Traditional food key to improving nutrition and food security


Tania Paul

Tania Paul is hoping to increase availability and access to traditional vegetables to improve food and nutritional security for communities in the Top End and PNG

A project worth $1.2 million will aim to increase availability and access to traditional vegetables to improve food and nutritional security for communities in remote and isolated parts of the Northern Territory and Papua New Guinea.

The collaborative project is supported through the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research and will be coordinated by researchers from Charles Darwin University in the NT, alongside the National Agricultural Research Institute in PNG.

Since 2012 CDU horticulture lecturer Tania Paul has been assisting the women of Papua New Guinea who are in agriculture to develop leadership skills and education to improve their community’s food security. This project builds on her recent work, which found consumption of traditional vegetables increased when people became aware of the nutritional and potential economic benefits.  

“This will have real benefits for poor urban communities where access to affordable, nutritional food can be problematic,” Ms Paul said.

“Communities in the Top End of the NT face similar problems with limited access to fresh vegetables and fruit. There is an increasing shift towards energy-dense, store-bought food with declining consumption of traditional foods due to reduced access to homelands and bush tucker sources.”

Ms Paul said the overall aim of the project was to understand and increase the role of traditional vegetables for smallholder growers in both PNG and school and community gardens in the NT, for more diversified incomes and improved livelihoods.

“This project aims to fill substantial gaps in the knowledge base about the nutritional, economic and social benefits from horticultural production of traditional vegetables,” she said.

“Improving availability of traditional vegetables and awareness of the health benefits has the potential to improve food and nutritional security, particularly for those communities that are remote and isolated.

“Many traditional vegetables are higher in essential nutrients than introduced vegetables.

“Top End Indigenous communities have low levels of consumption of any greens, but there has been some interest in introduced traditional vegetables from PNG such as aibika (slippery cabbage). One of the activities will be to run horticultural trials of aibika in Darwin, and use the findings of these trials to promote growing aibika in urban and remote school food gardens in the Top End, particularly Arnhem Land and the Tiwi Islands.”

Ms Paul said the project, entitled “Promoting traditional vegetable production and consumption for improved livelihoods in PNG and Northern Australia”, would involve growers’ groups, women’s organisations, NGOs and Indigenous communities.


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