The journey to the Agrihack Lab in Tonga on 3-6 December 2018 started with a collaboration between the Centre for Flexible Learning at the University of the South Pacific (USP), and the National Food and Nutrition Centre, Ministry of Health and Medical Services in Fiji to address the current nutrition crisis in the Pacific.
The AgriHack Lab was a wonderful learning experience for both Centres, in that it enabled us to strengthen existing networks, build new linkages, and collaborate with partners across the region. And of course, we were able to promote the MyKana app during our presentation.
Training sessions delivered by technology and finance experts prior to the AgriHack event also helped to strengthen our team’s capacity to develop and present our application, as well as to access funding. We greatly benefitted from the workshops that facilitated the technical development of MyKana, as well as those that helped to improve our networking skills.
The MyKana team was one of three winners awarded the competition prize money of €5,000. This funding will assist our team to upgrade and improve the current version so that it includes additional features regarding physical activity and growing your own food. We will also receive coaching and technical assistance to build the capacity of our team.
Despite an abundance of fresh, healthy crops, such as fruits and vegetables, Fiji is wracked with nutrition-related problems that can contribute to Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). Results from the National Nutrition Survey of 2015, for instance, show that more than half the population is anaemic; children suffer from stunting and wasting; mothers are often deficient in very important micronutrients; and more than half of the adult population is either overweight or obese. The consumption of processed foods high in carbohydrates, fats, sweeteners and salt – coupled with low consumption of fruits, vegetables and animal products high in essential micro and macronutrients, has further contributed to the poor nutritional outcomes in Fiji.
To help address the unhealthy dietary patterns and the poor food and nutrition security of the Island, the Centre for Flexible Learning and the National Food and Nutrition Centre developed a mobile app in 2017 to help Fijians take ownership of their own health status. The app works by tracking dietary intake on a daily basis through a platform called “my meals”, which creates specific recipes that are culturally familiar to the user.
Although calorie counter and diet tracker apps already exist, they tend to focus on measuring or weighing the amount of food consumed, which involves the use of scales – equipment that is often unavailable to islanders of the South Pacific. Furthermore, these applications require a reliable internet connection, which is also often out of reach for inhabitants of remote Pacific Islands. Where a connection is available, exorbitant prices can inhibit its use.
To overcome these issues, the MyKana app has a hand measuring technique that allows users to estimate food portions by using the users fist, palm and thumb. The app can be downloaded via the portable webserver Rasberry Pi as well as solar power. With this approach even without internet connectivity or electricity the app is accessible.
Existing diet apps also tend to recommend foods that are predominantly found in western, developed countries, making the technology poorly suited for uptake in the Pacific region. In contrast, the MyKana app lists more than 800 commonly eaten foods in Fiji and the wider South Pacific. Within this list are 100 commonly eaten foods as referenced in the consumption data of Fiji’s National Nutrition Survey 2015.
To date, the app has been met with positive responses from users – who acknowledge the technology as a powerful tool to educate and promote a healthy way of living using local foods. And although MyKana has so far focused on Fiji, the app will soon be available to all people within the USP region, where a lot of the tropical foods are eaten. The MyKana app was developed to ultimately benefit all Pacific Islanders by helping them to maintain a healthy diet.