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ISHS Acta Horticulturae 806: International Symposium on Underutilized Plants for Food Security, Nutrition, Income and Sustainable Development

LET'S GO LOCAL INITIATIVE IN POHNPEI, MICRONESIA FOR PROMOTING UNDERUTILIZED CROPS

Authors:   L. Englberger, A. Lorens
Keywords:   diet, lifestyle changes, vitamin A deficiency, diabetes, awareness, carotenoid, 'Karat'
DOI:   10.17660/ActaHortic.2009.806.28
Abstract:
Pohnpei State, Federated States of Micronesia, located in the Northern Pacific Ocean, has a great diversity of plants, including 48 giant swamp taros, 55 bananas, 133 breadfruits, and 171 yam cultivars among the staple food crops. However, since the 1970s, traditional food crops have been neglected with the shift to imported processed foods. Although nutritional status was previously good, dietary and lifestyle changes have led to serious nutrition-related health problems. Over half of the preschool children suffer from vitamin A deficiency, adults are commonly obese, and approximately 20% of adults are diabetic. There is concern about loss of traditional knowledge. Thus, the Island Food Community of Pohnpei, a non-governmental organization, initiated activities to increase production and consumption of island foods for the many benefits these offer (food security, health, economic, environment, and culture). Four strategic areas of work were established: innovative awareness activities (including posters presenting the “Yellow Varieties Message” relating to the value of yellow-fleshed cultivars, provitamin A carotenoid content and health benefits; proclamation of ‘Karat’ as the Pohnpei State Banana; national ‘Karat’ postal stamps; Going Yellow video; Go Local billboards and email network); conservation of rare carotenoid-rich cultivars in gene bank collections (including Pandanus, an atoll island food); small-scale processing of local foods; and research (including nutrient analysis, documentation of the traditional food system as part of a global health project, and dietary/health assessments). Many traditional carotenoid-rich cultivars (i.e., banana, taro, pandanus) having the potential to protect against vitamin A deficiency, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease were identified. Measurable impact from the campaign through marketing and dietary studies was clearly shown, e.g., ‘Karat’ was previously not marketed but is now regularly available at local markets. Dietary improvement has been shown. The Let’s Go Local initiative, with its inter-agency, participatory, ethnographic approach, has become well-known in many Micronesian communities. Further work, including greater support and resources in order to bring the awareness message to more communities, developing small-scale processing of local crops, and increasing availability of planting materials, is needed to expand the program to achieve full impact. Due to the initial response to our program, it is expected that this approach will be successful. Some areas of this program may be relevant to other communities where similar local foods have been neglected and underutilized.

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