Last month vital fact sheets for nutritious leafy vegetable growth on Pacific Island atolls were launched by Waite researchers from the University of Adelaide and their international collaborators.

Begun two years ago in response to declining population health due to diabetes and heart disease, this project aims to educate residents of Pacific Island atolls on the consumption of local and introduced greens.

The 13 fact sheets were launched at South Tarawa, Kiribati and detail easy to grow and cook leafy vegetables that are nutritious but also best adapted to drought, salt (thus are “climate smart”) and high soil pH. These plants include chaya (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius), drumstick (Moringa oleifera), hedge panax (Polyscias scutellaria), ofenga (Pseuderanthemum whartonianum) and purslane (Portulaca oleracea).

Led by Dr Graham Lyons, of the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine at Waite, alongside Dr. Siosiua Halavatau (The Pacific Community, SPC) and Mr. Geoff Dean (University of Tasmania), this project has already achieved a great deal, including the introduction of several taro and sweet potato varieties, the construction of “targeted composting” guidelines, and the development of a fresh produce value chain for the atoll of Abaiang.

Project coordinator Routan Tongaiaba addressing students at King George V School, Kiribati. Drumstick, hedge panax, ofenga on the table.

Chaya at Bonriki, S Tarawa, Kiribati: high in protein and iron, with anti-diabetes effect

“About 70% of deaths in Pacific Island countries are due to non-communicable diseases (NCDs),” Dr. Lyons explained.

“Inclusion of nutritious leafy vegetables in the daily diet, together with decreased intake of refined carbohydrates and fatty foods, and increased exercise has the potential to reduce NCD rates. Especially when most of these plants have specific anti-diabetes effects in addition to lowering blood sugar level.”

As income is limited on outer islands/atolls of Kiribati and Tuvalu, this project also has the potential to increase income through food crop diversification, and at a country level, to improve the balance of payments by reducing the need for most food to be imported.

The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) has provided $1.03M in funding over four years, $100,000 of which will go to the University of Adelaide. The project is linked to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) Kiribati Outer Islands Food and Water Security program.

The 13 fact sheets are currently being translated into the Kiribati and Tuvalu languages, and can be downloaded below:

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