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Nutrition sector

It is in this context that the interactions of the nutrition sector to agricultural production on the one hand and food science and low-cost technology development on the other become clearly discernible. A recent study done by the Food and Nutrition Policy

Planning Division for the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) observed that the lowest decile will have to enhance income levels by at least 40 per cent while the second and third deciles have to obtain additional financial support by as much as 20 per cent and 10 per cent in order to meet basic calorie consumption needs.

This position has to be matched against deteriorating nutritional status (FNPPC 1980; CDC 1975/76) in the estate and village sectors where 40 per cent of the pre-school population under 72 months of age are suffering from either chronic undernutrition (wasting) or acute undernutrition (stunting) or both (concurrent chronic and acute undernutrition). Incidence of chronic undernutrition has remained close to the national average of 34.6 per cent, while the rate recorded for acute undernutrition has risen sharply over the national average of 5.6 per cent, particularly in the Mahaweli-H area. The occurrence was comparatively higher in settlers under two years in settlement since this group faces such severe handicaps as lack of finances, low incomes, poor farming experiences, illiteracy, environmental problems, and absence of cohesiveness with neighbouring communities. A higher incidence of nutrition anaemia too has been reported in recent years.

Having been alerted to the crisis, the Government has taken positive measures in relation to food subsidization and the restructuring of wage policies. The general purpose Food Stamp Scheme has benefited over 72 million persons through a cash subsidy in the form of food stamps to procure a basket of nutrition-oriented food commodities (rice, flour/cereal, sugar, milk foods, dry fish, and pulses). Households earning a monthly income below Rs 300 and having an average family size of five to six persons are eligible under this scheme for state assistance. The Government's commitment to this scheme is estimated at Rs 1,550 million, which is approximately 20 per cent of its current expenditure bill. The scheme, though beset with specific constraints, can be considered the best policy option available to Government at the present time when viewed against the problem of adverse trade deficits and the gradual transition from less welfare-oriented policies towards a more dynamic economic development aimed at maximum resource utilization and employment generation.

In addition to this strategy the Government has from time to time provided moderate wage increases in both the private and public sectors in order to compensate for highly inflationary situations, which, if unchecked, could further increase the calorie deficits of the lowest deciles of the population. It could be ideal though less practical to determine a nutrition-based poverty line and define calorie-based wage rates for the village, estate, and low-income urban sectors.

While these two approaches would constitute the Government's major strategy to offset income erosion with a view to enable better food consumption, it is vitally essential to maintain maximum levels of efficiency of the ongoing nutrition interventions both curative (Thriposha and School Biscuit-Feeding Projects) and preventive. The Thriposha programme has reached almost 60 per cent of the target beneficiaries (pre-schoolers, lactating and pregnant mothers) while the School Biscuit-Feeding Project is designed to cover 1.25 million schoolchildren during 1980, a significant percentage of this category being malnourished.

Moreover, there is food aid provided mainly as flour under the United States PL 480 commitments, while food rations like wheat flour, pulses, legumes, and skim milk powder supplies are provided under the World Food Programme to labour working in small-scale rural infrastructure development projects. Labour wages are very marginal in settlement schemes and the workers are unable to meet their basic livelihood needs. Also there is public assistance provided through the Social Services Department for about 350,00 malnourished, destitute, and invalid persons who have absolutely no means and are incapable of earning a living.


Food science sector

In Sri Lanka the development of the food science sector has not kept up with the challenging demands of a food industry related to agriculture and the nutrition needs of poorer communities. The development of rice, flour, and sugar-processing technologies have taken pride of place over the other agro-industrial crops. The rice-processing industry has been localized to less sophisticated technologies, unlike the wheat and sugar industries where the operations are centralized and highly capital-intensive. This is particularly so of the wheat milling industry.

The rice mills, numbering over 1,400, are scattered throughout the districts although considerable discrepancies are noticeable in respect of mill locations. In the past, parboiling and milling of rice were geared to produce rice varieties (70 to 90 per cent polish) that were more retentive of vitamins and nutrients and hence more nutritious than the highly polished rice varieties that are currently produced. The consumption of highly polished wheat and rice varieties in the developed world has been associated with the higher incidence of certain types of bowel disorders and even bowel cancer due to a lower crude fibre intake.

The losses arising from post-harvest rice losses still continue to be in the region of 20 to 25 per cent of total yields. Grain pest infestations and damage, disease incidence due to poor seed sanitation, and moist conditions of storage are some of the major reasons attributed for these losses.

A Rice Processing and Development Centre has been set up by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to assist both proprietors of the private and state-owned mills in fulfilling equipment, milling, and training needs. Rice processing technology should be extended to include also the processing and production of rice bran oil as it is an unsaturated fatty oil and better for health.

The entire wheat requirements (450,000 tons/annum) of Sri Lanka is imported. The processing technology is highly sophisticated and product quality is high. Prima Ltd is a joint Sri Lanka-Singapore project that produces almost two-thirds of the country's flour requirements, while the balance is manufactured by the State Flour Milling Corporation. The country imports almost 80 per cent of its sugar requirements (150,000 tons). Sugar production is undertaken by major sugar complexes (Kantalai, Hingurana, Galoya, and Udawalawe). Two other factory complexes are being established in Sevanagala and Moneragala. These industrial units have installations of high capacity (2,500 tons of sugar-cane per day) and are provided with cane supplies by state-owned nuclear plantations and the small-holdings sugar sector. The production of jaggery (39,629 kg) and sugar-cane syrup (129,922 litres) from coconut toddy, kitul, and palymarah, and from cane is also being done by the small industrial sector. But this group of entrepreneurs have always been subject to the vagaries of sugar pricing policies and have been a neglected sector.

Post-harvest losses in other field crops in Sri Lanka have not been examined in depth as have been rice and sugar. Undoubtedly post-harvest losses in this area are likely to be even greater than in rice, since the field crop subsector has not been given the priority it deserves by institutions involved in food technological research and development. The Food Technology Unit of the Department of Agriculture and its Dryzone Research Institute have certainly made some valuable contributions in this direction but much remains to be done specifically in terms of village-level food processing.

This is an area of immediate concern specially considering the tremendous investments made in agricultural development and expansion of the village-level agriculture infrastructure, an area that has received a tremendous impetus from the present Government. Village-level food processing becomes critical in the context of food pricing, conservation, quality control, and availability of food to poorer groups, since it is evident that low-cost staples, coupled with appropriate food and nutrition technologies, would provide a partial answer to the real needs of the low-income, malnourished, and atrisk groups of the population.

Another aspect of food science that has to be emphasized is the area of food surveillance and quality control. Sri Lanka has a very effective food law based on a recent enactment of Parliament but the infrastructure and technical personnel required to enforce and implement the law is seriously lacking. This must be remedied if we are to improve the quality and nutritional level of foods and beverages consumed, more so in view of the production of substandard foods by local manufacturers and the liberalization of food imports.


Future prospects for strengthening the interphases of agriculture, nutrition, and food sciences

The immediate goal should be to reach self-sufficiency in rice production as early as possible. Being the staple food, rice would significantly contribute towards per capita food availability in the country. Moreover, the resulting foreign exchange savings accruing from import substitution could be utilized to purchase other nutritious and cheaper foods to reduce existing deficiencies in this area of production.

The whole gamut of the CGRPT group should receive high priority at the national and international levels. For instance, chronically food-deficit countries will have to rely heavily on imports of low-cost food staples in the near future in view of the incompatibility of world market food prices of basic commodities like rice, wheat, and sugar.

Even if Sri Lanka reaches self-sufficiency in rice production a situation is still likely to exist where specific income groups will be unable to procure the basic rice requirements, because rice technology both in terms of production and processing is oriented to capital-intensive inputs such as fertilizer, agro-chemicals, and machinery.

It is thus necessary to preserve rice varieties that are less sophisticated in genetic make-up, less demanding on local resources, and cheaper to produce for the benefit of subsistence farmers, low-income agricultural labourers, suburban labourers, and the class of wage-earners depending on small-scale cottage industries for their livelihood.

Further, agricultural effort should be enhanced through more credit, better rural markets, and extension , and the development of low-cost technologies for the CGRPT group, most of which are quite rich in calories and some in protein. This class of food crop requires a smaller land area and a lesser application of water than do the capital-intensive cropping patterns of other field crops. The regional specialization of nutritive food crops becomes imperative in the context of the strategy argued in this paper. The research and extension services required for this purpose have been established by the setting up of eight Regional Research Stations in the different agro-ecological zones of Sri Lanka, while smaller units are being established elsewhere.

To sustain the type of research and technology development effort required for the promotion of low-cost food staples, it is necessary that the countries of the Asian region should not only develop an effective agro-based food technology network for the transfer of appropriate food technologies, but also explore the possibilities of obtaining funds from the region and other technical assistance towards achieving this goal.

The weaning food industry would serve as a good example to illustrate the use of locally grown cheap foods in the formulation of infant cereal and protein foods that are imported at high cost and are beyond the reach of the malnourished poor. In Sri Lanka work on this aspect is of a very preliminary nature. Laboratory trials have commenced on a few locally formulated weaning foods using different combinations of rice, maize, soya, and green gram to meet specific age-group requirements.

Finally, the interphases linking agriculture, nutrition, and food science can best be understood by providing appropriate levels of training to policy-makers, planners, administrators, trainers, extension personnel, etc., who are involved in work relating to these specialized fields. Further, such training both at the local and regional levels could establish better interaction and co-ordination among these three disciplines. In Sri Lanka nutrition is still conceived in some circles as a purely health-related function, exclusively directed towards primary and maternal health care. Hence a proper and unified communications strategy should be directed not only to the target groups but also to the trainers, to indicate the broad relationships that exist among the various interphases of these three major disciplines.


References

CDC. 1975/76. Nutritional Status in Sri Lanka in Terms of SHS Areas. Centre for Disease Control Survey of 1975/76. Conducted by the United States Government in 1974/75. Centre for Disease Control, Colombo.

De Mel, B.V. Food Consumption Patterns Over Thirty Years. Marga.

Department of Census and Statistics. Food Balance Sheets. Colombo.

FNPPC. 1980. ''Nutritional Status, its Socioeconomic Determinants and Intervention Programmes." Interim Report to the Government of Sri Lanka, Food and Nutrition Policy Planning Division. Government of Sri Lanka, Colombo.


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