Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

‘Forgotten foods’ can be an important tool to fight hunger, FAO and scientists say

Khon Kaen, Thailand, 31 May 2012 -- Indigenous foods, neglected and derided by many in the agro- and food industries as well as urban consumers, can be an important component in alleviating hunger, malnutrition and protecting the environment, the regional representative for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations told a symposium today.

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.

“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.

“Go local. Enhance local food security; and maximize the utilization of locally available foods,’’ he said. Among neglected traditional foods inAsiathat could help meet the needs of local populations are forest fruits, sago palm, medicinal wild plants and edible insects.

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 two-day regional symposium Promotion of underutilized indigenous food resources for food security and nutrition in Asia and the Pacific, is attended by 150 representatives of governments, UN agencies, the private sector, academic and research institutions, civil society and experts in agriculture, the environment, health and nutrition. A total of 38 countries are represented.

Those attending are calling for more research and development into these neglected food sources, and for the promotion of a greater diversity of food sources. An expected key outcome of the meeting is an action plan to address those issues.

 Dr Kittichai Triratanasirichai, President of Khon Kaen University said: “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.”

“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,” the Khon Kaen University President added.

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.

The symposium, held from 31 May to 2 June, is jointly organized by theUniversityofKhon Kaen, the Thailand National Council for Science, theJapaneseInternationalResearchCenterfor Agricultural Sciences, the Crop for the Future Initiative, and FAO.

On Saturday 2 June the participants will visit an edible insects collection and processing centre run by a successful farmers group with membership in Mahasarakam and Khon Kaen provinces.

Contact

Dr Yupa Hanboonsong, Assoc. Prof. in Entomology, Faculty of Agriculture, Khon Kaen University

Nomindelger Bayasgalanbat, FAO technical officer (nutrition policies and programmes) based in Bangkok