At our study site in West Kalimantan, Dayak people practicing traditional agriculture consumed more fruit and fish than people living in villages where oil palm was grown. Likewise, at the Papuan study site, those who collected and hunted in forests, ate more fruit, fish and meat than fellow Papuans working in oil palm.
Those working in oil palm consumed more processed foods, which can lead to chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes.
Children from the households working in oil palm consumed more dairy products and eggs than children of households practicing traditional agriculture, hunting and collecting.
Diets associated with traditional livelihoods can be healthy, and in some respects, healthier than more ‘modern’ diets.
In both study sites, signs of under-nutrition (stunting, wasting, underweight and anemia) and over-nutrition (overweight and obesity) co-existed. In the oil palm site in West Kalimantan, the rate of wasting among children under five was higher than that seen in traditional households; in the Papua site, there was a higher rate of anemia among mothers working in oil palm, compared with mothers in traditional households.
Programs should be put in place to encourage people to maintain consumption of healthy traditional foods and avoid too many processed and sugary foods. This will allow people to gain the benefits of market integration without losing the benefits of traditional diets.
Many wild foods can contribute to healthy diets. Access to forests may help ensure communities consume more of these nutrient-rich foods.
In Papua, people are switching from sago to rice as their staple food. The health and nutrition implications of this are not well understood, but there is a risk that the cultural value of sago consumption might be lost.