Ag needs to produce more nutrition, not volume

Ag needs to produce more nutrition, not volume

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RE-THINK: United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) agriculture officer, Dr David Nowell, says farming systems need to focus on producing nutritional food, not just increasing output volumes.

RE-THINK: United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) agriculture officer, Dr David Nowell, says farming systems need to focus on producing nutritional food, not just increasing output volumes.

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A United Nations food health expert says agriculture needs to start thinking in terms of nutritional productivity.

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YOU can feed people potato chips all day but it's not exactly beneficial consumption.

This was a line from agriculture officer for the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Dr David Nowell, who gave one of the opening addresses at the 10th World Potato Congress held in Cusco, Peru this week.

He challenged the traditional mentality of commercial crop breeding and research, asking why productivity was always the aim.

He said farming systems must start thinking in terms of increasing nutritional production, not outputs.

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"I've been saying we must get away from thinking about total production and more about nutritional yield," Dr Nowell said.  

"It's not about giving people more food but giving them nutritional food. We've gone from populations of people being hungry to people being obese."

It was here he included his potato chip analogy saying simply producing more in different forms was not entirely useful.

Dr Nowell said tackling world hunger and nutrient deficiencies was a huge task but thinking differently about farming systems would go a long way toward helping tackle it.

Potatoes are important the world over but there is more we can do with it. - Dr David Nowell

"We have to realise we are functioning within an ecosystem. We have to think of agriculture as a functional ecosystem," Dr Nowell said.

The entire food supply chain needed to be considered when discussions arise over technology improvements and production gains, according to the South African who now lives in Chile.

He reiterated a point made by several speakers, including the Peruvian president, Martin Vizcarra, in that the potato was a vital global crop.

"Potatoes are important the world over but there is more we can do with it," he said.

His figures showed global potato production was 370 million tonnes per year.

The breakdown of producing countries sees Asia producing 42.1 per cent; Europe 39.2pc; America 12.6pc; Africa 5.6pc and Oceania .5pc.

Not easy

MEETING global challenges such as sustainability are not easily done though.  

"We are extremely aware that most of the big commercial farmers in the world are not sustainable," Dr Nowell said.  

"We have to look at all systems in terms of sustainability. We've got ourselves into a boom and bust cycle."

One area of frustration for Dr Nowell was a lack of advancement in some government policies.

"Sometimes we are finding countries haven't changed things since the 1950s," he said.

"Not everything about the potato is commercial. Many are just growing it to live."

Helping poorer farmers

SOME of the work Dr Nowell has been involved with included bringing new varieties and techniques to subsistence farmers, such as those in South America, without abandoning the culture significance of the traditional methods.

Part of that has included introducing more nutritionally advanced products.

"Not all potatoes have the same nutritional value. There is a tremendous variation in what people are consuming," Dr Nowell said.

"Sometimes they don’t need more, they just need the right types.

"All of us have this responsibility to explain that some products that don't have commercial value could have niche value."

He said collaboration will be the key to future achievements in global food security.

"We have to start looking at partnerships; we can't do things on our own. We need to find ways of improving livelihoods of people," he said.​ 

  • Ashley Walmsley travelled to Peru with assistance from the Crawford Fund and with financial support from DFAT Council on Australia Latin America Relations.​ 
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