To say I was excited when I first heard about Food Plant Solutions is quite the understatement. Through Canberra Friends of Dili of which I’m a casual member, I was contacted by a fellow member who suggested I speak to Karalyn of Food Plant Solutions in Tasmania. There were synergies, she explained, with my interests in Timor Leste and its vast edible plant diversity. And it didn’t take me long on this mob’s fascinating website before I was contacting Karalyn to talk more.
When we connected over the phone at long last, it is after the odd email and some newsletter editions have come my way. But before I go on I must tell you what makes Food Plant Solutions so extraordinary.
Tasmanian Agriculturalist, Bruce French, has worked for over 30 years to study, chart and compile a database of 27,500 edible plants for all countries of the world. Yes, 27,500. I find this number of food products difficult to comprehend. But it is because of the knowledge and determination of Bruce that the not for profit, Food Plants International, was established. In 2007, a collaboration with Rotary led to a beautiful thing – Food Plant Solutions.
If you’re reading this article it’s fairly likely you are already convinced about the importance of a sustainable food system. The groups’ website explains the value of locally sourced foods to communities perfectly,
Food Plant Solutions empowers people in developing countries to understand local food plant resources to feed themselves and their families. No costly equipment or structural improvements are required to get people switched onto the advantages of growing local food plants including:
- more certain production
- better adaptation to local conditions – soil type, rainfall, temperature
- better resistance to pests and diseases, hence lower costs for pesticides, if any at all
- simpler growing requirements, no need for extensive areas cleared for monoculture cultivation
- better nutritional quality of local food plants
When I speak to Karalyn I can see why she gets so much done. She is the sole employee of Food Plant Solutions and this means there are a multitude of things on her plate (so to speak). Karalyn is enthusiastic, thoughtful, creative, and clearly passionate and a committed advocate to social justice and basic human rights. Her ethical and sustainable way of working and the ethos Food Plant Solutions appeals to me and resonates with the way I like to operate, too.
Food Plant Solutions send a regular newsletter to over 5,000 contacts across the world. Karalyn has spent 4 years in her role, and her background in business management and agriculture give her the skills to drive the sustainable food principles. She explains that the group do not send people in country, “to avoid duplication”, instead opting to collect and collate information and then providing it in a format that allows organisations already in these countries to assist in improving people’s understanding of what nutritious food is and how to grow it. Importantly, the publications are or will be developed into all languages in the country where those plants are. The Timorese guide is currently available in Indonesian and English, and the search is on for funding and people to translate this into Tetun.
It is immense work to collate information on the properties of edible plants. In Timor Leste as in the other countries, Food Plant Solutions work with program partners, who Karalyn describes as “people are committed to making a difference…they are innovative, think for themselves”. Technical support to collate plant property information is provided by Food Plant Solutions, and this is followed by the compilation of the final product – the guide to plants. Simple, effective.
I ask Karalyn what sorts of results she has seen in her 4 year with FPS. She answers a little differently from some of responses I’m used to hearing in development circles….and I love the answer. “It is not a quick fix”, she starts, and tells me about the power of food to change lives for the better. In Vietnam, a pilot at two schools began in 2012 where most children suffered malnourishment. The pilot created a community garden in each school and a dedicated plant guide. 3 years later in 2015, malnutrition is no longer the invasive problem it was. In one school, 80% of children no longer suffer, in the other school, it is at 95% of children. The kids have benefited threefold: kids are eating nutritious lunches, parents knowledge of healthy local food has increased, and the garden also helps the school save money otherwise spent on lunches.
I’m a little speechless when we finish our conversation because I’m thinking that the best solutions are often the simplest. I won’t deny the volume of work involved in producing an edible plant guide, nor the care that must be taken by Karalyn, staff at program partners, and volunteers, everyday to balance relationships, language, cultural differences, outcomes, channeling passion into practice, funding…all diplomatically, to do what they do. But the benefit to people and communities of having information about what plants can be safely eaten, what each is good for and made up of, and much, much more, is so needed. Information is power.
Oh and donations to Food Plant Solutions are immensely helpful to expanding the database and building partnerships across the globe.
My thanks to Karalyn for speaking with me in October.