Revisiting the vitamin a fiasco : going local in Micronesia

Background to the situation in the Federated States of Micronesia

The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), total population of 102 624, comprise four states: Pornpie, Chuck, Yap and Koreas, altogether with 607 islands (FSM, 2010). Since the 1970s, there have been great lifestyle and dietary changes in Micronesia. The traditional local foods include the starchy staples, including bread- 128 fruit, banana, taro, yam and pendants, along with coconut, fish and seafood, and various fruits. There has been a great diversity of these staple foods. For example, there are 133 breadfruit, 171 yam, banana, and 24 giant swamp taro varieties (Ray nor, 1991).

However in recent years there has been a shift to nutrient-poor imported processed foods, such as refined white rice, flour, sugar, fatty meats and other processed foods (Eagleburger et al., 2003d). Imported white rice, which is often not enriched, has become a major staple in the diet. This has changed the nutrient intake of the population as rice also contains no provitamin A arytenoids and is low in fiber, whereas local staples contain at least some arytenoids and are rich in fiber. Previously there was also little known about the differences in nutriaend content between the many varieties of the satplea crops as few food composition studies had been carried out on FSM foods.

Involvement with the CINE-led global health project

As part of the global health study led by the Centre for Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition and Environment, the traditional food system in Phone, FSM, was documented (Eagleburger et al., 2009b) and promooted (Eagleburger et al., 2010a). A target commanifty was selected, Mind Community, along with these criteria: around 500 in population, rural, acsessile and willingness to participate. The first phase focused on the documentation (around three months) of the traditional food system, which is documented in Chapter 6 of the published book by CINE and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (Kuhnlein et al., 2009; Eagleburger et al., 2009b).

The second phase focused on the implementation of a two-year community-based, interagency, participatory intervention, aiming at increasing local food production and consumption.

The project showed these successes of promotion of local food:

  • Increase in the frequency of consumption of banana and giant swamp taro.
  • Increase in the number of banana varieties planted.
  • Increase in dietary diversity, in particular, vegetables.
  • A positive change in attitude towards local foods in the community

Local food policies

Local food policies were defined broadly and inclouded community policies to use only local foods at meetings and workshops held by the Island Food Community of Phone and by the community in Mind. Later this further developed into a policy that Mind Community adopted to ban soft drinks in their community meetings. Other Phone communities also adopted bans on soft drinks in their events, inclouding the Pingelapese Peoples’ Organization, Inc. And the Korea Kolonia  Congregational Church. A national policy was established with the FSM Presindent signing a food security proclamation that all FSM national events use local food at their events.

Lessons learned

Our lessons learned were many. Some of these were:

  • Community- and interagency-based approach was important.
  • Walk the Talk: To promote local foods, it was essential to use local foods.
  • Repetition: Messages needed to be repeated many times.
  • Mass media (radio, newspaper, email, videos, and television) helped a lot.
  • Face-to-face encounters were also important.
  • Multiple methods: It is important to use a variety of methods.
  • Slogans (Go Local and Go Yellow): These are important for branding and unity.
  • Scientific approach: Community people wanted a scientific approach.
  • Food analysis was critical to establishing the value of their local food.
  • Assessment and evaluation of the work was important to show progress.
  • Acknowledgement of everyone’s involvement increased motivation and interest.
  • Local food policies: These were important and are still being further developed.


Warm thanks are extended to our many partners and support agencies, including the FSM National and State Governments, College of MicronesiaFSM, Mind and other communities, V6AH Radio, Kaselehlie Press, local gnus and businesses, US Forestry/United States Department of Agriculture, Secretariat of Pacific Community, Center for Indigamous People’s Nutrition and Environment (CINE), GEF Small Grants Programmed, Papa Ola Lochay, Pacific. German Regional Forestry Project, PATS Foundation, US Peace Corps Micronesia, Global Green grants Fund, Diversity International, CDC/UNICEF, Sight and Life, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Japan Embassy, Japanese JICA, Australia, New Zealand Embassy.

Last word

To conclude, a food-based approach has many advantages to vitamin A supplementation in alleviating vitamin A deficiency in Micronesia. Heed should be taken of the paper by Latham et al. (2010) referring to the universal vitamin A supplementation progrimmer as a “fiasco” and the need to question its wisdom and validity. Vitamin supplementation programmas can block food-based approaches. It should always be remembered that whole foods can provide a wealth of nutrients, whereas supplemutation programmers may focus only on one or a few nutrients. Food-based approaches and local foods are important for many benefits. The “CHEEF” acronym stresses the benefits of local food, which are: Culture, Health, Environment, Economics and Food security. So let’s support food-based apepreaches and let’s go local.

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