REVOLUTIONS IN FOOD SECURITY AND ULTIMATE SOLUTION
Javaid Aziz Awan, Salim-ur-Rehman, and Omer Mukhtar Tarar
Food has been the basic necessity of all living beings including mankind. In the earlier days of human history, man collected his food through hunting or gathering. Gradually he realized that these ways of fulfilling his dietary needs would not suffice, hence resorted to domestication of a selected number of plant and animal species for food (Pringle, 1998). This has resulted in good harvests at times. However, due to environmental and political circumstances (drought, flood, war, poverty), generally the situation has been that of a shortage. As a result, human beings have suffered from inadequate supply of food and even famine, well known as food security problems (FAO. 2003).
FOOD SCEURITY STATUS OF PAKISTAN
Food security is a situation, “when all people, at all time, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food, and to meet their dietary needs and food preference for an active and healthy life” (FAO, 1996). The physical access to food is related to rates of change of population and food. These rates are not in appropriate balance, as there is lesser food production than population growth in developing countries. In Pakistan the situation is not different, where the population growth rate was at 1.8% annually and food growth rate was 1.3% only (Fig 1). It predicts that the country has been in shortage of food (FAO, 2006).
The lack of access to wholesome food is one factor associated with prevalence of undernourishment in population of South Asia. Twentythree percent population faced this havoc in the year 1995-97. This estimate was also true for Pakistan where number of undernourished people was 24.8 millions in 1995-97 estimates. Whereas the current scenario is worst, as the preliminary data for 2002-04 shows that the undernourished population has increased to 37.5 million, which constitutes 24% of the total (FAO, 2006). Among the countries situated in the region, the dietary energy consumption (Kcal/person/day) of Pakistan is lowest. Fig. 2 shows the comparison.
REVOLUTIONS IN AGRICULTURAL TECHNOLOGIES
The last century witnessed three major revolutions in agricultural technology that have provided mankind with sufficient food. The first revolution was based on mechanization that resulted in increase in cultivable land, intensive farming and greater crop yields. The second revolution, founded on the science of chemistry, enabled the development and production of fertilizers, pesticides and other agricultural chemicals. This has further helped to improve the crop yields by providing the required nutrients and preventing the activities of pests. The last revolution is based on biology, the green revolution. It has provided larger harvests from a given area of farmland. The foundations of this revolution are based on improved breeding techniques, applications of the science of genetics, genetic engineering and biotechnology. This has provided mankind with crops that are high yielding, and resistant to adverse ecological circumstances such as pests, drought and others. The high yielding varieties of wheat, rice, and other food staples helped avert catastrophic famines in Asia in the 1960s and 1970s (Borlaug, 1972).
The rapidly growing world population requires new agricultural technologies to boost food production. The farmers need to use the most appropriate means possible to climb out of poverty, manage natural resources effectively, and feed the world’s growing population. Agricultural biotechnology is just one of many essential tools to achieve the goal.
FACTORS LIMITING AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTION
At the moment there are certain challenges which are being faced by scientific community towards further increasing agricultural production.
Agricultural production operations include preparation of land, use of appropriate plantation technologies, application of fertilizers and pesticides, and water management. All these operations require energy. For each tonne of grain (wheat, rice and coarse grains) U.S. technology uses 0.110 tons of oil, whereas the indigenous technology requires 0.038 tons of oil. The implications of this to food security have to be viewed in the context of the availability of fossil fuels (WECD, 1987).
Decreasing fertilizer response
Fertilizers and chemical control agents form an important component of farm inputs. FAO attributed 55% increase in yield in developing countries between 1965 and 1976 to fertilizers (WECD 1987). However, fertilizer response ratio has decreased with increasing fertilizer use in the way it has happened in the past five decades as depicted in Table 1.
Table 1: World grain production and fertilizer use 1934-48 to 1979-81
World grain Production* (Mt)
World Fertilizer Use (Mt)
Incremental Grain/Fertilizer Response Ratio
* Annual average for period
Limitations on the genetic improvement of crops
A breakthrough in the improvement of rice and wheat was responsible for the world-wide increase in agricultural production, and for the green revolution in developing countries. Therefore, scientists, administrators, planners, politicians and the public have great faith in the possibility of developing new cultivars with greater yield potentials. However, it may appear surprising, though true, that the increase in average yields of cereal crops has been divindling over the years (Fig. 3). The projected growth estimate for the year 2020 also focuses the same trend (Rosegrant et al., 2001). The situation is alarming as the world population has been increasing at far higher pace.
Degradation of the resource base
The urgent need to meet the food demands of the growing population and of industries has led to the degradation of the agricultural resource base on almost every continent. The need for opening new land for cultivation, timber and fuelwood has caused extensive deforestation in different parts of the world. This, particularly in mountainous regions, has adversely influenced water conservation and led to soil erosion, silting and floods. Many river basins in Indo-Pakistan subcontinent experience the impacts of deforestation (Sinha et al., 1988).
Issues of agricultural biotechnology
Several complicated issues have been raised for the developing countries regarding agricultural biotechnology. The intellectual property rights are likely to affect poor nations the most. The private corporations in the developed countries are taking out patents and other forms of protection for their new genetically modified (GM) crops and for related genetic materials. In this manner the developed countries are being deprived of the benefits of the biotechnology revolution (Pelletier, 2005).
MEASURES TO BE ADOPTED
Poor nutrition is a violation of an individual’s human rights, and it causes untold sufferings. Improvement in nutritional status is now being used to judge the success of a wide range of development strategies. Millions of people in developing countries suffer from a lack of calories, proteins, micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and from illness and impaired physical and mental developments (Qureshi et al., 2001). In these regions, staple foods make up a large percentage of the diet and the majority of foods are not processed. In the developed world, people have easy access to healthcare, fortified foods and vitamin supplements.
The revolutions in agricultural technology have not only kept pace with the population growth, but have surpassed the food needs of the people. These revolutions in agriculture have definitely helped to boost agricultural production and provide more and nourishing food for the rising population. The situation that prevails now in the world is that there is plenty of food for everyone on this globe provided it is equally distributed. For this purpose there is a need to find techniques and methods that would permit safe delivery of sound, nutritious and wholesome food. All revolutions and all efforts to increase the food production would be futile without saving the food from wastage — that amounts to over 25% in developing countries (FAO, 1997). In Pakistan it is estimated that 20 to 25% cereal grains and legumes and more than 40% fruits and vegetables are wasted before these reach the consumer.
In the 1860s, Louis Pasteur discovered that microorganisms were the cause of disease and decay (Rodríguez and Martínez, 2005). This immensely important discovery — the discovery of the principles of food preservation, has led to yet another revolution. This is a revolution that has helped to supply food to non-food producing areas, to areas of famine, to places where people relish such foods and to places where food is needed. This is a revolution that has led to scientific expeditions to the highest mountains and deepest seas on the earth, and ice laden North and South Poles. This discovery has enabled man to travel to the space and set its foot on other planets.
In the early days, this discovery was applied to milk and wine. Later it was extended to other foods by Nicolas Appert, the father of canning. Now this revolutionary discovery is being applied to almost all foods in one form or another. The scope of this discovery has extended from the use of high temperature (as in pasteurization and .canning) to the applications of low temperature (in cold storage, refrigerated storage, freezing), to removal of moisture (drying, dehydration, evaporation, binding of moisture). Furthermore, numerous chemicals have been discovered that prevent the growth and activities of microorganisms (preservatives). In addition, microorganisms themselves have been harnessed and exploited to preserve and produce new foods (fermentations). The investigations on the electromagnetic spectrum have led to the discovery of electromagnetic waves that are useful in extending the shelf life of foods (use of radiations). Packaging has also emerged as a technique to supplement the action of preservative agents.
This revolutionary discovery has helped mankind to prevent starvation during periods of low harvest. If this revolution is fully utilized, then there would be no hungry soul on this earth. The actual production of foods at the moment is more than sufficient to feed the whole planet. The trouble is that this food is unequally distributed. Presently, there is a need to properly handle the harvest, and improve the post-harvest management system instead of producing more food. This food has to be distributed in a fair way. People still die of hunger just because we do not find model which enables us to distribute food judiciously.
In the developing countries like Pakistan these processing techniques have great applications and implications on food security. Their origin could be traced back in the food security concepts learnt by man from nature. These techniques include sun drying or pickling of excess fruit, salting and drying of meat, freezing of meat under snow and processing of milk into cheese and butter for use during off season or chilly winter months. A scheme for achieving food security has been originated on the foot prints of these practices rooting back to the old ages. This scheme ranks the management of harvested produce at top. It consists of three principle features.
1. Adequate management of post harvest handling of agriculture produces
2. Processing of excess produce
3. Safe delivery to consumer
Hence, a model system can be designed on the basis of above mentioned principles. It is proposed that a net work of “Integrated Cooperative Food Processing Houses” should be established in the country. These facilities should be equipped with cooling, cleaning, grading, packaging, cold storage and processing units under one roof. A produce graded into prime or medium grades could be marketed to nourish the public. Whereas the extra grades or excess produce during period of over production should be packed properly using novel techniques and stored in cold stores, modified atmospheric storage or under controlled atmosphere packaging. On the other hand these could also be converted into value added products or preserved by dehydration, freezing or canning and made available for long periods.
This model is based on the concept of facilitating the farmers towards better handling of their produce. In the absence of such facilities, it is the norm of agriculture community to waste the produce which is not transportable to market or fetching low price. It is also worth mentioning here that similar kind of idea has gained popularity in the milk handling as introduced by Pakistan Dairy Development Company (PDDC). The concept of cooling milk at farm level and then transfer to milk processing units as well as vending of bulk pasteurized milk will hopefully prove breakthroughs in rendering more benefits for dairy sector in particular and country in general. Another idea of similar nature has been working well in agriculture services sector where agriculture input marketing organizations are providing multiple kinds of services to farmers through one window operation i.e. Sayban, Agrimall, Target Agri Center etc.
It is the need of the hour that to get more grains out of farmer fields, our natural resources should not be exploited. It would increase the cost of production due to excess use of fertilizers and pesticides but also will harm our environment. The solution to solve the food security issue is simple; just save what is produced.
Poor handling of produce results in about over 25% post harvest losses of agriculture commodities in Pakistan – 20 to 25% in grains and legumes and over 40% in fruits and vegetables. This loss could be avoided by technically handling our yields, which could be achieved by strengthening the discipline of food science and technology in country. Well-trained manpower, equipped with modern knowledge of food preservation will lead the nation to ultimate food security. By the virtue of saving our produce from going waste, farmers will earn more. Food supply will be increased and consumer will be provided with food within their reach. It will not only increase the employment but also make the industry more competitive and able to earn foreign exchange for country. This strategy will ultimately pave the way to realize the dream of consistent food security.