This report gives insights into the current status of knowledge on composition of key nutrients and bioactive compounds, known or associated with traditional crops and seafood consumed in seven Pacific Island countries, namely Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Vanuatu. Information was initially gathered through guided interviews with traditional knowledge experts.
Traditionally, Pacific Islanders depended on crop production and fishing to sustain their daily diets and livelihoods. In recent years, Pacific consumers have become increasingly reliant on non-traditional and processed foods; which are often nutritionally poor, and high in fats, salts and sugars, which negatively impact Food and Nutrition Security (FNS). There is a rich biodiversity of terrestrial and marine organisms in the Pacific Island countries (PICs), many of which are yet to be fully studied and utilised for the bioactive compounds and health or nutritional value. Traditional local food crops and seafood that can contribute towards improving the health and nutrition situation and provide new income generation opportunities for local communities are underutilised.
This report gives insights into the current status of knowledge on composition of key nutrients and bioactive compounds, known or associated with traditional crops and seafood consumed in seven Pacific Island countries, namely Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Vanuatu. Information was initially gathered through guided interviews with traditional knowledge experts. Based on their responses and a systematic literature review of 433 scientific articles, a total of 75 crops and marine resources were identified as commonly consumed and/or having health and nutrition benefits or foods which could be better used in the daily diets. Traditional leaders also gave reasons for declining consumption and limited utilisation of traditional foods. These included loss of traditional varieties, e.g. breadfruit and yam; loss of traditional knowledge on edible plants and seaweed from the wild, and lack of awareness on nutritional value and health benefits.
For the fisheries and seafood sector there is scope for more sustainable management of resources, as stocks e.g. of sea cucumbers (bêche-de-mer) are dwindling due to overexploitation and climate change. Seaweeds are a relatively inexpensive source of protein, vitamins and minerals and contain bioactive compounds. However, more research is needed on the bioactive principles and associated health benefits of Pacific seaweed varieties and protocols should be developed for value added products for local consumption and for export markets. Some species e.g. sea cucumbers and shellfish could also be better targeted for development through aquaculture.
Leguminous food crops and green leafy vegetables such as drumstick leaves, water spinach, and leaves of some root crops e.g. cassava and taro leaves, as well as fruits such as soursop and star fruit are nutritious and contain a number of bioactive compounds but remain underutilised and not part of a diversified diet of the Pacific Islanders. There is scope for further research on optimum production and postharvest handling systems to retain the health benefit (bioactive properties) and nutritional value and to enhance the agribusiness and market potential.
Traditional knowledge of Pacific Islanders needs to be better harnessed and integrated with modern scientific knowledge to address the nutritional and health problems. The academic and research community need to provide the scientific evidence to validate the health and nutritional benefits and support Pacific communities in making more informed decisions. The consumption of local green leafy vegetables, fruits and leguminous crops as well as seaweeds and sea cucumbers need to be better promoted and their use encouraged. Affordability and consistent supply of these foods, which were identified as barriers to their uptake, could be improved.
Overall, there is a need for greater collaborative research between governmental (Ministries of Agriculture, Ministries of Health), non-governmental and research and academic organisations, and local communities in Pacific Island countries to further develop crops and marine resources which are nutritious and also have bioactive compounds with health benefits e.g. anticancer, antidiabetic and cholesterol lowering.