K-State chosen for international nutrition grant
A Kansas State University research and development proposal to develop new, grain-based food products to improve nutrition and health in developing countries has been selected for funding.
The $3 million award to K-State is the largest of the six awards announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and it is the only one with a heavy focus on research and development among all awards in this global food security effort through the Micronutrient Fortified Food Aid Products Pilot initiative of USDA's Foreign Agriculture Service, said Sajid Alavi, principal investigator for the research project.
Alavi, who is an associate professor in K-State's Department of Grain Science and Industry in the College of Agriculture, said MFFAPP is part of the larger McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program administered by FAS.
The K-State project, "Novel Sorghum-based Fortified Blended Foods for Infants and Young Children," will focus on developing nutritionally-sound, fortified blended foods using combinations of corn and soy, sorghum and soy, and sorghum and cowpeas.
The new health-promoting food product will be produced using extrusion cooking technology, and, according to Alavi, the porridge-like food product can be reconstituted with two cups of boiling water anywhere in the world.
Agencies such as the World Food Program use fortified blended foods in their emergency and supplementary feeding programs, he said.
The new food will use previously unutilized grains such as sorghum, and will be fortified with health-promoting vitamins and minerals known to be lacking in the diets of food and nutrient deficient populations in developing countries, Alavi said.
In choosing sorghum as the carrier, he noted that the crop can grow in dry conditions, is not very susceptible to fungal infestation, offers wholesome nutrients, easily lends itself to the new product concept, and is grown in Kansas.
A large share of international food aid shipments are comprised of corn-based fortified mixes or a corn-soy blend, and the United States ships annually approximately 130,000 metric tons of this type of commodity to the developing world.
There is, however, a pressing need to diversify the basket of products available for food aid purposes, and, with this initiative, the K-State team will respond directly to the new Food Aid Quality Standards published by the Tufts University in partnership with U.S. Agency for International Development earlier this year, said Alavi, who explained that malnutrition affects an estimated 195 million children worldwide, and is the underlying cause of death of nearly three million children under five years of age. Children under the age of two are the most vulnerable, and without access to nutrient-dense foods necessary for growth and development, they will suffer debilitating lifelong consequences, he said.
The project is international, in that food product will be developed at K-State, and field tested in Tanzania, said Alavi, who explained that the field testing will serve as a pilot project in improving nutrition and health for children from birth to age 5 and their families.
"Nutrition is key to health, and essential for children and families if they are to climb out of poverty and optimize their ability to improve and sustain their society," Alavi said.
Alavi, whose expertise is in food science and process engineering, will collaborate on the project with nutrition, health and agricultural economics experts at K-State.
Nina Lilja, an agricultural economist and director of International Agricultural Programs at K-State, will research the economic viability and sustainability of the new product.
In speaking about the research opportunity, Lilja noted that USAID is re-defining their relationships with land-grant universities and increasing their investment in such partnerships
"This grant recognizes the global excellence of K-State in food processing and Kansas as the number one sorghum producer in the nation. Exploring new uses for sorghum may increase the demand for sorghum used in emergency and therapeutic foods and therefore potentially increase returns to producers in the U.S.," she said.
Edgar Chambers IV, professor and director of the Sensory Analysis Center in the College of Human Ecology at K-State¸ is an internationally sought expert in food quality, and is expected to ensure the new food aid product will be appealing, and, thus successful, Alavi said.
Brian Lindshield, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Nutrition, also in the College of Human Ecology at K-State, will evaluate the products' nutritional quality.
Lindshield noted: "We need to assure that the developed products will prevent nutritional deficiencies and malnutrition, yet also have acceptable sensory characteristics so that those who need them will consume them."
Sandy Procter, K-State Research and Extension nutrition specialist, and state coordinator for the USDA's Expanded Food and Nutrition Education and Family Nutrition Programs, is expected to weigh in on the development of the product and, also, to be instrumental in planning and implementation of field testing.
Each of the collaborators will fulfill a key role during the three-year grant effort, said Alavi, who noted that the newly funded-project already has ties to Kansas, in that former Senator Bob Dole joined former Senator (and Ambassador) George McGovern to push for funding, and, in 2009, were awarded the World Food Prize for their efforts.
In speaking about the research and development award, Gary Pierzynski, interim dean of the College of Agriculture and director of K-State Research and Extension, noted: "This project targets a critical need in addressing global food security, and combines the outstanding food science and food processing expertise at Kansas State University with our desire to have a positive impact on an international scale. We are very proud of the team that earned the award in a very competitive environment."