Vegetables for healthier lives, more resilient livelihoods

When farmers diversify what they grow, consumers' diets worldwide can benefit from more and different nutrients.
SHANHUA, Taiwan - Aug. 2, 2018 - PRLog -- Providing an abundance of grains, roots and tubers—the staple crops that provide affordable sources of dietary energy—has long been the goal of national and international agricultural policies and programs.

But having sufficient calories is no longer enough, and sometimes it's too much. With an estimated 2 billion people lacking the micronutrients needed for good health and another 2 billion people overweight or obese, it's time for agriculture to ensure what's on the plate is nutritious as well as filling.

One sure way to achieve the needed dietary balance is to tap the nutritional power of vegetables.

That's the message Dr. Marco Wopereis, Director General of the World Vegetable Center (WorldVeg), will bring to the 2018 Crawford Fund Parliamentary Conference, 13-14 August 2018 at Parliament House, Canberra, Australia. "Reshaping Agriculture for Better Nutrition: The Agriculture, Food, Nutrition, Health Nexus" is the theme of this year's conference.

"Vegetables are an important source of vital micronutrients," Wopereis said. "Iron to alleviate anemia, vitamin A to counter blindness in young children, folates for pregnant and nursing women—these are among the critical nutrients vegetable crops contribute to human health and well-being."

For more than 40 years, WorldVeg has sought to strengthen the entire vegetable value chain through research and development projects focused on breeding, seed systems, safe and sustainable production practices and technologies, market access, and nutrition awareness.

Breeding for improvements in pest and disease resistance and other agronomic characters ensures vegetables can be produced successfully in the challenging conditions faced by smallholder farmers in developing countries. "Increasing the production of nutrient-dense vegetables generates good income for farmers, and gives consumers more and healthier food choices," Wopereis said. "Having access to a safe and steady supply of nutritious vegetables is a prerequisite for health."

Breeding activities are supported by the WorldVeg genebank, which houses one of the world's largest public collections of vegetable seed for use in the genetic improvement of globally popular crops such as tomato and pepper and less well-known but equally important traditional vegetable species like amaranth and jute mallow.

Throughout its project activities in Asia and Africa, WorldVeg aims to increase awareness of what constitutes a nutritious diet, and how to incorporate vegetables into tasty and healthy meals.

Wopereis acknowledges that changing dietary preferences is a long process, but a necessary one. "Knowledge comes before demand," he said. "When consumers understand the role of nutrients in health, they start looking for high quality vegetables for their families." With the right seed, skills and support, farmers can capitalize on that demand.

"Now is the time to prioritize investments in vegetables," Wopereis said. "It is the surest route to provide healthy diets for all and increase economic opportunities for smallholder farmers."

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About the World Vegetable Center

The World Vegetable Center, an international non-profit institute for vegetable research and development with headquarters in Taiwan, mobilizes resources from the public and private sector to realize the potential of vegetables for healthier lives and more resilient livelihoods. WorldVeg's globally important genebank, improved varieties, production, and postharvest methods help farmers increase vegetable harvests, raise incomes in poor rural and urban households, create jobs, and provide healthier, more nutritious diets for families and communities. Field operations in Asia and Africa are led from five regional centers in Bangkok, Thailand; Hyderabad, India; Arusha, Tanzania; Bamako, Mali; and Cotonou, Benin.

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