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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

however. Trained human resources that can bring about the interaction must be created. organizations and bodies of the United Nations system will have an important role to play. insects. 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. the efforts of the organs. 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. and for its recommendations that may be useful in moving forward more rapidly towards solving this global problem.300 million. is expected to reach a figure of well over 6. that is. socially. and have built capabilities in the form of human resources and institutions able to use the available knowledge.can be sought through co-operation between the scientific communities concerned in other fields. Only a few developing countries have benefited. and politically. which at present stands at about 4. even to meet minimum need. The UN University looks to this workshop to provide multidisciplinary leadership. generate new knowledge. 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. The requirement of food. people who understand not only the disciplines of science and . and micro-organisms. Agricultural production has barely kept pace even with the present need. 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.000 words of scientific literature are published every minute. The consequent qualitative deterioration of food. It must. adds to the problem of malnutrition. which is among the greatest challenges facing mankind in the twenty-first century. 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. In this. Yet their impact on developing countries has been far from satisfactory. scientifically. These are the countries that have recognized the nature and magnitude of their problems. resulting from infestation by rodents. but the real efforts needed will have to come from the countries themselves where the problem really exists. The world population. and raise nutritional standards. 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).

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

9 45. Different approaches are needed to increase production in developing countries from those adopted so far.59 Europe 30.2 6. and.87 13. on the other. there would not be the availability of fossil fuel resources in such large quantities over a period of time. much greater effort is needed.34 Frontier countries (North and South America.4 27.06 17. Less than 20 per cent of farmers actually use fertilizers and pesticides.21 42. and much of this is used to increase production of non-food cash crops that earn foreign exchange.96 5.9 9. in the area of increasing the use of biological fertilizers and developing new technologies leading to better nitrogen fixation. Australia.79 30. Steinhart and Steinhart 1974). and most developing countries do not have a proper distribution system for these inputs. Besides.1 Asia 46. At present the developing countries use barely 15 to 20 per cent of the world supply of chemical fertilizers (table 2).50 49.03 20.73 11. Yet it would be improper and perhaps even dangerous for them to copy the Western system. All we have done so far represents sporadic attempts to make certain nitrogen compounds (nitrites) using unconventional technologies. on the one hand. Certain nonconventional food plants that furnish both protein and calories also need careful examination.10 All regions 10.75 82.Kg N-P-K per Hectare of Arable Land.5 46.73 82.72 5. 1974/75 . Also. for the development of new technologies to make chemical fertilizers using solar energy and wind power.6 17.07 Source: Eckholm 1976. TABLE 2. For example.35 41.78 82. in the United States nearly 300 litres of crude petroleum are used to produce one acre of corn (Pimentel et al. much more effort is required in that direction.7 8.4 34.1950 1960 1950 1960 1950 1960 1950 1960 Africa 14.27 38.99 8.88 6.06 86. Even if such an expensive production system were possible.85 82.7 6.02 Middle East 12.02 90. 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.74 83. and to render them acceptable under different cultural conditions and food consumption patterns.06 27.35 49.9 13.60 19. new technologies would be needed to conserve and process new foods.63 46. Level of Fertilizer Consumption in Selected Countries .27 15.9 37.11 57.88 7.91 52. USSR.98 89.30 36.17 15. Accordingly. and New Zealand) 6. 1973.

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 .

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

c. they are sufficiently indicative to lay emphasis on the problem of food losses. TABLE 5.500 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. Majumder and Parpia 1965. These percentages refer to post-harvest losses unless otherwise stated. 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. West African Stored Products Research Unit 1962. FAO 1964. f. Frey 1951.Cow-pea 41 United Statesc Stored grain Packed food US$ 150 All crops US$3. National Stored Products Research Institute 1952. Metcalf 1962. 10 female rats per group: protein level—10 per cent) Group Initial . Although in most cases the figures refer to specific crops. d.4 14 Tropical Africag All crops: Storage and handling 30 a. g. e. b.

0 54.53 1.48 2.85 V Wheat + Bengal gram dhal (6% + 4% protein) (uninfested) 21. Swaminathan. All means not underscored by the same line are significantly different.5 2.37 1.08 1.0 3.body weight (g) Gain in body weight g/4 weeks Protein intake g/4 weeks PERa PER correctedb I Wheat (uninfested) 41.0 61.170 0. a. taking the PER of SMP as 3.00 + 1.44 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 2.9 22.0 21.21 IV Bengal gram dhal (infested) (chick-pea) 44.17 41.8 VII SMP (control) 41.8 Standard error of the mean (54 df) 2.53 Note: All means underscored by the same line are not significantly different.5 19.86 III Bengal gram dhal (uninfested) (chick-pea) 41. CFTRI. Protein efficiency ratio.00.48 2. Mysore TABLE 6. b.8 21 5 2.0 49.27 41.4 2.36 1.9 1.8 2. Correlation Coefficient between Associated Factors in Sorghum X Y Moisture Correlation coefficient Free fatty acid Fungi 0.32 + 0. PER corrected.0 389 187 2.3 VI Wheat + Bengal gram dhal (6% + 4% protein) (infested) 20.44 2. M.09 II Wheat (infested) 41 0 30.86 2 55 41.08 2.86 3. Source: Personal correspondence with Dr.0 76.09 2.202 .

489 Toral uric acid Apparent uric acid 0.339 Apparent uric acid 0.069 Insect count Kernel damage Total uric acid 0.904 True uric acid 0.240 True uric acid Fungi Free fatty acids Total uric acid 0. TABLE 7.893 Source: Majumder 1972.234 0.127 Kernel damage Total uric acid 0.317 Apparent uric acid 0.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 .549 0.129 0.

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

College.321 293 Difference 381 2. Personal communication to IDRC. nutritionists.729 Mexico 2.523 7. Only through such programmes of action can the total agroeconomic system contribute to bringing about the socio-economic transformation of the developing countries. The Price of a Tractor Ceres.634 1. 1975. Hopefully these problems will be discussed in this Workshop. and fish. Inadequate utilization of oilseed proteins for human consumption also represents a major loss. handling.614 2. 7 (Nov. De Padua.051 4. 1974.372 3.886 9.300 1.B. food technologists. in which agricultural scientists.357 Source: Borgstrom 1974. University of the Philippines at Los Ba�os. .252 5. vegetables. Laguna.310 2. meat.431 10.206 789 11. and processing of perishable foods such as fruits. References Borgstrom. wheat.869 1. Many other types of post-harvest losses occur during the milling of rice. and provide the stimulus that can overcome poverty through acceleration of the development process.(II + IV) Unites States 3. and work as an interdisciplinary team in a concerted manner. and others concerned would constantly interact with each other to ensure a multidisciplinary attack. Conclusion The solution to food and nutrition problems requires a sound understanding of the interface aspects. and grain legumes. D.): 16-19. and in the storage. Canada. G.017 India 1./Dec.990 1.871 109 Difference Italy 763 2.995 2. Philippines.

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