By Past District Governor Una Hobday, Chair of Food Plant Solutions Rotarian Action Group
Did you know that recent statistics show that every minute approximately five children, under the age of five, dies from malnutrition?
Every time I read this, I find it hard to comprehend. As Chair of the Food Plant Solutions Rotarian Action Group, we have taken an Every Child Matters approach to address this alarming fact.
The first 1000 days from conception are critical in a child’s development. If children do not receive adequate quantities of key micronutrients during this period, they can be irreparably impaired for life. Malnutrition and other serious health problems, such as blindness, cognitive disabilities, anemia and impaired growth can be due to nutritional imbalances in the diet.
The Food Plant Solutions Rotarian Action Group was organized to address malnutrition through the use of readily available and local food sources. We create educational publications that help clubs and districts understand the connection between plant selection and nutrition, and empower them to grow a range of highly nutritious plants with differing seasonal requirements and maturities. We identity food plants that are important for a country or region because they are suited to the environment, high in nutrients and grow with minimal inputs. This is a self-sustainable solution that empowers people in need, not just for now, but into the future.
We do not send people in-country, but rather form partnerships with existing aid providers who use our publications to educate communities, particularly women and children, on the nutrient value of their local foods. Not only does this sustainably address malnutrition and food security, it also empowers women. In many cases growing regionally appropriate and needed food-bearing plants will increase incomes, particularly for women, which benefits the entire family and strengthens the capacity of women to provide food security, health and nutrition for their family. Most projects (whether they be housing, water, schools, maternal health, etc.), would be further enhanced by adding a Food Plant Solutions component.
With program partners, we encourage the establishment of food gardens in schools and communities, as these provide ongoing education and improve the health and nutrition of participants who are provided with nutritious food prepared from these gardens.
Our program partner in Vietnam has been implementing school gardens with impressive results: malnutrition has been reduced by as much as 95%. These results were achieved in one year alongside an increase in school enrollment due to the success of the program.
The key to saving lives is understanding the nutritional value of food and empowering people with this information. Local plants suit local conditions – it’s that simple.
President Ian Riseley has challenged all 1.2 million Rotarians to simply plant a tree before Earth Day, 22 April 2018. Following on this, we have created a document that lists potentially important trees for all countries of the world. The recommended trees are nutritionally sound and will be a CO2 sink.