Written by Celine Termote
Scientists working with communities in Kenya have demonstrated an innovative approach to boosting the nutritional quality of local diets while also reducing their cost.
Their work capitalized on the opportunities presented by a seemingly unlikely situation: high rates of malnourishment in an area with high agricultural biodiversity. This incongruity results from shifting dietary norms and influences over a number of years.
The recently published open access paper Assessing the potential of wild foods to reduce the cost of a nutritionally adequate diet explains how the research made use not only of up-to-date modelling and assessment techniques but also of ethnobiology and the traditional knowledge held within communities. This unusual combination enabled the scientists to recommend dietary improvements that, uniquely, include wild or under-used local plant foods. The outcome of their work to date is two-fold: a set of guidelines for an optimized, cost-minimized diet relevant to the health needs of the community and the local ecology, and a promising new method for producing equivalent recommendations for other regions.
The scientists from Bioversity International, in collaboration with Save the Children UK, focused on young children and their mothers in the eastern region of Kenya’s Baringo District in Rift Valley Province. This is an ecologically diverse area that features a wide variety of edible, wild and cultivated plant and animal species. It is also an area with demonstrably high levels of malnutrition: 36% of children in the province suffer from stunted development attributed to nutritional deficiencies.