Ethnobotany class visits Island Food Community of Pohnpei

The SC/SS 115 Ethnobotany class at the College of Micronesia-FSM visited the Island Food Community of Pohnpei to learn about the importance of local food, or as is said now around Pohnpei, "Go local!"

Emihner Johnson presented background statistics on the health crisis facing Pohnpei. In 1949 a health survey found zero cases of diabetes among the population on Pohnpei. Now one in three adults have diabetes, rates of cancers which may be in part linked to dietary choices are on the rise, along with heart disease.

A change in diet and a shift to a more sedentary lifestyle are known to be proximate causes of the health crisis. Indeed, the Pacific Island Health Officers Association declared a state of health emergency on May 25th 2010.

Ms. Johnson drove home the aphorism, "Plant, grow, harvest, cook, and eat!" The class also learned that growing and eating local has important positive impacts for Pohnpei, captured by the abbreviation CHEEF:

Culture: local food nurtures culture
Health: local food keeps one healthy
Environment: local food is biodegradable (as opposed to imported food which comes in substantial packaging)
Economy: local food promotes the local economy and increases the gross domestic product
Food Security: local food would be critically important in the wake of an emergency, local food is also safe food - no additives.

Ms. Johnson then presented information on the beta carotene content of various local foods, contrasting the abundance of the vitamin A precursor in local foods and the absence in rice. As a substitute for local starches, white rice has been a devastating choice for Micronesians and their health.

The de-valuing of local food has not just occurred on the home front where imported rice and bread made from imported flour have become staple starches. In the nahs during a kamadipw food is no longer served in a local basket, and the food is often not local food. In the past the kings were presented the best of the local food in a locally made basket such as a kiam. Today at many kamadipws the king is served food on a plastic tray, often including imported foods.


After the presentation the class toured the banana collection at Island Food Community in the Pwunso botanic garden. Ms. Johnson explained the importance of each of the many varieties of banana in the garden.

For those unfamiliar with bananas, there are dozens of varieties of bananas each with their own unique flavor. The rise of the monoculture of Cavendish bananas is one of the great tragedies of the modern world. Many of the local varieties are not only brightly colored, but also loaded with nutrients. Island Food Community has been a global pioneer in bringing awareness of the nutritional value of some of the unique varieties of bananas found in these Pacific island.

The class was deeply thankful for the information gained in the visit to the Island Food Community. Eat a banana and become happy!
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