The UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) is investing £2.9 million in a new research project in the Caribbean, Pacific, and the Philippines that aims to improve population nutrition through ecologically sustainable local food production.
The NIHR Global Health Research Group on Community Food for Human Nutrition and Planetary Health in Small Islands (GCFaH) will provide new evidence on the burdens of diet-related diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, and on food production practices.
It will work with local food producers and retailers, as well as local communities, to co-design and evaluate interventions for better population nutrition. The interventions will be designed to be economically, socially, and ecologically sustainable.
The project builds on several years of collaboration between universities and civil society organizations in the global south and north. It is co-led by the University of Exeter (UK) and the University of the West Indies (Barbados), with Western Philippines University (WPU) and academic and civil society partners in Fiji, the Caribbean, and the Philippines.
The project brings together experts from a broad range of disciplines, including agriculture, fisheries, economics, social sciences, epidemiology, public health, nutrition, and chronic non-communicable diseases.
Globally, the current way of food production is unsustainable, being a major contributor to climate change and biodiversity loss. In addition, the burdens of nutrition-related diseases are high in all regions of the world, especially in small island states. Together, the partners in this new research project aim to provide solutions that will improve population health and nutrition, as well as ecological sustainability.
“In small island countries of the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific, around two-thirds of the food consumed is imported. Most of the imported food is of low nutritional value. At the same time, local food production has been steadily declining, made worse by extreme weather events associated with climate change,” said Prof. Nigel Unwin, project co-Lead at the University of Exeter.
“All of these countries have high burdens of nutrition-related ill-health, including non-communicable diseases associated with overweight and obesity, and deficiencies of some micronutrients, especially iron. This project aims to provide evidence on how to improve human and ecosystem health for better nutrition,” he added.
The brilliance of the initiative, according to Dr. Madhuvanti Murphy, co-lead at the University of the West Indies, is that it is an ecosystem in and of itself.
She said they have “stakeholders across a wide variety of disciplines and from different levels of the food system coming together to co-design community interventions for food production that we hope will improve diet diversity and nutrition security while being good to and for the planet.”
“Given the many similarities across our small island states, there is an opportunity for transferability and scaling up of successful interventions. We also hope that evidence from our work will be utilized by policymakers, and that policies related to areas such as health or agriculture will also take a multidisciplinary approach,” added Murphy.
Prof. Lota A. Creencia, project co-investigator at WPU said: “This project is giving great importance to working with our community partners and stakeholders towards the generation of realistic and relevant scientific information for improved household nutrition and planetary health from the highlands to deep seas.”
Since the project began in August 2022, members of the project team have traveled to the intervention sites in each country to meet with national policymakers, local Non-Governmental Organizations, and communities where the work will take place.
The NIHR is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. Its work in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) is principally funded through UK Aid from the UK Government.
The Global CFaH project is part of the wider Community Food for Planetary Health research initiative. Our website is www.communityfoodplanetaryhealth.org. Visit our website to find out about our earlier projects.