the job market has evolved, so too have the skills required of seekers. But when 75% of human resources professionals say a skills shortage has made recruiting particularly challenging in recent months, it would appear as though the workforce hasn’t quite kept pace. Now LinkedIn is stepping in to help close the gap.

On Tuesday, the professional social network announced the launch of a “Skills Assessments” tool, through which users can put their knowledge to the test. Those who pass are given the opportunity to display a badge that reads “passed” next to the skill on their profile pages, a validation of sorts that LinkedIn hopes will encourage skills development among its users and help better match potential employees with the right employers.  

READ MORE | Not Just Equality, But Recognition Of Excellence

“We see an evolving labor market and much more sophistication in how recruiters and hiring managers look for skills. … We also see a changing learning market,” says Hari Srinivasan, senior director of product management at LinkedIn Learning. “The combination of those two made us excited about changing our opportunity marketplace to make the hiring side and the learning side work better together.”

So how exactly does it work? Let’s say a user wants to showcase her proficiency in Microsoft Excel. Rather than simply listing “Excel” in the skills section of her profile, she can take a multiple-choice test to demonstrate the extent to which she is an expert.

If she aces the test, not only will a badge verifying her aptitude will appear on her profile, but she will be more likely to surface in searches by recruiters, who can search for candidates by skill in the same way they might do so by college or employer. If she fails, she can take the test again, but she’ll have to wait a few months—plenty of time to develop her skillset.   

The tool has been in beta mode since March, and while just 2 million people have used it—a mere fraction of LinkedIn’s 630 million members—early results seem promising. According to LinkedIn, members who’ve completed skills assessments have been nearly 30% more likely to land jobs than their counterparts who did not take the tests.

READ MORE | Challenging The Gender Divide

“This has been a really good way for members to represent what they know, what they are good at,” says Emrecan Dogan, LinkedIn group product manager.

While new to LinkedIn, the practice of assessing candidates’ skills has been a standard among hiring managers for decades. But when research commissioned by LinkedIn revealed that 69% of employees feel that skills have become more important to recruiters than education, LinkedIn felt as though this was the time to give job seekers the opportunity to prove themselves from the get-go.

As important as the hard skills that members can put to the test through LinkedIn’s new tool may be, Dawn Fay, senior district president at recruiting firm Robert Half, encourages those on both side of the job search not to forget the importance of soft skills. “You wouldn’t want to rule somebody in or out just based on how they did on one particular skill assessment,” she says.

“Have another data point that you can use, question people about how they did on something and see if it’s something that can feed into the puzzle to find out if somebody is going to be a good fit.”

-Samantha Todd; Forbes

Continue Reading

Economy

Why The High Number Of Employees Quitting Reveals A Strong Job Market

mm

Published

on

By

While recession fears may be looming in the minds of some, new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the economy and job market may actually be strengthening.

The quits rate—or the percentage of all employees who quit during a given month—rose to 2.4% in July, according to the BLS’s Jobs Openings and Labor Turnover report, released Tuesday. That translates to 3.6 million people who voluntarily left their jobs in July.

This is the highest the quits rate has been since April 2001, just five months after the Labor Department began tracking it. According to Nick Bunker, an economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab, the quits rate tends to be a reflection of the state of the economy.

READ MORE | 5 Things You Should Do The Night Before A Job Interview

“The level of the quits rate really is a sign of how strong the labor market is,” he says. “If you look at the quits rate over time, it really drops quite a bit when the labor market gets weak. During the recession it was quite low, and now it’s picked up.”

The monthly jobs report, released last week, revealed that the economy gained 130,000 jobs in August, which is 20,000 less than expected, and just a few weeks earlier, the BLS issued a correction stating that it had overestimated by 501,000 how many jobs had been added to the market in 2018 and the first quarter of 2019. Yet despite all that, employees still seem to have confidence in the job market.Today In: Leadership

The quits level, according to the BLS, increased in the private sector by 127,000 for July but was little changed in government. Healthcare and social assistance saw an uptick in departures to the tune of 54,000 workers, while the federal government saw a rise of 3,000.

READ MORE | 5 Questions You Should Never Ask During A Job Interview

The July quits rate in construction was 2.4%, while the number in trade, professional and business services, and leisure and hospitality were 2.6%, 3.1% and 4.8%, respectively. Bunker of Indeed says that the industries that tend to see the highest rate of departuresare those where pay is relatively low, such as leisure and hospitality. An unknown is whether employees are quitting these jobs to go to a new industry or whether they’re leaving for another job in the same industry. Either could be the case, says Bunker.

In a recently published article on the industries seeing the most worker departures, Bunker attributes the uptick to two factors—the strong labor market and faster wage growth in the industries concerned: “A stronger labor market means employers must fill more openings from the ranks of the already employed, who have to quit their jobs, instead of hiring jobless workers. Similarly, faster wage growth in an industry signals workers that opportunities abound and they might get higher pay by taking a new job.”

Even so, recession fears still dominate headlines. According to Bunker, the data shows that when a recession hits, employers pull back on hiring and workers don’t have the opportunity to find new jobs. Thus, workers feel less confident and are less likely to quit.

READ MORE | South Africa’s Informal Sector: Why People Get Stuck In Precarious Jobs

“As the labor market gets stronger, there’s more opportunities for workers who already have jobs. So they quit to go to new jobs or they quit in the hopes of getting new jobs again,” Bunker says. He also notes that recession fears may have little to do with the job market, instead stemming from what is happening in the financial markets, international relations or Washington, D.C.

So what does the BLS report say about the job market? “Taking this report as a whole, it’s indicating that the labor market is still quite strong, but then we lost momentum,” Bunker says. While workers are quitting their jobs, he says that employers are pulling back on the pace at which they’re adding jobs. “While things are quite good right now and workers are taking advantage of that,” he notes, “those opportunities moving forward might be fewer and fewer if the trend keeps up.”

-Samantha Todd; Forbes

Continue Reading

Focus

No Seat At The Global Table For Indigenous African Cuisine

Published

on

Gastronomic tourism based on African food could easily increase and create new value chains that unlock billions in untapped wealth for the continent, but what is stopping us?


Food and tourism are an integral part of most economies, globally. Food is undeniably a core part of all cultures and an increasingly important attraction for tourists. To satisfy their wanderlust, contemporary tourists require an array of experiences that include elements of education, entertainment, picturesque scenery and culinary wonders.  The link between food and tourism allows destinations to develop local economies; and food experiences help to brand and market them, as well as supporting the local culture and knowledge systems.

 This is particularly important for rural communities, where 61% of sub-Saharan Africans live, according to the World Bank last year. These communities have often felt the brunt of urbanization, which has resulted in a shift away from rural economies. If implemented effectively, Africa could get a piece of the gastronomic tourism pie, which was worth $8.8 trillion last year, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council.

World-renowned chef Nompumelelo Mqwebu and author of her self-published cookbook, Through the Eyes Of An African Chef. Picture: Motlaban Monnakgotla

However, there is currently very little public information to pique the interest of tourists about African food. World-renowned South African chef Nompumelelo Mqwebu sought to remedy this with her self-published cookbook, Through the Eyes Of An African Chef.

“I think where it was very clear to me that I needed to do something was when I went to cooking school. I trained at Christina Martin School of Food and Wine. I thought I was actually going to get training on South African food and, somehow, I assumed we were talking indigenous food.

 “I was shocked that we went through the whole year’s curriculum and we didn’t cover anything that I ate at home; we didn’t cover anything that my first cousins, who are Sotho, ate in Nelspruit (in South Africa’s Mpumalanga Province); we didn’t cover anything that would come from eSwatini, which is where my mother is from,” Mqwebu says.

By self-publishing, she has ultimately contributed to a value chain that has linked local food producers and suppliers, which includes agriculture, food production, country branding and cultural and creative industries.

“I am a member of Proudly South African, not only my business, but the book as well. Part of the reason is that the cookbook was 100% published in South Africa. So, everybody who worked on the cookbook, and printing, was all in South Africa, which is something quite rare these days because authors have their books published abroad.”

The Proudly South African campaign is a South African ‘buy local’ initiative that sells her cookbook on their online platform as its production adheres to the initiative’s campaign standards. Self-publishing has allowed Mqwebu to promote her book for two years and to directly communicate with her audience in a way she thought was best, while exposing her to a vast community of local networks. She recalls her first step towards creating her own body of work.

Amadumbe gnocchi. Picture: Nompumelelo Mqwebu and Nicole Louw Photography

“I was in culinary school when I wrote the recipe for amadumbe (potato of the tropics) gnocchi. We were making gnocchi and I thought, ‘so why aren’t we using amadumbe because it’s a starch?’ and when I tasted it, I thought, ‘this could definitely work’. I started doing my recipes then.

 “And there was talk about, ‘we don’t have desserts as Africans’. I did some research and found we ate berries, we were never big on sugar to begin with. That’s why I took the same isidudu (soft porridge made from ground corn) with pumpkin that my grandmother used to make and that became my dessert. “I also found that when I went to libraries looking for indigenous recipes, I couldn’t really find something that spoke to me as a chef. I found content that looked like history books. It was not appealing. It was not something, as a chef, I could proudly present to another chef from a different part of the world, so I knew I had to write my book,” Mqwebu says about the award-winning recipe book that chronicles African cuisine.

Isidudu (soft porridge made from ground corn) with pumpkin. Picture: Nompumelelo Mqwebu and Nicole Louw Photography

Financial and health benefits

According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, in 2018, the tourism sector “contributed 319 million jobs, representing one in 10 of all jobs globally and is responsible for one in five of all new jobs created in the world over the last five years. It has increased its share of leisure spending to 78.5%, meaning 21.5% of spending was on business.”

To narrow in on how lucrative food can be, the World Food Travel Association estimates that visitors spend approximately 25% of their travel budget on food and beverages. The figure can get as high as 35% in expensive destinations, and as low as 15% in more affordable destinations. “Confirmed food lovers also spend a bit more than the average of 25% spent by travelers in general.”

However, there is a widely-held view that the African continent is not doing enough to maximize its potential to also position itself as a gastronomic tourism destination, using its unique edge of indigenous knowledge systems (IKS).

“We are not a culinary destination and we will never be while we are still offering pasta as the attraction for our tourists,” Mqwebu says.

Dr George Sedupane, who is the Coordinator of the Bachelor of the Indigenous Knowledge Systems program in South Africa’s North-West University, echoes Mqwebu’s sentiments.

“I often cringe when I go to conferences and there are guests from all over the world and we serve them pasta. Why would they come from Brazil to eat pasta here? They can have pasta in Italy. Why don’t we serve them umngqusho (samp and beans)?

Umngqusho (samp and beans). Picture: Nompumelelo Mqwebu and Nicole Louw Photography

“We need to be creating those experiences around our culture. We are failing to capitalize on our strengths. There is a lack of drive to celebrate what we have,” says Sedupane, who also teaches modules and supervises research in indigenous health and nutrition.

Writer and historian Sibusiso Mnyanda says current innovations in African food technology are born out of necessity, rather tourism and cultural ambitions.

“Food security is becoming an issue that is leading to IKS around farming being prioritized. In Nigeria, they are innovating dry season farming, because of deforestation and soil being de-cultivated. 

“So those indigenous knowledge strategies are being used in countries where it is a necessity and where there are enough advances related to the fourth industrial revolution. The traditional ways of producing food are not only much more organic, they are also crop-efficient,” Mnyanda says.

Nigeria may have inadvertently innovated a health solution related to colon cancer through its diet. Sedupane tells FORBES AFRICA an anecdote.

“There was a study where the colons of an African country that did not consume a lot of meat was compared to Europeans. The Africans had a much better profile as a result and there are people who want to buy African stool to get that kind of rich bacteria, that you get on an African plant-based diet.”

Dr George Sedupane, who is the Coordinator of the Bachelor of the Indigenous Knowledge Systems. Picture: Supplied

The study Sedupane is referring to was conducted in Nigeria and it states that: “Nigeria showed the average annual incidence of colorectal cancer was 27 patients per year. This shows that even if it seems that incidence rates are increasing in Nigeria, such rates are still about one-tenth of what is seen in the truly developed countries.”

In a bid to find reasons for this rarity of colon and rectal cancer, the study concluded that, among other reasons, the protective effects of Nigeria’s starch-based, vegetable-based, fruit-based, and spicy, peppery diet, and geographical location which ensures sunshine all year round, played a role in the country’s colon health.

Interestingly, it seems the potential value of African food could not only be based on what goes in but what also comes out as healthy faecal matter is big business globally. In 2015, The Washington Post published that one could potentially earn $13,000 a year selling their poop. 

The American-based company OpenBiome has been processing and shipping frozen stool to patients who are very sick with infections of a bacteria called C.difficile. It causes diarrhea and inflammation of the colon, leaving some sufferers house-bound. “Antibiotics often help, but sometimes, the bacteria rears back as soon as treatment stops. By introducing healthy faecal matter into the gut of a patient (by way of endoscopy, nasal tubes, or swallowed capsules), doctors can abolish C. difficile for good… And yes, they pay for healthy poop: $40 a sample, with a $50 bonus if you come in five days a week. That’s $250 for a week of donations, or $13,000 a year,” the publication stated.

Sedupane is of the view that a diet which includes indigenous foods could vastly improve one’s quality of life.

He says small changes could be made, such as including more of indigenous greens, namely sorghum and millet, to breakfast. The grains are gluten-free and produce alkaline which boosts the pH level of fluids in the body and reduces acidity.

Moringa fruit which is an African superfood. Picture: Getty Images

“Moving to our legumes, we have indlubu (Bambara groundnut) which is very rich and helps in the secretion of serotonin in the brain. This so important nowadays with the increase of depression. It’s easy to digest, and is great for cholesterol and moderating blood sugar,” Sedupane says.

 Mnyanda is also of the view that food is imperative to health and medicinal properties. He says traditional healers primarily use natural herbs in their practice. “These are used in pain relief and healing. Things like cannabis, camphor, African potatao and red carrots. So, food is not just used for nutritional purposes.”

Other African superfoods include, Baobab fruit, Hibiscus, Tamarind, Kenkiliba, Amaranth, Moringa and pumpkin leaves. 

Cultural and historical benefits

Gastronomic tourism also includes the promotion of heritage sites that are known to revolve around dishes that are of historic importance. They enhance the travel experience, they encourage the acquisition of knowledge and a cultural exchange.

There is a unanimous view that vast amounts of knowledge have been lost to history and there is a huge knowledge gap in African societies as a result of colonization and urbanization.

“Part of the colonial agenda was to make sure food security did not belong to indigenous groups. Therefore, archiving of these knowledge systems was not a priority. Especially during industrialization, where people moved from their villages to the city you found that the knowledge got left behind,” Mnyanda says.

Abathwa (the San people) hunting. Picture: Getty Images

He offers a contemporary example of how modernization continues to push African practices to the fringes: “To this day, abathwa (the San people) hunt their meat, but you find that because of changing agricultural practices and land reform on the Kruger National Park, they are being forced to move into the cities and industrial areas, therefore they are no longer able to practice their culture of hunting. As a result, their diet is changing.” Sedupane shares the view that the fundamentals of farming and astrology have also been exiled from public knowledge.

“The fundamentals of IKS were based on the understanding of the laws of nature – how and when things were done. Harvest cycles were linked with understanding astrology. They would not harvest until certain stars were visible in the sky. There was a dependence on nature.

“With industrialization, rather than working with nature, humans are seen as being above, as controlling, as directing it. The natural cycle is often tempered with rather than trying to work with it.”

Not all is lost however. There are historical practices that have stood the test of time and continue to be a part the few foods that are internationally associated with South Africa. Mqwebu says that, “historically, we ate more plants than meat because our ancestors had to hunt and the game back then was not tame. So, there were no guarantees that you would return with meat. And that’s where things like umqwayiba (biltong) come from. They had to preserve the meat, because wasting was not part of the culture”.

Umqwayiba (biltong). Picture: Getty Images

According to a 2015 exploratory research project conducted under the guidance of research institute Tourism Research in Economic Environs and Society director Professor Melville Saayman, biltong contributes more than R2.5 billion ($163 million) to the South African economy.

Perhaps, like the faecal transporting company, Africa will soon realize the ‘wasted’ opportunity and that there is loads of money to be made in gastronomic tourism for all its inhabitants, whether they are rural or urban, technological or indigenous.

Continue Reading

Trending