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Strengthening developing-country institutions concerned with food and nutrition


The Sub-committee on Nutrition (SCN) of the United Nations Administrative Committee on Co-ordination has long been concerned with promoting the development of strong institutions within developing countries and regions capable of dealing with research, training, and advisory service needs relating to food and nutrition issues. This stemmed from the conviction that no country should be without some capability in food and nutrition, although the nature of the institutions involved will vary with the size, conditions, and resources in the country. Moreover, strong regional institutions are required to provide advanced training in food and nutrition and enhanced opportunities for interdisciplinary research. It also recognized that UN and bilateral agencies should play a critical role in the development and support of such institutions.

At its meeting in 1978, the SCN discussed a working paper prepared by Professor John Waterlow on the importance of advanced training of food and nutrition scientists and arrived at some general recommendations for increasing such training opportunities. In addition, the World Health Organization has convened two meetings on training in nutrition, in 1976 and 1983. Although recognizing the importance of training for nutrition institutions in developing countries, none of these meetings focused on the specific issue of improving the scope and competence of institutions concerned with food and nutrition.

There was, however, a series of missions to determine the needs of the countries of Africa south of the Sahara sponsored by the SCN and organized by the United Nations University. The finding of a serious lack of professionals competent in food and nutrition in most of these countries led to specific suggestions for assistance to them for training and institution-building. Some increased help to individual countries has resulted, but support has not yet been mobilized for regional food and nutrition institutions.

When the importance of the training of professional staff as a mechanism for institution-building was raised at the 1983 meeting of the SCN in Copenhagen, it was proposed that this topic should be discussed in depth at its 1984 meeting and recommendations developed. The UNU agreed to serve as the lead agency in convening a preparatory meeting to examine the entire range of measures important for strengthening food and nutrition institutions in developing countries. The SCN further suggested that improved institutional and programme management was a major need of many developing-country institutions and requested that special attention be given to this problem.

The preparatory meeting was convened at the FAO headquarters in Rome, 28 February to 2 Marcy 1984. There were 28 participants, from all continents and a variety of disciplines, all having experience with developing-country food and nutrition institutions. Following plenary discussion of each agenda topic, drafting groups prepared summaries that were modified after discussion by the whole committee. An editorial group consisting of the meeting chairman, Dr. Nevin S. Scrimshaw; the immediate past Chairman of the Advisory Group on Nutrition (AGN), Dr. Fred Sai; and the present Chairman of AGN, Dr. Abraham Horwitz, completed the following document for submission to the SCN.


1. Introduction

It is generally recognized and agreed that in developing countries there should be professionals with high-level qualifications and competency in dealing with food and nutrition problems. There is no standard institutional arrangement for this. These professionals may be in universities, national nutrition institutions or other national bodies, and regional institutions. They should be supported by qualified people from other disciplines that have an impact on nutrition, such as medicine and public health, agriculture, and the social sciences.

2. Regional Institutions

2.1. Every region should have one or more institutions to serve regional needs for broad multidisciplinary capabilities in food and nutrition for advanced training, research leadership, and advisory services. Regional centres function for the benefit of countries without the resources to provide the number and kinds of advanced professionals in food. nutrition, and allied disciplines needed for advanced training and for the more complex kinds of problem-solving research. They also facilitate the exchange of ideas, provide effective training, and promote a better understanding between scientists and policy makers.

2.2 The benefits derived from such regional centres depend to a large extent on their:

- quality and competency of leadership;
- contribution to the solution of problems of the region they serve;
- relationships with the national institutions and governments of the region;
- degree of interaction with national institutions and governments in formulation and implementation of food and nutrition-related programmes; and
- effective utilization of human, material, and financial resources.

2.3. The institutions functioning regionally can stimulate and co-ordinate networks of national institutions as well as identify and advise on regional priorities on which they should be working.

2.4. Regional institutions should aim to produce professional nutritionists and food scientists for research, training, policy analysis, and advice to governments. They should seek to advance or upgrade nutritionists working in implementation programmes and complement the capabilities of national institutions.

2.5. Regional institutions should either be university-based or university-associated and include a basic core of professional nutrition and food scientists. In addition, they should be able to call upon the expertise of professionals in other disciplines that can have an impact on human nutrition in either their own or co-operating institutions. A prime role of regional institutions should be to integrate applied and theoretical research.

2.6. Formal links between institutions in industrialized and developing countries for agreed purposes may be very valuable for both partners, whether the co-operation is for training, research, or policy analysis.

2.7. A list of regional institutions serving nutrition objectives for training, research, and advisory services was prepared by IUNS Committee V/8 and published in the UNU Food and Nutrition Bulletin (vol. 5, no. 2, 1983). A report of courses and professional organizations in food science and technology was published in 1980 by IUFoST. These listings are already in need of updating.

3. National Institutions

3.1. While regional institutions are important, they must not be viewed as a substitute for national competence in food and nutrition. Nearly every country in the developing world requires one or more institutions or units with concern for food and nutrition issues. Their size and nature will vary greatly with the size and resources of the country, the availability of qualified personnel, and institutional structures. Ideally, a critical mass of well-qualified personnel with training and experience in the food and nutrition sector should be available, but for many countries this is not possible at the present time.

3.2. While the tasks of such institutions will differ, their minimum functions should include:

- training of local food and nutrition workers at various levels;
- providing advisory services to government, industry, and non-governmental organizations;
- the dissemination of food and nutrition knowledge;
- the collection of basic food and nutrition data; and
- adapting new knowledge and technologies to local problems and cultural characteristics.

Capacity for epidemiological and problem-solving nutrition research and for food research is highly desirable.

4. The Professional Food and Nutrition Specialist

4.1. The professional food and nutrition specialist is a person who deals with the subject of food and nutrition at a scientific or policy level. Both food and nutrition scientists and professionals from other disciplines with nutrition as a sub-specialization are needed. In general, they will have graduate training and degrees.

4.2. For such professionals, a career should be possible in the food and nutrition sector, academia, government, or industry. For many countries there is an urgent need to increase employment opportunities for food and nutrition scientists and related professionals from allied disciplines.

5. International and Bilateral Organizations

International and bilateral organizations should make a special effort to ensure that every region has strong, viable institutions to serve area needs for advanced training, multidisciplinary research, and authoritative food and nutrition advice. They should also assist countries in establishing and maintaining national institutions for this purpose.

6. Co-operation among Institutions

6.1. Formal networks of institutions concerned with various aspects of food and nutrition both within and among countries can provide mutual support and benefit.

6.2. International and bilateral organizations should facilitate co-operation in training, research, and exchange of knowledge among food and nutrition institutions in developing countries and between those in developing and industrialized countries.

7. Seminars, Workshops, and Other Meetings

International and bilateral organizations should support seminars, workshops, and conferences that will involve the participation of professionals from developing-country institutions.


1. Introduction

It is impossible to separate the problems of institution building and training from the political and economic realities of individual countries and regions. The gaps identified in many cases may be closed only if appropriate local or regional political support is mobilized. Although many less-developed countries have economic difficulties that make them reluctant to assign appropriate funds for so-called "welfare services," food and nutrition programmes appear to be the worst off in many instances. If this situation is to change dramatically, efforts should be made to strengthen or create appropriate food and nutrition institutions that meet regional and national needs for training personnel, conducting research, and advising governments.

The need for strong regional food and nutrition institutions is met to varying degrees in the different regions. These may be either strong national institutes such as the Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI) and the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) in India, or multidisciplinary research institutes attached to universities, such as the Institute of Nutrition of Mahidol University (INMU) in Thailand and the Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology (INTA) of the University of Chile. They may also be specifically set up as regional institutions, such as the Institute of Nutrition of Central America and Panama (INCAP) in Guatemala and the Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute (CFNI) in Jamaica. In addition, useful short courses in food and nutrition can sometimes be established even in the absence of sufficiently strong local institutions by mobilizing the necessary additional teaching staff from other countries for the period required.

2. Africa South of the Sahara

2.1. In Africa south of the Sahara no institution has been created specifically as a regional training institution, although one or more national institutions are in a position to develop such capacity in the near future. The University of Ibadan has provided training for candidates from other parts of Africa and outside Africa for some twenty years. It has adequate facilities but needs to be supported by the international community to enable it to undertake more regional functions. Such support will also facilitate the development of stronger links with other institutions and universities in Nigeria and elsewhere for a more comprehensive multidisciplinary program. The University of Ghana and the Ethiopian Nutrition Institute, which provided some regional training in the past, are unable to do so at present.

2.2. In the region of eastern, central, and southern Africa, leading institutions have recognized the need for, and expressed the willingness to collaborate in, the field of food and nutrition training. They have agreed that the University of Zimbabwe should start regional training in nutrition. These decisions deserve co-ordinated support, since there is no comparable facility in that part of Africa. At the M.Sc. level, the Food Science course in Kenya is a valuable regional asset.

2.3. For the French-speaking African countries, there is no institution capable of providing the needed training. Some elements exist in Senegal in the Institute of Food Technology (ITA), the Organization for Research in Food and Applied Nutrition (ORANA), and the University of Dakar. At the University of Benin a specialization programme in food science and human nutrition at the M.Sc. level started recently in the Faculty of Agriculture. Some elements also exist in Cameroon and the Ivory Coast. Dialogue with the countries concerned is necessary to identify the most suitable site for the creation of a food and nutrition institution that can serve this linguistic group.

2.4. For the Portuguese-speaking African countries, a similar need exists.

2.5. The extent to which only one institution in each of the three sub-regions can meet the long-term needs of Africa south of the Sahara is not clear. However, for the immediate future, the international community should give priority to three regional institutions while simultaneously assisting with the strengthening and/or development of food and nutrition capabilities in the other countries.

The major institutional gaps in Africa are the absence or inadequacy of some of the required infrastructure, the inadequate numbers of suitably trained Africans, lack of sufficient fellowships for foreign study, and the lack of foreign exchange for supplies, equipment, libraries, and research projects.

Developing the required network of regional and national food and nutrition institutions in Africa will require an extensive and sustained programme of advanced training. A serious handicap is the scarcity of opportunities for those working in these sub-regions to meet and discuss common problems.

3. North Africa and the Middle East

At the present time there is no food and nutrition institution that serves this region. Institutions that provided some regional training up to about 10 years ago in Tunisia, Morocco, Iran, and Egypt are no longer able to do so for a variety of reasons. Only limited opportunities remain in Lebanon. Political factors may complicate the emergence of any of these as a strong regional force in the near future. However, their competence should be improved through fellowships for advanced training and, where justified, support for research. There has been considerable preliminary discussion of the creation of a food and nutrition institute for the Arab States of the Gulf. Such a development should be encouraged but will be hindered by the present lack of trained local personnel.

4. South-East Asia

At the present time, Mahidol University in Bangkok is rapidly developing the capacity for leadership in advanced training and research in nutrition, and some complementary food science and related social science capabilities exist in Kasetsart and Thamasart universities, respectively. This development should receive strong international support. In addition, the Nutrition Center of the Philippines, the University of the Philippines at Los Baņos, and the University of Indonesia in Jakarta also provide middle level professional training in nutrition for the region. In Bogor, Indonesia, the Food Technology and Development Center of the Agricultural University and the Nutrition Research and Development Center of the Ministry of Health jointly have a multidisciplinary training potential.

The Korean Advanced Institute of Technology in Seoul and the University of the Philippines at Los Baņos have the capacity to provide regional training in food science and technology. The master's degree programme of the University of the Philippines at Los Baņos, for example, focuses on the topic of food and nutrition planning and has provided regional leadership in this field for several years. Taiwan also has food and nutrition institutions that could be helpful to the region. The region also has ready access to university-based training programmes in food and nutrition in Australia and to the National Food Research Institute in Japan. In addition, the Indian institutions are helpful to this region.

A major need is external funding to allow the countries of this region to take full advantage of these facilities in building national and regional competence.

5. South Asia

Of the countries in this region, indict possesses two outstanding national institutions that meet regional needs, the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) in Hyderabad and the Central Food Technology and Research Institute (CFTRI) in Mysore. A number of other institutions in India provide complementary training in related fields, including management. The Institute of Nutrition and Food Science of Dhaka University in Bangladesh has the potential for developing regional training capabilities, particularly in co-operation with the strong nutrition group in the International Center for Diarrhoeal Disease Research ( ICDDR,B).

6. Latin America and the Caribbean

This region is fortunate in having two strong nutrition and food science research and training centres in Spanish speaking Latin America: the Institute of Nutrition of Central America and Panama (INCAP) in Guatemala and the Institute of Nutrition and Food Technology (INCA) at the University of Chile. Several other universities in Latin America have nutrition departments with considerable potential.

In the Caribbean, two institutions in Kingston, the Tropical Metabolism Research Unit (TMRU) of the University of the West Indies (UWI) and the PAHO-sponsored Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute (CFNI), function for the region. There is a need to strengthen the programmes of CFNI and link the two institutions more closely to enable them to provide for the needs of the Caribbean. The deteriorating economic climate of the Caribbean threatens the UWI. The effects of this must be anticipated and significant support provided.

Brazil deserves special attention because it could assist with training for the two Portuguese-speaking countries of Africa. Although there are a number of nutrition and food science centres in various parts of the country, as yet none has the multidisciplinary scope to serve the required regional research and training function. At the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro the strengthening of a nutrition institution is now taking place in order to start a master's degree programme in human nutrition in the future.

7. Needs at the National Level

The majority of countries have some kind of nutrition units or institutions, but the levels of competence vary widely. In every region, there are some countries lacking such competence and other countries where existing units are so poorly staffed and so lacking in financial and other resources as to be almost without value. In fact, the great majority of developing countries lack strong enough institutions to meet minimum national needs. Every developing country should possess, at a minimum, units with the competence to assess local food and nutrition needs in relation to social, cultural, and economic realities and to interpret these to their governments.

Some countries have national training institutions that provide for the training of professional food and nutrition scientists and middle- and lower-level personnel. Many of these, however, face serious difficulties, including the lack of appropriate supplies, equipment, and maintenance; inadequate libraries without recent periodicals; and a lack of funds for research. The development of suitable national food and nutrition institutions should be given as high a priority as local circumstances permit in the assistance rendered to individual countries by the international and bilateral organizations.


A. The Need for Management Capability

1. The Importance of Developing Management Capability

The effectiveness of food and nutrition institutions as well as of programmes and projects depends as much on the managerial skills of planning and implementation as on the technical expertise of the food- and nutrition-related sciences. Management includes the whole spectrum of activities, extending from policy formulation to programme implementation, monitoring, evaluation, and feedback.

1.1. Management of institutions. Food and nutrition institutions around the world need to upgrade their management capabilities in the areas of planning and budgeting, personnel selection and development, financial management, logistics, maintenance, and general administration.

1.2. Management of programmes. Food and nutrition problems are complex, and therefore a co-ordinated effort to solve them is needed from various sectors such as health, agriculture, education, and the social sciences. Management inputs are needed to deal with the organizational and co-ordination issues arising out of the multidisciplinary and multisectoral approach required. Managerial input is needed to help convert new knowledge developed in the laboratories of food and nutrition institutions into practical programmes for implementation.

1.3. Management of policy formulation. Management input is required at the policy formulation stage to help carry out policy analysis and suggest alternatives to ensure greater impact of food and nutrition programmes and projects. Though national policies are generally formulated at the political level, policy decisions can be influenced by competent managers.

2. Management of Food and Nutrition Institutions

Well-managed institutions generally share certain common organizational characteristics, including an open and collegial environment, peer review of activities, rational personnel development plans, and sound fiscal management. However, there can be no recipe for effective management applicable to all cultures and situations. Therefore, each institution must select a managerial style that is consistent with its governmental policies, culture, and its stage of development.

Management deals with the mobilization and motivation of staff to accomplish common objectives. It is as much an art as a science. Institutions should adopt a management style conducive to the development of excellence and individual initiative. The professional and administrative staff, including the director, should be exposed to sound management practices through

- short training programmes in specific areas of management;
- visits to well-managed institutions; and
- consultant assistance in organizational development tasks.

2.1. Planning of programmes and projects. In most developing countries, food and nutrition programmes are being planned and implemented by government or voluntary agencies with little or no input from food and nutrition institutions. Food and nutrition institutions should co-operate in the planning and evaluation phases and provide training to programme and project implementers in nutrition management as well as technical skills Areas in which skills need to be developed include

- policy formulation and development of intervention strategies;
- operational management, i.e., in supply and logistics, personnel administration, activity planning;
- managerial control, i.e., budget and financial control, information systems, operational problem diagnosis and solution;
- development of co-ordination with other sectors, agencies and the community; and
- managerial communication, i.e., communication within organizations for motivation and team-building, and communication with policy-makers.

In any given programme, the relative emphasis on skills needed would vary, depending on the level of the trainees and objectives of the training and the institution.

2.2. Development of trainers and researchers in food and nutrition management In order to be able to provide input in the management of programmes and projects for management referred to above, management skills and training capability need to be developed within the food and nutrition institutions. Not all institutions will be in a position to undertake this venture in view of the limited size of their professional staff or other resource constraints. However, institutions in a position to do so should develop this capability to meet the training needs within the institution, country, or region.

To develop a viable training core group, there should be a team of professionals responsible for carrying out operational research activities and developing management training materials in the form of case studies and concepts. This group should also involve professionals from other disciplines from within the institution or from management institutions or successful programme managers. The Field Programme Management: Food and Nutrition Training Pack, available from FAO in Rome, is a valuable resource.

In order to build management capability within the institution core, members should be trained at an institution capable of providing food and nutrition management education. In some cases, specific collaboration with management institutions could be developed to provide long-term support for training in operational research and systems development.

2.3. Management research. Training alone, however, will not be sufficient to improve the management of these programmes and projects. In order to make an effective impact on management practices, institutions with regional functions should also become involved in systems development (i.e., improved information systems and logistics) for management improvement.

B. Training of Professional Staff

1. Staff Development Plans

The first priority in strengthening institutions is to build up a body of competent and well-trained staff. The starting point for each institution, whether it be a university or a government institute, must be a staff development plan that takes account of both short-term and long-term needs.

2. The Need for Variety and Flexibility

It is likely that a wide range of training needs will be identified in different professional and technical areas. There will be need for professional food and nutrition scientists with multidisciplinary orientation to act as foci for the organization of courses and for nutrition scientists to receive specialized and more advanced training in particular subjects. Increasingly, also, there is likely to be need for training in up-to-date teaching methods and in management skills.

Great flexibility is needed in the arrangements to provide the most appropriate training in each case. Sometimes training will take the form of a full university course leading to a degree; sometimes it may be a shorter, more specialized course or simply participatory experience. To meet these various requirements for staff development, it is necessary to call on a wide range of institutions in both developing and industrialized countries.

3. Selection and Placement of Trainees

The initial responsibility for the selection of trainees and for deciding on the appropriate programmes rests with the institutions concerned, in accordance with their staff development plans. These needs have to be impressed on governments. However, it is recognized that governments must determine their own development needs and the priorities to be given to training in different subjects. Equally, if the training is to be supported by external funds, as will often be the case, the proposals will have to fit in with the principles and administrative arrangements of the donor agency, whether it be one of the UN organizations or an individual government or foundation.

It is clearly the responsibility of the institution that is seeking training for its staff to identify the places where the training can best be given, in terms of both technical competence and relevance. The execution of the staff development plan therefore requires a dialogue between the institutions concerned, the local government, and the donors. Efforts should be made to reduce the complexity of these arrangements so that they may be as efficient, quick, and flexible as possible.

4. Useful Mechanisms for Staff Development

Certain particular types of support for staff development have special advantages and need to be expanded:

- third-country training, i.e., a system by which a donor supports the training of people from one institution at another institution within the developing world;
- continuing links among different universities or university departments, including links between a university in a developing country and one in an industrialized country, and links among institutions in different developing countries; these links may be effected both by short exchange visits and programmes of reciprocal second meet;
- secondment of staff from better-off institutions, as temporary substitutes for staff absent on training programmes, enables the recipient institution to continue and improve essential programmes.

It should be emphasized that all these links are of benefit to the training institution as well as to the trainees and increase the competence of both. Many of these arrangements also have financial and administrative implications that must be taken into account. Local costs to the recipient may be very burdensome. Funding may be required to increase salaries for teachers seconded from better-off countries to safeguard their pension rights or to offset local costs.

5. Scholarly Meetings

A flexible training programme, in line with staff development plans in accordance with the immediate and perceived future needs of the national or regional institutions, should have priority. However, regional seminars and workshops are especially valuable to establish and maintain professional links and to facilitate discussion of common problems and research and practical programmes. Support of such meetings might be a particularly appropriate contribution of those agencies unable to make long-term training commitments.

6. Funding

A major problem for institutions seeking support for staff development is the multiplicity of potential donors- UN organizations, foundations, and governments- all of which have their own systems and their own preferences and priorities. Increased co-ordination and collaboration of donors would increase effectiveness, both for the donor and the recipient. There already exists one co-ordinated system within the group of countries that make up the British Commonwealth. It would be helpful if other geographic, economic, and political groupings, such as the European Economic Community, the Nordic countries, the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Organization of American States (OAS), and others would develop collaborative arrangements. To this end, it would be useful if the UNU were to compile a handbook of the fellowship systems, their requirements, regulations, scope, and methods of application, that are currently in force within different UN organizations and governments.


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