Root crops not a poor man's crop

June 17, 2010 8:30 pm 

MANILA, June 17 –- The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has encouraged the production of more root crops as these are not only a source of income but also as part of promoting healthy lifestyle.

Local root crops such as the lowly kamote, ube (sweet potato) will prominently play a role during the Philippine International Eco-Show (Pines), which will feature the spirit of green advocacy and entrepreneurship in a three-fold exhibit of industrial, lifestyle, and advocacy zones.

Pines will also stage an international conference on globally recognized green practices and emerging environmental issues and trends.

This is the first government-led environment trade platform which brings together the best of the country's eco-industries, Trade and Industry Secretary Jesli A. Lapus said.

“The trouble with most root crops is that these are not sexy and popular food for those living in urban areas. Take the case of gabi and kamote, young people would rather eat hamburger, chips and ice cream,” said Lapus.

“These are not sexy food but these can help you become healthy and sexy,” he said.

Commercialism and fast food have skewed consumers towards junk food, Lapus said.

“But we hope that proper education on nutrition will make the population increase the intake the rootcrops,” Lapus said.

“People come to realize the benefits of consuming rootcrops when disease and poor health has already settled in their body system but it’s too late,” Lapus said.

“Whether it is a change of lifestyle or a change of eating habits, a new industry is developing as consumers realize the need to eat healthy,” he said.

This could be because some of the root crops, particularly kamote has been associated with being poor.

"Go home and plant kamote (sweet potato)" in Filipino lingo depicts a picture of helplessness, and there are many negative, if humorous, connotations about the "lowly" kamote that in local minds make it pale beside loftier foreign greens.

Yet the people from the Visayas State University (VSU) in Baybay, Leyte, one of the leading agricultural universities in the Philippines, hold that there is much more to this and other indigenous root crops than what readily meet the eye.

According to Dr. Julieta Roa, head of the Philippine Rootcrop Research and Training Center (PhilRootcrops) based in VSU, the multiple health benefits and ready availability of root crops in our soil like gabi, potato, ube, and cassava are primary reasons to further elevate root crops into staple food status, as is already being done for kamote and cassava in places like Batanes and Zamboanga.

"In this era of climate change, root crops can adapt to a wide-ranging environment," said Roa.

"We don't have to worry where to get the energy of nutrients – we get it from root crops that can grow even in our backyards," he said.

Since 1977, Philrootcrops has generated and disseminated root crop technologies and information that have helped improve the livelihood of root crop growers, processors, and entrepreneurs nationwide. Among its diversified range of products developed from root crops include chips, starch, flour, and grates.

"Root crops are good sources of soluble dietary fiber that actively lowers cholesterol in the body and also prevents tumor formation in the colon," said Dr. Trinidad P. Trinidad, Scientist II of the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI), in a symposium held at the university on the innate nutritional benefits of root crop consumption, primarily for the prevention of chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease, and diabetes.

In 2002, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that chronic diseases accounted for 57 percent of all deaths in the Philippines.

Moreover, the prevalence of obesity and being overweight, two of the leading causes of these diseases, is expected to increase in both men and women in the next 10 years.

Trinidad said that at least 80 percent of premature heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, as well as 40 percent of cancer could be prevented through a healthy diet that incorporates root crops, regular physical activity, and the avoidance of tobacco products.

"Kamote and cassava are both high in calcium, which is essential for bone growth and development," said Trinidad.

"Gabi is high in iron, which helps increase body resistance to infection; and zinc, which is important for development and enzyme functions. Meanwhile, ube rates high in tannic acid, which has anti-bacterial, anti-enzymatic, and astringent properties," Trinidad said.

Aiming to widen awareness on how root crops are nutritiously beneficial and could also lead to financial rewards in the alternative food business market, VSU is joining the first government-led environment trade platform which brings together the best of the country's eco-industries.

"[What we hope is to] embed in [people's] consciousness that a root crop is not [merely] a poor man's crop but a crop for health, wellness and wealth," said Dr. Jose L. Bacusmo, president of VSU.

Organized by the Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (CITEM), an attached agency of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Philippine International Eco-Show will be held at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City this August. It is staged in cooperation with the Philippine Business for the Environment (PBE), the Philippine Green Building Council (PhilGBC), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Energy and Environment Project, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), the American Chamber of Commerce and Industry (AmCham), and the Haribon Foundation. (PNA)



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