A dramatic shift in food consumption inspired the University of the South Pacific (U.S.P) to start processing major root crops for local consumption and export.
Taro, sweet potato, cassava and breadfruit are just some of the crops the U.S.P food laboratory is processing to encourage Samoans to return to a traditional diet.
“Health is wealth,” said Dr Alminda Fernandez at a presentation to the inaugural Farmers Forum on Monday.
According to a 2014 study on pacific regional food security, across the pacific people are eating 35 per cent less banana and esi, while spending 56 per cent of food expenditure on wheat and rice, canned foods, chicken and turkey tails.
Many factors have contributed to this change, said Dr Fernandez, including the simple reality that these foods have become easier to access, and easier to prepare.
Unfortunately, this diet change affects the health of Samoans, and contributes to the rapid rise of non-communicable diseases here and across the Pacific.
Dr Fernandez is a lecturer in Food Technology in the School of Agriculture and Food Technology at U.S.P.
She showed the farmers forum how U.S.P is using the food laboratory to develop unique and tasty products from local root crops.
“We are making use of indigenous root crops over vegetables,” she said.
From cassava, a vegetable that allegedly prevents heart attacks, the lab has made flour, chips, cakes and cookies.
From sweet potatoes, yams and taro, they have created ice-creams, jams and baked products.
All in all, U.S.P has 70 products from ingredients they say are underutilised here in Samoa, such as okra.
“Samoans don’t eat okra, so we processed it into tea. Okra has a lot of health benefits including anti-cancer components,” Dr Fernandez said.