Gender and Technology Training Guidelines
Session 15 - Case Studies
9. Fermented food in Sudan
Sudan has about 60 different kinds of fermented food products that have been an
important part of the country’s food culture for thousands of years. The most
complicated sorghum fermentation process that the women carry out is the
preparation of a clear sorghum beer called assaliya. This process has 40 steps and
takes 2 days or more to prepare. It is believed that the West African clear beers were
developed from the assaliya. If this were true then it shows how women would have
taken this knowledge horizontally across the continent, since it is improbable that
men had detailed information about this complex process.
One of the fermented drinks, abreh, fills the role of a nutritious thirst quencher in the
hot climate of Sudan. This is because it is filled with an easily digestible sugar and
also decreases the risk involved in drinking contaminated water. Moreover the flakes
are lightweight and easily transportable by travellers.
Most of the fermented foods used in Sudan are famine foods that could be stored for
a long time. When food shortage is a chronic state, women develop techniques to
make the most of any available organic material. Fermentation also improves the
digestibility of a food.
Women's knowledge of fermented food stuffs has played an important role in coping
with periods of famine, but a lack of understanding of this capacity has led to
international aid agencies organising relief operations around imported food stuff.
One of the first examples of the mechanised processing of traditional foods is a
machine that has been developed with the close consultation of the women. But
though this machine has the potential of relieving these women from a laborious task,
it also carries the threat of pushing the many rural and peri-urban women producers
and vendors out of the market.
The factory product is cheaper and available in the urban market. Though some still
prefer to buy the traditionally made sorghum product, the lower price of the factory
product has serious implications for the women's production.