By GYNNIE KERO
CHILDHOOD malnutrition is another time bomb Papua New Guinea is sitting on.
A politician from East Sepik says we will lose Papua New Guinea if we don’t address this critical pandemic, particularly in rural areas.
Childhood malnutrition has already had a disastrous impact over many years.
Unlike other countries lack of food isn’t the main problem in PNG.
This begs the question — what is?
In a report published by Save the Children Australia in 2017 and written by Majella Hurney, the lack of understanding and education about nutrition and sanitation is a serious issue in PNG.
Yangoru-Saussia MP Richard Maru reaffirmed that and added that a healthy and knowledgeable population was a critical foundation of our society and to achieve our development aspirations.
About three quarters of the country’s total population of 8.5 million people are living in rural areas.
A pregnant woman may not have access to a diet that’s nutritious for a healthy pregnancy. She also needs education about sanitation, access to clean water, and an understanding of how to feed her child to keep it healthy.
According to the Save the Children Australia report, malnutrition and disease form part of a potentially lethal cycle.
But as well as the risks malnutrition poses to a child’s health, it also impacts the nation’s economy.
Malnutrition affects the economy through a number of factors, as highlighted by Save The Children report. Thes e include:
- Losses in productivity from a reduction in labour force due to increased childhood mortality;
- Losses in potential income and productivity from poor physical status and reduced cognitive function; and
- Losses from increased healthcare expenditure in treating diseases associated with childhood undernutrition.
The Government will need intervention from partners, districts and provinces to tackle the issue of child nutrition in the country.
Maru highlighted that food and nutrition security was one of his district’s key investment areas as malnutrition was a silent pandemic that robbed children’s future and the national economy of K5 billion annually.
He notes that food security is a critical national challenge that affects all other socio-economic areas, as well as human existence, and it urgently requires every province and district to adopt and implement PNG’s National Food Security Policy (2016 – 2025) and the National Government to put money where its mouth is.
“Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” (UN Food & Agriculture Organisation).
Findings from the 2017 Save The Children research reveal that child undernutrition costs the PNG economy up to US$1.5 billion (K5 billion) in a single year (2015 – 2016), representing 8.45 per cent of PNG’s GDP.
Health department statistics indicate that 45 per cent of children in PNG are undernourished or malnourished. This is a pandemic that has always been on a critical crisis point affecting some 4 million children and that needs more discussion, innovative interventions and government resources than the coronavirus.
“PNG is also ranked the fourth highest in the world for stunting – which is impaired growth and development that children experience from poor nutrition.
“Under-nutrition and chronic malnutrition leading to stunting also affects a child’s learning, creativity, education, and their psychological development.
In PNG, rural children are affected the most due to inadequate protein in their diets.
“In Yangoru-Saussia, our holistic interventions, service delivery and education and awareness include food and nutrition security as a critical area, which comes in the package of improving family living standards,” Maru says.
“Our economic interventions like large-scale commercial farming of eggs and building markets so women from the Sepik River can come sell fish, aim to enable families to have access to cheaper protein. We encourage people to get into farming of cocoa, vanilla and get involved in informal sector income-earning opportunities to enable them to improve economic access to nutritional and sufficient food,” Maru adds.
“Our staple food crops are taro, sago, banana, yam and kaukau, produced through subsistence farming for own consumption and surpluses traded in the informal markets. Thus, our food production through traditional farming practices is not resilient to disruption by factors such as climate change, droughts, natural disasters, and conflicts such as land disputes that prevent access to arable land and food sources. Our traditional food varieties are not drought-resistant, except sago.
“I am therefore encouraging our people to go into rice production.
“We are investing in education as the ladder to our future prosperity, making our citizens more educated and knowledgeable. The success of that depends on good nutrition and adequate food for children.”
Maru who visited some of the 73 rice farmers in his electorate last month further said: “Their (rice farmers) self-help project makes it easier for me to trial out some of my innovative concepts to address food security. In fact, food and nutrition security is one of Yangoru-Saussia District Development Authority’s key investment areas.
“They cultivate the dry land rice variety – tabash mati – from India. The duration from planting to harvesting is four months.
“From one family’s first trial, five cups of seedlings produced 500kg (half a tonne) of rice), selling at K7 per kilo.
“The rice is cultivated for both home consumption and for trade.”
Papua New Guinea imports 85 per cent of rice its rice at a cost of about K600 million per year.