How fighting preconceived ideas can bring economic change for the impoverished in Africa

Pause for a moment.
What is the first thing that comes to mind when mentioning Africa?

Desert, wildlife, hunger, savanna, migrants, poverty, music, conflict, terrorism, etc.?

Very often, the name conjures up many preconceived ideas. The news is swamped with countless tales of migrants trying to make it to Europe, leaving impoverished regions, for what they feel is a better future.

So what does food have to do with this?
A lot. That is what US-based Chef Pierre Thiam is working on. His mission is to give economic opportunities to some of the most impoverished regions in Senegal so that the young are not driven to emigrate. And these opportunities come from food. A grain in particular. It’s called Fonio. Also known as the “Seed of the Universe” in the Dogon culture (which, by the way, was extremely advanced, surpassing what was available in the West).

Cultivated for more than 5,000 years, Fonio is this tiny grain that grows in the poorest and harshest regions like Kedougou in south-eastern Senegal. Kedougou is also the region where many migrants come from. The connection is easily made. If the young had opportunities at home, the incentive to leave would diminish. It all makes sense.

But making this a reality is far from easy. Chef Pierre Thiam is on an “uphill battle” to bring this ancient grain to the US, the world, and also the local city markets in Senegal and Africa.

To reach his goal, he must fend off preconceived ideas back at home, where this grain is looked down on, and stereotypes in the US. Listening to and seeing what he has already achieved, we can only see how invested and devoted he is to this worthy cause. The right man for the mission.

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