New report combines traditional & scientific knowledge to investigate local food crops and seafood that contain key bioactive compounds and nutrients and their potential to contribute to improved nutrition and income generation.
Although small in total land area, these islands are large ocean states, rich in biodiversity (both terrestrial and marine) and have diverse cultures and traditions. In recent years, Pacific Islanders have become increasingly reliant on nontraditional and processed foods, which are often nutritionally poor, and high in fats, salts and sugars. As a result, many Pacific Island Countries face very high rates of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) with increasing numbers of health problems such as obesity, diabetes and high-blood pressure. Many traditional local food crops and seafood that can contribute towards improving the health and nutrition situation and provide new income generation opportunities for local communities are underutilised.
One of the strategies for addressing this health threatening epidemic in the Pacific is to identify and promote the uptake of locally available food crops and marine resources, which are of high nutritional value. Bioactive compounds along with macro and micro nutrients found in crops and seafood play an important role for the health and well being of consumers. However, it has to be taken into account that the consumption of foods also differs between the Pacific Island countries. Food in the Pacific is linked to the cultures and as such some of the preferences are based on cultural beliefs.
The objective of the study led by Dr. Sunil Singh (The University of the South Pacific (USP)), was to identify which crops and marine resources provide the best opportunity for addressing predominant nutrition challenges and supporting value chain and agri-business development.
This report gives insights into the current status of traditional and scientific knowledge on composition of key nutrients and bioactive compounds, known or associated with traditional crops and seafood consumed in seven Pacific Island countries, namely Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Vanuatu.
Information was gathered through interviews with traditional knowledge experts and a literature review. A total of 75 crops and marine resources were identified as commonly consumed and/or having health and nutrition benefits or foods which could be better used in the daily diets. Traditional leaders also gave reasons for declining consumption and limited utilisation of traditional foods e.g. loss of traditional varieties, e.g. breadfruit and yam; loss of traditional knowledge on edible plants and seaweed from the wild, and lack of awareness on nutritional value and health benefits.
Some key recommendations include:
- Certain types of marine resources are highlighted which have promising health benefits and could be targeted for aquaculture to meet Food and Nutrition Security (FNS) as well as provide income generating opportunities for Pacific Islanders e.g. seaweeds are a promising source of bioactive compounds and could be sustainably developed to meet the demand for food and industrial applications
- Fruits, vegetables, legumes and root crops were identified which have an important role to play in FNS and can contribute towards protecting from non-communicable diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, kidney and liver diseases, a good example is the Morinda citrifolia plant (commonly known as Noni or Nonu or Kura), which is used all over the Pacific for treating various diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, fever, muscle and joint pains and is gaining popularity worldwide
- Leguminous food crops and green leafy vegetables such as drumstick leaves, water spinach, and leaves of some root crops e.g. cassava and taro leaves, as well as fruits such as soursop and star fruit are nutritious and contain a number of bioactive compounds but remain underutilised and not part of a diversified diet of the Pacific Islanders.
Overall, the consumption of local green leafy vegetables, fruits and leguminous crops as well as seaweeds and sea cucumbers needs to be better promoted and their use encouraged. Affordability and consistent supply of these foods, which were identified as barriers to their uptake, could be improved.
Traditional knowledge of Pacific Islanders needs to be better harnessed and integrated with modern scientific knowledge to address the nutritional and health problems. The search for nutritious local foods must be given greater emphasis to meet the FNS challenges in the PICs.