Food Processing and Food Security

If you referred to Wikipedia today, you’d realise that the current world population is 7.6 billion as of June 2018, according to the most recent United Nations estimates elaborated by Worldometers. It is no secret that the world population is exploding. Hence, all should be done to safeguard the survival of the inhabitants therein – if I may limit this piece to addressing the food situation in the world currently. If food processing should be taken seriously, the time is here and now. News of water-shortage for instance should be a great bother to everyone, and so should hunger – which is spread across certain countries, especially, in Africa and Asia.

Food Processing

Food processing is the transformation of cooked ingredients by physical or chemical means into food, or food into other forms. Food processing combines raw food ingredients to produce marketable food products that can be easily prepared and served by the consumer. From the definition, it is obvious that food processing is the way to go if we are to keep the booming population of the world well-fed. Food processing will therefore become the single most important activity to keep the world out of hunger.

It is from this background that actors in the food industry should look at the future of processed foods with undivided focus. Investors in the Food and Beverages sector of the economy can look at their activities as a means of making profit, but more importantly a social call to keep the population fed at all times. It is the main reason why people should not go into these sectors lightly but take into consideration all the regulatory issues, codes of Practice and GMP standards to make food safe and enjoyable.

Food Security

It is estimated by the UN that the world’s population will hit 9.8 billion by 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100. Food security, as defined by the United Nations’ Committee on World Food Security, is the condition in which all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. The issue of hidden hunger has plagued a lot of countries in Africa and parts of Asia for quite a long time.  Having your belly full does not necessarily mean you’ve got all the necessary nutrients to ensure proper growth.

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Hidden Hunger

According to the WHO, 2 billion people suffer from vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Women and children in families with low-income often don’t get enough vitamin A, iodine and iron, and sometimes other essential nutrients. This limits their growth, development, health and working capacity. Ensuring people get vitamins, minerals and essential nutrients will help prevent malnutrition.

Opportunity for Food Processors

In Ghana, one can count the number of well-established food industries. The multinational food companies dominate in the large-scale sector, and hence their product offering will not necessarily cover the full range of what the indigenes would prefer to have. Moreover, company business policies are taken from offices not close to Ghana. The adverse effect is that these companies can at any time move their manufacturing facilities to places they deem profit-worthy.

The good news, however, is that there are a couple of indigenous companies rising to the occasion and must be encouraged to keep the momentum. Food processing goes beyond just mixing ingredients and putting them into some packaging and selling. It requires a heavy dose of research and development. The whole process of sourcing for good raw materials, storage, processing, packaging, finished product storage and distribution is the work of Food Technologists, Scientists and Process Engineers.

I dare say that the traditional universities have lying on their shelves many solutions to our processing challenges – an apology of a situation where academia has lost its significance to fledgling industries and well-established ones alike. Academia wears clothes of importance and assumes a certain niche of intellectual verbosity – failing to reach industrialists who believe they have their own rights and will not be bullied into submission. But of course, industries evolve too quickly – often leaving academia behind with their ‘colonial’ notes that normally doesn’t match the current trends. While hunger beats at the ship of the populace, the debate and argument still exist between these two sets of organisations.

Lessons from Advanced Nations

I seldom want to mention government in any of my human ‘sermons’. We’ve been so much engrossed in politics it blinds us to reality. Leaders of political parties do not know how to come back to the populace and inform them of manifesto reviews. So, even if current trends do not make manifestos feasible or sensible to implement, they’ll go ahead just to please which people.

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It is hard to believe that we have huge tracts of land and so much can be done to make food available all year-round. Sadly enough, even the food we are able to produce in abundance goes rotten on farms. The issue of tomato-glut is an annual affair.

The farmers will complain and politicians will give ‘great’ speeches on how they’re planning to resolve the challenge of the abundance through all forms of preservation solutions, only for it to resurface. In some advanced nations, agriculture is not lip-service.  It is approached in a well-thought out manner. There are clear plans which are followed through in laboratories and in the field. You can think of Israel and other equally serious nations in Europe.

Recommendations

The current government’s ‘Planting for Food and Jobs’ policy is laudable, but the success of this programme might only be at the primary producer level if it is not tied to processing. Of what use is it to have a lot coming from our farms that will get rotten because we lack processing and preservation?

The 1D1F programme would have been a perfect continuation from where the planting for food and jobs ends, but the implementation seems to be having challenges due to cost of credit for the private sector. It is my recommendation that government approaches the 1D1F as it was done by President Nkrumah, by spearheading the establishment of these industries and getting the private sector to run them in an efficient manner.

Government could in the coming years get the private sector to gradually pay for the industries and eventually gain total control. That is a full topic for another day, but at least the basics must be laid to support the agenda for a self-sustaining country when it comes to food. Beyond this, actors in the food industry must employ young graduates in the field of food processing to create a sustainable future with regard to processed foods. These and many other interventions are needed to make the nation fool-proof when it comes to food security.

Johnson Opoku-Boateng is the Chief Executive & Lead Consultant, QA CONSULT (Consultants and Trainers in Quality Assurance, Health & Safety, Environmental Management systems, Manufacturing Excellence and Food Safety). He is also a consumer safety advocate and helps businesses with regulatory affairs. He can be reached on +233209996002, email: johnson@qaconsultgh.com.

 

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