NATION Newspaper; 21st April 2018; Fenella Plows: It has been said that ‘the health of eaters reflects the health of the food system’. Many diseases and causes of death are diet-related, hence why efforts are increasing to ensure that food systems worldwide are enhanced and that the health of our populations are also improved through better diets. Dr. Nirmal Shah, Nature Seychelles’ Chief Executive, an advocate of sustainable food systems with vast knowledge of our local biodiversity, shares his knowledge and advice on this topic.
How can people re-engage with our land and why should they?
On a small island, food systems are very important, however many of our people, especially younger ones, have lost the knowledge they used to have in the past – how and where our food is grown. For example, local starch crops such as cassava are very good for our health but their consumption levels have lessened because of preference for imported potatoes.
It is important to propagate the idea of sustainable food systems/paths. We first need to remind ourselves that we live on a small island and remember to take care of our island and ourselves. We have enough natural green medicine and traditional knowledge on how to grow crops, but we need to build on this in order to keep ourselves healthy by growing more of our own food and better understanding where it came from.
Seychelles prides itself as following the principles of sustainable development. But our country does not have a sustainable food system as 75% of food stuff is imported by air and by sea, hence our carbon footprint per capita is huge. The country is generally heavily dependent on imports on all kinds and having such a huge ecological footprint, the largest per capita in Africa, means that Seychelles cannot be termed “sustainable”.
Another important aspect is how we are growing these crops, are we using organic inputs? Organic pesticides and fertilisers need to be more available in our country. People need to understand the impacts of the land on our lives and vice versa. The moment people can fully understand how putting something in our body affects us, they will begin to make changes.
Everyone should learn how to grow their own plants at home and learn more about edible landscaping (landscaping with useful plants such as fruit trees and medicinal plants), vertical gardening (using upright structures to grow vines, flowers and vegetables using much less space than traditional gardening requires – BHG), organic gardening (not using any artificial inputs) and climate-smart gardening (growing under cover or using hydroponic systems)Whatever you can grow at home, grow it.
There is a huge epidemic of obesity in the world and Seychelles is not exempted from this. We are the 12th most overweight country in the world per capita; our percentage of overweight children is higher than in adults.
As a small country, our food options are limited so there has been a need to import food items; we used to have local chicken but even this is now imported. Imported foods may be a contributing factor to the various diseases related to modern diet that our population faces.
There are links between nature and good health and thus why we need to reengage ourselves with our own land / environment; what is good for the environment, is good for us and vice versa.
How does Nature Seychelles encourage people to improve the food system for our health?
Nature Seychelles is a non-government organisation (NGO) involved in environmental conservation and management. As part of their many on-going projects, they started the Heritage Garden Project more than 15 years ago which aims to introduce young people to traditional food & medicinal plants and to promote awareness, interest and knowledge on the nurturing and propagation of traditional plants (NS).
The Heritage Garden at Roche Caiman is a demonstration site for the project and is now part of Nature Seychelles’ wider Green Health programme, which promotes sustainable living, including organic gardening and Edible Landscaping (NS).
When Nature Seychelles started the Heritage Garden, the idea was to help people reconnect with the past, understand what we did in the past and get the best out of it. Produce from the garden is also sold to members of the public at the garden itself or at Jivan Imports shop at Albert St, in Victoria on Thursdays. Nature Seychelles has published a colour book called Grow and Eat Your Own Food Seychelles, now in its second edition and having won international acclaim, to excite people about sustainable food systems in Seychelles.
Nature Seychelles is now looking into propagating the idea of eating right and healthily as well as growing only organic produce (for example using fertiliser made from seaweed) with no use of insecticides.
We are also experimenting with climate smart agriculture systems that can be integrated with a nature reserve / conservation area. For instance, we are working to see what crops can grow in a saline environment. We want agriculture to move to another level in Seychelles as the traditional methods cannot fully be practised anymore as it is difficult to grow organic crops on soils that have already been used; much of the soil in Seychelles has been contaminated from past use of chemicals. It is important therefore that new and different methods are experimented with and that new farming technologies are also made use of.
Nature Seychelles works closely with the local farming community and tries to get as many people as possible involved in gardening. The organisation works closely with Geffroy’s Farm (a local farm which makes use of eco-friendly and innovative farming methods) who provides us with organic sprays and seedlings for the garden which is now a registered farm.
In 2013, Nature Seychelles launched the 2nd edition of their book ‘Grow and Eat your own Food – Seychelles’. The book which has been donated to various organisations such as schools, provides information on the various edible plants in Seychelles, including fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices and medicinal plants which more and more people are turning towards. It also features information on starting your own garden (even for those living in an apartment) and a list of recipes from local restaurants on preparing cocktails, salads and other local dishes.
For those interested, the ‘Grow and Eat your own Food – Seychelles’ book can be purchased for Rs 100 from Nature Seychelles head office in Roche Caiman and various local bookstores.
Reference: Nature Seychelles (NS); Better Homes & Gardens (BHG)