Seminar shines spotlight on indigenous plant foods

6 September 2019

“Currently close to one billion people suffer from hunger and food insecurity worldwide. Although global food production of calories has kept pace with population growth, people currently tend to consume low-quality diets that cause micronutrient deficiencies and contribute to chronic diseases,” said Prof Yasmina Sultanbawa, Associate Professor at the University of Queensland, Australia, during the 27th Vice- Chancellor’s Prestigious Research and Innovation Seminar, on 29 July.

In her key-note address, Prof Yasmina Sultanbawa, shared her outlook on harnessing the value of Australian indigenous plant foods for diet, diversification and health.

Speaking from an Australian perspective, Prof Sultanbawa explained that aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Australia have had very poor quality diets in recent decades and they are at risk of malnutrition, non-communicable diseases and obesity. 

“My research has found that food and nutrition insecurity is associated with poverty that limits access to and availability of a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and nuts, which are key ingredients of a healthy diet. As such, diversification of a diet with indigenous Australian fruits and vegetables have been identified as an important strategy for a healthy diet among the rural, peri-urban and urban aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities,” she said.

She further explained that indigenous Australian fruits and vegetables are rich sources of micro nutrients, therefore, there is a need to develop strategies to include these food crops in nutrition intervention programmes among these communities to combat hidden hunger and additionally provide nutrition and food security.

To the delight of the audience comprising academics, students, nutritionists and dietitians, Prof Sultanbawa also discussed commercial production and developing value chains to improve productivity of these indigenous crops that are sold fresh or in processed form, as value added products. She also touched on her experience of utilising indigenous food ingredients to create a uniquely Australian cuisine and on the development of indigenous food-based enterprises owned by the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

She also mentioned that improved agronomy practices must be adopted to improve the quality and quantity of these crops. However, she indicated that post-harvest handling challenges that would reduce wastage and ensure nutrient retention, have not been addressed adequately. As such, postharvest food processing technologies need to be developed.

  • Prof Sultanbawa is a Food Scientist with a PhD in Food Science from the University of British Columbia, Canada. She started her career in Australia in 2007 as a Senior Food Scientist and Convenience & Quality Team Leader at Queensland Primary Industries & Fisheries, Australia and thereafter she joined the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation, the University of Queensland, Australia as a senior research fellow in 2010. She has supervised 20 PhD and 25 master’s students. She has published 57 research articles, 13 book chapters and a book titled “Australian Indigenous Plants: Cultivation and Uses in the Health and Food Industries”.

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