More from Karalyn @ Food Plant Solutions: Think Global, Act Local

Interview by Anna White

Trainees at the community training about uses for local plants and foods in Vietnam.

Recently I chatted with Karalyn Hingston. Karalyn is the Executive Officer and only paid employee of Food Plant Solutions – a small organisation which is achieving great things on a shoestring budget both at an international level and in Australia. I found it inspiring to learn of a small Australian organisation achieving positive outcomes and punching well above its weight. Cooking Circles chatted with her last year and here she gives an update on the organisations’ international development projects.

The photos throughout this article were taken in Vietnam by Food Plant Solutions’ program partner – AOG World Relief.  The program has been greatly successful. What began as a pilot program in 2012, it has since expanded to eight Food Plant Solutions school gardens, with plans for three more in the pipeline. AOG World Relief has said “Food Plant Solutions is a useful program because it aims to empower children… to harness local food plant resources to feed themselves and their families. (This is important) in response to the emergency facing the developing world with the rise of malnutrition.”

Food Plant Solutions is based in Tasmania and was set up to end hunger, malnutrition and ensure food security.  Food Plant Solutions aims to influence people’s thinking with regards to food choices through education, by presenting scientific evidence in an accessible way. This empowers people to make change. The organisation follows the principle of “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime”.

The organisation has an array of guides and publications covering over 30 countries. Each focuses on plants that are suited to the country and known to grow there and are high in nutrients.

Project education uses these informative, colourful publications.  Non-government organisations also draw on the guides to educate communities on the nutrient value of their local foods.  The communities are encouraged and empowered to grow and cook these plants.

Karalyn is a born and bred Tasmanian.  She works from her home and doesn’t travel to any of the countries where Food Plant Solutions’ projects are operating.  But she is passionate about the work they are doing and the positive results they are achieving.  She is clearly highly dedicated and very hard working.

I ask Karalyn for an example of a country where Food Plant Solutions’ publications are being used.  She mentions Vietnam where one of the very successful programs has succeeded in reducing malnutrition in children in one community by 95%.  Teachers are provided with the information on local plants and their nutritional value, and  then teach children how to grow the plants by establishing gardens at the school.  Kids are given a healthy lunch each day prepared  from plants grown in the garden, and it is they who then teach their parents how to grow these plants.  The health of the whole family improves as a result.

A school garden begins, run by the school kids.

The vibrant publication on Vietnam lists plants such as sweet potato which it states is very high in Vitamin A.  Also listed is horseradish leaf which is high in Vitamin C and winged bean, high in zinc.  The publication explains where to best grow these plants and also the sort of pests and diseases which might be attracted to them.

Food Plant Solutions produces publications in English and aims to have them translated in the language of each country where they are used.  It also produces colourful publications with pictures for those who have low levels of literacy. 

One of Food Plant Solutions’ strengths is its innovative approach in that it doesn’t send people to a country, but instead works with existing aid providers.  This reduces duplication and unnecessary costs.  Food Plant Solutions has partnerships with various aid providers throughout the world who are helping communities in these countries to grow locally adapted plants.

School kids plant local crops at Dai Hung school in Vietnam.

Karalyn talks about issues surrounding healthy food which exist also in her home state.   In 2016 (the most recent data available) the rate of diabetes in Tasmania was 8.1% of the population.  The rate of people who were obese was 35.6% for that same year.

Food Plant Solutions has run workshops on plants and nutrition in Tasmania for new residents.  For example, they ran a program for 40 Nepalese people this year.  The team presented local plants, along with how to grow and use these.   They prepared Nepalese curries using these plants. 

According to Karalyn, Food Plant Solutions “runs on the smell of an oily rag”. All donations go directly to fighting malnutrition unlike most charities which must cover administration and staff costs.  She says they are grateful for the support of many volunteers.  Whilst Food Plant Solutions is an organisation based on environmental sustainability, they themselves are not yet financially sustainable and are actively looking for donations, sponsors and introductions to organisations who might like to help support Food Plant Solutions short or long-term.

Through Food Plant Solutions’ educational material and support, the organisation is empowering people to understand the nutritional value of plants.  They are achieving amazing results.  But they need support to continue.  With five children under the age of five dying of malnutrition every minute in the world, the problem must not be ignored.  To donate please go to  www.foodplantsolutions.org/donate/  For further details, email Karalyn at info@foodplantsolutions.org.

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