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Peanuts for protein

By Nikki Harvey

Papua New Guinea, 25 September 2009 - For the people living in the Upper Inland Baining area, the poor quality of roads surrounding their communities, and in some cases, a lack of road access altogether, means that they are not able to sell their produce externally, or gain access to a wider variety of food, especially protein rich food. “They are traditionally a hunter-gatherer society, “ says Clementine Yaman, a UNICEF Nutrition Officer, “and they are only just starting to slowly settle down. These people do not keep a variety livestock, so they are not eating enough protein rich meat or fish, and a poor variety of fruit trees means that they are not getting enough Vitamin C.”

To help meet the protein needs of isolated communities, UNICEF and the PNG National Department of Health are promoting the use of peanuts in simple everyday cooking. In 2008, Clementine travelled to the Upper Inland Baining area to conduct a nutrition assessment and returned to the area in 2009 where she was involved in training local health workers, agriculture officers, extension workers from the University of Vudal and volunteers about nutrition as well as monitoring their community education programs.

“Peanuts are grown and sold in abundance in these areas of East New Britain, and I was eager to show the community their nutritional value and how they could be used in every day cooking,” says Clementine. Being high in protein and energy, peanuts can be roasted and ground into a paste and spread on Taro or a local variety of sweet potato, mixed vegetables or even eaten on its own. “We showed them how they could make peanut paste, they were so surprised at how easy and tasty it was!” recalls Clementine, laughing.

Unfortunately, peanuts can’t be expected to meet all these communities’ nutritional needs. As a part of the UNICEF country program, Clementine has been training local officers to educate communities on additional ways they can improve their nutrition. To provide a variety of protein sources, UNICEF is encouraging the local agriculture officers to introduce small livestock like poultry and fish ponds, for which a few potential sites have already been located. There is a goal to introduce more varieties of fruit trees, for instance mandarine and orange trees, so that children are receiving enough Vitamin C to aid their iron absorption. UNICEF is also encouraging families to provide children with 3 meals a day, as a part of a diet that supports a growing body.

Clementine has been training local government officers and volunteers to educate women about the importance of exclusive breastfeeding from birth to 6 months, and continuing to breastfeed until 2 years of age, even after solid food has been introduced. “Breast milk is the best food for a baby, it contains all the essential nutrients”. Giving a baby water and other food may cause diarrhoea, which is a large contributor to child mortality. Clementine has also been addressing importance of feeding Colostrum, the yellow milk that first excretes after birth, to the baby, “The Colostrum is yellow because it contains antibodies,” explains Clementine,” it is the baby’s first immunisation and helps prepare the stomach for normal breast milk.”

Clementine’s experiences in these communities have not been without their challenges. Vehicles rarely to go to the Inland Baining Area, especially in the rainy season, which means the only way to access the area is a 5 to 6 hours walk.

Simple ideas like using peanuts in cooking to increase protein intake are invaluable as they offer easy and affordable ways for families in remote or hard to reach locations to improve their own nutrition using locally available produce. Mothers exclusively breastfeed for 6 months can help break the cycle of poor nutrition in these areas, while the potential introduction of fish ponds and small livestock will help to meet the remaining protein needs. UNICEF and the PNG National Department of Health, with the help of people like Clementine, will continue to support further nutrition assessments throughout Papua New Guinea in a effort to find ways to improve nutrition amongst children living in remote areas.




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