Gastronomy heritage promotes a healthy and sustainable society: Tourism Minister

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Cookout Competitions introduced by First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa are in line with the President’s vision of making Zimbabwe an empowered upper-middle-income economy by 2030 so gastronomy heritage is a powerful enabler of a healthy and sustainable society, Hon Barbra Rwodzi, the Minister of Tourism and Hospitality Industry has said.

Hon Rwodzi made the remarks during the Community Provincial Cookout Competitions for Harare Metropolitan Province on 18 March 2024 where there was entertainment galore with Japanese International Youth Fellowship impressing the audience by singing the Ndoda Mwari song and the UZ traditional dancers got a standing ovation for their energetic performance.

Members of the Japanese International Youth Fellowship at the Cookout Competition

“His Excellency, the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe and Commander in Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces pronounced a profound vision of Zimbabwe becoming an empowered upper middle-income economy by 2030. Any empowered society by definition respects itself through the ability to make use of and pass knowledge on its own unique Heritage (i.e., Minerals, Plants, Animals, Water and Climate).

“Unique Heritage is an enabler and provider of unique shelter, health and Food varieties. The food (gastronomy) heritage is a powerful enabler of a healthy and sustainable society. We are therefore honoured today to be at this year’s edition of Community Provincial Traditional Cookout Competitions which is a key part of gastronomy tourism development and promotion. Ladies and gentlemen, the Traditional Cookout programme is a concept which was introduced by Her Excellency the First Lady of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Dr A. Mnangagwa in 2019 through her visionary leadership. When she introduced this idea some of us did not understand what it was all about,” Hon Rwodzi said.

The Cookout Competition started as a small event in Chinhoyi, elevated to the District Cookout Competition, and then to Provincial and National levels. The First Lady participates physically in both provincial and national Cookout Competitions. In 2022, she tasked the Ministry of Tourism and Hospitality Industry to coordinate the implementation of this Programme together with Provinces and other line Ministries.

In 2023, the Programme was elevated further to SADC Regional Gastronomy competitions and this inaugural event was successfully held in Masvingo with 8 countries participating, namely Zimbabwe, Botswana, Angola, DRC, Namibia, Mozambique, Malawi, and Nigeria.

The event attracted the international community resulting in the First Lady being invited to a UNWTO Forum on Gastronomy Tourism in Spain to share the Zimbabwean experience in promoting traditional cuisine. Furthermore, she was also invited to the UK to showcase the Zimbabwean cuisine during the World Travel Mart (WTM) and she was joined by some of the contestants from previous editions.

Through the efforts of the First Lady, Zimbabwe has been allowed to host the first-ever UN Tourism Africa Gastronomy Showcase during the period 26-28 July 2024 in Victoria Falls. All African countries are invited to showcase their traditional cuisine during this period.

Hon Rwodzi said it is evident that Zimbabwe has gone to another level in terms of Promoting Gastronomy Tourism. Apart from being served in hotels and restaurants, the Zimbabwe traditional foods have diffused into social and economic gatherings as well as regional and international markets.

In addition to this, UNWTO also availed scholarships to 100 students in the field of tourism and the country was allowed to build a UN Tourism Academy for the SADC region in Victoria Falls. This is meant to enhance the tourism and culinary skills of our students.

The 2024 traditional Cookout Competitions are slightly different from the previous editions in that contestants are competing in 3 different categories, namely Students in Tourism or Culinary programmes, Professional Chefs and Community categories.

Today, there is a competition for Students and Professional Chefs. The main purpose of having these categories is to provide a plain level field in the spirit of inclusivity, leaving “no one and no place behind”.

“My Ministry is committed to ensuring a more equitable distribution of tourism benefits among communities, thus creating definitive inroads towards the elimination of poverty. Ladies and Gentlemen, Tourism, as you may be aware, has evolved beyond mere holidaying and recreation. It has become an avenue for exploration, connection, and personal growth. In this journey of discovery, gastronomy plays a pivotal role as a gateway for understanding the destination’s culture and heritage. Culinary experiences have become a driving force in travel decisions, as food enthusiasts seek authentic and immersive opportunities to taste the flavours of the world.

“As such, tourists are increasingly seeking destinations that offer a culinary journey alongside traditional sightseeing. Many countries including Spain, Italy, China and France rely on gastronomy as a major driver of their economies. Ultimately, that is where we aim at, to put Zimbabwe on the global map and be the gastronomy powerhouse in Africa,” she added.

According to UN Tourism (2023) statistics, Tourism revenue generated USD 1.4 trillion globally whilst spending on Food related activities is estimated to account for 40 percent of the global tourism expenditure. To this end, the Ministry of Tourism has infused gastronomy into one of the clusters identified to promote and develop tourism as espoused in the Tourism Act which is the Culture and Heritage cluster.