Hoping to fight malnutrition, agricultural scientist Bruce French has spent an incredible five decades cataloging edible plants across the world.
The Australian’s quest began over 50-years ago when he was teaching agriculture in Papua New Guinea.
His students appeared bored learning about western plants and wanted to know more about their local produce.
“I knew nothing about those, so I had to learn them,” Mr French said. “And I just kept going. What about the next country, and the next country?”
Since then, it’s been an incredible journey for Mr French who has now created a database of more than 31,000 edible plants, covering most of the planet.
In order to focus on fighting malnutrition, database is centered on five main nutrients: vitamins A and C, protein, iron and zinc.
Not one for the limelight, Mr French says his goal is not fame or fortune.
“I’m interested in hungry kids not dying before they get to school,” he said.
What he has found is that local plants tend to be more nutritious than those brought in from other parts of the world.
There is an example from Kenya, where local cassava leaves and amaranth have more iron than cabbage.
“I remember one Kenyan man who said, ‘I know cabbage is not good for my children, it fills their stomach up and there’s not much room for anything else, but it has prestige,’” said Mr French’s wife, Deborah.
Teaming up to fight malnutrition
After being inspired by a presentation from French in 2007, agronomist Buz Green founded the non-profit Food Plant Solutions.
He understood the importance of growing plants suited for their locations, while also considering peoples’ nutritional needs.
In Vietnam’s rural areas as many as 25% of children are reported to be suffering from malnutrition.
But since 16 gardens near primary schools were established, there have been some outstanding results.
“Malnutrition rates are dropping, enrollments are going up, kids staying in school is going up because before, kids would only stay in school until lunchtime then go home and most wouldn’t come back after lunch,” said AOG World Relief Vietnam’s project manager Rebekah Windsor.
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