The role of African food plants and animals in health promotion and disease prevention, in attaining Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2 (Zero Hunger) and 3 (Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages) cannot be overemphasised.
This is because the SADC protocol on health recognises the need for the control of diseases and nutrition as well as food safety form a vital part of addressing many health concerns including non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
According to CSIR Principal Research Scientist, Dr Nomusa Dlamini, the sub-Saharan African region is facing an increase in the incidence of deaths associated with NCDs such as cardio-vascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes.
Dr Dlamini believes that some of the conditions associated with NCDs can be alleviated by making healthy lifestyle and diet choices.
The SADC region is endowed with indigenous plant biodiversity and animals which include amaranthus, solanum, bitter melon, spider plant, mopane worms, grasshoppers, locusts and edible worms just to mention a few which could play an important role in improving food and nutritional security as well as improve the health of the population.
These were some of the key discussions held at the Health Promoting and Disease Preventing Properties of African Food Plants and Animals workshop hosted by the International Science Council Regional Office for Africa (ISC ROA), in partnership with the Southern Africa Network for Biosciences (NEPAD SANBio), the Department of Science and Technology and the SADC Secretariat in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The workshop brought together stakeholders from different parts of the value chain including indigenous knowledge holders/community workers, researchers, policy makers and bio industries/entrepreneurs with the aim to close gaps within the value chain and to strategise on ways to improve production, marketing and use of these nutritious foods to combat NCDs.
The Director of Scaled Impact, Florian Willfort, has been working on a SANBio / BioFISA II funded collaboration project in partnership with LUANAR University in Malawi, the Department of Research and Specialist Services in Zimbabwe. He presented on how they have validated the qualities of mealworms which can be expected to lessen shortages of high quality protein for both animals and humans.
Tshwane University of Technology Professor David Katerere also presented on new opportunities to grow indigenous African foods which are largely neglected in the mainstream food markets, such as another SANBio/BioFISA II funded collaboration project, Synmba, which is a sorghum-based non-dairy drinking yoghurt enriched with probiotics.
The workshop also included a SADC regional Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) technical experts meeting to receive an update on progress made by member states in the development of national IKS policies and to finalise the draft regional IKS Plan of Action.