Grow and eat nutritious food

Editorial, Normal

The National, Tuesday 23rd April 2013

 By James Laraki

IN most (if not all) rural communities in Papua New Guinea, households eat what they grow. 

But variety and quality of what they grow and eat has not been considered seriously. 

It is also obvious that the issue of food security has focused on the quantity of food, with very little or no attention to the quality of food. 

We still have a lot of work to do, to promote and ensure rural communities grow a variety of nutritious food and eat a balan­ced diet that is sustainable. 

Nutritious diet is essential for the healthy development of humans. 

This calls for immediate actions to promote sustainable diets and food biodiversity. 

There are a number of orga­nisations making efforts to promote a nutritious diet in rural communities. 

One such organisation is Child Fund, a non-governmental organisation working with rural communities in Rigo, Central.

Child Fund has been running various livelihood improvement programmes in the area inclu­ding education, health, nutrition and agricultural programmes. 

Its programme on nutrition is aimed at educating the rural households the importance of growing and eating nutritious food including growing a diversity of food crop species. 

Child Fund has been collaborating with NARI, especially in its nutrition awareness programmes. 

The NARI plant genetic resource project based at Laloki has been working with Child Fund to raise awareness on nutritious diet. 

Villages of Boku, Poletoguna, Alepa, Ibunatou, Potuna and Girabumagana in Rigo are under this programme.

We used the opportunity to share with the villagers the importance of having “nutritive gardens” as a secure source for providing nutritive food for households and how crop diversity contributes to food and nutrition security. 

This also gave us the opportunity to observe what food crops are grown there, the composition of their daily diet and how we may be of help in other areas.

This is part of our efforts to promote the importance of maintaining and growing food crop diversity to ensure food and nutritional security for rural households. 

We believe the true definition of food and nutrition security is that of bringing diverse diets, diets that fulfil all the needs of the people.

Those of us in the agriculture sector are responsible for ensuring the production and distribution of foods that are nutritionally adequate, safe and environment friendly. 

Therefore, there is an urgent need to develop and promote strategies for sustainable diets. 

We need to emphasise the positive role of biodiversity in human nutrition and pover­ty alleviation. 

We need to mainstream biodiversity and nutrition as a common path, promoting nutrition-sensitive development and food-based approaches to sol­ving nutrition problems. 

Narrowing the nutrition gap, the gap between what foods are grown and available and what foods are needed for better nutrition means increasing the availability, access and actual consumption of a diverse range of foods necessary for a healthy diet. 

NARI is working to protect, promote and improve established food-based systems as the sustainable solution to ensure food and nutrition security, combat micronutrient deficiencies, improve diets and raise levels of nutrition. 

There is an urgent need to change the way we do agriculture in order for the rural communities to integrate nutritional quality. 

This will require us to move beyond the major staples and look at the neglected and underutilised plant and animal species. 

We need to emphasise the importance of sustainable diet. 

It is not just about producing calories but diverse diets and that is why these neglected and underutilised species are so important. 

For instance, we are working to reinstate a number of leafy green vegetables and other crop species such as tulip until recently considered as poor people’s food into local diets and markets. 

Promotion of carotene rich sweet potato and cassava would further improve nutrition for the households. 

NARI is also promoting implementation of sustainable practices, improved resource use, protection of the environment, conservation of the natural resource base and enhanced use of ecosystem services. 

NARI is actively encouraging the consumption of foods, particularly those available locally, that contribute to diversified and balanced diets, as the best means of addressing micronutrient deficiencies and other forms of malnutrition, especially among vulnerable groups.

Of course, this change will not be successful without collaboration and improved communication among the different sectors. 

Efforts of organisations such as Child Fund,  who are working to improve livelihoods of rural communities, are commendable. 

Such efforts are necessary for us to reach many rural communities.

We should be working towards closing the gap between the agriculture, nutrition and health sectors. 

Appropriate policies should be formulated to ensure relevant agencies such as the departments of agriculture, health, edu­cation and others work toget­her to address these pro­blems in a sustainable way.