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Hunger and technology

The United Nations university's approach to human resource development in food science and technology


The United Nations university's approach to human resource development in food science and technology

H. A. B. Parpia
United Nations University, Tokyo, Japan


The problems of poverty, hunger, and malnutrition are essentially the problems of developing countries, and that is where adequate and effective solutions must ultimately be found. Indiscriminate imposition of solutions from outside has not solved the problems and has perhaps aggravated them. If adequate solutions are to be found, it will be necessary to build the capabilities of problem-solvers in the Third World. The complex of production, conservation, processing, and utilization of food represent an interdisciplinary socio-technological problem, and therefore its solution requires a socio-technological approach.

It is essential to train for leadership people who are capable of finding solutions to the problems of food, poverty, and nutrition in relation to socio-economic needs. These needs are essentially national, but in an interdependent world where the problems of one country affect another, agents of destruction such as rats, locusts, insects, climate, and biotic factors need no passports to cross frontiers. Not only national but inter-country co-operation at regional and global levels is called for.

Food habits are also changing. While some nutritious traditional foods of the affluent in developing countries are becoming the exotic foods of developed countries and vice versa, the traditional technologies for the manufacture of many foods of the common man, developed through inherited experience, have become, or are fast becoming, obsolete and may even disappear. These technologies have provided culturally acceptable low-cost foods of high nutritive value. There is now an urgent need for upgrading such foods through the application of modern science and for fostering their integration with newly emerging technologies.

Research has become a vital component of the development process. The ability to identify complex food-related problems socially, scientifically, and technologically and to find solutions for them within a time frame requires creativity and innovative ability and special competence in management of human resources and research and development institutions. Directors of food research institutes in developing countries not only must stimulate their research scientists but also must provide viable answers to planners, policy-makers, entrepreneurs, and extension specialists in different disciplines of both social and natural sciences. Without such capabilities they cannot bridge the credibility gap between research and its users. They must make science and technology an effective means for the desired type of development.

The challenge before educators and leaders in research, especially in Third World countries, in the twenty-first century lies in providing the required multi-disciplinary and multi-dimensional socio-technological education and training with a new sense of awareness of the problem of hunger, poverty, and society. They should possess specialized knowledge in depth of at least one or two subjects. Only then will the product of such training be able to provide the required leadership in research, development, and dissemination of knowledge that will be of practical value at the grass roots level. The scientist-manager of research in a research and development institution should be able to look at many dimensions of the problem.

In most countries present institutions do not seem to be designed to provide such education and would need modification or adaptation. It may even be necessary to build new institutions. Initially, such a programme of advanced training can be built on co-operation between institutions in the relevant disciplines to achieve inter-disciplinarity, recognizing the need for developing socio-technological multidisciplinary training in the area of food science and technology


The main objective of the present United Nations University policy for the training of human resources is to create a socially and scientifically conscious leadership that would trigger self-reliant development. This calls for a new approach to widen the disciplinary capability with specialization to manage the development process and give it a socially useful direction. The present system of education and training with its emphasis on specialization has given very inadequate attention to the required multidimensionality. It has not helped to train people to find adequate solutions to problems that are in most cases caused by multiple factors. This calls for a drastic change in the approach to advanced training, requiring the redesigning of curricula and closer co-operation between institutions that can provide such advanced training through the establishment of national or intra-national networks.

A multi-disciplinary working group with competence in anthropology, economics, education, research, science, technology, and management met in June 1981 to have a fresh look in depth at the UNU's activities in this area. It examined critically the question of advanced research-based training in the field, in the light of the new policies of the University (1). The report emphasized the need for redirection of the University's activities in hunger and technology to achieve the socio-technological objectives of increasing and improving food supplies, generating employment, stimulating rural development, and reducing poverty.

The recommendations give special attention not only to reorientation of advanced education and training but to the need for improvement and strengthening of the competence of the institutions associated with the University and for building the required types of networks that would be capable of providing such training. This structure of training would include adequate components of natural science, technologies, and social sciences with due attention to research and its management. It would encourage development and use of technologies that are appropriate to the needs of the developing countries and would have positive impact on indigenous development efforts. The report further emphasizes that these efforts would lead to building networks for greater co-operation and dialogue among institutions across the national boundaries and would also contribute to building food security.


The socio-technological training recommended by the working group requires identification of institutions on grounds of academic excellence that would include capabilities such as availability of a component critical mass of human resources, adequate physical facilities such as library and documentation services, laboratory and pilot plant facilities, extension and dissemination services. The institutions should be close to the problems and not isolated from the needs, physically or spiritually. They should have inter-disciplinary competence of their own and should help to create networks in which institutions would supplement and complement each other's capabilities to make possible the development of a balanced programme of socio-technological training.

As criteria to govern the establishement of its associated relationships with other institutions, the University has said that the relationships should:

(a) be based primarily on scientific and intellectual contributions the University can make and not primarily on financial considerations;
(b) facilitate the fulfillment of the over-all goals of the University and specific activities in the areas of research, advanced training and dissemination of knowledge as determined by the Council of the University,
(c) guarantee academic freedom to researchers;
(d) establish, where appropriate, and in collaboration with the University, a network of other institutions and scholars;
(e) work through an associated institution rather than through a new unit to achieve better results,
(f) lead to the enhancement of the capacity of the associated institution and bring benefits for both the University and the institution,
(g) provide a desirable presence for the University;
(h) not present an undue financial burden for the University;
(i) be for fixed periods and, where needed, renewed for additional periods;
(j) have regular and periodic evaluation of the networks of associated institutions (in some cases, this may lead to the termination of association because a programme goal may have been met, or because of the new programme emphasis of the University, or for other valid reasons);
(k) be established on the grounds of academic excellence, including to obtain excellent results in applying science and technology for the benefit of human and social development as well as those with advanced and sophisticated research, development, and training programmes; and
(I) be established with due consideration to geographical distribution [2].

The final decision regarding the establishment of association is made by the University Council. Before an associated relationship is established, a site visit is made on behalf of the University by one or more scholars/scientists, who submit a comprehensive report on the capabilities of the institution and obtain a letter of request from the authorities indicating their desire to become an associated institution of the University. Based on this information, a decision is made and an aggreement entered into.


An important factor in the success of the fellowship programme for multi-disciplinary socio-technological training is the discerning selection of fellows. This is a very carefully planned process. On the part of the interviewers it requires a sound understanding of the problems of food, poverty, and nutrition in the developing countries and of the training needs of institutions in relation to it.

Institutions with potential fellows in developing countries are first identified, and site visits are made by a senior member of the University staff, a member of an associated institution, or in some cases by a former senior fellow of the University.

The site visitor, in consultation with the head of the institution, studies the human resource needs of the institution and writes a site visit report on its capabilities. On the basis of this, one or more fellows are identified and interviewed. The site visit report and the interview report are then submitted to the University headquarters with suggestions of one or more associated institution where the training can be carried out and the period of training required. The University then sends the application forms to the candidate.

When the completed forms are returned, a committee examines the candidate's qualifications, areas of interest, fields, and proposed period of training. In addition, there must be a written assurance that the candidate will return to his or her country after completion of training and a guarantee of employment by the sponsoring institution.

The application is sent to the associated institution, whose decision regarding acceptance of the candidate is final. The associated institution, where necessary, negotiates with other institutions within the network to provide training in other disciplines to ensure multi-disciplinarity. The training programme is finalized in consultation with the candidate.

As most of the training is research-based, a report of research done by the candidate and the recommendation of the supervisor are the two deciding factors in awarding the UNU certificate of completion.

A degree is not the main objective of UNU training; rather the emphasis is on learning and building of multidisciplinary capabilities to lead programmes of research, and to build institutions and endogenous training capabilities. The number of fellows trained in the areas of Hunger,

TABLE 1. Fellowships Awarded in Hunger, Technology, and Society and Hunger, Health, and Society, 1976-April 1983

  Hunger, Technology, and Society Hunger, Health, and Society
  Former Current Former Current
Asia 17 4 54 3
Africa 18 1 14 5
Middle East/ 10 - 9 2
North Africa        
Latin America 16 5 33 4
Others (North America, Europe, Japan) 3 - 5  
Totals 64 9 115 14

Technology, and Society and Hunger, Health, and Society is given in table 1.


One of the major objectives of the UNU fellowship programme is to build a world community of scholars and scientists and through them institutional capabilities. The fellowships are helping to build networks of institutions and individuals, thus increasing the University's outreach regionally and inter-regionally. This is leading to better understanding and to the building of a base for research and for dissemination and absorption of information by the institutions. This is also valuable in increasing the in-reach of fellows to the UNU system and to re-transmission of information for use.


Recognizing that the needs of developing countries differ considerably from those of the developed countries (3), the University has been making efforts to understand them with the help of the community of scientists and scholars, especially from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and to continuously assist in reorienting the programmes of advanced research and training to meet their requirements.

A recent workshop organized by the University on Need-Based information Services in Appropriate Food Science and Technology for Developing Countries (Mysore, India, 18-27 January 1983), in which 21 developing-country institutions and 13 resource persons participated, discussed the problem of information collection and dissemination to meet the requirements of different audiences, such as the research and development scientists, policy-makers and planners, extension workers, and users. One of the observations made was that barely five per cent of the information in some of the important areas of food science and technology published in journals from advanced countries is useful to the developing countries. The need to create a co-operative network of institutions in the Third World for exchange of information amongst themselves was clearly identified.

It is often recognized that experiences of advanced countries with research and development, technology assessment and transfer, and hence education and training cannot be transplanted to the developing countries. The following few selected points illustrate this:
a. In advanced countries the research and development institutions came into existence as a result of the demand from industry to make progress for meeting competition.
b. In developing countries these institutions have a different role. They have to identify the problems of industry and of national development for research to stimulate socio-economic development that will lead to self-reliance.
c. In advanced countries the processes and products that appear promising are picked up from the institutions by corporations and made commercially viable.
d. In developing countries small-scale entrepreneurs are largely commercial traders. Institutions have to help them become industrial entrepreneurs. Even then their risk-taking capacities are very limited. In this case, the research and development institutions have to ensure commercial viability through large-scale pilot plant operations or prototype plant operations, involving the small entrepreneurs in them and reducing or eliminating their risk factor to transfer technologies successfully to productive sectors.
e. In an advanced country there are many industrial consultants who can set up commercial plants. In developing countries the institutions have to undertake consultancy work and set up turn-key plants.

As illustrated above, the nature and magnitude of problems of developing-country institutions are of a different order.

Institutional infrastructure and the training of management and staff must also be different. A highly specialized person can be of limited value.

It is essential for leadership of the research institutions to be actively involved at the level of planning and policymaking in order to understand the reasons for certain decisions and to be able to influence them at the right time. Wrong decisions often have resulted in transplantation of inappropriate technologies that have had a negative impact on development. Such decisions have also resulted in demoralization of the scientific community. On the other hand, right decisions have stimulated endogenous effort, motivated scientists, raised morale, strengthened the national research base, and accelerated the pace of self-reliant progress.

Thus, if the planners, decision-makers, and scientists had a sound socio-scientific or socio-technological training with specialization in their respective fields, the communication among them would be far more meaningful and would lead to construction of bridges for two-way traffic.

The effort of the UN University is an experiment in a new type of training through its fellowships. The limited resources for such training require restriction to building leadership for research, institution-building, and training. It is hoped that this leadership will have a multiplier effect at the national level and that fellows from different countries and institutions will interact among themselves to create more multi-disciplinary leaders who will contribute to the elimination of hunger, poverty, and malnutrition and to stimulation of other social and economic sectors for a better quality of life.


1. Report of a Multi disciplinary Working Group on Sub programme 2, Hunger and Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass., USA, 8-9 June 1981 (United Nations University.)
2. "Medium-Term Perspective of the United Nations University (1982-1987)" (United Nations University, Tokyo, 1982), pp. 49-50.
3. H. A. B. Parpia, "More Than Food Would Be Saved," Ceres, 10 (6): 19 (1977).

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