Remarks
Office of the Science and Technology Adviser
Dr. Curtis Weller
Washington, DC
June 22, 2012


Zachary Baquet:

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to today’s Ag Sector Council for June. My name is Zachary Baquet. I’m the Knowledge Management Specialist for the Bureau for Food Security and would like to welcome you to today’s seminar. We’re pretty happy to be doing this kind of jointly as the Jefferson Science Fellowship seminar series as well.

So today we’ll have Curtis Weller speaking today, who’s been a Jefferson Science Fellow with the Bureau for Food Security in the Office of Markets, Partnerships and Innovation for the past year or so. And I would just like to ask that, you know, you put your cellphones on vibrate or silent throughout the talk. Also, in addition, please hold your questions until the end. We’re also streaming this online live. I would like to welcome our online audience as well. And so, if you don’t have a mic, then those people in the online audience cannot hear what you’re saying, so please refrain until the end, when we’ll do the Q & A.

With that, I’d like to introduce Jerry O’Brien, who’s the Deputy Director of the Office of Science and Technology in USAID’s Bureau of Policy Planning and Learning and he'll be doing Curtis’s introduction. Thank you.

Jerry O’Brien:

Thank you. Well, good morning folks, it’s a pleasure to a -- for me to welcome you all here to this iteration of the Jefferson Science Fellow lecture, as well as the Ag Sector Council, obviously. I just wanted to give you a very brief background on the Jefferson Science Fellow program; although, from the look of the audience, I think probably most of you have a good idea of what this is about. This program was started in 2003 by the State Department as a model to engage the academic, science, technology, and engineering communities in the formulation of foreign policy and development for the government. And it brings senior faculty members from some of America’s finest universities to a state in aid for yearlong fellowships, during which they use their considerable experience to increase the understanding among policy officials of the complex, cutting edge scientific issues and their possible impacts on foreign policy and on development. And by bridging the science and policy worlds, they’re able to advice policymakers and Programs staff on available policy options for harnessing science and technology to address some of the most challenging development problems that we, as an agency, face.

This year the agency is extremely fortunate in that we have five Jefferson Science Fellows in residence this year. I think that’s a record for us anyhow. And so we’re delighted at these other agencies' reception for this program. Among these, of course, is Dr. Curtis Weller. Dr. Weller received his BS, MS, and PhD degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and he is a professor of food and bioprocess engineering and he holds appointments in the Departments of Biological Systems Engineering and the Department of Food Science Technology at Lincoln, NE. And as Zach, said he is working -- affiliated with the Office of Markets, Partnership and Innovation and the Bureau for Food Security, where he works on a range of issues and advises both the -- sort of the front office and Programs staff on a range of issues related to food processing, particularly related to post -- reducing post-harvest losses with a focus on countries in the horn of Africa. And he’s also playing a leadership role in the establishment of the Global Food Security Partnership with the World Bank, so a fairly broad portfolio and of significant value to the agency.

So with that, let me turn the mic back to Zachary and welcome Dr. Weller.

Curtis Weller:

Thank -- thank you, Jerry. It’s a pleasure to be here this morning. It’s always nice to have a well-filled room in that regard. So it’s my pleasure to talk a little bit this morning about cereals and Ag development, at least from the way I see it. Before I begin, though, a little bit of a disclaimer here is the fact that things that I say, they’re my remarks and in no way or manner, shape, or form do they necessarily reflect those of the United States government or even the University of Nebraska. And if I do make any reference to a trademark here, it’s really just for clarity’s sake and for the -- you know, from the standpoint of I’m really trying to be specific to give you an example, and it doesn’t necessarily represent a recommendation either by the government or the University of Nebraska.

I’d be remiss if I did not acknowledge those that have contributed to this program and also to my research program. Those that have really been a part of making my time here as a part of the Jefferson Science Program would really have to look at what’s going on over in the State Department within the Office for the Science and Technology Advisor, here within the bureau, within USAID, particularly the folks in the Markets, Partnerships and Innovation office, the national academies who’ve been a part, in conjunction with the State and USAID as far as organizing this, and then also specifically the University of Nebraska, which gave me permission to come and they’ve also extended an invitation to come back, and they’re paying me a little bit as I’m here.

My research support that I’ve had over time, you know, USDA Hatch Funds. I’ve also looked at -- and I forgot; I don’t even know the name of the group. It’s sorghum, millets, and other grains; I forgot my other grains in there. But otherwise known as the INTSORMIL Crisp. I’ve received support over that. The United Sorghum Checkoff Program and the Nebraska Sorghum Board. That’s just a few of those, but the more visible ones that have funded me over my career.

So where are we headed this morning? Well, in part what I’d like to do is to take a step back and say, what are the cereal grains grown around the world? Where did -- you know, where did they come from? Where did they come about? And what are some of their uses? I’d also like to touch a little bit upon some of the nutritional, the agronomic facts, you know, just touch briefly on that. And then we really -- my intent here is to throw out a little bit of evidence, things that I see out there and that I think would be useful as far as framing a debate upon, you know, where do cereals fit as far as in agricultural development projects.

Okay, so the first questions is what are they. Well, what is a cereal? Well, a cereal is a member of a grass family, and if we want to think about it, these grasses will have a number of different fruits, but each one of these fruits -- or if you want to think of them as, you know, the kernels, these kernels are really -- they have one seed -- one seed within that fruit. And there are characteristics as far as that seed coat being fused to the ovary wall. What is not included in cereals I’ve put up here are pulses like dried beans, you have different oilseeds like soy, rape, flax, sunflower, those are not cereals. And then there’s some pseudo-cereals that fall and can sometimes be considered cereals, but they are not. Amaranth, quinoa, and buckwheat are more common ones that ones are familiar with.

If we look at a cereal's -- you know, as far as they all have a common basic structure, there are really three main parts. One is the bran or the pericarp, the seed coat that’s on the outer portion of this kernel. It is not a hull. Sometimes people call this a hull; it is not. A hull has a definition or a different distinction as it relates to the cereals and I’m not going to get into that. The other two parts are the endosperm, which is really the starchy portion of that kernel, and that’s typically within -- you know, those starch granules are embedded within a protein matrix. And then you have the living portion, or this is, you know, from where life comes about from the seed and that’s in the germ. And that is rather nutritious and high in oils and other vitamins, minerals, and protein. If you kill the germ, you’ve killed the seed and you will not get any germination when the conditions are ripe to plant. Thinks it -- or the seed thinks it needs to start to germinate.

If we look at some of these common cereals that are out there -- I’ve listed six of them here -- you can see that endosperm is the vast majority, on -- this is on a dry weight basis. It’s around 80- 85, 90 percent of the dry weight is that endosperm. And then the germ and the pericarp, depending upon which, you know, which cereal you’re looking at, you’re still in this, what, 5 to 10 to 15 percent range. And it'll vary. Sometimes in the cereals, the germ’s bigger than the -- on a mass basis than what the pericarp is, and then other times it’s the reverse in that regard. One of my colleagues likes to talk about seeds as being it’s a baby with its lunch.

Okay, I’ve made a list here of some of the more common cereals that are out there. I’m not going to go through, but we have different types of cereals. The point I want to make is here within these cereal groups -- I mean within these various parts, you have different subgroups within each one of the different types of cereals. Then as you look down the list here, hopefully you see a few names that are familiar to you. But -- and there’s goods, bads, all kinds of differences as relates to these different cereals.

Okay, where did they come from? Well, I put a timeline up. I’ve got two timelines, actually. The lower one is the main timeline and we stretch back, what, 4 million years roughly in that regard. And this is -- I’ve kind of put this timeline up here to look at kind of, as cereals have come along, what’s happen in man’s diet, or in human diet, and what’s happened also as far as in the development of humans? To kind of draw those on a parallel track. And then my upper timeline is actually the more localized here probably within the last what, 40,000 years is really what this little piece is here. And I’ve kind of expanded that out.

So what’s happened as we’ve moved along here? Well, we can see that there’s been a little bit of a climate change that’s occurred here and then it’s ended in that period of time. But roughly about -- well, it was, what, about 2.5 million years ago, we were just starting to have climate change, moving into a glacial period, and that’s where our vegetarian ancestors, the Australopithecines, this is where Lucy fits in. She fits in here. They were largely vegetarian. And then, you know, as this climate change come about, we started moving into eating raw meat, okay? We had a transition as far as it relates to our ancestor line. The Habilines, you know, come along and they were doing fine eating raw meat, but then we started having, you know, another little climate event here and we started moving into the Homo species. And with that Homo species, there’s events that points that cooking started here at that period of time.

And so things were moving along through these different -- four different major glacial periods within here. We get to the point, and probably within the last, say, 14,000 years is where we really started the development of agriculture. And the three big cereals that we talk about, we can see that -- you know, wheat in the Fertile Crescent. We had rice in China, maize in Central America. Those starting come in probably anywhere from, what, 10,000 years ago to, you know, roughly 4,000 years ago, dependent upon whose category you want to believe.

So what we saw was we added meat into the diet. We had cooking that came along. And back in this period of time, we had probably 80 percent of the world’s population was involved in agriculture, some type of cultivation. Today, we’re down to about 40 percent in that regard. If we look at where their origins are, we can see -- I’ve kind of highlighted here with yellow stars where the major ones are, as far -- but then you can see that there’s some minor ones and they all surround the Sahara Desert in that -- in that area and you can see -- but that there have been others that have popped up in also some of these other major areas.

Okay, so if we look at some of the things that relate to this, the co-evolution of the body, the diet, and also the cereals, we say that, you know, these hunter-gatherers that came about after, you know, we moved into some of these glacial periods, about 50 percent of their energy intake was coming from different meat products. Cooking. When we started introducing cooking, we made more nutrients available. And then as we -- and this has further gone along with the development of agriculture. What we’re really looking at is we’ve packed in more energy, more nutrients into smaller, more compact, volumetrically, our food materials. And so this has allowed us to make more efficient use of our digestive system. You compare our digestive system -- we have a smaller colon -- than, say, what some of our -- the -- what would be the apes and chimpanzees in that regard. So there -- as we've changed parts of diets, we’ve also seen some body changes.

Okay, so let’s step back here, try and place cereals, you know, plants within the plant kingdom. You know, it’s been reported that we have around 350,000 different plant species that are out there. Almost 200,000 of these species are deemed economically important. We cultivate about 50 of those species. 17 species supply, what, 90 percent of our food or -- we can depend upon that. And they cover about 75 percent of the tillable earth, or the earth that we till. Of this, cereals supply about 50 percent of the dietary energy and about 50 percent of the dietary protein. And I forgot to put on down here one more bullet, and that bullet was basically about 3/4 to 80 percent of this cereal supply comes from three grains. Okay? Maize, rice, and wheat, and I also forgot my reference here in that regard.

So what do we eat? If we look at what we eat, we could eat it raw, we could eat it refined, or we can eat it from the standpoint of cooked, in that regard. Nowhere on Earth will you really eat raw cereals, so we’re to the refined parts and we’re to the cooked parts. If we look at the refined, this is where we’ve taken, in kind of a processing step, be it either sophisticated or be it rather simple, we’ve gotten different components. We’ve separated it out, and maybe we use one part, maybe we combine some back, or we can be -- do cooked, the involved cooking. The cooking can -- we either look at the whole grain or can look at some of these subsets or can be a part of some other food. It can be ingredient in something else, but typically it’s gone through some further processing, some further cooking in that regard.

Here, I have examples of some over on the right side, you can see rather sophisticated equipment that’s involved in flour milling. Over here, the ladies are involved in actually decorticating, removing the outer seed coat off of some grains, more traditional methods, and then actually using some stones to grind -- well, in this case, it was sorghum. Methods of processing, I’ve got a list here, okay? I’m not going to read that list, but hopefully as you scan down that, you’ll see some that are familiar. They come up with some different products. I’ve tried to list some different products that are associated with this. But if I wanted to categorize these, I’d put them in the category of these are chemical methods. They could be physical methods. They could biological methods. Or a combination of those various methods. In terms of taking these different cereals and some kind of a processing before it’s actually consumed in that regard. There’s some good points and some bad points about these various steps.

What I like to do is when I go to a grocery store, one of the things that I find most interesting is to go over to the section that’s got Bob’s flour products, you know? And to me, that -- how much -- how big that display is kind of, to me, sets the stage for who are the type of consumers that come here to shop. If it’s a small section, you know that it’s, you know, maybe those that aren’t so concerned about what they eat. If it’s a fairly large -- well, you can see a whole array of some of these different cereal products and also some of the pseudo-cereals and also some of the oilseeds. But this, to me, I find one of the more -- that’s -- I’m kind of quirky anyway so --

[laughter]

Okay, well, what good are they? Well, if nothing else, we can turn to the USDA and look at My Plate or your plate, okay? If we take a look at what the -- you know, is out there in My Plate, we can see that there’s, what, five categories and the grains roughly fall into one of those, so you want to say anywhere -- and it’s a little bit larger than others. So it’s got to be in that range of about 20 to 25 percent of your diet is supposed to be in this grains category. And the grains, to me, means largely cereal.

So if I look at that -- then I take that down they say, well, the average American is, what, 49 years old or is within that range, and we’re going to be interested in females because USAID is interested in mother and the children, okay? So we’ll pick a female and we’ll say that this female is moderately active. Nobody wants to be sedentary and nobody wants to be extremely active, so we’ll pick her. And she’s going to be walking about 2 1/2 to five kilometers a day, and that’s about five to 6 1/2 kilometers per hour, and so she’s going to be weighing about 50 kilograms, so she needs to take in about 2,000 kilocalories or big C calories per day. Right? And if that’s the case, well, then this is her diet over here that’s recommended by the USDA and you can see here within my circle, there’s about 170 grams of grain. Of that grain, and there’s whole grains and refined grains, whole grains should be 85 grams and above, refined grains should be no more than 85 grams, okay? So it’s about half and half, or you know less of the refined, okay? So that’s for this moderately active female of about 49 years of age weighing 50 kilograms. Okay.

So what we actually see out there in the world? Well, I’ve picked seven countries. Five in Africa, the U.S., and then the Swedes, kind of going back to some of my Scandinavian heritage here. Okay, what do we see? That we see, well, the Swedes and the folks in the U.S. and also those in Ghana are within their range here. They consume -- their share of their daily consumption is about that 25, 30 percent range. The folks over in Zambia and Ethiopia, about 2/3 of their diet is related with grains, okay? And then the Tanzanians and the Kenyans are somewhere in between in that range. And this is what? I’ve taken data and I’ve looked at three-year blocks going back about 20 years.

Okay, this is not an eye test. What I want to do is I want to be able to just visualize what’s going on here. I have nutrients here. I have different grain -- I mean, different cereals across the top, the different cereals. Here I have maize, rice, and wheat. The darker the colors, the more brown it is, the more orange it is, the higher the concentration is of a particular nutrient. If I have something -- and I’ve based all these on 130 grams of carbohydrates in those cereals per day. So that’s an equal amount. If I ingest, with these different grains, at 130 grams a day, how close am I coming to meeting my recommended dietary allowance for these various nutrients? If it’s dark brown, I’ve met or exceeded it with that particular grain. My point here is, where do I see the most of the darker colors? Is it in the three main grains, or is it in the grains that are what we term minor? I think, hopefully, you see that within my circled in area we see that those grains have higher contents or allow us to get some of these other nutrients, where we may not meet them with the other grains.

Okay, so we -- let’s look at some other things in comparison. If we look at some of those grains that are within that circle that I just showed you on the previous slide. If we look at barley, barley has got the broadest or the widest use around the world, in terms of the climates that it’s in, the condition that it’s in, the elevations that it’s grown at. Rye has some higher tolerances to various conditions in comparison to some of the other grains. And it, you know, has the best overwintering ability. Plant it in the fall. Let it winter over. Sorghum, the various millets, and tef are relatively more drought resistant and heat resistant than either maize or rice. And especially in this category are the pearl millets in terms of being some of the heartiest. And fonio can produce a crop in six to eight weeks.

If we -- you know, as far as consumption, gluten, or gluten intolerance, the celiacs, they’re concerned about whether the cereals have gluten. Well, the vast majority do not, but those that do have gluten are wheats, barley, rye, triticale, and there’s still some scientific debate on whether oats fall in this category or not. Okay, that’s not quite clear. Barley and finger millet are first and second, respectively, in terms of their diastatic power. And this is their ability to produce starch-degrading enzymes during germination. And supposedly fonio is the best tasting of all the various cereals that are out there.

Okay, issues. Are there some issues associated with this? Well, to this group, you know, I think you’re all pretty familiar with something like this, where we talk about where the hungriest parts of the world are. We look at those, sub-Saharan Africa, Southern Asia, in that regard, you know, the redder it is, the hungrier they are in the regard. You know, and so, therefore, it fits with this data here that we have. Sub-Saharan Africa, the less that they take in in terms of energy is the redder they are. And you can see that most of the redness, orangeness, is in sub-Saharan African. Population density. Where’s the greatest density? Where's the greenest color, where we have the most density, the most people? Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, okay? We’re not learning anything new here, but this is just covering ground in that regard.

What do we see coming down if we’re looking at what’s going to happen out here in 2050? The fertilizer folks are looking at, and they’re projecting the fact that actually we’re going to have more people living in urban areas, more people living in cities. And that’s particularly in the developing world. What does that mean? What does that mean in terms of infrastructure? What does that mean in terms of transportation? What does that mean in terms of processing? What does that mean in terms of distribution systems?

Okay, I made the point earlier about the three main crops. Here’s data that goes back to 1960. This is the production of these different cereals. The three -- you probably can’t read it, but these three lines up here are the amount of wheat that’s being -- been produced since the 1960, the amount of corn that’s been produced, or maize, that’s been produced since 1960s, and the amount of rice that's been -- those have been trending up. What about the rest of the cereals in the world? Other than barley giving a half attempt to try and increase, all the rest are pretty flat lined in comparison. Okay? Barley started to increase but then, I guess, what, people quit drinking beer? So it’s kind of leveled off here, okay? But barley goes for more than just beer.

Okay, so, what if we were to look now at countries? We’ll go back to my seven countries and we’ll look at how much in country, you know, of their grain production is used in food. And if we look at that, what we see is the fact that the U.S. and Sweden, a small amount of what they produce goes into the food supply, industrial uses, export. They take other parts. The Tanzanians are pretty close to being self-sufficient, using everything they produce. The other countries in Africa, their values are greater than 100 percent, so they’re having to import grains from other parts of the world in order to meet their demands as it relates to foods. Okay.

Now, then, let’s look somewhat at the consumers of this and different things. Some of the health implications or some of the parameters that are used in there. Body mass index, which is really a ratio. It’s a ratio of the body mass over the body height, squared. Okay? So you end up with units of kilograms per meters squared. All right? So if you look at that, and the redder it is, the higher your value, body mass index. Once you get over a body mass index of 30, you’re classified as obese. So what we see -- and this is my female here, my 20-plus female. We’re looking at that data. You know, you can see that sub-Saharan Africa, the females there are probably down, body mass index in the range of around 22. Okay?

Now, then, this is women. If I throw the men into the mix, and this is for both sexes, this just proves why men need to get up off the couch, quit watching those football games, okay, and get to doing something. What we can see is if I look at both sexes here, the obesity rates particularly which, you know, relate to the body mass index do go up, but still sub-Saharan Africa. So we see the prevalence of obesity. And for those of us that have listened to the news and commentaries, that’s no strange. Well, how does that relate to the consumption of grains? Is there any -- well, if we look, we see that, roughly, the average person is consuming somewhere in the range of about 200 to 400 grams per day of different cereal products in different forms, different ways. Those in Ghana are at kind of the bottom end and those in Zambia are kind of at the top end. And everybody else kind of falls in between in terms of the amount of grain products that they eat per day.

If we go back to this, so we look back to looking at the females and we look at the trends, and this is from 1980, so it’d be roughly the last 30 years, what is happening to body mass indexes or indices for females and what do we see? For the most part, they’re all trending up except for the Swedes; they’re kind of holding pretty steady there as far as -- but the U.S. has gone up and most of the other African countries have also gone up to some degree over the last 30 years.

What about the consumption? If we compare consumption, the calorie intake or kilocalorie intake per individual, what we see is the U.S. leads the pack over here, about 3,500 kilocalories per day, and this is based upon the data over this, you know, 20-year period. And we can see, down at the bottom end, we have the Ethiopians are, you know, but they’ve also started to increase, but they’re probably a fair number of these African countries are more in the 2,000. In the Ghanan -- the folks from Ghana, they’re actually -- they’ve increased their dietary intake with energy. Okay.

Where does this come in? The U.S. has a lot consumed. Well, if we look and make a comparison to the typical American diet, what we see is whole grains, only about -- and that’s what this is here -- only about 15 percent of the recommended whole grains that we talked about earlier is consumed by the average American, while the refined grains, we’re probably consuming about 200 percent of the refined grains that we’re supposed to. And in here, closely associated with the cereal product’s fiber content and what we can see is our fiber intake is only about 40 percent of the recommended. Where do these calories show up? Well, cereal products are part of it. That’s what’s over there in that 44 percent. 43 percent is fats and oils. And your sweeteners, which, you know, kind of get hammered in the press, only about 9 percent in this regard. Okay? So it’s probably a bunch of things, not maybe specifically one thing. It’s just an over consumption of calories.

All right, so how does this relate to some of the different other indicators that we have. Well, if we look at cholesterol, cereal and cholesterol, blood cholesterol, we’re going to look at our females in our group where we’ve kind of been looking before. The redder it is, the higher the blood cholesterol and that's probably the bad cholesterol. And what do we see? We see that sub-Saharan Africa here has fairly low. And we look at the different types of relationships as relates to cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. What we see, though, even though maybe we have high cholesterol, we have lower deaths here in the U.S. and we have higher cardiovascular and diabetes-related deaths in sub-Saharan Africa where actually the blood cholesterol’s lower.

Well, let’s look at that a little bit -- little bit more facts here. Sixty -- you know, these cardiovascular and these diabetes-related, they’re called these non-communicable diseases, they fall in this category here. Sixty percent of the deaths nationwide are some of these different degrees -- diseases. And if we put -- the vast majority of them are related to cardiovascular, CVDs, diabetes is in here a little bit, and the research has shown that the low intake of dietary fibers, which we saw with the U.S., and the high intake of high-calorie foods contribute to some of these various things.

What’s my point here? Well, I’m going to get to that, but first I want to talk also about some of the other things that are starting to show up here and that relates to mycotoxins. These can be from aflatoxin, they can be fumonisins, but there have been a number of reports more recently come out here and it relates to maize. Maize, as far as what the -- it’s tendencies for aflatoxin compared to some of the other cereals and our colleagues in the Peanut CRSP have also recently put out information about what it does to the immunity system, this chronic exposure to different mycotoxins. Okay? And that’s particularly of concern as it relates to the maize that’s out there in the world.

So what do we have? Some of my messages here or what I’ve condensed this down -- cereals only do not provide enough nutrients and energy, okay? We’ve got to have other things in the diet. But if you have a diet that’s very highly depending upon these cereals where you get above the 20, 25 percent range, then you have a greater risk of other deficiencies. We know that in some of these African countries right now, the production of these African-based cereals is not -- is not going up. There’s a shortage of food there and what we see is that there’s going to be these needs that are going to be coming as it relates to satisfying urban populations, increasing in these developing countries. And then what we have are these high death rates due to non-communicable diseases, the BMI values, these body -- you know, they’re trending up. They haven’t reach where they are, particularly in the U.S. This to me is a little bit of concern. It’s going to require some monitoring as we look ahead because what is the ratio of refined versus cooked or this whole cereals, what is that consumption as it relates to obesity and elevated cholesterol levels? You know, that needs to be aware of. And if we have a high dependence on maize or other cereals, and depending upon our post-harvest technologies or what’s going on during a production practice, we could be having some chronic exposures to different mycotoxins.

Not all bad news. There are some good news. What’s coming on the horizon here? If we start to look at -- there’s interest in these antioxidants, the phytochemicals, some of these various things. They have some cancer inhibiting properties as far as related to cancer cell growth. Starch digestion is an area of research that’s going on out there. There’s also been talk about some different phytosterol-type compounds, bioactive compounds, and beta-glucans that are in some of these. We’re trying to understand -- and there’s also, you know, you’ll see information about heart healthy oats or heart healthy barley in that regard. That kind of falls in this category.

Then there’s also people that are becoming more familiar and trying to do research as it relates to starch. What we find is starch is not starch is not starch. There’s different kinds of starches out there in the world. What we can have if we want to, you know, quickly separate those in different categories, we can have rapidly digestible starch, we can have slowly digestible starch, and resistant starch. And they’re all going to, at different points, be broken down or even consumed or used within our gastrointestinal track. But what we see is that the most resistant is the starches that are more like fiber. We can have those type of starches within our particular products. We can affect what our blood glucose, the glycemic index, as it relates to that. We can actually, then, maybe have some real influence. This is a real hot topic area as far as trying to understand what the microflora is, you know, how those -- that interplay with what you eat in the diet as it relates to which type of different bacteria more inhabit the gut and which ones are better for you and which ones are not. Some of this relates to fullness of feeling and then gas. Not all gas is bad, okay? There -- you know, there’s probably reason for you to have some gas and -- but how much is enough and how much is too much? That information.

So in the future, where does this all go? My contention is that relationships are only beginning to be revealed as it relates to what you have in your diet, the gut microflora that you have, how this affects metabolism, and then ultimately how that affects your health. Okay? And so, therefore, it’s my contention that it probably would be something wise to consider in some future development projects as it relates to cereals and these cereals in different value chains, and even, for that matter, in breeding programs, that you need to pay attention to some of the long term health implications of the various cereals or -- that you’re looking at or advocating. And they can be part of the rationale or justification for including them in there, but also, have those in addition to just plain old agronomic factors such as yield and heartiness, lodging, so forth, and so on.

So where have we been? Hopefully I gave you a little snapshot here as it relates to some of the cereals around the world, where they came from or how they came about, some of their uses. Just touched upon some of the different factors from a nutrition and an agronomic standpoint. And then I’ve tried to put some things in context at least to, you know, things that can be used in the debates. Some evidence that can be used in debate as it relates to the development.

So, with that, I’ve enjoyed different aspects of my Jefferson Science Program, getting to know people and collaborate with them has been one great thing. And I’ll throw it open for questions from that standpoint.

[applause]

Zachary Baquet:

Thank you, Dr. Weller. We’ll now open it for Q&A. Just as a little bit of ground rule, when you ask a question, please state your name and organization before asking a question and we’re going to try to alternate between the online audience, who I invite to ask questions via the chat window, and our in-person audience. And so, with that, I open the floor to questions. Question?

Max Rothschild:

Max Rothschild, USAID. Curt, really interesting talk. You concentrated on humans as the consumers of these grains and these cereals. Have you given some thought to the fact that we probably need to think about cereals being used by both humans and livestock and how that -- those interactions may be difficult to obtain the preferred situation in both cases?

Curtis Weller:

Have I given thought to that?

[laughter]

Yes, I’ve given thought to it, but Zachary would only allow me 35 minutes to talk, so.

[laughter]

No, I think what you’re alluding to Max is -- well, if anybody’s been listening to NPR this week, they’ve been talking about meat in the diet, okay, and, you know, pros and cons and relative to that, you know, and so that’s a whole raging debate and I consciously did not bring that up as a part of that because, you know, one, I just wanted to focus more on the human side of it. If I touch upon -- but, see, the -- and, you know, there’s a number of different aspects I could look at as far as livestock feeding versus human feeding. Some of the -- in some respects, the nutrition, the understanding of nutrition, cereal consumption as relates for feeding livestock or animals, is far in advance some of that understanding of what you have, relationships between, say, cereals and human, you know, the health aspects.

But at the same time, typically in -- you know, for animals, what you’ve done is tried to have the least amount of feed for the greatest amount of game so, therefore, you want to try and put -- pack as much energy in to get as much conversion, you know, to lower, you know, to get your higher conversion rate so -- but for humans, some of the things that we want -- that we consider bad, or lower that conversion rate, would probably be a good thing for humans to have into their diets. Big classic example: tannins. Tannins and sorghum. People have said, well, for feeding animals, tannins are bad because it slows down starch digestion or energy uptake. Well, gee, would that be a good thing or a bad thing for humans? It might actually be a good thing. So, therefore, if we’re trying to base some of the feeding requirements or recommendations for humans upon what we know from animal studies, it’s almost we should go counter to what we’re doing in that regard. Is that -- so that -- yeah. No, I’ve thought about it, but...

James Lindgren:

Hi, I’m James Lindgren from the USDA. You talked a little bit about the resiliency or the, like, flexibility of certain crops, like, in different time scales, different conditions, cold, overwintering issues. Could you talk or comment on any thoughts that you’ve had about how cereal production or cereal consumption will be impacted, especially in, like, sub -Saharan Africa, with climate change?

Curtis Weller:

Yes, it will. I’m not a crops specialist -- I’m more of a processing -- you know, you give it to me and I’ll process it. All I can say is, from my standpoint, are we overlooking some of the African-based crops from the standpoint of where they are in the world, you know, some of the things that, you know, that they have seen over a period of time? What are the dollars that are being invested in research -- if we compare the dollars invested in the big three versus the dollars that are invested in research versus the rest, to me -- I haven’t seen numbers. I’d like to be able to get them. I don’t know if I could. But, you know, what’s the difference in dollars invested and how does that translate to some of the things that you’ve seen here? To me, you know, it’s a no brainer -- you know, I know for France, there’s a big research program that’s just recently got started in France where they’re looking specifically at some of the cereals in Africa, as far as to try and maybe flush out some of these things as it relates to climate change, some of the nutrients that are available. Not a lot of time and effort has been spent, you know, or there’s just been small programs that have just continued on as it relates to some of these other grains -- you know --

Rye, at one time 40 percent of the bread in Europe used to be made from rye. Well, it’s a small percentage now. What was that change? Was part of it climate? Was part of it just changes in dietary habits? Was maybe more effort put into wheat research versus rye research? I don’t necessarily have an answer for that but, you know, those are some of the things that I see out there.

Zachary Baquet:

We have a question from online.

Female Speaker:

I have two quick questions here. First, Carol O'Neill, RHM International, is was wondering if you know why obesity rates are particularly high in Egypt. And Blanca Gonzalez from World Relief asked, "From your presentation, it seems that you think it’d be better to grow more cereals than needed for a particular reason. Is that right, and if yes, why?

Curtis Weller:

As far as why -- was it obesity or the BMIs in Egypt? I have no idea. That stuck out and I never really tried to track down and understand that. As far as whether I would promote growing native things in certain -- well, I think, to some degree in different parts of Africa, subsistence farmers, to some degree, already do that. If we’re trying to maybe ramp up, if you’re trying to look at things that would be beyond subsistence, where you have more than -- you know, if we’re going to be moving to more of an urban population, you’re going to need more than just subsistence, you know. Somebody's going to have to produce at a larger, closer to commercial, scale. So therefore, if you’re going to have those natives more native then that would, you know, would potentially be it. I guess, in my way of thinking, we don’t necessarily know enough about some of these others. I don’t think we’ve necessarily tapped into the potential to fully understand that.

Zachary Baquet:

Other questions from in the room?

Norma Allewell:

Norma Allewell, Bureau of East Asia and the Pacific, the State Department. Thanks for a great talk; it brought together so many different, interesting topics. So I actually have many questions so -- and I’ve been sitting here trying to think which two to ask. So one of the things I wondered about was if there were trends in the United States in terms of what we’re growing towards healthier grains. And then, secondly, I had the thought that with global climate change -- global climate change, it's -- there’s the opportunity to -- perhaps to shift to the grains that are grown in other parts of the world that are hotter and dryer, that are, in fact, more healthier. I’m wondering how conscious the big grain corporations are in terms of what’s good for us and what the opportunities are?

Curtis Weller:

The -- as far as trends within the United States relative to -- I know that I have not seen numbers, so I can’t really tell you for sure, Norma. I know that there are pockets within the United States where different grains are grown, more specialty type grains, and those -- so those are more trying to meet niche markets. You know, look at Bob’s Red Mill, you know, I would anticipate a fair amount of that is actually being sourced -- of his products are being sourced out of the U.S., different parts of the U.S..

Norma Allewell:

It was my impression that it is a niche. It is niche and that’s perhaps not a strong enough response.

Curtis Weller:

But I think part --

Norma Allewell:

We're just nibbling at what’s plausible, so to speak.

Curtis Weller:

Well, its niche, but I would assume that it’s gotten bigger, you know, in terms of you look at -- you know, Bob is just one example. There are other ones out there in terms of some of these different grains. I know that some large processing companies, if you look at, like, well, I can give -- name names, but I know, like, three different, say, traditional flour milling companies have gotten into other specialty grains.

So, yeah, there -- you know, there’s a recognition. There’s a consciousness with some of these processing companies that there are some potential for these. And they’re trying to advocate those because there is -- you know, there’s -- and I didn’t include it in this presentation but, you know, there’s -- there were a couple of different whole grains type of -- you know, there’s a whole grains councilman in the U.S., there’s a Grains for Health Foundation that’s based out of Minnesota, Europe has got something; I think it’s called Grains for Health. But these are kind of foundations and these are groups that are looking at this whole grains -- and, you know, I would invite you maybe to go look at some of their websites for different information because they will begin to maybe address that.

The second, as far as, you know, the -- and I assume you’re talking about some of the larger breeding companies of the world as it relates to -- if there are representatives from those folks in the room, I would love them to answer that question because I don’t feel I’m in any position to answer that.

Zachary Baquet:

We have a question from online.

Female Speaker:

Let’s see. Elsa Culler from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers asks, "What kind of cultural barriers in developing countries are there to increasing consumption of currently minor grains?"

Curtis Weller:

Well, to -- I -- you know, to some extent, these minor grains are in some of these developing countries. So, culturally, I don’t know if necessarily it would be that huge of a jump. But I think some of that gets into policy issues in terms of what crops have been subsidized for different inputs. There are some policy decisions that would have -- it’s probably more decisions that are being made on the policy aspect, you know, either from a regional or from a country versus maybe cultural type things in these various countries.

Female Speaker:

Thank you again for a great lecture and a very informative one. Yes, I noticed from a couple of the slides you presented that some grains are a lot more nutritious. And that included, like, millet, barley, sorghum. They are also more resilient to climate change. They are more resilient to drought and things like that. And you also mentioned that those were primarily consumed in Africa. And you indicated that the body mass index of the Africans, sub-Saharan Africans, was also very good to excellent. You indicated that the cholesterol level also was very good compared to ours here. You indicated, by contrast, that we consume more maize in this country, and also mentioned that maize consumption in Africa is on the increase.

So that seemed to me to be that sub-Saharan Africans are going in the wrong direction. They are not increasing output of their nutritious grains that would keep them healthy and they are about increasing intake of maize. Is that because it’s difficult to improve the yield from sorghum, barley, and these other grains or process them or is it because they just think that maize is better? Is it wrong education or why do you think so?

Curtis Weller:

Thank you for making that observation. Part of the reason, you know, I feel that maybe we’re in this situation we’re in is because the amount of money that has gone into research and development related to the major -- three major ones versus these minor grains, that’s one aspect. But then if -- you know, and this is where I kind of put my engineer’s hat on, and I say, well, if you’re a person that’s processing something and you’re a person that’s looking at storing something and you’re a person that’s looking at -- just relates to just somewhat to working with the material, the cereal that has the larger kernels, or that, you know -- and corn, or maize, has the larger kernels. Historically, it’s been larger. So it’s easier to handle from a handling and management standpoint, and I think probably that has started, you know, started the rock down the hill. And so it’s just kind of kept rolling.

And, you know, and this is Curt Weller’s view of that, you know. And that’s one thing that’s gotten this rock rolling. But is it at some point in the time that maybe we, you know, we step back and say, okay, should we really maybe stop this rock or put something in the way of this rock to kind of slow it down and maybe put some of our resources in some of these other things. And, to me, that is a debate that I would hope that we, as a, you know, society, would engage in.

Zachary Baquet:

We have a question from the online audience.

Female Speaker:

This is another question from Blanca Gonzalez from World Relief. And she was interested in the slide you shared on methods of processing and asks, "In terms of processing, are there certain methods that can enhance the healthiness of a cereal, especially processes that can be done on a small scale, even at home?"

Curtis Weller:

Sure. You know, the example of -- you know, I had up here nixtamalization. That’s where, you know, you take maize -- historically, maize has been taken, it’s been cooked in a lime solution, a chemical treatment. Cooking in that lime allows some of the amino acids to be more readily available, okay, so that makes it more nutritious. Other methods beyond that at this point in time? There are some things that I think you could look at as far as fermentations, which are more or less biological, in that regard, that do make some of these products. You can do those at home.

Do I have the magic bullet or the magic solution for, you know, a particular process that should be used at home that’s going to, you know, what, maybe increase income or, you know, really be the next greatest thing since sliced bread? No, I don’t necessarily have that in that regard and...

Zachary Baquet:

We have time for one more question.

Kathleen Curs:

Kathleen Curs, nutritionist at DEI Development Alternatives. I had two -- well, first, I really appreciate the talk. It was a great overview, but it also, I think, signals that we’re finally going towards where we can talk about agriculture and the nutrition and how we can make one work for the other because health and agriculture have been so separate that I think it hasn’t done us much good on the under-nutrition ends, now the over-nutrition side.

The folks at NIH -- this is on the American obesity issue -- will say you can break down the different foods, but basically, we eat too much. We eat too many calories. And so I wonder if you had a comment about the whole cereal consumption. Could that prevent obesity? So eating the same amount, if we change the quantity, could it reduce obesity or do we just really just have to reduce the overall amount of calories we take in?

And then the other one is more a comment on the -- on the grains. I think when we list the characteristics, I think maybe if we could also list the amount of labor it takes at all the stages, labor to cook it, labor to grow it, labor to -- you mentioned the storage a little bit. Because I just think some are much quicker cooking and so then that raises the demand -- the demand for it, in addition to all the factors that you mentioned, including the research and the real preference for the big three.

Curtis Weller:

Comment -- your two comments, the last one, that’s interesting. You know, I’ll have to think about that one a little bit more, about, you know, labor involved and, to me, that’s -- boy there’s a lot of intangibles in that and so, therefore, you’d have to be making a fair number of assumptions as one begins to look, as far as some of those inputs and particularly has time.

As far as the -- you know, this is probably more personal philosophy is eat a lot of things, but don’t eat a whole lot of a lot of things, you know, so, you know, diversify your diet and keep your levels low. You know, if we talk about what the USDA recommended there for that 49-year-old female, 2000 kilocalories per day. And we’re showing the average American over 3000. You know, that’s a 50 percent increase over what they really need. You know, I don’t think it takes rocket science to figure out that we’re eating far too much. Whether that’s specifically any one thing, you know, it probably gets down more to subgroups within the population as far as whether it’s more refined cereals, whether it’s maybe meat products, whether it’s more dairy products, or whatever in that regard.

Zachary Baquet:

Well, with that, I’d like to -- everyone to thank Dr. Weller for a great presentation.

[applause]