Food Science and Nutrition Research Directorate of Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) has been envisioning to develop novel and nutritious food products and technologies, come up with improved traditional food processing practices, make information available on quality and nutritional profiles of food materials.
Besides, the directorate targets developing safe and wholesome food handling and utilization practices, feasible preservation and packaging technologies as well as promoting food technologies and disseminating information.
In an interview with The Ethiopian Herald, Food Science and Nutrition Research Directorate Director Dr. Kassaye Tolessa said malnutrition and food insecurity continue to be a major challenge in Africa .Rates of undernourishment and micronutrient malnutrition remain high while incidences of obesity and overweight are increasing rapidly, especially in the urban areas. In Ethiopia 37 percent of children under five years are subject to stinting, 7 percent wasted, while 21 percent are underweight ( EDHS 2019).
Hence, the consequences of malnutrition should be a significant concern for policymakers. There is a need to reduce the health burden arising from food and nutrition insecurity at the individual and household level, she said.
Regarding this, EIAR has established food science and nutrition research directorate in July 2018 to mainstream nutrition into agricultural research system. This is a critical concern in the existing Ethiopian agricultural system to ensure sustainable food and nutrition security through assessing development of food products , reduction of postharvest loses , improvement of food processing and preservation methods, production of value added food recipes and ensuring of product safety. As a result, the doctorate has developed a ten-year research strategy. That is from 2019-30.
Therefore, the directorate’s objective is generating different technologies and information and there by these developed technologies, information could be cascaded down to the different users. They have to be demonstrated and popularized to the end users.
Moreover, the research is mainly focused on improving food diversification and alleviating malnutrition. It has focused on food processing in different food enrichment, food quality improvement engagements which can reduce malnutrition conditions thereby to improve the livelihood of citizens. Because malnutrition has become a real problem of the country.
Thus, to alleviate the above mentioned hurdles, the Directorate wants the public to eat a balanced diet. It has planned to develop novel and nutritious, safe and very quality food. It focuses on improving food diversification through developing different food products which are really safe, quality and nutritious.
Presently, to achieve its goal the directorate has been engaged in different research programs; such as food processing technologies, food quality and nutrient, food safety research programs. Under each research programs, there are different thematic areas of research entailed in what the directorate has planned for the next ten years.
Under food processing technology program, the directorate has product development thematic area where it can generate new food processing product and improve traditional ways of food processing. The directorate needs to improve traditional ways of food processing to enhance the nutrient content of foods during the preparation.
The process improvement helps to retain the nutrition of food. Under this program, there is a thematic area and different strategic issues and each strategic issue has also different proposed interventions. Nowadays, within the three programs, the directorate has 90 research activities, she said.
Promising researches are underway, the proposed activities are designed based on national food and nutrition policy and strategy as well. So before the directorate designs the program, it benchmarks the current food and nutrition policy of the country which was endorsed in 2018. Presently, there is national food and nutrition strategy development which is well in progress.
She further said that the directorate has also developed the next ten years research strategies. Under this strategy, different research programs have been proposed. “We believe that our research result should be aligned with the national food and nutrition policy which can answer the Ethiopia’s current issue about nutrition insecurity problem. “
However, communities’ awareness about food science is low. She said, “I would rather say people in urban areas are less aware of food science. But in rural areas I could say people are unknowing about food science.” Because, some of the community members do not have knowhow about the nutrition value of foods.But they simply eat what they have. There is a lot to be desired to sensitize the community. They have to eat nutritious, healthy food. The community has also to eat fruits and vegetables but these kinds of foods are so expensive and not easily accessible.
The problem of awareness, availability, and accessibility of food are crucial. The government has to avail food, make it accessible and affordable to the community. The community should also know the food science and nutrition. They have to eat accordingly, specially under five children and mothers have to eat balanced diet.
Moreover, the directorate has designed its ten-year plan, as EARI strategic program was revised and approved the next ten years plan last year. In that plan the directorate has articulated that it needs to develop different food products , neutrinos that are healthy and accessible to the community. Then these developed food product should be demonstrated and popularized to the end users. We have research-developed technologies and the demonstrations transferring the technologies, knowledge to the end users.”
Currently, the food science research is dependent on laboratory analysis. The directorate needs to have facilities in -terms of laboratory equipment, regents, chemicals. ” It has some but it still needs more and have to train its staffs”.
Importantly, nowadays the directorate has very good research facilities in terms of laboratory equipment to conduct different analysis. Besides, the directorate has different researchers in different disciplines, food technologists, microbiologist, food chemists , analytical chemists and food engineers . But ;” Still it has a plan to train staff members to conduct high level quality research.”
However, as the food science research is mainly dependent on laboratories. Even if you have labs facilities, you need to have chemicals reagents and standards which really need foreign currency. Some of the standers are not found in Ethiopia. But there is a shortage of budget, the major problem.
Besides, the country’s procurement procedure is another problem. Because, the procurement process takes long time. You could not get those chemicals on time. Above all the directorate needs to develop a food product which is nutritious, healthy, safe and quality food which is accessible and affordable to our community. “We have also a plan to improve the process of food preparation in the future,” she said.