Rising Levels of Obesity in the Pacific
Sant Kumar says a tropical fruit programme needs to be developed to reduce the dependency on imports
On the east coast of Fiji, a village on the island of Ovalau recently welcomed guests home.
Among them was veteran agricultural sector leader and founder of Bula Agro Enterprises, Sant Kumar who was left puzzled by the experience.
“It was Kavika (apple wax) season and the children were harvesting the fruit which they weren’t allowed to eat because it was for us, the guests.”
“The Turaga Ni Koro (village head) stopped them from picking more fruit when they had gathered enough,” he said.
In a conversation with his hosts, Kumar learnt there was only one Kavika tree in the village.
“Instead of stopping our children from climbing trees and eating fruit, why aren’t we planting more fruit trees!”
“Parents are buying imported fruits from the supermarket when we should be investing in more local fruit trees to sustain demand,” he said.
“They’re giving the best to visitors when it should be for their children.”
Research Fellow at Pacific Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development (University of the South Pacific), Viliamu Iese says it’s nothing out of the ordinary for most Pacific Island households.
“Growing up in Samoa the best was always served to our guests.”
“And it’s something that needs to change because if you’re serving the best to your guests, what is your family eating?”
As traditional foods get replaced, stakeholders are concerned about the limited nutritional information on imported foods.
“We can’t always blame companies in New Zealand and Australia who use the Pacific as a dumping ground,” said CocoNew -The Agency’s Joanna Bourke.
“They’re profiting from our ignorance and desire for tasty food.”
“If there was more education and awareness around the nutritional value of food and most importantly our local food and cuisine – in collaboration with other healthy eating messages – we can help minimize the obesity epidemic,” she said.
“Why do we wait for the palagi consultants to tell us so?”
Sant Kumar remains hopeful of the future.
“There has to be a way that we can develop a tropical fruit programme for our children, we have the land and we have the climate but we are doing nothing about it.”
“We talk and talk about NCD’s and iron deficiency but the solution has been at home all along.”