Perhaps the better question is: why isn’t food science widely utilized for humanitarian and development purposes? An emerging field called Humanitarian Food Science and Technology (HFST) offers innovative solutions to food insecurity and malnutrition.
First, let’s define HFST: The application of food science and technology to enhance food security, health, and economic prosperity for global humanitarian and development purposes.
Why Food Science and Technology?
Food-related aid has traditionally centered on 1) humanitarian crises and emergency response, 2) agriculture and 3) nutrition. There’s no denying the importance of each of these. But a comprehensive food system would tie the three together. It would focus on long-term sustainability as well as food that’s fit for purpose. Food science, directly applied to humanitarian and development needs, can be that connective tissue.
Characteristics of HFST
Emphasis on long-term development challenges to include prevention, relief, and improvement
Implemented in consultation with communities, utilizing locally sourced materials/resources
Culturally appropriate and innovative food solutions
Economically and technically feasible
Useful in both long-term development and emergency relief situations
HFST is brimming with possibilities.
Judicious use of basic food science can add value to agricultural products and create inclusive value chains that benefit many. This results in higher profits for food processors and agribusinesses as well as interesting new consumer products and expanded markets. Food can be produced locally rather than imported.
More protective and greener packaging can be utilized. Food loss can be minimized with natural preservation options. Innovative food engineering and process development can enable efficient food production under difficult conditions. Nutritional value can be improved. Food can be cleaner, safer, and quality-consistent.
In a nutshell, food security can be enhanced.
And there’s plenty of room for creativity. Protein-enhanced foods (perhaps with innovative local protein sources), user-friendly/convenient product forms, enhanced nutrient bioavailability, utilization of local functional ingredients, products for specific conditions or populations, and production via alternative energy sources are all very feasible.
Uses and Abuses
HFST should produce food that is nutritious, safe, affordable, and compliant with regulations. Technology should be exploited in innovative ways to achieve specific goals, not as the driver. Implementation must be multidisciplinary, involving experts in nutrition, product development, food safety, compliance, process engineering, quality control, etc. As well, partnerships with governments, the private sector, donors, NGOs, and other organizations are encouraged. Finally, the food should be minimally processed for optimal feasibility, affordability, and nutrition.
HFST Should be a Thing
I’m part of a movement to create awareness in the development community about how HFST can improve health and nutrition, enhance food security, and strengthen economies by creating businesses. We also seek to create courses, academic programs, and trainings in this specialty.
If you have questions or would like info about HFST and incorporating it into your programs, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.