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Status and Prospects of Developing Agricultural Technology for Value-Added Food Production in Asia
Fusao Tomita
Director of Hokkaido Study Center
The University of the Air
Kita-17, Nishi-8, Kita-ku
Sapporo 060-0817, Japan, 2004-11-01

Abstract

In Asia, diverse agricultural technologies exist from the very traditional and indigenous to the very advanced. Particularly because it is fast becoming the hub of economic activity in the 21st century, Asia stands to gain from the extensive application of these agricultural technologies as crop production has not been keeping up with the demands of the alarmingly increasing population. The richness of its agricultural resources, availability of labor, and the huge market for its products make it possible for Asia to advance its agricultural development and achieve self-sufficiency in crop production. To achieve these goals, the following measures can be considered: 1) crop variety improvement by breeding or using modern biotechnology and optimizing the method of growing them whether organic, conventional, or biofarming; 2) wise management of land use; 3) conservation of fertile soil and soil organisms; 4) good farming management with the wise use of fertilizers; and 5) proper harvesting method, post-harvest preservation, and value-added food processing, including manufacturing and distribution.

Introduction

Agricultural technology has been indispensable in providing food and feed. The Atlantic Rim or the West dominated techonological development in the 20th century, and it is said that the 21st century will be for the Pacific Rim or the East (Asia). It is especially true when we look at the biodiversity of Asia, the richness of its agricultural resources, and its diverse food culture. However, Asia, which is fast becoming the hub of economic activity in the 21st century, must race against time to feed its growing population. Critically important is to improve the current status of agro-industry in Asia as it is somewhat behind some advanced nations. To fast-track agricultural development, it may be best to integrate traditional agricultural technology with modern methods like biotechnology, including recombinant DNA technology.

Status of Agricultural Technology in Asia

In Asia, diverse agricultural technologies exist, from the very traditional and indigenous to the very advanced. The extensive application of these agricultural technologies has been imperative because crop production has not been keeping up with the demands of the alarmingly increasing population. Fig. 1(1277) and Fig. 2(1478) show these trends in a global perspective.

Agricultural production in Asia is notably decreasing, from 3.4 percent in 1999 to an estimated 1-2 percent in the past two to three years. It is especially serious in China and India. The rate of increase in food production in these countries is less than that of the increase in population. With this trend, millions may not have enough to eat in the future unless agricultural policies are changed to an aggressive policy for food production in poor Asian countries. On the other end of the scale are the more affluent nations where food is plenty and the nutrition problems are lifestyle-based. The farming areas of the world may not be enough to feed the demand for food of rapidly increasing populations ( Table 1(1287)).

On a more optimistic note, however, Asia can still cope despite the variety of problems. One source of hope is the available labor force in agriculture, fishery, and forestry ( Table 2(1281)). Although gross production figures ( Table 3(1302)) are not consistently high, increasing crop yields in Asia may still be possible.

Efficiency of Land Uses

More profitable land uses will be expected due to the increasing demand for agricultural products and the decreasing rate in the annual production. Optimum production rate must be met while keeping the land sustainable. For instance, crop yields and the importation of fertilizers must be balanced.

Table 4(1241) shows a summary of fertilizer usage in the world while Table 5(1358) shows food production rate of selected countries.

New Crops

Crop yield improvement is possible with the use of better varieties with higher photosynthetic activities and better utilization of phosphorus, potassium, and other minerals under arid conditions with low or high soil pH, high salinity, and undesirable water conditions. Recombinant DNA technology offers a lot of promise in developing these varieties much faster than traditional breeding methods. Speed is critical because the population pressure is impacting heavily on the land, of which problems include erosion and unfertile soils.

In Argentina, they succeeded in increasing soybean yield three-fold by using a herbicide-resistant variety (Round-up Ready) and no-till farming ( Fig. 3(1261) and Fig. 4(1283)). They also used wheat straws from the previous harvest to prevent moisture loss. As a result, the use of petroleum oil and herbicides was cut down to a quarter each compared with the conventional farming requirements. In the end, the farmers' incomes quadrupled.

Production of Raw Materials

An understanding of agroecosystems is the key to determining effective farming systems. A report on the results of a 21-year study of the agronomic and ecological performance of biodynamic, organic, and conventional farming systems in Central Europe showed crop yields to be 20 percent lower in the organic systems, although input of fertilizer and energy was reduced by 34-53 percent and pesticide input by 97 percent. Enhanced soil fertility and higher biodiversity found in organic plots may render these systems less dependent on external inputs.

Improvements in crop yields can also be achieved by optimizing traditional, conventional or organic farming, and biofarming (using genetically modified organisms or GMOs). These farming types can coexist depending on the farming and land conditions. They can complement each other and will not compete with one another for each will have its own market. It is obvious, however, that organic farming will cost more in terms of labeling and management, so the selling price is naturally higher. On the other hand, traditional or conventional farming may sacrifice the sustainability of land use. Thus, biofarming and good management can provide the least cost on inputs and be sustainable. Needless to say, genetically modified crops must be proven to be safe to humans, animals, and the environment.

Coexistence relates to the principle that farmers are able to cultivate freely the agricultural crops they choose, be they genetically modified, conventional, or organic crops. In North America and Europe, GM and non-GM crops coexist without economic and commercial problems, except for some reported isolated cases of the accidental presence of GMOs occurring in organic crops. In a number of cases, the coexistence was attributed to weaknesses in on- and post-farm segregation of crops or to the failure of organic growers to use organic seeds or test their conventional seeds for GMO presence prior to sowing. North America has a substantial production of GM soybean, maize, and canola. GM crops now account for the majority (60%) of these crops because of benefits such as yield gains, cost savings, and greater convenience or flexibility. To farmers, coexistence of GM and non-GM crops is an issue only where their crops get sold to the food sector and/or exported to markets that are distinctly for non-GM products.

Preventing Crop Losses before and after Harvest

Losses due to pests, postharvest processes, and weeds are great ( Table 6(1306)). Agricultural chemicals, recombinant DNA technology, or a mix of both can control the losses before and after harvest.

Value-Added Approaches in Food Processing

Traditional foods are the treasure box of resources in terms of material and knowledge. The way they are produced, the local substrates used in the countries where they are developed, and the presence of diverse microorganisms in these foods are good and novel resources for developing technologies for the food industry. These traditional foods are good future targets for discovering physiologically functional foods. Some examples ( Table 7(1314)) are vegetables whose oligosaccharides enhance mineral absorption, prebiotic activity, and improve colon function; peptides derived from food protein sources that are antihypertensive; and other elements in crops that can improve lipid metabolism, control obesity, and lower bad cholesterol.

Furthermore, some of the Asian traditional foods that have potential physiological functions and merit detailed study are as follows: brem (rice wine), ragi (rice paste), tempeh (fermented soybean), onchom (fermented soybean), urutan (fermented sausage), nampla (fermented fish sauce), plarah (fermented fish), saigokisan (fermented sausage), balao-balao (fermented rice and shrimp), burong babi (fermented pork), burong kanin (fermented rice and fish), longanisa (fermented sausage), patis (fermented fish sauce), tapa (fermented beef), toyo, (soy sauce), bagoong (fish paste), nata de coco, natto, bonito, yogurt, Calpis, pickles, and kimchi.

Table 8(1250) shows the value-added financial gains in the food and beverage industry in selected countries.

Future Prospects

We have to improve the yield of crops and to achieve this, the following measures can be considered: 1) crop variety improvement by breeding or other modern technologies and optimizing the method of growing them whether organic, conventional, or biofarming; 2) wise management of land use (e.g., avoiding the common Asian practice of slash-and-burn farming); 3) conservation of fertile soil and soil organisms; 4) good farming management by balancing the input of fertilizer (kind and amount); and 5) proper harvesting method, post-harvest preservation, and value-added food processing, including manufacturing and distribution.

Letting go of the notion that food is only safe if it has been consumed for generations even without food value analysis should be encouraged among our people. What is more relevant to maintaining good health is knowing the scientific basis of what we are eating such as the nutrient value, food safety considering the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) on food-borne pathogens and toxins, as well as the functionality or health-promoting effects of the food components. Needless to say, in terms of self-sufficiency, Asia is not faring badly ( Table 9(1373)). This means Asia, by incorporating new technologies and science with traditional Asian knowledge, can also become agriculturally advanced like the USA.

Index of Images

Figure 1 Population Explosion

Figure 1 Population Explosion

Figure 2 Gross Grain Production

Figure 2 Gross Grain Production

Figure 3 Hectares Planted to Conventional and Round-up Ready Variety in Argentina

Figure 3 Hectares Planted to Conventional and Round-up Ready Variety in Argentina

Figure 4 Soybean Yield Trend in the Last 20 Years in Argentina

Figure 4 Soybean Yield Trend in the Last 20 Years in Argentina

Table 1 Capacity of the Earth for Food Production

Table 1 Capacity of the Earth for Food Production

Table 2 Population and Labor Force (2001)

Table 2 Population and Labor Force (2001)

Table 3 Production Rate (Tons) (2001)

Table 3 Production Rate (Tons) (2001)

Table 4 Fertilizers Used (Tons) (2001)

Table 4 Fertilizers Used (Tons) (2001)

Table 5 Food Production Rate (M T/Ha) (2000)

Table 5 Food Production Rate (M T/Ha) (2000)

Table 6 Crop Losses Due to Various Causes (Usa)

Table 6 Crop Losses Due to Various Causes (Usa)

Table 7 Examples of Physiologically Functional Foods

Table 7 Examples of Physiologically Functional Foods

Table 8 Value-Added Gains in the Food and Beverage Industry

Table 8 Value-Added Gains in the Food and Beverage Industry

Table 9 Self-Sufficiency Rate (%), 2001

Table 9 Self-Sufficiency Rate (%), 2001

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