All member nations of the United Nations have pledged to reduce world hunger 50% by the year 2015. The pledge was made first through the Rome Declaration following the World Food Summit of 1996, then reiterated in the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of 2000, and revisited at the next World Food Summit in 2002. However, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) projects that—despite these efforts—we will fall 200 million short of the targeted reduction in the number of undernourished people.
The prospects are not encouraging. FAO recently reported (Rosenthal, 2007) that food prices are accelerating upward and corn is being diverted into fuel use. Meeting the hunger-reduction goal will require something other than “business as usual,” according to FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf. Perhaps food science and technology can deliver an alternative to “business as usual.”
Most efforts to reduce hunger concentrate on agricultural production. Food losses due to a variety of biological, chemical, and physical forces are addressed much less frequently. Very encouraging work has been done and continues to be done at a country level, but with little international cooperation. An organized international post-harvest effort could make the difference between meeting the MDG on hunger and falling short of that goal. The technologies exist, but the effort needs a champion, perhaps initiated through IFT.
The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research was established in 1971 to promote international cooperation among 15 centers and to encourage sustainable agricultural growth through research and technology. The result has been a growth in agricultural production that has kept pace with population growth—an accomplishment that is no less than heroic.
But production alone is not sufficient. Food must also be protected and delivered before it can be consumed. Food losses occur at all stages of production and distribution. The preceding research has reduced the production losses through improved plant nutrition, integrated pest control, and development of more-resistant plant varieties, with no priority on post-harvest losses. Post-harvest losses occur in storage, transportation, and transfers through physical forces such as crushing, spillage, shock, and vibration; through chemical action such as oxidation, moisture transfer, and temperature stress; and through biological impacts including senescence (over-ripening), microbiological damage, and attack by rodents, birds, and insects. The post-harvest losses typically range from 10–60%, depending on the commodity and conditions. The ultimate impact is that agricultural production is sufficient to feed everyone on earth, but approximately 850 million people remain chronically hungry.
The developed world has actually created economic programs that lead to underestimating post-harvest losses (Marsh, 2003) and that impose standards—such as minimum peach size for interstate trade—that promote losses. The developing world, however, cannot afford food losses, and many countries have established post-harvest institutes to study food losses and to find means to reduce them. Space limitations do not allow details in this forum, but suffice it to say that substantial post-harvest efforts continue around the globe. Many of these technologies could reduce food losses in additional countries. But few of these studies are known outside of the countries where they were done.
The United States could sponsor international cooperation through IFT or through a government program, with one food scientist coordinating the effort and utilizing the skills of the extensive network of IFT members. I have proposed that the U.S. appoint a “Czar of Food Security” as an ambassador of goodwill to catalog technologies in different countries, identify where these technologies could be extended, and recommend food and packaging technologists to help with the transfer. I have received no response to my proposal, and I now propose that IFT use its influence to help bring about this much-needed global cooperation.
World hunger has been a critically important topic among international organizations for many years. Food science and technology extend the usable life of food. Bringing technology into the political forum can advance the goal of reducing world hunger by 50% in the seven years remaining before the 2015 deadline. If you agree, please e-mail me, and I will coordinate this effort.
References for the above studies are available from the author.
by Kenneth S. Marsh,
Ph.D., CPP, is Executive Director of the Woodstock Institute for Science in Service to Humanity and President of Kenneth S. Marsh & Associates Ltd.,
102B Ole Towne Square, Central, S.C., 29630