|dc.description||Biodiversity is the most important foundation for food security. This is particularly true in the isolated, resource-poor, small island developing states of the Pacific Islands. Food security will ultimately depend on the protection of the cultural and natural ecosystems and services, as well as the knowledge and materials needed to produce and process our food and drinks, for example our forests, reefs, rivers, agricultural systems, firewood and knowledge about farming, fishing, food preservation, processing and cooking, etc.
Food security, here, as elsewhere, depends on three sources: wild harvest, agricultural production, and trade. Islanders originally depended almost exclusively on the first two: wild food and water from our forests, non-forest land, rivers and seas, and plant and animal products from our agricultural systems.
In terms of wild harvest, Pacific Islanders eat wild yams, ferns, birds, bats, guavas, citrus fruits, tropical almonds, wild leafy greens, and an extremely wide variety of freshwater and marine foods. For example, in eastern Viti Levu, Fiji Islands, the people eat over 200 different types of finfish and over 70 different types of shellfish, crustaceans and marine invertebrates. Over half of these are sold to provide cash incomes and feed the growing urban population.
A rich heritage
In terms of agricultural production, staple root crops include four taro species, five yam species, sweet potato, and cassava. Important tree crops include coconut, banana and plantain, breadfruit, pandanus, Tahitian chestnut and a wide range of fruit and nut trees.
Other locally grown foods include taro leaf spinach, hibiscus spinach, sugarcane and sugarcane inflorescence, corn and many other vegetables, beans and pulses and a wide range of spice and beverage plants. There are wild and locally-raised chickens, ducks, pigs, goats and cows to supply fresh lean meat, eggs and dairy products.
These local foods traditionally provided us with all the proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients, and the fibre and water needed for good health. They are low in salt, sugar and saturated fats. Most of these plants and animals have many different varieties or breeds. For example, in Fiji there are at least 100 named taro varieties, 7 cattle and 5 traditional pig breeds. In the atoll country of Kiribati, there are over 200 edible varieties of pandanus, a staple food plant that will produce during the severest droughts when no other plants can. This genetic diversity adds insurance to our food system, protecting our
Today, Pacific Islanders are increasingly dependent on trade and imported foods
food plants and animals against diseases and natural disasters, such as hurricanes and drought. Unfortunately, many of these have already disappeared or are disappearing because they have been replaced by new or imported varieties and breeds.
But perhaps most important is the great knowledge of our diverse cultures, through which we have traditionally known how to collect, hunt, fish, farm and care for wild and domestic plants and animals. Such knowledge includes beliefs, seasonal migrations, recipes, ways of preserving and preparing food, how to breastfeed and nurture babies, as well as the language and names associated with the plants and animals that supply our foods and drinks, and how they affect our health.
Today, Pacific Islanders are increasingly dependent on trade and imported foods. This is partly because they live in towns and some of these local foods are now rare or too expensive, or because people no longer know how to catch, produce or prepare them, or have even lost the taste for these foods. Unfortunately, given the purchasing power and low level of nutritional awareness of most of our people, much of the imported food they eat consists of nutritionally inferior products that are high in animal fat, sugar and salt and low in high-quality protein, vitamins and minerals, fibre and water. As a result, Pacific Islanders now have some of the highest and most rapidly increasing levels of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, obesity, dental disease and cancer.
An irreplaceable loss
Sadly, many of the sources of our nutritious food plants and animals are now endangered. Our mangrove forests and coral reefs are dying or being destroyed. Many of the fish that were common in the past are now rare. Our coastal and inland forests are disappearing and our agricultural lands are being eroded. Many of the traditional varieties of taro, sugarcane, rice, breadfruit, coconut, pandanus and wild yam are dwindling, as are fruit and medicinal trees. Our traditional chicken, pig and goat breeds are disappearing.
Of at least equal concern is that the current generation often know few of the names of our fish, shellfish, crabs, wild and cultivated plants and cultivars. They don t know how to hunt, fish, farm, preserve, prepare or eat many of our traditional foods. Young farmers, who don t know the names of our fruit trees and medicinal plants, no longer protect or plant them. In short, because of our ignorance and the shortsightedness of our national planners, we are losing our biodiversity. It is our choice. The sustainable use and protection of island and marine biodiversity is vital for food security for all of our island people.
The opinions expressed in Viewpoint are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of CTA.||