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The United Nations University and Post-harvest Food Conservation

One of the first efforts of the UNU World Hunger Programme, initiated in 1975, was to focus attention on the significance of post-harvest food losses in developing countries, to add information on their quantitative and qualitative significance, and to train key persons in developing countries in this field. The first two of these objectives have been achieved to a highly satisfactory degree.

At the time the United Nations University first focused attention on the problem of post-harvest food losses, the other international agencies, the international agricultural research institutes, and national agricultural programmes were not giving significant consideration to the issue. Since then, the FAO has initiated a major programme to assist countries in reducing post-harvest food losses; the issue has been taken up by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, and has been the subject of an in depth study by the US National Academy of Sciences (see reference below); and many other national and international bodies have held sessions on this topic. It can no longer be considered neglected or unappreciated, although practical steps to reduce such losses are lagging far behind the awareness of them.

The fellowship training programme of the UN University in this priority area was designed to improve the capacity of developing countries to initiate and manage practical control programmes. More than 70 fellowships have been granted for this purpose to persons from 39 countries. Of these, 29 have gone to the Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI), in Mysore, India; 18 to the Institute of Nutrition of Central America and Panama (INCAP), in Guatemala City, Guatemala; 7 to the Tropical Products Institute, in London, UK; 6 to the National Food Research Institute, in Tsukuba, Japan; 4 to the Centre for Research in Nutrition, Laval University, Quebec, Canada; 1 to the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada, through the International Food and Nutrition Policy and Planning Program, MIT and Harvard School of Public Health; and 5 to the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad, and Kingston, Jamaica.

While the University will continue some fellowship training in this area as special needs are identified, the topic of postharvest food losses will no longer be a specific UNU sub programme. It is fitting, therefore, that CFTRI, the largest institutional contributor to this sub-programme, should take responsibility for gathering the material for this special issue of the Food and Nutrition Bulletin which marks the end of the first phase of a successful programme. More than 24 articles on this subject have already appeared in previous issues of the Food and Nutrition Bulletin. We are greatly indebted to Dr. S.K. Majumder and his colleagues at CFTRI for collecting the material for this special issue. These articles summarize much current knowledge of post-harvest food losses and attempt to avoid either overstating or understating the continuing magnitude of the problem.

The change in the status of the University's approach to postharvest food losses is part of more extensive alterations that are taking place in the former World Hunger Programme as part of the initiatives of the new Rector. For its first five years, the World Hunger Programme had active sub programmes concerned not only with post-harvest food conservation but also with food and nutrition policy and with human nutritional requirements under conditions prevailing in developing countries and the capacity of local diets to meet them. In 1981 these were broadened and renamed "Hunger and Technology," "Hunger and Society," and "Hunger and Health." Beginning in January of this year these three subprogrammes have been consolidated into two projects, "Hunger, Health, and Society," and "Hunger, Technology, and Society." Future issues of the Food and Nutrition Bulletin can be expected to reflect these revised priorities.

The papers in this issue, the future report of a 1981 workshop sponsored by the UN University in India, and the US National Research Council Report will provide a useful body of information on the topic of post-harvest losses. The University will continue to monitor this field and to publish articles relevant to it in the Food and Nutrition Bulletin.


National Research Council, Commission on International Relations, Board on Science and Technology for International Development. Post-harvest Food Loss in Developing Countries. National Research Council/National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C., USA, 1978.

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