Let's talk about Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture

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Making healthy food starts by making healthy choices: In one of her hands-on demonstrations, Dr. Khin Mar Cho (off center in head to toe black) shows participants how to make nutritious salad and an alternative energy drink through available farm produce and common kitchen ingredients. The demo is part of her lecture series on Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture (NSA) which underscores to consume nutritionally-rich food, to have dietary diversity and carry on food fortification to overcome malnutrition and micronutrient deficiencies.

When Dr. Khin Mar Cho said last year that she will discuss and share with us what Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture (NSA) is all about, she never promised a date or a timeline in our previous conversations. She just did it the moment she had the window of opportunity to visit this side of the region again.

Dr. Khin, a professor in Cornell University in New York City, USA has been globetrotting in the past 10 years sharing her expertise in agriculture, extension, and nutrition lobbying for a healthy lifestyle through healthy food choices. Aside from that, she juggles schedules to teach topics on international agriculture and rural development, agricultural economics, global food systems, community nutrition education, public health and household nutrition to graduate and undergraduate students in Myanmar, the Philippines and the United States.

I was lucky enough to have given the task to pick her from the airport with a colleague and accompany her to Lantapan, Bukidnon at the Binahon Agroforestry Farm (BAFF) where her lecture took place. In one of our chit chats while en route to the farm, she enthused that BAFF is a byword in her lectures at the Central Luzon State University (CLSU) in terms of organic farming systems since she serves as a professor there also.

During his opening statement, BAFF operator and owner Henry S. Binahon expressed that “this seminar is very timely because this is for the betterment of our co-farmers in terms of food handling, preparation and safety”, he said addressing participants of fifty.

In the two days that I was with Dr. Khin and fellow health buff Nicolas Kyaw Ko Ko, she was upfront to asked me how’s the state of my overall wellbeing and how far have I stuck to her coaching to cut down excess in salt, sugar and fat intake. I told her that whenever she’s around I practice self-control, and that my diet spins out of control the moment she’s out of sight. Having blurted that as a half-joke, she shot me an intense and narrowed look that seems to burn like laser beams.
That’s coming from a university director with two PhDs in Agricultural Economics and Agricultural Extension and Nutrition and three post-doctoral degrees. We resumed our talk split-seconds later after the heavy air of awkwardness dissipated.
“The new generation is getting less interested in agriculture. When we eat something, we should ask ourselves why are we eating such food and why are we growing it. We should only eat because we are hungry and that our bodies need nutritious food to fuel us all throughout the day but other than that, we don’t actually need more”, her thin voice soft against the humming of our hired van.

In her lecture proper, Dr. Khin shared that some of the disease and malady practically came from the food we eat, unhealthy lifestyle and improper diet. The lack of nutrition information and bad eating habits are the real culprits. She hopes that the government sector will work together to have a strong linkage and dynamics to incorporate nutrition information under one umbrella organization and come up with a harmonized effort and strategy to combat malnutrition and micronutrient deficiency in the country. You see, when we are underweight and not eating enough we are malnourished. If we eat more than what our body needs and is overweight, we are still malnourished. What Dr. Khin wants us to do is to eat smart by choosing the food that’s good for us.

Here’s more of the noteworthy takeaways during the Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture one-day seminar:

• Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture aims to make local food system better equipped to produce good nutritional outcomes.

• Portion Control – Eat everything but in small meals within the day. Dr. Khin was keen to demonstrate that we don't have to wolf down whatever is served before us. For this part, discipline and self-restraint is needed.

• Mindful Eating – Aside from cutting down on salt, sugar and fat intake, mindful eating means having the awareness of how the food we choose to eat affect our body, mood, mind, and all that is around us. It can give us an upper hand terms of gaining control of our eating habits.

• Diet Diversity (through diversified eating) – Dr. Khin also encouraged us to eat different food in moderation. Food which are organically-grown in different color, texture and taste. She doesn’t recommend a mono diet since our body needs different nutrients.

• Take control – You are the chief commander of yourself. What you put in your body may nourish, heal or harm you.

• Good nutrition starts with my plate – Either you put food of nutritional value or food devoid of nutritional value is your call.

• Exercise – Hit the gym. Walk. Run. Swim. Move around.

"Let's eat local, seasonal, fresh, affordable, accessible, safe, nutritious, and healthy food. But in everything, practice moderation and portion control.", Dr. Khin Mar Cho pointed out in her parting words.

And for that, we are grateful to Dr. Khin Mar Cho for including us in her Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture (NSA) lecture series. With Mindanao as her last stop of sharing her expertise and knowledge on nutrition and agriculture, it was her first to deliver here in the region such highly informative lecture on a farmer-based level.

Daghang salamat Dr. Khin Mar Cho!!!

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