Are Kenyans ignoring diversity of diet?

A long press release from Tufts University in Boston, USA, tells us how faculty members have assisted Kenyan policy-makers in a series of workshops

“to build strategies for implementing Kenya’s National Food and Nutrition Policy. … The scope of the plan ranges from agricultural production, strategic grain reserves, and post-harvest protection, to nutritional interventions for high-risk groups, and the interrelationship of nutrition and diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.”

But I see no mention whatsoever of either dietary diversity or the value of local species as a contribution to nutrition. I’m hoping this is just an oversight by whoever wrote the release, but I fear it may not be. Using local food diversity to boost dietary diversity has so many benefits, I can’t imagine how the team overlooked it.

Kids eat more if fruit and veg are home-grown

A survey in the US has discovered that children eat more fruit and vegetables, and have a more positive attitude to those foods, if they have been grown in a home garden. That’s great, for children at homes with gardens. For the rest, school gardens can help:

“Students at schools with gardens learn about math and science and they also eat more fruits and vegetables. Kids eat healthier and they know more about eating healthy. It’s a winning and low-cost strategy to improve the nutrition of our children at a time when the pediatric obesity is an epidemic problem.”

I happen to think a garden is one of the finest teaching aides ever, but then, I’m biased.

Indian potato chips

Indian potato growers are turning to a new, low-sugar variety of potato because it is better for making chips (crisps if you’re British), for which there is rapidly increasing demand. Would be interesting to monitor the effect on “local” varieties, no?

Local and exotic crops in Africa

The long dry spell throughout much of February and March, caused by an unexpected El Nino that kept the main rain belt to the north of Zimbabwe, will cause serious hardship in significant areas of the country.

That’s not the only thing, of course, but an article from the Harare Herald1 makes a plea for farmers to grow local indigenous grains such as “sorghum, mhunga and rapoko” rather than watch maize “wilt and die four years out of five”.

It is a wonderful article, making lots of good points. That food-for-work programmes should be accompanied by intensive training on growing small grains, so that those who need it most can become self-reliant in food and maybe even sell a bit for income. That modern machinery makes preparation much easier, and it isn’t expensive. That an advertising campaign could make a virtue of sadza2 the way grandmothers made it. That there are benefits for urban consumers too. And finally, “Variety is wonderful. But we should not be rejecting indigenous grains simply because they are not “modern” or “Western”. We should be using them as well”.

I wonder whether anyone is listening?

The Ethiopian Herald, meanwhile, says green gram is becoming the crop of choice in Southern Wollo zone. A legume, green gram (Vigna radiata, maybe most familiar in the West as mung bean) improves soil fertility, ripens more rapidly and doubles or even triples incomes. One farmer is quoted as having replaced his teff crop with green gram, but if everybody does that, who is going to supply the teff flour for njera?

  1. Posted at allAfrica.com []
  2. Zimbabwean porridge? []

School gardens

It seems pretty obvious that school food gardens should be quite useful teaching tools. Kids like nothing better than getting down and dirty. Well, anyway, now there’s proof. A paper in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, whose abstract you can read here, confirms “the efficacy of using garden-based nutrition education to increase adolescents’ consumption of fruits and vegetables.” What an opportunity for also teaching about agricultural biodiversity, highlighting its link to nutrition! Of course, in some parts of the world school gardens actually provide a significant proportion of the students’ diet…