Texas

The old proverb goes: Give a man a fish and you will feed him today. Teach a man to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.

That is the purpose behind the Southeast Asian Food and Agriculture Science and Technology (SEAFAST) Center in Bogor, Indonesia. Texas A&M University's Institute of Food Science and Engineering is helping establish that center, said Dr. Cliff Hoelscher, professor.

With the fourth-largest population in the world--238 million people--Indonesia is in need of the Texas agricultural commodities of cotton, wheat, poultry and dairy products, Hoelscher said.

And Texas' "agricultural program depends on export markets, because we have surplus commodities," he added.

Indonesia does not have a rapidly developing economy, which weakens trade opportunities, Hoelscher said.

"To feed that population for the foreseeable future--the next 100 years--they will need to import a lot of agricultural commodities," he said.

Rice is the staple of the Indonesian diet.

"They eat rice three times a day, and if they have anything else with it, it is a blessing," he said. "Protein, such as fish, chicken and dairy products, will add health (benefits) to their diets."

An Indonesian dairy industry is non-existent, he said. Soy isolates are used to make soy milk, but even those are imported.

Other imported products include pickles, coconut water--the clear to whitish fluid from a fresh coconut--and rice bran oil. "Indonesia could process these products for itself if it had the proper technology and knowledge to do so," Hoelscher said.

The country also has a lot of natural agricultural products such as tropical fruit that could be processed to add value to the food and extend shelf-life.

Indonesia just needs the proper equipment and expertise, he said, especially in the field of food science technology.

That's where the Institute of Food Science and Engineering comes in.

"We have the technology that can improve the quality and the safety of their food," Hoelscher said.

The SEAFAST Center will be a focal point to transfer cutting-edge technology to Indonesia.

More than $4.7 million in seed money was raised to establish the center from the October auction of about 2,500 metric tons of non-fat dried milk. The milk was acquired through a U.S. Department of Agriculture-Foreign Agricultural Service 416(b) grant. The 416(b) program donates surplus commodities to carry out assistance programs in developing countries, and Texas A&M is the first university to receive this type of grant, he said.

Hoelscher said the Southeast Asian Food and Agriculture Science and Technology Center project has four goals:

--Establish a distance education link between Texas A&M and the host university, the Institute Pertanian Bogor.

--Hire four faculty members and a co-director from Indonesia and train them in food science technology. They will in turn teach others, particularly students enrolled in food science courses at the university.

Students would receive training in technology, leadership and management through courses at the university and the distance education link with Texas A&M.

--Establish a manufacturing component of this center to produce food ingredients that are presently imported. This will help to earn money for the center and help it to be self-sustaining.

--Begin a feeding program for 200 pregnant women in Bogor and selected underprivileged students in the Bogor area.

Currently, 37 percent of the babies in Bogor are born underweight, Hoelscher said. That leads to poor initial development of mental and physical skills, and babies are more likely to have major medical problems or die.

The women in the program would be given a weekly food packet to supplement their rice diets by 450 calories daily.

"We think it will buy a lot of goodwill in the local community and solve a critical nutritional problem," he said.

A nine-member executive council of international business professionals and food scientists will lead the center, Hoelscher said. This group will begin meeting in February 2005 in Bogor.

Eventually, the plan is to expand the program to other Association of Southeast Asian Nations, including Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines.

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