Keys to finding local community food sources to prevent Vitamin A deficiency: What foods are available and how much vitamin a do they contain?
Keys to understanding the available foods that can be used to
prevent vitamin A deficiency are found in the key-informant interviews and the
free list of foods, in the market surveys, and in the community food system data
tables. In addition, information is found in the background materials on the
historical, ecological, and cultural setting for the community food system.
In addition to an examination of vitamin A content (retinol or
carotene), food resource data needs to include information on preservation and
preparation methods, as these affect nutrient levels. The manual facilitates
collection of this type of information. For example, the study report from Niger
includes the description of the long cooking processes for leafy vegetables,
information that is important for evaluating the food supply as consumed.
Studies also should note the sources of data on nutrient composition. Thus, it
is useful to find in the report on Sheriguda village that the information in the
food system data tables is based on food composition studies that were conducted
with the current, advanced method of analysis (HPLC) in national laboratories.
In the field studies, the community food system data tables proved
to be a valuable means of summarizing the local situation. Among the Aetas in
the Philippines, the table contained 128 food items. One hundred sixty one
species are on the list for the periurban site in Peru, with seventy-four in the
rural area; thirty-seven species are listed for Filingué, Niger; thirty-five in
Doumen village, China; and forty-five for Sheriguda village in India. Although
some areas had unidentified species with unknown vitamin A content, vitamin
A-rich foods were identified in all the systems. The data tables also provided
information on key sources of protein, fat, and other nutrients that are
important in the prevention of vitamin A deficiency.
Information on seasonality is obtained from the community food
system data tables, market surveys, and key-informant interviews. For example,
the study revealed that in Sheriguda village, pumpkin is available only during
one short period during the year, while bachali (Basella alba), that is
cooked with dahl, is available all year in local gardens, does not have
to be purchased, and is an excellent source of carotene. Mango is popular with
young children but is available for only two to three months. Papaya has a
longer period of availability, but there are cultural barriers to its use (see
following section, "Keys to Beliefs and Perceptions About Food").
Several field study reports pointed out the importance of paying
special attention to how wild greens and leafy green vegetables are used. These
species may be locally regarded as substantive food items or as condiments that
are used in much smaller quantities. Greens may be dried and reserved as
emergency or famine foods or preserved for use in herbal remedies. It is
important to note preparation and preservation techniques. In Sheriguda village,
another factor that affects use of greens is whether they are subject to
infestation by insects or worms, in which case the food is rejected.
The market survey reports provided a valuable source of data on
both availability and price of important food items. As discussed further below,
excellent sources of vitamin A-containing foods are found in local markets, but
their prices may be prohibitive for those most at risk of deficiency. By
including calculations of price-per-serving and the price per 1000 RE, the study
provided a perspective on true availability, particularly when the average
family daily wage or food expenditure total was known. Liver is a good example;
in all five research areas' it was recognized as an excellent food, good for the
eyes, and for protecting health. However, it was not available regularly from
home animal production, and was not purchased often because of its