Six (6) Ways to Grow Food Tourism in Nigeria

‘We need to diversify the Nigerian economy’, our Minister of Industry, Trade & Investment, Mr. Okechukwu Enelamah says in many places – on CNN, at global meetings, etc:

“Necessity is the mother of invention,” he says. “Given the very negative consequences of the drop in oil and commodity prices…we must make good on our commitment to diversify the economy.”

To fulfill this ambition, the government recently launched its “Economic recovery and growth plan,” which aims to deliver 7% annual growth and 15 million new jobs by 2020. 

The plan includes strategies to develop manufacturing in the food and agriculture sector, new energy projects, and advanced industrialization with a focus on small and medium-sized enterprizes (SMEs).

One of my favourite things about travel is food. Eating, drinking, comparing, calibrating and basically living la vida loca, where ever I am. The Nigerian Food Industry is burgeoning, from the growth of the ‘New Nigerian Kitchen/ Cuisine’ philosophy to documentation, exploration of seasonal produce and food photography and styling. These and other food trends mark a change in the food industry which should naturally lead to huge changes in food tourism. 

For Nigerian cuisine, I think the demand is both local and foreign. In a country this size with such diversity of cuisines and styles, Nigerians are as curious about new discoveries as are foreigners. Recent food festivals are tribute to that – Eat.Drink.Festival, GTBank Food & Drink, Fiesta of Flavours, The Chef Dish Food Festival and More. Nigerians come out enmasse.

And this has me thinking about Food Tourism. I’m thinking of it beyond the government. While I hope they can create/ formulate structures and policies that support food tourism, I think there’s a lot already been done that can be packaged/ channeled in a few other ways. In the end, the aim is to build a thriving food industry while preserving and sharing our culture and heritage.

So, what is Food tourism ? Well, for me, it’s the many stories of a place – its history, culture, influences and most of all, its people and how they eat. For me, it’s a great expression of ‘Food is more than eating’. There’s a lot beyond the plate that speaks to tradition and legacies that we must explore because the past and present are important.

Why is this important?

  • Creating awareness of Nigerian cuisine
  • With awareness comes education
  • And with education, development
  • Development could fuel growth locally and internationally

There are, however a few things that are key to shape our style and offerings as we think of food tourism:

  • Authenticity – unique visions and perspectives are key whether that’s in the classic or New Nigerian Kitchen
  • Cultural experience  – linked to authenticity, sharing and communicating cultural context
  • Food safety – key! 
  • Provenance – where does our food come from/ past – present and maybe even future

Though there’s a lot more, these are critical areas of differentiation. 

Quite often, before I travel, I research the must-try foods and drinks of my destination – I try street food, visit local supermarkets and markets, try out local cuisine in restaurants, eat at home with a local, amongst others. My focus is largely on local food culture, I must confess. I’m not opposed to fine dining but on my first visit to a new place, I want to get a sense of how similar it is to my Nigerian food culture and how it differs and for that reason, gourmet dining is secondary.

Here are 6 ways we can grow food tourism in Nigeria

1. Food Writing & Other Content

How: writing for Nigerian, African and foreign publications about food and food culture is important. Start a food blog which focuses on an aspect of Nigerian food, pitch travel pieces to travel blogs – whether destinations are local or foreign. Other content as well – photography, audio, video are important

Key: Knowledge of Nigerian cuisine and other global cuisines, from which you can draw parallels to aid understanding as there are key variations in lexicon and language across cuisines

2. Local Food/ ‘Dining’ Hosts

One of the best ways to experience a new place, a new culture is through the eyes, and at the table of a local.

How: Host meals – breakfasts, lunches, dinners, brunches

Key: A great menu that has a number of classic dishes – like Jollof – which can be focal points for history, heritage, influences etc

Major Key: Could be done in collaboration with ‘New Nigerian Tour companies’ like The Social Prefect, The Village Parrot etc, who host a mix of people and offer a variety of personalised/ customised tours.

Last December, I hosted a couple of DHL-Sponsored South African Rugby players to lunch where we they ate Jollof Rice, we talked about Umqombothi, a local Xhosa beer which I first heard about from an Yvonne Chaka Chaka song way back in the 80s – talk about connections. I learnt how to click my tongue to pronounce the x sound in Xhosa. They tried plantains, suya, zobo and more and enjoyed it!

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3. Local Cooking Classes

When I lived in the Netherlands, I took a sushi class at a local restaurant that was fantastic. In Barbados on holiday in 2010, I took a class at a local restaurant where I learnt to make traditional Bajan fare. If I travel to the north of Nigeria, I’d be looking to take classes!

How: Focus on a couple of items central to Nigerian cuisine – puff puff, Jollof rice, Zobo, etc, things which can  be put together in 2 – 3 hours. 

Key: It’s important to be knowledgeable so as to share the fundamentals in a way that does not overwhelm the learner. Share resources that can support the learning obtained from these classes and see about providing some support past.

4. Food Tours & Trails

I think street food is the window into the soul of any cuisine. In most places around the world, it is what a major part of the population survive on. Now, to avoid stories that touch and traveller’s D, do your homework and select trusted spots which combine authenticity with hygiene. Tours and Trails could include historic sites, festivals, food ceremonies, visits to farms and gardens, local food utensil producers, food factories, as well as spots known for street food, good local restaurants, supermarkets & open markets

How: Organise short 3 – 4 or more stop tours that weave history, food and culture

Key: Know your audience before hand to get an idea of abilities – walking, attention span and other aspects.

5. Food & Culture Sections on State Government Websites

State websites. Yes, yes, I know I said lets leave the government out of it for now – I meant the Federal Government :).

State governments can do a lot to attract tourism to their states by having and publicising food and culture sections on their state websites. I mean, that has to be one of the easiest things to accomplish. Alas, not a lot is seen.

First up, states should have websites! In this day and age, a Wiki page alone is NOT sufficient. A 404 page is even worse. That is NOT good enough.

Nigerian states & their websites

Akwa Ibom state has the most comprehensive description of its cuisine with a dozen or so summaries of key dishes and a list of common ingredients. This isn’t the best we can do but it’s a start.

Edo state does have a paragraph or two: ‘The traditional cuisine in Edo State is fairly representative of what obtains in most southern states in Nigeria. Pounded yam or eba are eaten with vegetable, melon or okra soups cooked with either bush meat (Antelope, Pig and Grasscutter etc), beef or fish. Yam and rice, which are grown in the state is also eaten with other varieties of soup and meat or fish throughout the state. Garri, which comes in white or yellow variants can be eaten or soaked in water and accompanied with beans, meat, fish, groundnuts etc.’

Ekiti state has one line. It says: ‘Typical Ekiti man can not do without Iyán in a day, with melon soup, crowned with bush meat’.

We can do a lot better. Sigh – I have no clear route to how to convince and then get in touch with your state owners but…I’m thinking!

6. Nigerian Cuisine ‘Export’

As I shared in my 2017 Nigerian Food Trends report, Nigerian cuisine done gone global. 

There’s a lot the Nigerian government can do here from farm to table – from enabling farms, gardens and cooperatives to setting standards for assurance and control, to stimulating export of Nigerian produce and products. 

There must be an easy channel to get from creator to exporter in a way that is legal and provides channels for government revenue too

The Nigerian Fusion Food Tour with Tomi Aladekomo of Heels in The Kitchen travelled round the globe as a city tour that Tomi ‘created, funded and organized in 2016. The tour kicked off in Abuja on October 30th 2016 and had stops in London, UK, Baltimore, Chicago, Atlanta, Toronto and Lagos. The purpose of the tour was to showcase Nigerian cuisine to a larger audience and also reinvent the way we as Nigerians think about our food. We served a six course meal in each city serving such things as moi-moi puree and jollof arancini.’

It is time to export our food to international market. We should promote agriculture and food culture. The government needs to regulate the food industry. We need a cooking hub where people can be trained and retrained. We need to export our local food. If we focus on food export, we can raise billions of naira annually on agricultural export. By so doing, we will be opening up new markets. Nigeria can become tourist destination if our local foods are export to the international market. Source – Vanguard

I’m all for sharing, showcasing and ultimately showing the wonders of Nigerian cuisine, first for Nigerians – at home and in diaspora and the rest of the world.

What do you think? How else can we grow our food tourism industry? Whose door do we need to be knocking down to listen to us?


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