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News and notes

IUNS press statement
Workshop on agricultural research and human nutrition
New and recent books


IUNS press statement

The officers of the International Union of Nutritional Sciences (IUNS) met at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on 27-28 November 1984. The urgency of the food and nutrition situation in Africa and the millions of individuals facing starvation was conveyed to the officers by nutrition scientists directly involved in efforts to alleviate the situation. On the basis of this information, the IUNS officers prepared the following statement and encouraged its wide dissemination:

"The IUNS shares in the deep concern for the present food and nutrition situation in Africa that is not only threatening the lives of many millions of people but is also likely to cause lifelong impairment of the health of many of the survivors. The IUNS, as the international professional organization in the field of nutrition, will use its means to focus attention and stimulate action on the serious nutrition problems in Africa.

"Special actions by the IUNS will concentrate on

1. promoting professional and public awareness of the role of adequate nutrition on health and the threat to health posed by famine in Africa;

2. strengthening of national food and nutrition institutions in African countries so that these institutions are able to make the needed professional contribution to

a. assure more recognition of the need for adequate energy and specific nutrients,
b. give professional advice to governments about adequate future policies to prevent such nutrition situations,
c. identify the nutritional consequences of agricultural policies, and
d. design specific targeted food-aid programmes,

Workshop on agricultural research and human nutrition

Methods for incorporating nutritional goals into the planning of international agricultural research was the topic of a workshop organized by IFPRI and the UN ACC Subcommittee on Nutrition and held at the International Livestock Center for Africa, in Addis Ababa, 29 February to 2 March 1984. Discussions centred on how nutritional goals are incorporated into current research efforts by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research centres, how the nutrition impact of agricultural research could be improved, and activities the centres might undertake for such improvement.

There are a number of ways in which agricultural research can influence human nutrition, including expanding the food supply, raising the nutrient content of foods, and influencing factors such as seasonal fluctuations and production systems. Expanding the food supply at lower unit costs may reduce food prices for the consumer and raise incomes for farmers and agricultural labourers. Thus low-income households may expand their purchasing power and buy more food. Changing the nutrient content of foods can lead to the alleviation of specific nutrient deficiencies. Reducing seasonal fluctuations in food availability and incomes and understanding the semi-subsistence farmers' production systems as well as budget control within households may also lead to better nutrition.

The effect of agricultural research on nutrition cannot be measured simply in terms of increased food supplies. What is important is how the food consumption by the truly hungry and malnourished is affected. The extent to which expanded food production and farm incomes are translated into more food for the malnourished may be influenced by agricultural research institutions through their choice of commodities for which research is to be done and the relative budget allocation among them, as well as decisions on which commodity and technology characteristics are to be pursued.

In countries where malnutrition is found primarily among households that do not depend on food production for their incomes, agricultural research should emphasize the foods the malnourished members purchase most and for which a price reduction would result in a large increase in total calorie and protein intake. Research should aim at increased supplies and lower unit costs and prices. In countries where nutritional problems are found primarily among low-income farmers, emphasis should be on foods that use a large share of the land and labour controlled by the farm households with malnourished members and for which an increase of supply will not be expected to result in a large reduction in price. Such foods could be commodities that are exported or are grown to replace imports.

Because much malnutrition in rural areas is caused by seasonal fluctuations in food availability and the ability to acquire food, research should focus on reducing such fluctuations through improvements in technology and production systems. This is also important where the principal nutritional problems are found among land-less rural laborers. These people are particularly susceptible to malnutrition through seasonal fluctuations in employment opportunities, wage rates, food prices, calorie expenditures, and infectious diseases. Reductions in seasonal fluctuations in earnings may be as important as increasing over-all employment.

Although the "nutritionally ideal" combination of commodities may be unattainable because of other development goals, it may be possible to move toward the ideal combination. To do so requires ascertaining the relative importance of each food commodity in the diet, incomes, and food expenditures of the urban and rural poor, and how these groups adjust their food consumption to changes in incomes and food prices. One of the recommendations of the workshop was that such information should be collected and analysed in countries where it does not exist in order to provide a nutrition/poverty dimension to indicators used to decide on the commodity emphasis in research.

Finally, government policies affect nutrition through their effects on food prices, foreign trade, resource ownership, and the like, and can improve or worsen nutrition. They may also enhance or hinder positive effects of agricultural research. If malnutrition is to be alleviated, the ways that government policy and agricultural research interact should be understood, and the appropriate role of each should be identified. So should the role of direct intervention in nutrition. However, the "best" solutions may not be feasible for political or other reasons, and the agricultural research community should be alert to gains in nutrition that modifications in research priorities might make possible while ensuring that these modifications do not have unacceptable implications for other goals of agricultural research. As shown in the papers prepared for the workshop, the international agricultural research centres are taking the lead on this matter. It is to be hoped that national agricultural research will follow.

The report of this workshop, "Incorporating Nutritional Goals into International Agricultural Research: Approaches and Opportunities," has been published by IFPRI, 1776 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036, USA. This report provides a summary and overview of the workshop discussions and recommendations. A more complete proceedings issue, which will include the papers prepared for the workshop, is available from IFPRI.

New and recent books

The books listed below can be ordered from UNIPUB, PO Box 1222, Ann Arbor, Mich. 48106, USA. The order number is indicated at the end of the book description.

Breeding for Durable Disease and Pest Resistance (FAO Plant Production and Protection Paper No. 55; FAO, Rome, 1984; 167 pp., paperback; US$12.50). Brings together eight papers presented at an FAO Plant Protection Service workshop convened to review the status of plant breeding for disease resistance in Africa, to discuss recent developments in theory and practice, and to formulate recommendations for future research. The papers consider the strategy of disease-resistance breeding in general and for such plants as maize, pearl millet, rice, sorghum, cowpea, and pigeon pea. (Order number 5011-F2597)

Food Harvest Losses in Quality of Food Grains (FAO Food and Nutrition Paper No. 29; FAO, Rome, 1984; 103 pp., paperback, US$8). An examination of post-harvest and storage losses in the quality and nutritive value of grains and grain legumes. An overview of food-grain losses considers the various factors governing such losses, genetic and physical characteristics of food grains, harvesting and threshing, drying, processing, loss-assessment methodology, and toxic weed seeds. Subsequent chapters discuss chemical changes in stored food grains, the effects of mould growth, protection of food grains during storage, assessment of quality losses, and official standards of food grains in relation to quality. (Order number 5011-F2596)

Traditional Post-harvest Technology of Perishable Tropical Staples, by Pamela A. Lancaster and D. G. Coursey (FAO Agricultural Services Bulletin No. 59; FAO, Rome, 1984; paperback; US$7.50). A review of what is currently known and recorded concerning the post-harvest technology of the perishable, non-grain staple foods of the tropical world, especially as understood within the cultures that are primarily dependent on them. These cultures are predominantly the indigenous cultures of the humid low-altitude tropics, and the foods are derived primarily from the tropical root crops. These include cassava, yam, sweet potato, and the various aroids; banana and breadfruit; and starch reserves laid down by various monocarpic plants. Also examined is the special role of women in the post-harvest technology of perishable staples. (Order number 5011-F2595)

Crop Improvement in Eastern and Southern Africa: Research Objectives and On-Farm Testing, edited by Roger A. Kirby (International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada, 1984; 122 pp., paperback; US$13). Papers originally presented at a regional workshop held in Nairobi, Kenya, 20-22 July 1983, address the need for crop-improvement programmes to assure that breeding objectives, screening techniques, and performance evaluation take into account farmers' objectives. The introductory paper reviews methodological issues related to food-crop improvement in eastern and southern Africa. Subsequent papers consider recent research on cereals, grain legumes, oilseeds, roots and tubers, cropping systems, and the organization of crop improvement. Several of these papers point to the need to include on-farm evaluation of genetic material in crop commodity research. A summary of discussions lists specific means to achieve these ends and provides guidelines for commodity and farming systems researchers. (Order number 5011-lDRC218)

Tropical Root Crops: Production and Uses in Africa, edited by E. R. Terry et al. (International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada, 1984, 231 pp., paperback; US$20). The official proceedings of the Second Triennial Symposium of the International Society for Tropical Root Crops (African Branch) includes official addresses, 56 contributed papers, references, and abstracts. A majority of the scientific papers report research on cassava, Africa's most important root crop. Contributions range from a method for quantifying the potential for progress in genetic improvement of cultivars to a procedure for quickly processing and enriching a traditional food, fufu. Papers on yams address, among other topics, the identification of natural antifungal compounds within the yam pelf and the processing and consumer testing of flour from Dioscorea dumetorum. Papers on cocoyams and sweet potatoes cover a wide range of subjects, including in vitro methods for cocoyam improvements and on-farm trials as a means to test and transfer techniques in sweet-potato production. (Order number 5011-IDRC221)

Readers are invited to submit appropriate news, notes, and announcements for the "News and Notes" section of the Bulletin.

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