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Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific need more research and policy intervention to stem the reduction in (bio)diversity in the diet

May 21, 2014

Judith Francis, CTA's Senior Programme Coordinator for Science & Technology Policy, calls for serious consideration to be given to more research and policy action with the aim of increasing diversity in our diets and for safeguarding the genetic resource base for the future of food and farming. The ACP region is a rich source of biodiversity; plant and animal sources including fish as well as forestry products (herbs and medicinal plants). Many of the fruits and indigenous green leafy vegetables are rich in micronutrients which are deficient in the diets of many people in both the developing and developed world. The entire global community is concerned about growing malnutrition both under and over- nutrition as countries grapple with increasing health care costs and addressing nutritional deficiencies in women and girls of reproductive age and children within the first 1,000 days.

Francis, who is also the Executive Secretary of the European Forum on Agricultural Research for Development (EFARD) and Editor of the CTA EU-ACP webportal, Knowledge for Development, asks the question 'can the research and policy communities afford not to consider the implications of the increasing globalisation of diets and the reliance on a few crops and provide the evidence for policy and action. She emphasises that the implications for the future of food and nutrition security are far reaching, both for the economies and natural environment. Her point is based on a recent CIAT publication and would appear to be reinforced by a recent report that Chinese researchers have begun to consider the implications of the loss of indigenous, more resilient, genetic resources for food and farming. Extending this further, there is also a need to consider similar research with livestock.

Biodiversity and diets was one of the topics raised at IFPRI's 2020 Global conference which was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 15-17 May 2014. According to Gibson Susumu of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, two out of every three deaths today can be attributed to Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, cancer, stroke, and heart disease. NCDs are a result of a change in livestyles (more sedentary) and diets linked to consumption of highly processed imported products, while local crop species are abandoned or reduced in the local diet.

During the IFPRI conference, CTA organized a high-level panel with experts from the Caribbean and Pacific . The topic for discussion was "Enhancing resilience for food and nutrition security in small island economies". Chaired by CTA director Michael Hailu, the panel also included Gyan Acharya, UN Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States.

A number of important themes emerged from the panel:

  • higher consumption of locally grown produce contributes to better health;
  • increased linkages between agriculture and other economic sectors (tourism, ICTs...)
  • farmers need to own more of the value chain to become more productive and profitable; and
  • there needs to be more co-operation within and between the two regions (Caribbean and Pacific).
  • there is a need to strengthen the link between private and public sector in terms of policies related to food and nutrition security at national, regional and where possible international level.

Gibson Susumu, Food Security Technical Officer at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, says the Pacific Islands are not often engaged with international research organisations.
"There needs to be extra support so our voices can be heard, and so we can get the support we need to meet our challenges especially with respect to food security."

The points raised during the high-level panel will feed into the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States, which will take place in Samoa in September this year. These issues are also relevant to the celebration of the African Year of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Security, the Caribbean Week of Agriculture which will take place in Suriname in October and the 2nd International Conference on Nutrition which will take place in Rome.

On the occasion of the International Day for Biological Diversity 2014 on 22 May, which aims to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues, these points are particularly prevalent. Even more so, given that this year, the theme of the International Day is Island Biodiversity.