Reversion to indigenous foods to end nutritional challenges – Prof. Zotor

Science Nutrition Challenges
Professor Francis Bruno Zotor

Africans have been urged to reconsider indigenous foods in order to meet nutritional requirements.

Professor Francis Bruno Zotor, a nutrition researcher who made the call, said Africans continued to face food insecurity while sitting on the largest share of arable land, and claimed that the popularity of the multinational food varieties and outlets, most negatively affected the promotion of indigenous nutritional culture and health.

The professor was giving an Induction Lecture at the University of Health and Allied Sciences, where he heads the Department of Family and Community Health of the School of Public Health.

The lecture was on the topic: Our nutrition, our health: “what it takes to make Africans eat African”, and he critiqued the invasion of brand-imposing, super processed foods, saying that Africa had most of its countries confronting child nutrition even through significant socio-economic improvement.

“Dietary trends in Ghana have shifted significantly from traditional high fiber and low-fat diets to more refined, highly processed, energy-dense, salty, fatty and sweet convenience foods and sacks. These trends are driven by the proliferation of fast-food outlets, influx of multinational food/beverage industries and restaurants, new supermarkets retailers and massive fast-food chains.

Prof. Zotor, a name in the field of nutrition research, further lamented established trends of modifying healthy indigenous recipes with health-risking additives and processes, and said aggressive supply and advertising kept the whole continent hooked.

“Additionally, there is a disturbing trend of alteration of healthy indigenous foods, snacks, and beverages with high amounts of sugar, fats and food colourings, which may be detrimental.

“Sadly, Africa’s indigenous foods appear neglected and increasingly replaced by westernized and other foreign diets. More affordable highly processed foods are more available, and well-advertised and marketed by the food industry with penetration even to the remotest areas of Africa.

“African scientists need to awaken an African renaissance; to a renewed African dietary system based on our traditional foods that reflect our identity and for which we take pride, work assiduously to integrate into our food chain, and preserve for future generations to adopt,” he stated.

The Professor, who joined the University in 2013 after years of international studies and research notably in population health interventions and nutrition improvement, called for increased production to make indigenous foods “easily available and affordable”.

He also called for advocacy for sturdy policies to keep the food environment healthy, adding that investment in research and data would help leverage and influence existing policy to transform the food environment.

Prof. Zotor further underscored promotion of nutrition education on indigenous diets, and the encouragement of consumption, particularly among the younger generation.

He went on to advocate for stakeholder support for research institutions in utilizing technology to improve nutritive value of local diets and thus enhance consumption.

Prof. Zotor was born in Ghana and is a product of the Accra Polytechnic where he trained as a laboratory technician.

He earned a British Council scholarship in 1985 for a Higher National Diploma in laboratory management in the UK, and progressed to attain a Master’s degree in Biotechnology at the International Institute of Biotechnology at the University of Kent.

Together with Dr. Paul Amuna, a lifelong friend, a Food Multimix Concept was developed and tested in a bid to contribute to addressing Africa’s nutritional challenges.

“The concept is a food based and diversified approach using different foods and employing a proven process to meet energy and micronutrient needs of vulnerable groups. The goal is to improve nutrition in a sustainable and affordable way. We need to apply appropriate technology to improve the nutritive value of indigenous diets and enhance their consumption,” he elaborated.

Studies under the Multimix Concept helps design recipes for food products that would help meet the needs of vulnerable groups including infants, pregnant mothers and the malnourished, and have been tested in South Africa, South Asia, and the UK.

Prof. Zotor had contributed several publications to his areas of expertise, and reviewed renowned science and medical journals, in addition to theses from universities across Africa.

He currently chairs the Technical Committee on Nutrition of the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA).

Professor John Owusu Gyapong, Vice Chancellor of the University, said the politicization of state efforts at improving nutrition, such as the School Feeding Program, affected progress, and supported calls for academics to contribute to policies that would affect the needed change.

He said the University recognised the contributions of Professor Zotor, who was among individuals enhancing its growth, and also mentioned his role in its external outlook being the foundational Director of International Programs.

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