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Malnutrition in East Timor Calls for Action

The Australian owners of a restaurant in East Timor are hoping to use their passion for the local cuisine to combat malnutrition in the tiny Southeast Asian nation.

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Malnutrition needs an end

The Australian owners of a restaurant in East Timor are hoping to use their passion for the local cuisine to combat malnutrition in the tiny Southeast Asian nation.

East Timor has Asia’s worst rates of child malnutrition, with more than 50 percent of children suffering from stunting – a condition that permanently affects their mental and physical development – according to the United Nations.

But this is not primarily due to a shortage of food – instead, the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF blames a lack of education and knowledge about local foods.

Development worker turned restaurateur Mark Notaras said traditional dishes like batar da’an – a kind of corn stew served at his Agora Food Studio restaurant in the capital Dili – were looked down on as “poor people’s food.”

“If you came to visit Timor, you could eat at 150 restaurants and never find it on a menu,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Representational image showing a malnutrition ridden child.

Notaras and his wife, Alva Lim, launched the non-profit Timor-Leste Food Innovators Exchange (TLFIX) last year to educate people across the country about cooking with healthy and local ingredients.

They hope to persuade them to supplement diets of white rice and instant noodles – which provide cheap calories but little nutrition – with the indigenous plants that grow there.

“We encourage people to eat a wider array of foods they already have around them in order to improve their nutrition,” said Notaras.

UNICEF already trains mothers in East Timor to provide more nutritious meals, showing them how to incorporate locally grown carrots and leafy greens into the rice that children are traditionally fed.

Lim and Notaras take a more innovative approach. (VOA)

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FAO: 822 Million Suffer from Chronic Malnutrition; 2K Million Face Food Insecurity

The food of the future will be conditioned by the increase of the world's population, rapid urbanization and changes in diets, especially in middle and low-income countries

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FILE - A Congolese boy has his arm measured for malnutrition in a clinic run by medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres in the remote town of Dubie in Congo's southeastern Katanga province, March 18, 2006. VOA

Almost 822 million people suffered from chronic malnutrition and about 2,000 million had food insecurity in 2018, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN has said in a report.

New Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Qu Dongyu, faces the challenge of mobilizing more public and private efforts against malnutrition, in a clear rise in the world for the last three years.

Qu will follow the steps of Brazilian José Graziano da Silva, who during his eight years in charge of the FAO will insist on the need to achieve healthier and more sustainable diets as producing enough food globally has not been enough to end hunger, Efe news reported.

Experts demand actions against poor diets to eradicate any ways of malnutrition by 2030, a global goal set by the Agenda for Sustainable Development.

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Experts demand actions against poor diets to eradicate any ways of malnutrition by 2030, a global goal set by the Agenda for Sustainable Development. Pixabay

“Governments must facilitate a change in private sector activity in favour of more nutritious, affordable and accessible” Director of Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition (GloPAN) Sandy Thomas told Efe.

She urged the need to reach a common understanding of the “appropriate combination of regulations and incentives”, such as economic aid and subsidies that should support the transformation within the private sector through investment, innovation and efficiency.

It is estimated that in 2016 countries from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) invested more than 200 billion dollars in aid to agriculture. This quantity doubles when including aid from emerging countries.

Current subsidies have led to a model where “producers do not offer what they should” as they continue to provide, above all, cereals such as corn and rice, and products such as meat while it’s more important to eat more fruits and vegetables, the report said.

malnutrition
A Somali boy receives a polio vaccination at the Tunisian hospital in Mogadishu. The hospital treats local diseases, malnutrition, and other injuries. VOA

Poor diet and malnutrition are responsible for 1 out of 3 deaths and can cause noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes or cancer, which cost the world more than 6,3 trillion dollars per year.

ALSO READ: Study: Early Onset of Menstruation Associated with Higher Risk of Diabetes

Being overweight and obesity have become a “tsunami” that, paradoxically, coexists with hunger in many countries and requires “more collaboration between sectors,” said Chief Executive Officer of the Non-Communicable Diseases Alliance (NCDs) Katie Dain.

The food of the future will be conditioned by the increase of the world’s population, rapid urbanization and changes in diets, especially in middle and low-income countries. Executive Director of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), Lawrence Haddad, urged the sector to find “new allies” since governments or donors “alone” will not be able to end malnutrition. (IANS)