Macro-and micronutrients from traditional food plants could improve nutrition and reduce non-communicable diseases of islanders on atolls in the South Pacific
Pacific Islanders have paid dearly for abandoning traditional diets, with diabetes and other non-communicable diseases (NCD) widespread. Starchy root crops like sweet potato, taro, and cassava are difficult to grow on the potassium-deficient soils of atolls, and high energy, low nutrient imported foods and drinks are popular. Nutritious, leafy food plants adapted to alkaline, salty, coral soils could form part of a food system strategy to reduce NCD rates. This project targeted four atolls south of Tarawa, Kiribati, and was later extended to Tuvalu. Mineral levels in diverse, local leafy food plants were compared to reveal genotype-environment interactions. Food plants varied in ability to accumulate minerals in leaves and in tolerance of mineral-deficient soils. Awareness activities which included agriculture, health, and education officers targeted atoll communities. Agriculture staff grew planting material in nurseries and provided it to farmers. Rejuvenation of abandoned giant swamp taro pits to form diversified nutritious food gardens was encouraged. Factsheets promoted the most suitable species from 24 analyzed, with multiple samples of each. These included Cnidoscolus aconitifolius (chaya), Pseuderanthemum whartonianum (ofenga), Polyscias scutellaria (hedge panax), and Portulaca oleracea (purslane). The promoted plants have been shown in other studies to have anti-NCD effects. Inclusion of the findings in school curricula and practical application in the form of demonstration school food gardens, as well as increased uptake by farmers, are needed. Further research is needed on bioavailability of minerals in plants containing phytates and tannins.
Department/SchoolTasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA)
Place of publicationSwitzerland
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