Bottled red pepper. Photo Credit: Elias Ngalame

Cameroon forest community finds instant solution to anaemia

[rt_dropcap_style dropcap_letter=”T” dropcap_content=”HE Takamanda rainforest region in Southwest of Cameroon some 10 years ago recorded very high levels of malnutrition, especially among women of child bearing age.”]

Ministry of public health surveys found a majority of the women were suffering from some level of irondeficiency anaemia.

But an initiative by the Cameroon government and the Center for International Research (CIFOR) to train women in the Takamanda Forest community to process and consume forest foods like berries, guavas, mangoes, and papaws into fruit juice is making a difference. Experts say consuming fruit juice helps with the absorption of iron and other micronutrients and boosts immunity.

“These foods rarely provide a large percentage of the caloric intake, but they are very important for intake of micronutrients such as vitamin A, iron and calcium,” says Dr Ebong Maxwel of the Ministry of Public Health.

Anaemia is a global public health issue, which affects women and children most severely, by increasing the risk of maternal mortality, low birth weight and infant mortality. It also affects children’s long-term health outcomes, and can lead to intergenerational malnutrition and poverty.

The joint project to train women in processing fruits, which are abundant in Cameroon’s rainforests and across central Africa, has not only improved in micronutrients uptake but also their incomes as they sell their products in big markets in major towns.

“Fruits processing helps us not only avoid waste and improve income but it above all improve on the food intake of our children,” says Mary Lum, President of the Fruit Juice Women Association in Bonakanda, Buea. Most hospitals advise mothers to feed their children with juice from indigenous forest fruits.

“There’s a growing interest in using processed fruit juice from indigenous forest fruits because of its high nutrient value that meets needs of infants, children and pregnant mothers,” Dr Ebong said. Consumer Rights Association president Magellan Delor Kamgaing said children increasingly prefer fruit juice to whole fruits.

“Young children find it difficult to chew a whole hard fruit, or eat it with the skin. This explains the growing market and demand for natural fruit juice produce by forest communities.

The taste and nutritive value are exceptional,” Delor said. She said that forest and wild food can help support household nutrition during the lean season, complementing the seasonality of staple crops.

While global hunger rates have dropped in recent years, rates of micronutrient deficiency remain stubbornly high. In many parts of the world, traditional diets and lifestyles are changing as environments are degraded and societies become more interconnected.

Most policymakers have focused on the role of energy-rich staple agricultural crops like corn and rice in fighting food insecurity, but this approach fails to address the fact that there are now more than twice as many people who lack micronutrients than the estimated number of people who are hungry. Globally, about 870 million people do not have enough to eat, and more than two billion suffer from micronutrient deficiency, according to UN food agencies.

Experts say there need is for African governments to continuously educate forest communities on the importance of their forest resources as key driver to food sufficiency and improved livelihoods.

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