Food Science and Technology: A Weapon for the Fight Against Hunger, Malnutrition and Poverty
According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), one in every eight people in the world suffered from chronic undernourishment in 2014-2016, with the majority residing in developing countries. This statistics come on the heels of a previous FAO report (2011), which revealed that more than one-third of food produced globally is either lost or wasted. Food losses and wastes have a significant negative impact on the environment and peoples’ livelihoods. Environmentally, these food losses waste scarce resources used in production, resources such as land, water, energy, agricultural inputs and human labor. Economically, the losses and wastes result in reduced incomes for farmers and increased expenditures for consumers.
Reducing food losses has the potential to return a sizable quantity of food into the global supply: food science and technology have a big role to play. Food science is a discipline that applies engineering and the biological, chemical and physical sciences to transform raw commodities- such as grain, fruit, vegetables and livestock- into consumable food products. Food science technologies and innovations enable extended shelf-life, especially for perishable raw commodities such as meats, fruits and vegetables. They also allow for value addition, which enables producers to get higher value for their commodities thereby improving their incomes. Food innovations also enable increased availability and access to high quality, safe and nutritious foods all year round.
The benefits of food science innovations have been realized in industrialized nations but not as much in developing countries. This is in part due to limited capability to transform raw food commodities into value-added products, resulting in high losses (both qualitative and quantitative), which exacerbate food insecurity, malnutrition and poverty. A strong agro-processing industry is needed to help realize these gains. Many organizations are working toward accomplishing this goal. A few examples are:
- The International Food Technology Center at Purdue University with a mission to expand markets and reduce losses for local food crops in developing countries. The center works in collaboration with local institutions in various host countries to facilitate incubating local entrepreneurs, mostly women, to produce high-quality, market-competitive agglomerated products.
- Partners for Food Solutions, an independent nonprofit organization, is working to strengthen food security, improve nutrition and increase economic development across Africa by expanding and increasing the competitiveness of the food processing sector.
- Compatible Technology International, a nonprofit that designs and distributes innovative tools that help families in the developing world rise above hunger and poverty.
In the donor community, the U.S. government has taken leadership in promoting the use of food technologies and innovations to transform agro-processing to enhance food security and economic growth in these countries. This was done first through research and development efforts under the US Agency for International Development’s Collaborative Research and Support Programs and now through the US Government Feed the Future Program (FtF). For example, the FtF Food Processing and Post-harvest Handling Innovation Lab, led by Purdue University, is working to increase access to safe and nutritious foods along the value chain by improving drying and storage capacity of smallholder farmers and expanding market opportunities through diversified processed products that address quality in the market and nutritional needs. Other donors expending effort to reduce food losses that include aspects of food processing are the Rockefeller Foundation, under their YieldWise Initiative and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Agriculture Development programs.
Despite these efforts, food losses remain a big problem in developing countries. Engagement of various stakeholders is required to develop a comprehensive systems approach that includes capacity building. Advances in food science and technology are a big part of the solution to reduce hunger, malnutrition and poverty.