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Food technology as a means of alleviating hunger and poverty

The contribution of food science and technology to the transformation and social management of rural areas
Interaction between pre-harvest and post-harvest systems and their implications for socio-economic development
The contribution of the post-harvest food system to employment generation and nutritional improvement: Case studies of the potential of dairy technologies
Indigenous fermented-food technologies for small-scale industries
Development of energy-saving technologies for the food processing industry
Energy use in food processing for nutrition and development


The contribution of food science and technology to the transformation and social management of rural areas

Hans Meliczek

Senior Officer, Agrarian Reform and Rural Development, Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome


The primary objective of food science and technology is to provide "crowded populations . . . with the kind and quality of food they demand at all times of the year" (1). Seen from this point of view, tremendous progress has been achieved in recent years in the field of food production, processing, storage, and distribution. The main beneficiaries of these developments have been the consumers living in urban centres. For most of them food preparation has become easier, in many cases cheaper, and in some cases of higher quality. The purpose of my review will be to analyse how and to what extent these developments in food science and technology have influenced the situation of the agricultural producer and how they have contributed to the transformations and changes in rural areas.

In this context also want to appraise the role of the food processing industry, which like any other large-scale industry, is oriented towards the maximization of financial gains and profits. Frequently, this industry has promoted the development of scientific and technological processes to produce foods of elaborate quality to titillate the palates of already well-fed consumers. Frozen "television dinners" and similar articles to be found in supermarkets in the West may appear to observers from developing countries to represent an extravagant waste of scientific knowledge and technological skill. The development of such products has been facilitated by the demand of a financially potent group of consumers, which regulates the food market. However, in the face of the depressing poverty of agricultural producers in the Third World we have to deplore, as has been done at previous congresses of the International Union of Food Science and Technology (lUFoST), that there has been little research on food legumes, roots, tubers, and rain-fed rice, which are staple foods in many developing countries.


J. Hawthorn, the former President of the IUFoST, observed at the Fifth World Congress the following developments:

Over the past hundred years . . . food science and technology have altered the structures of our societies.... The most obvious example is that, whereas a century ago three-quarters to nine-tenths of our citizens lived by agriculture and on the land, [today] in the developed countries at least the work of one farmer feeds forty to fifty others. This is not merely due to agricultural science but equally to the back-up of our food processing industries.[2]

This process is still continuing and has repercussions on the socio-economic situation of the agricultural producer. Its effects have been most marked in the developed countries, particularly in the United States, Western Europe, and Japan. As it would be beyond the scope of my intervention to elaborate on developments in specific countries, I will limit myself to a review of significant developments that have taken place in rural Europe during the last 10 to 15 years. They can be summarized as follows:

- Agricultural and food production have increased in all countries, both in absolute terms and in terms of per capita output.
- The number of people engaged in the agricultural sector has drastically diminished. On the overall average, the share of economically active people engaged in agriculture has been reduced from 21 per cent in 1970 to 15 per cent in 1981, and has reached as low a level as 2 per cent in the United Kingdom. While the number of full-time farmers has decreased, the numbers of farmers with additional income from non-agricultural sources and of part-time farmers have increased.
- The area of cultivated farmland has gradually decreased in all countries of Europe. An ever-increasing area of arable land is kept fallow, and agricultural land is being used on an increasing scale for non-agricultural purposes.
There is a general decrease in the number of farm holdings. Smaller holdings are gradually disappearing.
There has been a continuous trend in the transformation of agriculture from a labour-intensive to a capital-intensive enterprise. While a certain saturation seems to have been reached in many countries with regard to the number of farm machines, there is a trend towards more sophisticated equipment.
An increasing number of farmers has switched from raising all types of farm animals to only one type, while others have limited themselves to cropping only and no longer engage in animal husbandry.
There has been a marked concentration of animal hus- bandry in specialized enterprises. More and more intent sive animal units are being set up with little land and large numbers of animals such as poultry, fattening pigs, fattening calves, and beef cattle.
In animal production the trend goes towards the application of ready-mixed and high-quality animal feeds, large-scale animal husbandry with the application of pharmaceuticals, and technical equipment.
In view of the specialization and concentration of production, there is a growing tendency toward large-scale farming, which is achieved through various forms of pooling inputs and through contract farming in West Europe and through co-operation and collectivization in Eastern Europe.
Despite the reduction of the agricultural labour force and the decrease of farmland, farm production and productivity have increased. The European Community produces surpluses in grain, meat, milk, sugar, and wine, and their disposal has become problematic. Many countries subsidize sales in order to encourage exports of food.
Due to the mobility of the labour force, the level of income and the type of social services available to the rural population have come closer to those of urban people.

In the developing countries the socio-economic situation of the rural population is drastically different. Yet even here significant changes have taken place during the last 10 to 15 years. The general trend has been as follows:

- Agricultural and food production have increased in most countries, if measured in absolute terms; this increase has been largely attributable to better production techniques and the introduction of high-yielding varieties. However, because of population growth, output per capita has not increased, and in many countries, particularly in Africa, food production per capita has actually declined.
- While in relative terms the proportion of people engaged in agriculture has continuously decreased, the total number of the farming population has increased. This has led to a reduction of the size of holdings and an increase in the number of the landless.
- The areas under cultivation have increased. Land areas that were formerly considered marginal or unproductive have been put under cultivation in order to meet the demands of a growing population.
- There has been a general increase in the number of farms, particularly smaller farms. As the non-agricultural sectors do not offer sufficient employment opportunities for the increasing population in the rural areas, the pressure on the land is growing, leading to further fragmentation.
- Land use is becoming more intensive.
- The number of tractors, harvester-threshers, and other farm machinery has increased by more than 100 per cent, but the vast majority of the farmers still use their manual labour and draft animals for cultivation.
- In the field of livestock production progress has remained slow, and most of the production, particularly in eggs and poultry meat, has occurred outside the rural sector.
- Some countries have facilitated the establishment of a "modern" agribusiness sector to produce exports such as bananas, pineapple, coffee, rubber, and seafood.
- Many countries import an ever-increasing amount of food and feed grains for their growing population, yet at the same time some of them are exporting high-quality food.
- Despite increases in agricultural production the proportion of the rural population that lives in poverty and is undernourished has grown.


The transformation of the social and economic situation of the farming population described above has been the result of numerous interrelated factors, both external and internal to the agricultural sector. In this process, the means of production and agrarian structure are interlinked, and their changes influence each other mutually. In addition, development processes in the farming sector are not independent anymore; they are part and parcel of the overall economy and, therefore, are subject to changes in the other sectors.

When assessing the contribution of food science and technology on changes in the rural areas, we have to take into consideration that they constitute only one element in this process. Other factors, such as policy measures in the field of prices, taxes, trade, and land tenure, have a much more direct impact and may enhance or reduce the potential role of food science and technology. Hawthorn described the situation as follows:

If food supply and distribution were simply a matter of science and technology, our task would be easy because it is not difficult to demonstrate that the biological resource of our planet can support a human population greater than our present. Unfortunately, economic and cultural factors often dominate and sometimes swamp the sweet reason of our scientific disciplines. On such factors our influence can only be indirect. [2]

Effects in Developed Countries

Technological developments in all spheres of agricultural production, processing, and marketing have largely abolished the economic independence of the individual farm-holding. It has become dependent on and part of a steady inflow of inputs and services into production and of a continuous outflow of semi-finished products which are taken over by processing factories, grading and packing stations, or supermarkets.

These developments have affected the institutional set-up in the rural areas. In order to meet the challenges of the technical innovations and to obtain economies of scale, agricultural producers in Western Europe have gradually changed their patterns of purchase, production, and marketing. In the past farmers relied heavily on their traditional village co-operatives. But technical and economic developments now call for larger primary banks, integration into a regional or national banking system, Iarger dairies, and modern, centrally located enterprises for processing, transformation, and marketing.

The advantages of closeness to the members and of cooperative democracy are thus automatically diminished. Old principles, e.g. equal treatment of members, have receded in the face of compelling economic forces. While cooperatives were originally established to help the small farmers, now their economically calculating managers consider small producers to be less desirable members, because their involvement means higher costs per unit of delivered inputs and collected output. Thus, "modern" cooperatives wish to select their members according to economic capacity. In many primary credit co-operatives, farmers have become a minority, who badly need the nonagricultural majority, but who cannot determine credit policies anymore.

New forms of co-operation have been developed, such as "banks" or co-operatives for joint utilization of expensive farm machinery; these co-operatives are very common in the Federal Republic of Germany, France, and Austria, and are somewhat common in the Netherlands and Norway. Both traditional and modern arrangements for joint pasture of cows and calves are widespread in Norway and Switzerland. Cooperative cowsheds in large number have been established in Norway. Full merger of farms and the formation of larger production units has become quite common in France in the form of the "groupements agricoles d'exploitation en commun."

Besides new co-operative forms serving several farms in specific areas of production, various types of private contractors and service enterprises have come up offering many field operations and services ranging from ploughing to harvesting, drying, and transportation. Some basic products, e.g. sugar beets and barley for malt, have been traditionally produced by contracts and delivered to one processing factory. However, vertical integration has recently been extended to cover other products, such as fruits, peas, carrots, and other vegetables. Co-operation between agricultural producers and processors in the form of contract farming has also found its place in the production and processing of broilers. In some Northern and Western European countries agricultural producers have joined forces and established or acquired factories for the processing of their crops. The producers have become involved in food distribution and thus derive additional income from such activities.

While some old institutions like co-operatives have lost or changed functions, the new organizational forms seem to be better adapted to the new situation and to meeting the emerging needs. Many of the new problems cannot be solved in the framework of the average individual holding; they rather demand co-ordination of the decisions and operations of several or many holdings, be it for the utilization of large-scale machinery or assistance in field operations and marketing. More and more, the decisions regarding marketing go back to the production stage and call for co-ordination or even subordination of the individual opinion or desire under the common interest.

This transformation in management has also affected other established rural institutions, such as agricultural administration, extension services, and farm institutes, which are losing their clients. The political and professional organizations in rural areas face the same fate. Their membership dwindles and loses its social homogeneity.

Another typical phenomenon of the recent changes in social conditions is the reduction of the agricultural labour force. This decrease has fed to an age structure of the farm population that is less favourable than that of other sectors. Older people prefer to remain in their profession and place of residence, while a growing share of the younger generation is leaving farming for good. Thus, in Western Europe, an increasing number of holdings have no successor, which again influences all activities and leads to less investment and more extensive cultivation, particularly of small holdings. The decrease of the agricultural population has also affected the sex composition in the rural areas. Due to the exodus of male workers from the villages, the share of female workers has become higher than in most other sectors in several countries. The easy availability of convenience food for the working farm woman has facilitated this trend.

The introduction of new techniques and practices in food production has eliminated a considerable part of the traditional work of a farmer and thus contributed to a steady increase of part-time farming. In central and north-western Europe this type of activity covers already more than 50 per cent of all holdings. Countries in Eastern Europe, except Poland and Yugoslavia, have experienced a drastic transformation in their agrarian and social structure that is implied in collectivization. By far the greatest part of the farm land is cultivated by collective or state farms. Thus the tenurial barriers to the utilization of modern technology have been removed.

These structural changes have been the result of political decisions of the respective socialist governments. They cannot, therefore, be directly attributed to the contribution of food science and technology. One may argue, however, that the political reason for collectivization was at least partly the intention to make full use of science and technology and to overcome the disadvantages of small family farms.

Effects in Developing Countries

Food science and technology have also influenced the social conditions in developing countries. The most striking innovation of the last ten years has been the introduction of the Green Revolution, a package of agricultural practices combined with the use of high-yielding varieties of rice and maize. It has resulted in a large increase in the production of these crops. Several countries that were net importers of food grain have become self-sufficient, and some are even exporting food grains.

These new varieties have short maturation periods, natural resistance to certain pests, and yield nearly four times as much grain as traditional varieties. However, they require fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation in order to grow. Additionally, the seeds are expensive. The adoption of Green Revolution technology has reverberated forcefully throughout the entire fabric of rural societies. Its welcome effect on production increases has been accompanied by negative social consequences. It has generally benefited rich farmers more than the poor, and income disparities have grown worse.

Green Revolution methods have tended to displace labour and have increased rural unemployment, even though in theory the methods should be labour-intensive because the high-yielding varieties require more care and attention in ground preparation, planting, and harvesting. When the cultivation of a second crop is possible, the need for labour is doubled, but, because of its labour intensity, the Green Revolution also provided incentives for larger farmers to mechanize their farm operations and thus dispose of manual labour. In India, Pakistan, and other countries the Green Revolution has led to the eviction of tenants and sharecroppers, because landowners have started self-cultivation.

In addition to the Green Revolution there have been major increases in land and labour productivity in many countries, which were made possible through the use of other modern technology. However, in most instances the technology has bypassed the small producer. The increase in the production of poultry meat and eggs, for instance, has been concentrated in the modern sector, where operations have tended to be peri-furban, large-scale, and highly automated. Such production systems are both energy- and capital intensive and have had little effect on small farmers' incomes and on rural development. This expansion has to a large extent occurred outside the traditional agricultural sector in many countries, and has led to an increasing dependence on foreign technology and production requisites (3).

The vast majority of the rural population of the Third World has not been affected by food science and technology. Little research has been undertaken to increase the yields of such staple foods as root crops and upland rice or to improve the production techniques through multiple cropping, low-cost crop protection, and appropriate mechanization. Little or no attention has been given to the problems of pastoralism, which is an important way of life in the Near East and North Africa, or to cropping patterns in regions where shifting cultivation is a common practice.

Even in fields for which food technologies have been developed, the Third World has benefited very little. These fields include improved storage, drying, handling, distribution, and other measures to reduce post-harvest food losses In many developing countries only traditional methods of food processing-salting, drying, smoking, pickling, and fermentation-are used. Since they involve considerable wastage, the foods are neither adequate for small communities to feed themselves and preserve supplies nor suitable for transport over longer distances and storage for long periods of time, essential if small producers want to sell to urban centres.

Institutional arrangements to improve this situation have been lacking. Attempts of the rural poor to overcome their difficulties by establishing co-operatives, as was done in the developed countries some 100 years ago, have not been very successful. In recent years many countries in South East Asia, East and Southern Africa, and Central America, have experimented with different forms of collective and co-operative agriculture. Their experience has been a mixed one. While in most cases there were clear gains in equity, the growth experience, with a few notable exceptions, has tended to be rather disappointing. In large part, this has been due to inappropriate policies of labour organization and the remuneration on collective enterprises.

In most cases where agricultural co-operatives have been successful, they have been organizations of the better-off farmers and the rural elite. The rural poor were usually not involved. The same lopsided development has taken place as a consequence of assistance from governments through agricultural extension, credit, and marketing services. They have tended to benefit the richer farmers more than the poor.

The fate of the small agricultural producer has also been affected by the expansion in recent years of the so-called "modern" sector, established by foreign and national agribusiness. For more than 100 years the former colonial powers have been producing certain tropical crops such as coffee, tea, and rubber in large plantations, which were centrally managed and operated by hired labour. Some of these estates were taken over by the newly established national governments after independence, while others were allowed to continue their operations, frequently under new regulations regarding the social situation of their labourers, taxes, and investment.

As a result of new developments in food technology, an increasing number of business enterprises have produced, in developing countries under centralized management, luxury foods such as bananas, pineapple, and seafood for export to developed countries. In the Caribbean and in Asia, scarce cultivable land has been taken over by national or international companies, which have established an international network for cultivating, processing, and marketing plantation crops. These companies normally operate on the most fertile land located in the plains, whereas the indigenous population has to eke out a precarious existence in small holdings on less fertile land on the slopes of hills surrounding these estates. In some countries, lands used by transnational corporations (TNCs) were cultivated earlier by occupant farmers who had to give up their holdings. Not all of them have been employed by the companies, since they recruit their labour according to their own needs and style of management, which frequently do not include formerly independent farmers who lost their holdings.

From the planners' point of view, luxury-foods agribusiness brings considerable benefits. It provides employment, earns foreign exchange, and diversifies the range of agricultural production. In addition, the rise of peripheral industries involved in freezing, canning, and other forms of processing stimulates industrial growth. However, the orientation towards the export of food products has also considerable disadvantages. It is accompanied by a lower supply of cheap food for local consumption. The argument for food exports as a means of diversification would, therefore, be most relevant for countries that have a surplus food production. In reality, however, many poor countries are promoting the export of food despite serious malnutrition at home. ASEAN countries (the Association of South East Asian Nations), for instance, are exporting increasingly more of their high-quality food products, which are badly needed locally, giving preference to foreign exchange over local nutritional development. In Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines, seafood exports have expanded sharply, while at the same time local consumption of this major protein source has declined.

The argument that the export of luxury foods brings foreign currency also needs further specification. As the gains from export earnings usually accrue to the better-off section of the society, such policy orientation tends to widen the gap between the rich and the rural poor. Another drawback of the production of luxury food is the heavy use of chemicals in agribusiness, which has led to ecological damage and to health hazards.

The industry remains highly unregulated and an "entrepreneur's paradise" (4). Quick profits can be made by depleting land and marine resources. Luxury food export is also an area where the TNCs are still very powerful, whereas their control over the production and marketing of minerals and basic agricultural commodities has been gradually weakened. State enterprises, producer's cooperatives, or similar local institutions that would benefit the producer have so far not emerged as significant forces in this sector.


Our review of the contribution of food science and technology to changes in rural areas, in both developed and developing countries, has revealed that they have facilitated in the West ongoing trends towards a more rational use of labour and capital and brought about social improvements such as higher mobility, less strenuous work, easier access to social services, higher social status, and more leisure. These gains were particularly welcome during periods of high employment. However, in view of the deterioration of the labour market in recent years, their evaluation should now be made more cautiously.

We have also noticed that the application of science and technology in developing countries has not affected the majority of their population. In some instances, they have tended to support negative trends in unemployment, landlessness, malnutrition, and poverty.

Such uneven distribution of benefits was usually not intended and should not be attributed to the work of food scientists and technologists. Their influence, as we have stated earlier, is indirect and complementary to other developments in the overall economy. It would, therefore, be irrational to expect that they alone could solve all problems of malnutrition or rural poverty in the world. Yet, in an era of increasing population, decreasing energy resources, shortages of food, and increasing poverty, it is essential that professionals who are knowledgeable in one area of specialization be aware of the mechanisms whereby the others operate. Agricultural planners and economists should not limit themselves to problems of agricultural production but should take into consideration the stages following production, i.e. the preservation, packaging, storing, and distribution of agricultural products to the consumers. On the other han-dand this is the main reason for my intervention-food scientists and technologists should be aware that their activities are not without implications for the agricultural producer, the small fisherman, or in extreme cases an even wider range of rural people.

The FAO study Agriculture: Toward 2000 estimated that despite a growing world population and increasing demands for improved diets, the world is unlikely to face universal famine in the immediate future (5). There is currently enough food produced to feed the world's population if the right measures are taken for at least the next 20 years. Nevertheless, millions of people in developing countries as well as those in developed countries are malnourished or starving. The reasons for this deplorable situation are complex and cannot be solved overnight, by one single measure. It requires the willing co-operation of scientists, technologists, planners, and politicians as well as a balanced adjustment between developed and developing countries and producers and consumers.

Reviewing past experiences, we have to conclude that in the West the application of food science and technology has been oriented towards getting greater productivity in less working time. It has demanded the development of continuous mass production techniques as a means of reducing the costs of labour and maximizing the benefit of high cost, automated plants and equipment. While this development was well adapted to the economic conditions of developed countries, it does not suit the conditions of most developing countries. They have only one really abundant source of capital, i.e. people. The need of these countries is, therefore, not for expensive technology, which produces expensive goods because of high costs for such items as spare parts, imported fertilizer, a distribution system, and energy. The need is for low-cost, labour-intensive equipment which can improve the nutritional status and the availability of cheap food for local consumption.

There is an urgent need for the development of appropriate technology for small farmers. They should, for instance, be able to make use of wind and solar energy for drying grain and other food crops, including fish, which would reduce losses, improve quality, and yield higher returns. Research should be intensified on the production and processing of food to be consumed in developing countries. There seems to be wide scope for improving the technology of big-gas production and its application as well as for the gasification of wood and dry wastes, such as coconut shells, rice husks, and peanut shells, to operate engines for agricultural purposes.

Efforts should be made to expand the sector of smallholder livestock production. This might be slower to achieve than through non-agricultural, large-scale enterprises, yet in the long run will yield greater benefits in terms of self-reliance and improved rural employment, incomes, and nutrition.

An important role in the application of food science and technology has to be played at the policy-making level. When allocating concessions to non-local enterprises and when deciding priorities of food production for local consumption or for export and between food and feed crops, consideration should be given to the poorest and most needy groups of the society. The activities of large enterprises and of TNCs should be controlled to make sure that they do not contradict national policies and do not benefit a few privileged people only but the majority of the population.

The FAO has estimated that, by the end of the century, world population and expected income growth would combine to increase world food demand by 60 per cent above the 1980 level. In developing countries the demand for food may more than double in the same period. Also, as real income levels change, it is expected that the demand will shift from traditional diets based on cereals, roots, and tubers toward such food items as livestock products, fruits, vegetables, and seafood (6). In order to meet this demand it is essential for most low- and middle-level countries to accelerate agricultural production. In addition, access to food by the poor needs to be ensured, mostly through increases in their income. Food must be made available more widely and distributed better if the problems of the world's hungry are to be reduced or totally eliminated. The number of seriously malnourished people was estimated at more than 400 million in the middle seventies and is unlikely to have fallen since the traditional conflict persists between the interests of consumers wanting low, affordable food prices and of producers requiring prices high enough to induce more production. This conflict makes important the adoption of selective measures to safeguard food consumption of the poorest and most vulnerable segments of the population while price incentives to producers are improved (6).

The continuous population growth in developing countries combined with the increasing scarcity of land resources will lead to higher rates of landlessness, indebtedness, and poverty and, unless regulated, will result in further polarization between rich and poor and lead to social unrest. It is, therefore, in the interest of both developed and developing countries to evolve and adopt policies to use limited resources cautiously and to promote balanced social and economic development. Our aim should be, as recommended by the World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development in 1979, to achieve economic growth with equity, widespread improvement of the living standard, and effective participation in development.


1. M Pyke, Food Science and Technology ( John Murray, London, 1981), p. 245.

2. J. Hawthorn, "Everyman and Food Science," in Proceedings of the Fifth International Congress of Food Science and Technology (EIsevier, Amsterdam, 1979), pp. 16-21,

3. "Report on the Tenth Session of the Inter-governmental Group on Meat to the Committee on Commodhy Problems" (CCP/ 83/9; FAO, Rome, 1983), p. 10.

4. Ho Kwon Ping, "Profits and Poverty in the Plantations," Far Eastern Econ. Rev. 11: 53-57 (July 1980).

5. Agriculture: Toward 2000 (FAO, Home, 1981).

6. "Medium and Long-term Outlook for Food and Agriculture Development, (COAG/83/4; FAO, Rome, 1983), pp. 1-10.


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