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Introduction Edward Wenk Jr. The purpose of this report is to bring to a wider audience the issues covered in a seminar of the Committee on Public Engineering Policy (COPEP) of the Assembly of Engineering. The seminar was attended by the Committee members and a small group of experts. They discussed ways in which engineering resources and techniques could be applied to improve food production, processing, storage, and distribution. The one-day seminar was held on July l0, l974, at the National Academy of Sciences building in Washington, D.C. A combination of unfortunate circumstances--bad weather, poor harvests, sharply rising prices for energy and fertilizer—precipitated a world food crisis in the last two years. Hardest hit were the people in the poor- est and some of the most populous Third World countries. Because of large grain purchases by the Soviet Union and an earlier U.S. policy to reduce its agricultural sur- pluses to manageable levels, food supplies in the world market became insufficient and too costly for the needy countries. Looking beyond the need for short-term relief for the hungry, it is clear that Third World countries must build a better margin of food security. They must increase their agricultural production and potential to be better prepared to feed their people. How can they do this quickly? What resources, skills, and cooperative measures
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will it require? These were some of the questions raised in this seminar. The discussion of solutions ranged from raising crop yields through better agricultural and irrigation prac- tices, to improving food technology, and building more efficient transport and management systems for the deliv- ery of inputs to farmers and food to market. It became clear that engineers have a contribution to make and that opportunities for engineering innovation and talent are manifold. Some of these opportunities lie in discovering new agricultural practices and techniques, in delivering necessary quantities of vital inputs to farmers on time, in designing storage and transport systems to handle increased output, in enriching and preserving food, in developing new foods, and in packaging and marketing food products. At the same time, the demand side of the food problem—increased appetites resulting from high growth rates in both affluence and population—need attention and consideration. The ideas and solutions we explored were by no means exhaustive. We hope that this report will stimulate additional thought on how various skills and approaches can be applied to. increase food production and assure its distribution to those most in need. Senator Humphrey opened the discussion by calling attention to the public policy aspects of food production and trade. He urged us to seek a better definition of the limits of the ecosystem in order to help determine how and where to make the best use of the world's natural resources. He suggested that while continuing the search for new energy sources, we look for new ways to produce food with less energy in the developed countries as well as in the developing. For the United States, which sup- plies 60 percent of the international trade in feed grains, Senator Humphrey proposed two key measures: a coherent national food policy that includes building food reserves and initiating a worldwide information and data network on crop production and reserves--both promising safeguards in a food security system. Following this, John Mellor assessed the potential for agricultural growth in developing countries through the appropriate application of research and technology. Particular conditions of soil and climate in different countries, he observed, demand special methods of culti- vation, strains of seeds, and other specific inputs and practices. Moreover, the abundance or scarcity of labor and capital will often determine the methods, the machinery, and the markets. The organizational and insti- tutional network required to support all this needs to
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be created where none now exists and strengthened where it does. Practical lessons based on the experience of United States agricultural research and extension services could benefit the developing countries, said Professor Mellor. He favored greater integration of regional and national food research into an international system as a signifi- cant way for disseminating knowledge about more efficient techniques to increase output and for encouraging nations to adopt such practices. Care must be taken, Don Paarlberg observed, to con- sider local customs and infrastructures. In developing new foods, designing new machines, and introducing new technologies, the efforts of scientists and engineers must be "socially acceptable." New methods of food processing, storage, transport, handling, and marketing bulk quanti- ties have resulted in substantial savings in developed countries. However, the introduction of similar technolo- gies in developing countries frequently requires better warehousing, roads, and machinery, for a start, before significant benefits can be realized. Dr. Paarlberg urged engineers to accept the challenge of improving the food system of the Third World and designing solutions appro- priate to their particular economic and social conditions. As part of this effort, Charles Dennison pointed out, engineering know-how is critical in overcoming the present world shortage of fertilizers. He selected the fertilizer problem as an example of the way that technology could increase crop yields and, at the same time, contribute to making developing countries self-sufficient. Building fertilizer plants in developing areas, he pointed out, would strengthen the local industrial infrastructure, create jobs, stimulate marketing and distribution chan- nels, and improve foreign trade balances. The presentations by Charles Cargille and Peter Cott are included as special advocacy positions on the subject. The array of issues explored at the seminar confirmed COPEP's expectation that systems engineering inputs are important in attacking the age-old problem of world hunger. COPEP, for its part, is prepared to apply the problem- solving capabilities of engineers to selected issues. Until June 30, l974, just l0 days before the seminar, COPEP was part of the National Academy of Engineering, and since then it is a constituent of the Assembly of Engineering, National Research Council. It is able, therefore, to call upon a community of distinguished engineers, as well as other concerned scientists and experts, to meet this critical challenge.
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On behalf of the Committee, I want to thank the speakers and guests at the seminar for their valuable contributions. COPEP staff, particularly Barry Barrington and Micah H. Naftalin, who organized the seminar, and Pushpa Nand Schwartz who prepared this document, are commended for their fine efforts.