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Re: Indigenous methods of food preparation: what is their impact on food security and nutrition?

Gopi Ghosh FAO Representation in India, India
20.05.2013
Gopi Ghosh

Dear Moderator

The discussions on Indigenous methods of food preparation: what is their impact on food security and nutrition, brings to the fore a whole lot of interesting issues. It underscores the need to recognize traditional food products, processes and culinary traditions – unique to several cultures and communities across the world. To do that it has to focus on the need to inventorize, preserve and promote various indigenous and underutilized plant species that are integral to sustain such traditional fares. This diverse agro-biodiversity has great potential for food and nutrition security for many reasons, particularly under the gloomy scenario of climate change.

India is characterised by diverse community groups that represent a multiplicity of cultures, which live in fifteen distinct agro-climatic zones, each with its own types of food and culinary specialities. Many of these indigenous food crops can be effective in countering India’s critical malnutrition problems, as these are locally grown well, with minimal management and external inputs. They also suit better to the culture, ecology as well as the physiology of its inhabitants.

For example, the drumsticks (Moringa oleifera) is one such traditional plants having high nutrition content and almost all parts of the plants (leaves, pods, flowers, bark)  have great therapeutic and food values. Particularly, because of its high vitamins, minerals and amino acid contents, it is extremely useful during pregnancy and lactation – thus a boon for anemic Indian mothers and their children (please see for details http://lifestyle.iloveindia.com/lounge/health-benefits-of-drumstick-7477.html).  The following links may also give the recipe of various drumsticks preparation (http://www.drumsticksindia.com/recipe/recipe3.htm). Likewise, there are many pulses, oil seeds, grains and fruits and vegetables which sustain and support food and nutrition security for generations of local poor.

Besides, India is home to a large number of traditional plants, herbs, spices and condiments that are traditionally put into culinary and medicinal usage. ( see for details of herbs, spices and condiments at http://www.gateway-of-india.co.uk/indian-herbs--spices.html) There has been increased demand from consumers due to their impressive therapeutic values of these ingredients. Not only these are cultivated by small farmers in various pockets of the country, many of these plants are also sourced from the forests by the poor and tribal communities providing alternative livelihood and income generation opportunities. These also offer significant export potential augmenting their income further – again a key issue in food and nutrition security.

The nutritional qualities of these wide varieties of traditional foods alongside its religious and cultural association, demands continued patronage by the people to derive their unique benefits and prevent gradual extinction of these valuable species.

The traditional food segment operates largely in an unorganized set up.  This neither provides encouraging remuneration to the small farmers who depend on such activities for their sustenance; nor does it ensure sustained supply of raw materials to the business and the industry.  The food security and nutritional status of the poor can be enhanced if the productivity of these crops can be improved with the creation of market demand. Unfortunately these have often been ignored by mainstream R&D and the market. Thus integration of these crops in sustainable food production systems requires active policy support, R&D thrust and market promotion.

Rapidly urbanising middle class and shifting preferences for convenient and ‘ready to use’ format foods – especially of the young upwardly mobile generation - are creating physical distance between the consumers and the traditional foods that they grew up with. They can patronage traditional food products that they identify with, if such foods are recognised, encouraged and promoted. This necessitates innovative market approaches and interventions for promotion and development of such crops and the valuable traditional foods that prepared out of these indigenous plants species.

With kind regards.

Gopi Ghosh
FAO
New Delhi.