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Interaction between agriculture, food science and technology, and nutrition

Report of a UN University Workshop

A workshop on the interfaces between agriculture, food science and technology, and nutrition, was held 6 - 10 November 1978 in Guatemala City, Guatemala. It was organized through the collaboration of a committee including Dr. Ricardo Bressani, Institute of Nutrition of Central America and Panama (INCAP); Dr. Evangelina Villegas, International Centre for Wheat and Maize Research (CIMMYT); Dr. Federico Poey, CIMMYT and International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (lCTA); Dr. Robert Waugh, Rockefeller Foundation/lCTA/INCAP; and Eng. Heleodoro Miranda, Inter-American Institute for AgricuIturaI Sciences (IICA) . This was the fourth in a series of such workshops sponsored by the World Hunger Programme of the United Nations University Previous such interface workshops were held in Ibadan, Nigeria, in December 1976; Los Baņos, Philippines, in March 1977; and Martonvasar, Hungary, in June 1978.

One objective of the workshop was to demonstrate the advantages of interaction among professionals in the three subject areas at the level of research and development for the up-grading of the quality of basic food crops, for their preservation and transformation, and thus to promote such interaction. The second objective was to develop a multisectoral intervention model, for implementation in a variety of situations for the integration of the technologies developed by technical groups in the three areas. A total of 106 professionals, from agriculture, food science and technology, health and nutrition, and economic and social sciences, from various Central American institutions participated.

The first day was devoted to presentation of papers giving general background information on agricultural production and food availability in Central America, the state of development of the food industry in the area, and the nutritional situation of the population. Attention was given to advances that have been made in cereal and legume production as well as in beef and dairy cattle in tropical areas. Information was presented on the benefits for people to be derived if professionals in the three areas co-ordinate their individual efforts. This was demonstrated by defining productivity as the product of production/unit area, corrected by a nutritive value and a food technology factor.

This formula was used with examples to show the need to interact and the benefits to be derived from interaction. Furthermore, the interaction should lead to the development of programmes of agriculture, food science and technology, and nutrition which are effectively integrated on an institutional basis or system.

The following two days were spent on the development of a multisectoral intervention model for a sample community. The general description of the community, the region, its topography, ecology, soils, forest, water; the people, their nutritional and health conditions, housing, pattern of living and of their work and social activities; and family, of the activities related to production of agricultural crops, and the available resources, were specified. Based on the above, an intervention model and evaluation techniques were proposed. The intervention is of multisectoral nature in the areas of agriculture, post-harvest technology, nutrition and health. To be successful the community should be a functional part of the interventions.

The last three days were utilized for a detailed discussion of the various methods of co-ordinating the several related activities in the three subject areas and of how to implement comprehensive programmes using the sample intervention model.

The papers presented, and the discussions, helped to reveal the results of research undertaken in various parts of the world and ways of applying those results to small communities. These included production of grain and vegetable crops and how they could be preserved, processed, and commercialized. The discussions considered the possibilities of utilizing, at the village level, the by-products from agriculture as sources of feed; the production of materials to increase or improve the structure and fertility of soils, and biogas production in connexion with the animals available in the area. Several papers discussed results of research into how small animal units, including poultry, swine and cattle, sheep, beef or dairy animals, could be operated. The availability of the technology in the respective fields and the need to put such findings into practice were presented in the papers. Various interventions dealt with natural resources to be exploited for food or feed, and simple systems for the preservation of food crops and feeds. Small food industries at the village level, the significance of agricultural extension work to improve agricultural production, and home economics education, were other topics discussed.

The workshop identified the following bottlenecks in the successful interaction between scientists from agriculture, food science and technology, and nutrition: lack of communication and integrated actions between scientists and institutions; lack of leadership; inefficient academic formation in the various fields, and an imbalance in the number and quality of scientists in the various areas. Various mechanisms to promote interaction were suggested, with emphasis on the leadership of agricultural production programmes, with food science and technology, and nutrition as supporting programmes. Detailed recommendations were made for the development of human resources and the planning of academic programmes; for strategies for integration of institutional research and action programmes, and for the promotion of a comprehensive agricultural and agro-industry development.

The conference was able to accomplish, at least partially, the two objectives proposed. The consensus was that the concept is attractive although at present not easily realizable. It was suggested that it should be promoted by periodic meetings of smaller groups so as to integrate research programmes and intervention activities. Likewise, postgraduate academic programmes based on the concept of productivity as indicated above could do much to induce integration in the three areas and possibly others as well. In order to keep the idea alive, the first action to undertake is to make available, to the participants and others, the proceedings of the conference.

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