New nutrition strategies needed to help world cope with changing diets – UN official

15 March 2013

Integrated nutrition strategies are need to help people cope with alterations in their diets prompted by urbanization, economic growth and lifestyle changes in many parts of the world, a United Nations official said today.

“We need integrated nutrition strategies, formed with the inputs of society as a whole – the private sector, consumers, doctors, and consumer organizations and others,” the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), José Graziano da Silva, told professors and students at Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands.

While 870 million people suffer from hunger, there are also over half a billion who are obese and susceptible to non-communicable diseases. Food alternatives and information on their diets would help address this problem, Mr. Graziano da Silva said, adding that a global review of nutrition strategy could, for example, involve rethinking the role of traditional crops, which have lost space in modern diets.

“Every region has a variety of non-commodity crops that were used in the past as food,” he said. “One example is quinoa, which is being celebrated in 2013 in an international year.” Quinoa is an Andean super food – a highly nutritious, cereal-like crop rich in protein and micronutrients.

During his two-day visit to the Netherlands, Mr. Graziano da Silva signed an accord with the University of Wageningen on a closer collaboration on scientific research and joint activities to foster and promote education, research and technology capacities in developing countries over the next four years.

In his talk to students, the FAO chief pointed out that while science and technology drive agricultural productivity, they cannot simply be exported from one country to another and be expected to work perfectly.

“Agriculture is too sensitive and location-specific,” he said. “Soil, climate, water availability and so many other factors influence how one technology will work elsewhere.”

He also noted the role that farmers play and stressed the importance of consulting them before implementing new technologies.

“We need to ask farmers what they need, what they want, see what could fit, how it needs to be adapted and ensure that whatever we do ends up being ‘owned’ by the farmers themselves,” he added.

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