Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A letter from the Food Think Tank

Dear Dr. Raziq,

This week, Ellen Gustafson and I are pleased to announce that Food Tank is partnering withAVRDC-The World Vegetable Center, a worldwide leader in the promotion of vegetable production and consumption!

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 2.7 million lives could be saved every year if vegetable consumption was increased. And a lack of vegetables, according to the World Health Organization, causes 14 percent of gastrointestinal cancer deaths, 11 percent of heart disease deaths, and about 9 percent of stroke deaths globally.

And in developing countries, vegetable production can be one of the most sustainable and affordable ways of alleviating micronutrient deficiencies among the poor. Often referred to as hidden hunger, micronutrient deficiencies—including lack of Vitamin A, iron, and iodine—affect at least two billion people worldwide. They lead to poor mental and physical development, especially among children, and cause poor performance in work and in school, further crippling communities already facing poverty and other health problems.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vegetables are crucial for optimal child growth, weight management, and chronic disease prevention. In developing countries, lower rates of vegetable consumption are linked to higher rates of mortality in children under five years. AVRDC Director General Dyno Keatinge says, "vegetables are our best source of the vitamins, micronutrients, and fiber the human body requires for health. They add much-needed nutritional diversity to diets."

Vegetables are not only nutritious and a necessary party of a healthy diet, but they are an important way to protect the environment, preserve biodiversity, and raise incomes.

Unfortunately, many research institutes and the funding and donor communities still tend to focus on calories, rather than nutrients. Starchy staple crops—wheat, maize, rice, and cassava—receive the bulk of research dollars, and there is very little investment in what makes those crops taste good or nutritious. Over the last 30 years, the food output of sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America—and North America—has become more focused on raw commodities, and less on more nutrient-rich crops such as protein-rich grains and vegetables.

But vegetables are less risk-prone to drought than staple crops because they typically have shorter growing times and can help maximize scarce water supplies and soil nutrients.

AVRDC works with farmers not only to grow vegetables but also to process and cook them. Often, vegetables are cooked for so long that they lose most of their nutrients. To solve that problem the Center works with women to improve the nutritional value of cooked foods by helping them develop shorter cooking times. And eating is believing—when cooks find out how much better the food tastes, and how much less fuel and time it takes to prepare, they don’t need much convincing about the alternative methods.

In India, the Vegetable and Fruit Promotion Council Keralam (VPCK)  empowers vegetable farmers by offering production and marketing support, including training, seed supplies, and access to markets.

And in the United States, the Urban Nutrition Initiative in Philadelphia works with more than 10,000 students and their families to teach urban residents the importance of incorporating vegetables into their diets. And Native Harvest is helping save and preserve seeds of indigenous vegetables. 

Vegetables are not only a key ingredient in healthy diets, but they can also improve economic and environmental sustainability in rich and poor countries, helping nourish both people and the planet.

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