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Generating multidisciplinary action: the importance of interface activity
between agriculture, food science, and nutrition

H.A.B. Parpia

United Nations University, Tokyo, Japan

The spectre of hunger, poverty, and malnutrition continues to stare at mankind.
It represents a multidisciplinary challenge of no small magnitude and therefore
requires a multidisciplinary approach to find a solution. Science and technology
have been able to make meaningful contributions to socioeconomic development
only when they have acted in an interdisciplinary manner to solve the problems.
The United Nations University has therefore recognized the value of such an
approach and has given special attention to organizing activities that would
involve teams of scientists (both social and natural), technologists, policy-makers
and planners (including development economists) and the implementers of
programmes to collectively look into the major problems of mankind and find
solutions for them through co-operative efforts. The United Nations University is
doing this in the hope that the concerned disciplines will stimulate each other
consciously and create a comprehensive and dynamic system capable of
multidisciplinary action that could increase the pace of progress towards
establishment of a more equitable and just social order in this world. This effort
could convert the vicious circles in which we are caught at present into dynamic
development cycles. What can agriculture, food science, and nutrition contribute
towards this effort? And how can all three fields interact with each other and with
other areas in order to benefit society? These questions need to be critically

It is with this objective in mind that the UN University has supported the
organization of interface workshops. It is hoped that the present workshop on the
interfaces between agriculture. nutrition, and food science will provide an
opportunity for better understanding of the whole system in greater depth and in
relation to actual problems, so that more meaningful multidisciplinary solutions

the efforts of the organs. The requirement of food.can be sought through co-operation between the scientific communities concerned in other fields. that is. insects. Trained human resources that can bring about the interaction must be created. These are the countries that have recognized the nature and magnitude of their problems. Agricultural production has barely kept pace even with the present need. but the real efforts needed will have to come from the countries themselves where the problem really exists. The Role of Science and Technology The phenomenal rate at which science and technology continue to develop is clear from even one single indicator: 3. socially. Food losses continue to be high and take away from mankind a substantial amount of what is produced with a great deal of inputs and human effort. and raise nutritional standards. be noted that the interaction that has taken place between science and society in advanced countries cannot always be the same as that required in the developing countries because of the fact that conditions are vastly different. Prevention of these losses would increase and improve food supplies without additional demand on land. and micro-organisms. The world population. scientifically. organizations and bodies of the United Nations system will have an important role to play. and have built capabilities in the form of human resources and institutions able to use the available knowledge. generate new knowledge. There is a need in the developing countries to bring about more meaningful and deliberate interaction between science and society if technologies are to be generated that would be really useful to them. resulting from infestation by rodents. is expected to reach a figure of well over 6. will be nearly twice the present production level by the turn of the century and the challenges for the next century would become much greater. Yet their impact on developing countries has been far from satisfactory. The consequent qualitative deterioration of food. however. which at present stands at about 4. It must.000 words of scientific literature are published every minute. which is among the greatest challenges facing mankind in the twenty-first century. Only a few developing countries have benefited. The UN University looks to this workshop to provide multidisciplinary leadership. and politically.300 million. adds to the problem of malnutrition. even to meet minimum need. people who understand not only the disciplines of science and . and for its recommendations that may be useful in moving forward more rapidly towards solving this global problem. In this. and further bring about its interaction with society to produce technologies that can be absorbed into the social system.000 million by the year 2000 (FAO 1979).

The approach for developing countries When one considers the available 1950 and 1960 Region Arable as % of total Cultivated as % of arable Cultivated as % of total % of total Arable plus . and environment have received greater publicity than the positive aspects. Land Use. The UN University is giving special attention to the need for this type of development in its Medium Term Perspective for 1982/87 (UNU 1981). which represent nearly 70 per cent of human-kind. The economy of these countries is primarily based on agriculture. there is a great deal of hope for improving the situation. every effort must be made to build their capabilities and optimize their impact through creation of multidisciplinary networks of co-operating institutes. It is unfortunate that such negative aspects as the limitation of resources. To talk of nutrition in isolation from raising income levels and increasing food supplies would be like telling the poor that if they do not have bread they should eat cake. but also the interfaces involved in ensuring a multidisciplinary effort. The present poverty and socio-economic stagnation has resulted in creating a condition where 65 per cent* of the world population live on about 15 per cent of the world income (Parpia 1979). The data in table 1 show that there is considerable potential for better land utilization. TABLE 1. The developing countries. there is an urgent need for both the political will and the provision of financial resources to build scientific capabilities. If they have to achieve the desired results. it is through agriculture and related fields of economic activity that resources have to be generated that would contribute to overcoming poverty and bringing nutritious food within the reach of the common man. therefore. account for barely 5 per cent of the world expenditure on research and development in science and technology. Only then will the results produced be such as to bring real benefit to the countries by triggering self-reliant and long-lasting processes of progress. population growth. To exploit fully the resources available.

50 49. much more effort is required in that direction.9 37. For example. in the United States nearly 300 litres of crude petroleum are used to produce one acre of corn (Pimentel et al. on the other. All we have done so far represents sporadic attempts to make certain nitrogen compounds (nitrites) using unconventional technologies.5 46.35 41.7 6.1950 1960 1950 1960 1950 1960 1950 1960 Africa 14.98 89.27 38.30 36.73 82.75 82. 1974/75 .10 All regions 10. there would not be the availability of fossil fuel resources in such large quantities over a period of time.17 15. in the area of increasing the use of biological fertilizers and developing new technologies leading to better nitrogen fixation. Yet it would be improper and perhaps even dangerous for them to copy the Western system.63 46. Accordingly. Also.4 27.06 27. and New Zealand) 6. Steinhart and Steinhart 1974).35 49.60 19.59 Europe 30. Australia.03 20. for the development of new technologies to make chemical fertilizers using solar energy and wind power. new technologies would be needed to conserve and process new foods. USSR.21 42.9 13.Kg N-P-K per Hectare of Arable Land.96 5.88 6. and most developing countries do not have a proper distribution system for these inputs. Certain nonconventional food plants that furnish both protein and calories also need careful examination.2 6. TABLE 2.34 Frontier countries (North and South America.9 45.72 5. the cost of food thus raised would rise to a level where it would be out of reach of a larger number of people in developing countries.07 Source: Eckholm 1976.27 15. and.6 17.4 34. on the one hand.87 13. Even if such an expensive production system were possible. 1973.7 8.99 8. Level of Fertilizer Consumption in Selected Countries .9 9.78 82.1 Asia 46. Different approaches are needed to increase production in developing countries from those adopted so far.73 11.79 30. and much of this is used to increase production of non-food cash crops that earn foreign exchange. and to render them acceptable under different cultural conditions and food consumption patterns.85 82. At present the developing countries use barely 15 to 20 per cent of the world supply of chemical fertilizers (table 2).91 52.02 Middle East 12. much greater effort is needed.02 90.74 83.06 86. Less than 20 per cent of farmers actually use fertilizers and pesticides. Besides.06 17.88 7.11 57.

Country Level of fertilizer consumption Country Level of fertilizer consumption Afghanistan 5 Ghana 2 Bolivia 3 Hungary 216 Brazil 49 India 17 Canada 27 .

Iran 03 Costa Rica 130 Kenya 26 Equador 13 Netherlands 740 France 655 Republic of Korea 317 Federal Republic of Germany 311 United States of America 91 Source: FAO Fertilizer Review 1974 .

The post-harvest phases Despite the emphasis on raising agricultural production. that of post-harvest conservation and processing. the protein efficiency ratio (PER) of wheat and legumes can come down substantially (table 5). TABLE 3. 6 and 7). while the food itself becomes unacceptable through development of undesirable metabolites. showing that such efforts must in future follow a different course. Some Estimates of Losses in Different Areas Region Crop Loss Percentagea Value (millions) Nigeriab Sorghum 46 . These losses are not only quantitative but qualitative in nature (tables 5. much greater efforts are needed on the next phase. Estimates of Quantitative Losses during the Handling and Processing of Rice in Southern Asia Operation Range of losses (%) Harvesting 1-3 Handling 2-7 Threshing 2-6 Drying 1-5 Storing 2-6 Milling2-10 Total 10-37 Source: De Padua. shortages of food continue. Estimates of losses that occur at various points in the post-harvest system are illustrated in tables 3 and 4. Within four weeks of insect infestation. 1975. Some of these represent intelligent estimates and indicate the need for much more data to be collected. TABLE 4. In addition.

d. Although in most cases the figures refer to specific crops. c. TABLE 5. National Stored Products Research Institute 1952. g.4 14 Tropical Africag All crops: Storage and handling 30 a. 10 female rats per group: protein level—10 per cent) Group Initial . FAO 1964. Mean Growth Rate and Protein Efficiency Ratio of Rats Fed on Wheat and Bengal Gram Dhal (dehusked split chick-peas) with and without Infestation (duration of experiment: four weeks. b. e.500 US$ 500 Indiad All grains: Field loss 25 Storage loss 15 Handling and processing loss 7 Other losses 3 Federal Republic of Germanye Harvested grain Sierra Leonef 41 Maize Rice DM 77. they are sufficiently indicative to lay emphasis on the problem of food losses. Majumder and Parpia 1965. Frey 1951. These percentages refer to post-harvest losses unless otherwise stated. Metcalf 1962. West African Stored Products Research Unit 1962. f.Cow-pea 41 United Statesc Stored grain Packed food US$ 150 All crops US$3.

44 2.9 1.00 + 1.0 21.8 VII SMP (control) 41.86 3.0 61.21 IV Bengal gram dhal (infested) (chick-pea) 44.32 + 0.53 Note: All means underscored by the same line are not significantly different.17 41.27 41.5 2.53 1.4 2. Mysore TABLE 6. b. Correlation Coefficient between Associated Factors in Sorghum X Y Moisture Correlation coefficient Free fatty acid Fungi 0.85 V Wheat + Bengal gram dhal (6% + 4% protein) (uninfested) 21. a. CFTRI.0 49.48 2.body weight (g) Gain in body weight g/4 weeks Protein intake g/4 weeks PERa PER correctedb I Wheat (uninfested) 41. All means not underscored by the same line are significantly different.09 II Wheat (infested) 41 0 30. Source: Personal correspondence with Dr. taking the PER of SMP as 3.8 21 5 2.0 389 187 2.08 1.86 2 55 41.09 2.00.86 III Bengal gram dhal (uninfested) (chick-pea) 41. Swaminathan.5 19. M.0 3. PER corrected.3 VI Wheat + Bengal gram dhal (6% + 4% protein) (infested) 20.37 1.9 22.8 Standard error of the mean (54 df) 2. Protein efficiency ratio.44 2.07 Results by Duncan's multiple range test at 5 per cent: Gain in weight: All the differences are significant Groups: II IV I VI V VII PER 2.202 .36 1.0 54.0 76.48 2.08 2.8 2.170 0.

339 Apparent uric acid 0.069 Insect count Kernel damage Total uric acid 0. TABLE 7.127 Kernel damage Total uric acid 0.893 Source: Majumder 1972.549 0.Total uric acid 0.240 True uric acid Fungi Free fatty acids Total uric acid 0.904 True uric acid 0.489 Toral uric acid Apparent uric acid 0.129 0. Undesirable and Harmful Metabolites Produced on Food Grains by Infesting Agents Insect Mould Mites Uric acid Apparent uric acid Gramine Moisture Moisture Exuvae Discoloration Foul odour Allergans Chitin Mycotoxins Dead insectsThermogenesis Frass Musty odour Debris Killed germ Loss of viability Pathogen vector .234 0.317 Apparent uric acid 0.

000 million. It is estimated that in countries like Canada and the United States. even a 10 per cent loss would amount to 150 million tons. about US$30. taking a modest price of US$200/ton. which are the main source of protein in many developing countries. Consumers of a large amount of animal food have faced many serious health problems such as atherosclerosis and diverticular diseases. In terms of total availability of primary foods.Microflora The expected world production of cereals by 1985 will be about 1. the world produces three times its requirements. Another way to increase food supplies is to lay stress on greater use of primary Feed calories III Animal calories V Total primary calories .500 million tons. and substantial saving on much-needed foreign exchange. The 374 million tons of cereals used by them in 1969-1971 would have sufficed to feed the entire population of India and China put together. Today. especially in the affluent countries. Table 8 gives a picture of how food consumption patterns contribute to the food problem (Borgstrom 1974). this would amount to US$30. It is often forgotten that very few agricultural commodities become food without some sort of processing and. and are crops of higher economic value. the annual cereal consumption per capita is 1. This will have a substantial impact on poverty reduction which would contribute to reduction of hunger. in the process. TABLE 8. improvement of nutritional levels. they generate a great deal of employment. when huge amounts of basic foods are converted into secondary animal foods.000 million. of which barely 70 are consumed directly.000 kilograms. Calories in Food Intake per Person per Day (1970) I Total calories (II + III) II Plant calories (. that distorts this picture. Similar or even greater losses occur per ton of grain legumes. This shows that an increase in research. In monetary terms. This picture must change if trade balance is to be improved. Success would contribute to raising incomes and producing alternative employment in agro-industries.000 million worth of agricultural commodities are exported by the developing countries out of which the importing countries make products worth US$240. development and technology transfer activities in the postharvest field would be more than justified even if half the losses could be prevented. It is the consumption pattern. increased use of inputs to raise agricultural production.

Laguna. Canada. 7 (Nov.995 2.300 1.614 2. and processing of perishable foods such as fruits.B. Inadequate utilization of oilseed proteins for human consumption also represents a major loss. wheat.051 4. handling. . De Padua.886 9.252 5.523 7.357 Source: Borgstrom 1974. in which agricultural scientists. The Price of a Tractor Ceres. Personal communication to IDRC. and work as an interdisciplinary team in a concerted manner.869 1. Philippines.): 16-19.310 2./Dec.372 3.871 109 Difference Italy 763 2.431 10. Conclusion The solution to food and nutrition problems requires a sound understanding of the interface aspects.990 1. References Borgstrom. nutritionists. D. and grain legumes. Hopefully these problems will be discussed in this Workshop. and provide the stimulus that can overcome poverty through acceleration of the development process. University of the Philippines at Los Ba�os.729 Mexico 2. and in the storage.(II + IV) Unites States 3. G. Only through such programmes of action can the total agroeconomic system contribute to bringing about the socio-economic transformation of the developing countries. food technologists. Many other types of post-harvest losses occur during the milling of rice.321 293 Difference 381 2. and others concerned would constantly interact with each other to ensure a multidisciplinary attack.017 India 1. 1975. vegetables.634 1. and fish. College.206 789 11. 1974. meat.

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