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Staple food cultures: a case study of cassava ugali preferences in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Staple food cultures: a case study of cassava ugali preferences in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Forsythe, Lora ORCID: 0000-0001-9931-4453, Njau, Maria, Martin, Adrienne ORCID: 0000-0001-9305-7302, Bechoff, Aurelie ORCID: 0000-0001-8141-4448 and Tomlins, Keith (2017) Staple food cultures: a case study of cassava ugali preferences in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. [Working Paper]

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This study examines the relationship between food choice and food culture, in relation to staple foods and cassava in particular, within the context of migration and the urban environment Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The analysis provides an understanding of the different drivers of food choice, and how they may differ by gender and other factors of social difference such as age, ethnicity and region of origin, in the context of a city with a rapid growth rate, and wealth and ethnic diversity.

In-depth interviews suggest that people a structure their food cultures as primarily juxtaposing hard versus soft foods, and traditional versus modern foods. Ugali, particularly cassava ugali, typically falls into the latter categories. The type of ugali that one prefers, which is determined by the type of flour used (cassava, maize, sorghum and/or millet) is profoundly influenced by their region of origin. However, after migration to Dar es Salaam, people typically adopt the food culture of the city over time, which mainly consists of sembe, a processed maize-based ugali that is categorised as a modern food.

Availability, quality and storage time of cassava flour for ugali is limited. Cassava ugali also took longer, required more strength and continuous monitoring to prepare, compared to other flours. There were also negative perceptions that cassava was associated with poverty. However, perceptions of cassava’s nutritional value as a ‘traditional’ food were positive. Cassava ugali was also considered to be one of the most strength-inducing types of ugali and therefore important for stamina, and a reason it is often consumed during Ramadan.

Social norms also played an important role in influencing people’s shift towards sembe as their staple food. Ugali in Dar es Salaam is commonly viewed as a food consumed by men, because it is needed for strength. Women are perceived to undertake less physically demanding activities after they migrate to the capital, because they may move away from farm work, and are therefore more likely to prefer and consume rice. Rice and more modern foods were also preferred among youth. The different intrahousehold staple food preferences meant that different staples were often prepared by women, reinforcing the importance of ease of preparation for making ugali.

Overall, cassava plays less of a role in diets of people who do not traditionally consume cassava and among those who have settled in Dar es Salaam, particularly women and youth born in the city. However, there are also positive perceptions of cassava as promoting dietary diversity and a return to natural foods. Awareness of the availability and quality of cassava flour, particularly HQCF, and increase in the ease of preparation and storage, will require improvement if it is to be a viable alternative to the city’s main staple. As both men and women consume and purchase staples in the household, products need to be geared towards the needs and preferences of men and women.

Item Type: Working Paper
Additional Information: © NRI on behalf of RTB. This working paper is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit
Uncontrolled Keywords: gender, staple food, Tanzania, preferences
Subjects: S Agriculture > S Agriculture (General)
Faculty / School / Research Centre / Research Group: Faculty of Engineering & Science
Faculty of Engineering & Science > Natural Resources Institute
Faculty of Engineering & Science > Natural Resources Institute > Livelihoods & Institutions Department
Last Modified: 25 Apr 2019 09:44

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