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Call to add value to African diets

FAO, Bioversity and IUNS Task Force on Traditional and Indigenous Food Systems and Nutrition hold awareness raising dialogue on the role of traditional and indigenous food resources in diversifying diets and improving nutrition in Africa.

Chimimba David Phiri - FAO Representative to AU and UNECA and Subregional Coordinator for Eastern Africa delivering opening remarks. ©FAO/Tezeta M.

October 03, 2018, Addis Ababa. Sub-Saharan Africa has demonstrated a monotonous dietary pattern where communities rely largely on staple crops. Fewer than 20% of infants and young children meet minimum dietary diversity, meaning their diet lacks diverse food groups such as fruits, eggs, milk, meat, fish and pulses.   

With the objective of contributing to the improvement of dietary intake, nutrition and sustainability of food systems in Africa, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Bioversity International and the International Union of Nutritional Sciences (IUNS) Task Force on Traditional and Indigenous Food Systems and Nutrition organized a symposium on Mainstreaming agrobiodiversity in African food systems in Addis Ababa on 1 October 2018. The session was held during the 8th Africa Nutrition Conference, formerly African Nutrition Epidemiology Conference, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from October 1-5 2018.

The event highlighted that low consumption of fruits vegetables, nuts, and pulses and animal source foods, significantly contributes to risk factors in the global burden of diseases. Traditional and indigenous foods contain micronutrients including vitamin A, calcium, iron zinc, folate, fibers, and anti-oxidants.  However, despite their various benefits, African countries are underutilizing their locally adapted nutrient dense food resources. Therefore the symposium called for urgent action to add value to the traditional diets of African communities.

The dialogue provided the platform for gathering of studies on traditional and indigenous food biodiversity and sharing of results on stimulating these essential food groups to improve the dietary intake, nutrition and sustainability of food systems in Africa. Stakeholders engaged in nutrition-sensitive agriculture, nutrition education or diet-related research and nutrition programmes were involved in the session.  

Existing agriculture strategies put significant emphasis on increasing production and productivity of staple grains and high value crops for the market, while little attention is paid to the role of traditional and indigenous food resources.

Chimimba David Phiri - FAO Representative to AU and UNECA and Subregional Coordinator for Eastern Africa - emphasized, in his opening remarks, that while there was consensus that many traditional foods are an essential source of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and protein, they have not been fully integrated into contemporary food systems. He encouraged African countries to take advantage of available resources to increase diversity of the food systems. “There is need to promote agrobiodiversity and revitalize indigenous food resources as an important pathway to improving food and nutritional security, income and more sustainable production systems.  FAO is working to identify species, determine the nutritional composition of several indigenous foods and to promote production, marketing and consumption of those that are rich in nutrients.” he noted.

On her part, Gina Kennedy - Senior Scientist (Nutrition), Bioversity International, and Chair of the IUNS Task Force on Traditional and Indigenous Food Systems and Nutrition stated the role of research on this essential topic as it supports evidence generation which can be used for advocacy and awareness raising on the importance of traditional and indigenous foods while also informing the design and implementation of indigenous food related interventions and policies in Africa. She stated “many of us know the problems of malnutrition but we know less well the solutions agrobiodiversity can bring to efforts to reduce all forms of malnutrition.”

The potential of evidence based policies in African countries that incorporate traditional and indigenous foods to improve nutrition was underlined. The Biodiversity for Food and Nutrition (BFN) project, implemented by Bioversity, FAO and UN environment, amply demonstrated this potential.

The symposium also recommended mainstreaming incorporation of traditional and indigenous foods into food-based dietary guidelines and other nutrition education materials. In addition it was highlighted that it is necessary for academicians to continue documenting these essential food groups to ensure healthier diets and sustainable food systems.

 

 

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