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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
examined.

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

and politically. and micro-organisms. however. The requirement of food. Yet their impact on developing countries has been far from satisfactory. but the real efforts needed will have to come from the countries themselves where the problem really exists. generate new knowledge. is expected to reach a figure of well over 6. In this. which at present stands at about 4. and further bring about its interaction with society to produce technologies that can be absorbed into the social system. the efforts of the organs.can be sought through co-operation between the scientific communities concerned in other fields. It must. insects. and raise nutritional standards. 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. Prevention of these losses would increase and improve food supplies without additional demand on land. that is. adds to the problem of malnutrition. These are the countries that have recognized the nature and magnitude of their problems. resulting from infestation by rodents. The world population. Trained human resources that can bring about the interaction must be created. socially. even to meet minimum need. The consequent qualitative deterioration of food. which is among the greatest challenges facing mankind in the twenty-first century. and have built capabilities in the form of human resources and institutions able to use the available knowledge. and for its recommendations that may be useful in moving forward more rapidly towards solving this global problem. organizations and bodies of the United Nations system will have an important role to play. The UN University looks to this workshop to provide multidisciplinary leadership. Agricultural production has barely kept pace even with the present need. 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. 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. people who understand not only the disciplines of science and .000 million by the year 2000 (FAO 1979). Only a few developing countries have benefited. scientifically.300 million.000 words of scientific literature are published every minute. 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. 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.

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 approach for developing countries When one considers the available potential. population growth. If they have to achieve the desired results. 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). 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. TABLE 1. To exploit fully the resources available. and environment have received greater publicity than the positive aspects. Land Use. The economy of these countries is primarily based on agriculture. 1950 and 1960 Region Arable as % of total Cultivated as % of arable Cultivated as % of total % of total Arable plus .technology. The data in table 1 show that there is considerable potential for better land utilization. every effort must be made to build their capabilities and optimize their impact through creation of multidisciplinary networks of co-operating institutes. but also the interfaces involved in ensuring a multidisciplinary effort. The developing countries. It is unfortunate that such negative aspects as the limitation of resources. 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. there is an urgent need for both the political will and the provision of financial resources to build scientific capabilities. which represent nearly 70 per cent of human-kind. therefore. account for barely 5 per cent of the world expenditure on research and development in science and technology. there is a great deal of hope for improving the situation. 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.

72 5. and New Zealand) 6.91 52.75 82. new technologies would be needed to conserve and process new foods. Even if such an expensive production system were possible.50 49.27 15. on the one hand. Certain nonconventional food plants that furnish both protein and calories also need careful examination. Besides. and to render them acceptable under different cultural conditions and food consumption patterns.06 86.74 83. TABLE 2.9 9.9 37. in the area of increasing the use of biological fertilizers and developing new technologies leading to better nitrogen fixation. 1974/75 . For example.35 41.06 17. Less than 20 per cent of farmers actually use fertilizers and pesticides.9 45.78 82. Australia. much more effort is required in that direction.59 Europe 30. much greater effort is needed.87 13.03 20. in the United States nearly 300 litres of crude petroleum are used to produce one acre of corn (Pimentel et al.99 8.1950 1960 1950 1960 1950 1960 1950 1960 Africa 14. for the development of new technologies to make chemical fertilizers using solar energy and wind power. Also.30 36.7 6.06 27. there would not be the availability of fossil fuel resources in such large quantities over a period of time.21 42. USSR.11 57. At present the developing countries use barely 15 to 20 per cent of the world supply of chemical fertilizers (table 2). on the other. and. Steinhart and Steinhart 1974).02 90.35 49. 1973. and most developing countries do not have a proper distribution system for these inputs.85 82. and much of this is used to increase production of non-food cash crops that earn foreign exchange.2 6. All we have done so far represents sporadic attempts to make certain nitrogen compounds (nitrites) using unconventional technologies.17 15. Accordingly.7 8. Level of Fertilizer Consumption in Selected Countries .5 46.4 27.1 Asia 46.10 All regions 10.88 6.73 11.98 89.63 46.4 34.02 Middle East 12.Kg N-P-K per Hectare of Arable Land.27 38.96 5. Different approaches are needed to increase production in developing countries from those adopted so far.6 17. 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.34 Frontier countries (North and South America.88 7.07 Source: Eckholm 1976. Yet it would be improper and perhaps even dangerous for them to copy the Western system.60 19.79 30.9 13.73 82.

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 .

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

c. These percentages refer to post-harvest losses unless otherwise stated. d. West African Stored Products Research Unit 1962. National Stored Products Research Institute 1952. 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. they are sufficiently indicative to lay emphasis on the problem of food losses. e. Although in most cases the figures refer to specific crops. Metcalf 1962.500 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. g.Cow-pea 41 United Statesc Stored grain Packed food US$ 150 All crops US$3. 10 female rats per group: protein level—10 per cent) Group Initial . b. Frey 1951. TABLE 5. Majumder and Parpia 1965. f.4 14 Tropical Africag All crops: Storage and handling 30 a.

a.8 VII SMP (control) 41.08 2.86 III Bengal gram dhal (uninfested) (chick-pea) 41.44 2.9 1.17 41. Protein efficiency ratio.44 2.202 . Mysore TABLE 6.27 41.07 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 2.00 + 1.8 21 5 2.0 49.0 389 187 2.4 2.36 1.5 19.32 + 0. PER corrected.5 2. M.85 V Wheat + Bengal gram dhal (6% + 4% protein) (uninfested) 21. Swaminathan.00. Correlation Coefficient between Associated Factors in Sorghum X Y Moisture Correlation coefficient Free fatty acid Fungi 0.08 1.170 0.0 61.09 2.8 2.8 Standard error of the mean (54 df) 2.86 2 55 41.53 Note: All means underscored by the same line are not significantly different.86 3.body weight (g) Gain in body weight g/4 weeks Protein intake g/4 weeks PERa PER correctedb I Wheat (uninfested) 41.0 3.48 2.21 IV Bengal gram dhal (infested) (chick-pea) 44.3 VI Wheat + Bengal gram dhal (6% + 4% protein) (infested) 20. CFTRI.09 II Wheat (infested) 41 0 30.37 1.53 1.0 21.0 54. Source: Personal correspondence with Dr. taking the PER of SMP as 3.48 2.0 76.9 22. All means not underscored by the same line are significantly different. b.

240 True uric acid Fungi Free fatty acids Total uric acid 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 .069 Insect count Kernel damage Total uric acid 0.549 0.234 0.Total uric acid 0.339 Apparent uric acid 0.893 Source: Majumder 1972.317 Apparent uric acid 0.127 Kernel damage Total uric acid 0.129 0.489 Toral uric acid Apparent uric acid 0. TABLE 7.904 True uric acid 0.

about US$30. Today. this would amount to US$30. in the process. It is estimated that in countries like Canada and the United States.Microflora The expected world production of cereals by 1985 will be about 1. which are the main source of protein in many developing countries. In monetary terms.000 kilograms.000 million. when huge amounts of basic foods are converted into secondary animal foods. they generate a great deal of employment. the annual cereal consumption per capita is 1.000 million. increased use of inputs to raise agricultural production. development and technology transfer activities in the postharvest field would be more than justified even if half the losses could be prevented. Another way to increase food supplies is to lay stress on greater use of primary foods. This will have a substantial impact on poverty reduction which would contribute to reduction of hunger. Success would contribute to raising incomes and producing alternative employment in agro-industries. Table 8 gives a picture of how food consumption patterns contribute to the food problem (Borgstrom 1974). Consumers of a large amount of animal food have faced many serious health problems such as atherosclerosis and diverticular diseases. that distorts this picture. improvement of nutritional levels. even a 10 per cent loss would amount to 150 million tons.500 million tons.000 million worth of agricultural commodities are exported by the developing countries out of which the importing countries make products worth US$240.fish)IV Feed calories III Animal calories V Total primary calories . especially in the affluent countries. the world produces three times its requirements. Calories in Food Intake per Person per Day (1970) I Total calories (II + III) II Plant calories (. and are crops of higher economic value. and substantial saving on much-needed foreign exchange. This picture must change if trade balance is to be improved. taking a modest price of US$200/ton. It is often forgotten that very few agricultural commodities become food without some sort of processing and. Similar or even greater losses occur per ton of grain legumes. of which barely 70 are consumed directly. TABLE 8. It is the consumption pattern. 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. In terms of total availability of primary foods. This shows that an increase in research.

051 4. and provide the stimulus that can overcome poverty through acceleration of the development process. and in the storage.206 789 11. wheat.(II + IV) Unites States 3. Conclusion The solution to food and nutrition problems requires a sound understanding of the interface aspects.523 7. and others concerned would constantly interact with each other to ensure a multidisciplinary attack. and fish. Philippines. College. D. G. Canada.017 India 1. 1975.729 Mexico 2.995 2. Only through such programmes of action can the total agroeconomic system contribute to bringing about the socio-economic transformation of the developing countries. and grain legumes. food technologists.869 1. 7 (Nov. 1974.357 Source: Borgstrom 1974.614 2. .): 16-19. and processing of perishable foods such as fruits.310 2. handling.252 5.300 1. vegetables. in which agricultural scientists. Hopefully these problems will be discussed in this Workshop. De Padua. Many other types of post-harvest losses occur during the milling of rice. meat. Laguna.B. University of the Philippines at Los Ba�os.886 9. The Price of a Tractor Ceres. Inadequate utilization of oilseed proteins for human consumption also represents a major loss.634 1.431 10. References Borgstrom.321 293 Difference 381 2.990 1. nutritionists.871 109 Difference Italy 763 2. and work as an interdisciplinary team in a concerted manner.372 3./Dec. Personal communication to IDRC.

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