Denigrated by some as “foods of the poor” or “forgotten foods,” indigenous and traditional foods can play an important role in stemming the tide of hunger, malnutrition and a dangerous decline in biodiversity. “The focus of research and crop improvement on a few widely consumed crops has helped meet the food needs of the rapidly growing world population, but it has narrowed dramatically the number of species upon which global food security and agricultural incomes depend,’’ said Hiroyuki Konuma of the FAO (UN’s Food & Agriculture Organization). “Go local. Enhance local food security; and maximize the utilization of locally available foods,’’ Among neglected traditional foods in Asia that could help meet the needs of local populations are forest fruits, sago palm, medicinal wild plants and edible insects.
Indigenous Foods Long Forgotten?
These were some of the conclusions of an FAO led conference, Promotion of underutilized indigenous food resources for food security and nutrition in Asia and the Pacific, just completed in Thailand and attended by various civil-society, industry and governments. Perhaps for me is startling of how globalization, consumerism and mass production has dramatically reduced diversity in our diets and probably for us to recognize all the consequences. “A century of globalization has reduced the number of plant species used for food and other purposes from roughly 100 000 to about 30. With the global population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, FAO is concerned that the world may not be able to produce enough food to meet demand. Today, an estimated 925 million people suffer from hunger and malnutrition, with over 60 percent of them residing in the Asia-Pacific region.”
Cash Rich-Nutrition Poor:
“Indigenous people living in rural areas often possess and consume food resources that are not completely understood by mainstream agriculture and health sectors. […] Many of these foods are highly nutritious and offer tremendous opportunities to enhance food security and nutrition – and rural livelihoods,” according to Dr Kittichai Triratanasirichai, President of Khon Kaen University. “If we can successfully improve information on utilizing such indigenous food resources – including more effective marketing – rural producers, including indigenous communities, will benefit greatly in terms of improved health, nutrition, well-being, and poverty reduction,”
Environmentally More Sustainable:
Indigenous peoples are often poor, live on the margins of society and are food insecure. Conversely, people living in developing rural areas are often in a dietary transition to modern processed foods that lead to chronic diseases associated with high intakes of carbohydrates and fats. Incorporating more local “forgotten foods” can be a factor in balancing diets and has the added advantage of leaving a smaller carbon footprint than many methods of modern agriculture. See Film for Blog Report - “Rio+20 – Your Future?"
The symposium, held from 31 May to 2 June, is jointly organized by the University of Khon Kaen, the Thailand National Council for Science, Japan’s International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences, the Crop for the Future Initiative, and FAO. On Saturday 2 June the participants visited an edible insects collection and processing center run by a successful farmers group with membership in Mahasarakam and Khon Kaen provinces.
Photos Courtesy UN, FAO, Terracurve.com, crisisboom.com & lunch.com