A Needs Assessment for the Introduction of a Food Science Program at The Univ. of Guyana

Authors


Abstract

Abstract:  This research describes the outcome of a needs assessment to determine whether the Univ. of Guyana should introduce a Food Science program. The research design utilized interviews and questionnaires to large manufacturing organizations and agroprocessors to determine if the required skills are available for the manufacturing process. Results revealed that the lack of skills, particularly in food processing, is one factor that has negatively impacted value-added production in large manufacturing companies; as well as in the micro, small and medium enterprises, limiting the range of products produced by these entities. Based on this, it was established that the university should introduce a program in food science and be the focus for formal training to satisfy the demands of the food manufacturing industry.

Introduction

The Univ. of Guyana is the only premier tertiary institution in Guyana and is continuously revising its programs to meet the needs of the Guyanese society. One of the important areas that it should examine is the introduction of a Food Science Program.

Guyana is traditionally an agriculturally based economy where the major contributors to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) revolved around the production of sugar and rice. However, challenges to those industries, growing domestic demand and requirements for international trade have propelled the Government of Guyana to diversify agriculture by encouraging farmers to increase production of fruit and vegetable crops. The governmental agency, Ministry of Agriculture, which implements and monitors policies pertaining to agriculture has been the driving force behind this strategy. The Government of Guyana is also receiving support from international agencies for its diversification program. An ongoing Rural Enterprise Agricultural Development (READ) project managed by the Ministry is being financed by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Among the aims of the project is to increase the capacity of rural producers to efficiently and effectively produce and market nontraditional products and develop small-scale enterprises. In addition, support agencies such as the Guyana Marketing Corporation (GMC) provide market facilitation services to the private sector for export of nontraditional produce. However, the increased production has not been absorbed by local and export markets and there is an apparent seasonal oversupply of some produce followed by scarcity.

The food processing industry in Guyana is relatively unsophisticated with few large food manufacturing companies and a relatively small cottage industry. Hence, the focus is largely on primary production although there is recognition of the need to have skills in secondary and tertiary processing. The Government of Guyana (2000) in outlining its policy for agriculture in Guyana's National Development Strategy in agriculture for 2001 to 2010 pointed out that among the reasons for wastage of agricultural produce is the deficiency of skills in postharvest techniques and agroprocessing.

In Guyana, training in agriculture and food production is conducted mainly at 2 institutions, the Univ. of Guyana and the Guyana School of Agriculture. At the Univ. of Guyana, courses in the Faculty of Natural Sciences revolve around the pure sciences, which include 2 courses in Food Chemistry. In the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, the courses can be regarded as production oriented. Although there is no food science course per se, some aspects of food sciences are taught in a number of courses. The Guyana School of Agriculture provides postsecondary training in agriculture. It offers a 2-y Certificate Program with a practical bias and a Diploma Program, which is a subprofessional program also conducted for 2 y. The curriculum of the Guyana School of Agriculture has 1 course each in Food Science and Food Processing. These courses include aspects of food safety, food preservation techniques, packaging of foods, and government regulations regarding food manufacturing standards. Emphasis is on practical skills in the food processing course.

The Univ. of Guyana can be an important institution in the supply of skills for the food manufacturing industry. However, it would be necessary to conduct a needs assessment to provide the empirical data to identify the gaps in the industry. Kaufmann and English (1979) describe a needs assessment as a formal process which determines the gaps between current outputs or outcomes and required or desired outcomes or outputs.

A number of studies have demonstrated the successful use of needs assessment to identify gaps in curricula. The target groups were university alumni (Norton and Eastmond 1981); employers of graduates (Torheim and others 2009); and employees (Napoleon and others 2006).

This study therefore addresses the subject of the establishment of a Food Science program at the Univ. of Guyana. In doing so, it is intended to determine the current skills available and required in food science and technology by stakeholders that will guide the procedural development of the program.

The strategic research objective was to determine if offering a B.S in Food Science and Technology at the Univ. of Guyana can lead to increase in value-added production in Guyana while the specific research objective was to assess whether the limited skills available in food science and technology have hampered value-added production in Guyana.

Materials and Methods

The study was conducted from June 2010 to February 2011 mainly in the coastal areas of Guyana. Sociohistorically linked to the Caribbean, it is the only English-speaking country in South America. It is located on the north eastern shoulder of South America and has an area of 215083 km2 with a population of approximately 766000 (Guyana Bureau of Statistics 2011). Guyana is traditionally an agriculturally based economy focusing on primary production. The current economy dictates that there should be more emphasis on value-added production. There are manufacturers operating at different levels and for this study they were divided into (i) large companies and (ii) micro, small, and medium enterprises.

Large companies

Study population

The sample population comprised 3 companies. The researcher requested and received the company profile for each of the companies.

Measurement instrument

A questionnaire was developed which consisted of 2 sections. Section (i) requested information on the number of graduates of the Univ. of Guyana employed at each organization over the last 5 y and the levels at which they operate in the organization; Section (ii) sought to determine the competencies in food science required by the organization. The competencies are those recommended by the Inst. of Food Technologists (IFT) for inclusion in a food science undergraduate program (Institute of Food Technologists 2005). Organizations were requested to indicate whether those identified competencies were (a) required and available, (b) required but unavailable or (c) not applicable.

The 5 main categories of the IFT standard are food chemistry and analysis; food safety and microbiology; food processing and engineering; applied food science; and success skills. Content validity was determined by having discussions with a member of senior management of one organization to decide on the relevance and clarity of questions. Recommendations were considered and appropriate changes were made where necessary.

On the advice of management of the companies, the measurement instrument was hand-delivered to the Human Resources Officer of each company who completed section (i) and then gave it to the company's most senior and qualified technical functionary, responsible for the day-to-day operations of the manufacturing plant to fill section (ii). Follow-up telephone calls were made to provide any clarification or details and to make arrangements for collecting the completed questionnaire.

At the Univ. of Guyana, the Lecturer in Food Sciences in the Faculty of Natural Sciences and the Lecturers in Microbiology in the Faculties of Natural Sciences and Agriculture and Forestry were provided with the IFT list of core competences and asked to indicate those aspects that are delivered in their respective courses.

Analysis of data

Information gathered on the number of graduates employed over the last 5 y was calculated as percentage and presented as a chart. For section (ii), the responses to the core competencies were summarized for each of the 3 companies. Responses from the Lecturers were also summarized.

Micro, small, and medium enterprises

Study population

There is no complete list of micro, small, and medium food manufacturing entities in Guyana. The target group was mainly agroprocessors. Contact information for the target group was sought from the following 4 sources:

  • 1The New Guyana Marketing Corporation (NGMC) submitted a list of 24 registered manufacturers. All were contacted by telephone to make appointments for interviews; of those 19 responded.
  • 2Ministry of Agriculture: Three women's agroprocessing groups that received funding from the READ project were interviewed. Each group was represented as a single unit for analysis.
  • 3At 1 semiurban and industrial community, an advertisement was placed on television inviting agroprocessors to participate in a meeting with the Researcher. Six individuals responded.
  • 4Rural communities: Visits were made to communities where there is a concentration of entities involved in agroprocessing.

The total micro, small, and medium operators who took part in the study was 46.

Measurement instrument

A questionnaire was administered as structured interviews to the owners of micro, small, and medium scale operations. It comprised questions on products manufactured by the organizations; techniques applied in their operations; whether they had received training in the basic principles of food science; marketing of their products and areas in which they require further training. The questionnaire was pretested by 5 agroprocessors, recommendations were considered and changes made where necessary.

Data analysis

Similar products were grouped and the other data were spreadsheet coded and frequency of responses was calculated as percentages.

Results

Large manufacturers

The 3 companies (the names of the companies have been changed to ensure confidentiality) produce a range of products. Alpha’s products include rum, high wine, water, and beverages; Beta produces rum, high wine, beer, an assortment of flour products (bread, cookies, and crackers), water, vodka, liqueur, and ice cream; Gamma produces confectioneries, pasta, condiments, and spices.

Of the 76 graduates employed by the 3 companies over the last 5 y, over half, 39 (51.3%) were engineers, followed by 29 (38.1%) holders of B.Sc degree in Chemistry, then 7 (9.2%) with B.Sc in Biology, and 1 (1.3%) graduated with Agricultural Science. Among the 3 companies, Alpha employed the most graduates with 23 engineers and the same number of Chemistry and 2 Biology; the majority of those employed by Beta were engineers 16 (80%) of the 20, 2 (12.5%) Biology and just 1 each with Chemistry and Agricultural Science degrees; Gamma employed only Biology and Chemistry graduates, 3 and 5, respectively (Figure 1). Graduates of all 3 companies occupied technical, supervisory, and management positions.

Figure 1–.

The number of graduates from the Univ. of Guyana employed by the food manufacturing companies over the last 5 y.

The results of skills available in the areas of core competence as identified by the Inst. of Food Technologists varied among the companies. Generally, the 3 companies indicated that skills are partially available in food chemistry and analysis. With regard to food safety and microbiology, Beta indicated that skills were unavailable but required in all areas of competence; Alpha and Gamma indicated that competence was available in the identification of pathogens, conditions which activate the pathogens making them harmless in foods; and laboratory techniques to identify microorganisms. However, skills were unavailable in food preservation by fermentation. In the core competences Food Engineering and applied food science Beta indicated that skills were unavailable but required in all the areas of competence. Alpha and Gamma indicated that although skills were available there needs to be enhancement in the quality and complement of employees.

Information from the Lecturer of the 2 Food Science courses at the Univ. of Guyana correlates with the information received from the manufacturers. For the core competency food chemistry and analysis, the content of the courses include structure and properties of the major components—carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids—with little emphasis on vitamins and minerals. Diffusion of gases as it relates to packaging is the only aspect of food processing and engineering that is addressed. With regard to applied food science, the basic elements of application of principles of food science in practical, real world situations and to control and assure quality of food products are taught.

For the core competency food safety and microbiology, the Lecturers of microbiology indicated that the course content includes the pathogens involve in food spoilage, conditions under which the pathogens grow and laboratory techniques for identifying the organisms. In the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, the course also includes some aspects of dairy microbiology.

Training was conducted within the respective companies by management personnel, hired consultants or by sending the employees overseas. Each company had at least 1 senior management employee trained to a Masters level in some aspects of Food Science who supervised the graduates. All 3 companies supported the establishment of a food science program at the Univ. of Guyana.

Micro, small, and medium enterprises

The operators of the micro, small, and medium enterprises interviewed for this part of the study prepared a range of products as indicated in Table 1. About half, 20 of 46 (43.5%) of them prepared condiments, mainly dried or fresh seasonings (a mixture that includes eschallot, thyme, celery). This is followed by those preparing fruit preserves, 11 out of 46, representing over 25%.

Table 1–.  The number of agroprocessors preparing each type of product.
Product Number of processors
Seasonings/condiments20
Fruit products (including jam, jellies, preserves)11
Beverages (including coconut water, capadula drink, fruit juice)10
Cassava products (for example, cassava bread, starch, and cassareep)8
Snack foods (including potato chips, plantain chips, guava cheese)7
Others (for example, orange peel, capadula powder, vinegar and essence, cake coloring)5
Flour products, for example, pasta4
Coconut products (oil and copra)4

The results for the number of processors trained in food safety and handling; packaging and labeling; shelf life and expiration date varied. With regard to food safety and handling, almost all of the 19 registered processors, 94.7%, received training in this area, while for those not registered, nearly half, 48.1% had some form of training. Almost four-fifths, 78.9%, of the registered processors received training in packaging and labeling as well as the importance of shelf life and expiration dates. Only about 25% of the 27 unregistered processes had training in those 2 areas (Table 2).

Table 2–.  The number of registered and unregistered agroprocessors trained in food safety and handling; packaging and labeling and shelf life, and expiry date.
Area of training Registered agroprocesssors n= 19 Unregistered Agroprocessors n= 27
Trained (%) Untrained (%) Trained (%) Untrained (%)
Food safety and handling94.7   3.348.150.9
Packaging and labeling78.921.122.277.8
Shelf life and expiration date78.921.125.974.1

The processors had received training in these 3 areas from a number of local agencies—governmental, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s), and in-country international organizations. Some have also attended training overseas.

Skills for preparing products came from a variety of sources. Less than half 50% indicated that they attended structured training programs, informal training or were self-taught which was 30.4%, 46.9%, and 32.6% respectively. Some processors received training from more than 1 source. Those who received training informally learned the skill from their foreparents or other relatives.

Marketing of the products is done locally and overseas. Locally, products are sold mainly to retailers. These include supermarkets, small shops, municipal markets, and roadside vendors. An attempt was made to separate these 4 categories. However, the Researcher recognized that the agroprocessors did not keep accurate records and therefore the data would not have been reliable. Of the 46 agroprocessors, 4 (8.7%) exported their products to both the Caribbean and North America. An additional 3 (6.5%) exported to the Caribbean only and 4 (8.7%) to North America only. One (2.1%) agroprocessor exported to Europe.

The operators indicated that they would like training in the following areas:

  • 1Food production to expand product line.
  • 2Basic business practices.
  • 3Management.
  • 4Chemical and Microbiological analysis of food product.
  • 5Application of computer technology to design buildings for food manufacturing.
  • 6Application of computer technology in the production of labels.

Discussion

The lack of skills is among the contributing factors that have affected value-added production in food manufacturing companies—large, medium, small, and micro. All manufacturers indicated that more skills were required for them to add to the range of products that are manufactured.

The large manufacturers indicated that although some skills were available in core areas of competency, as identified by IFT, such as food chemistry and analysis, deficiency in critical areas such as food processing and engineering limited employees’ ability to develop new products. In an effort to correct deficiencies, training is conducted to enhance the skills of the employees. Although training is part of the mandate of these organizations, if the university is able to provide a cadre of professionals with knowledge and skills in food science and they are employed by the manufacturers it may reduce the resources expended in training.

The companies may want to consider expanding their pool of potential employees. As noted the majority of the employees, who are graduates of the Univ. of Guyana, in the large manufacturing companies had degrees in Engineering and Natural Sciences. Graduates from the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry would have been exposed to some aspects of food science for example microbiology and therefore have some technical skills required in the industry. This illustrates a need for more sensitization of the university's programs content.

Among the micro, small, and medium operators, it was also observed that the products manufactured form a limited range and most apply only the basic skills in processing such as grinding and drying used in making seasonings and fruit preserves. The processors have indicated that they would like training in food processing so as to increase their product line. Craig (2007) also highlights the lack of technical skills in processing among agroprocessors. Exposure to training can potentially stimulate their creativity and innovation and possibly encourage them to become entrepreneurs with their own businesses. The Researcher observed that Ministry of Agriculture's READ project is already empowering rural women enabling them to earn their livelihood.

The results indicated that there is training available in the 3 areas examined—food safety and handling; packaging and labeling; and shelf life and expiration date. However, for all 3 areas more registered agroprocessors had received training. The deficiency in training among unregistered agroprocessors has implications for public health particularly as it relates to food safety and handling where only half (50.9%) of the unregistered processors had training in this area. With the introduction of a program in Food Science, there will be more personnel trained in food safety who can impart their knowledge to the agroprocessors. Training may not necessarily be limited to structured, formal, class room settings; the university, governmental, and nongovernmental organizations could conduct outreach programs to train agroprocessors at or very close to their places of business. For all 3 areas examined, it is important that training be conducted on a regular basis to keep the agroprocessors updated with the standards and requirements of the industry. For example, for those exporting to United States, the new Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act introduced in 2011 would require changes in the way the processors operate and manage their business.

The Government of Guyana's agricultural thrust is to increase and diversify crop production. With increased production of fruits and vegetables more technical skills would be required in the preparation of secondary and tertiary products and also in postharvest technology. Both would reduce waste considerably. The Government having recognized the need for skills in these areas should advance to the next stage and make sequential steps towards developing the expertise. In addition, as pointed out by Pinstrup-Andersen (2000), the increased output from processing will create a demand for the primary, fresh produce and in the long-term stimulate increase cultivation. Guyana also stands to benefit economically by having a wider variety of products for the international markets.

Industries can be important partners since those entities will be the direct beneficiaries of the program. They can help the university design curricula that best meet their needs. This is not limited only to undergraduate curriculum but also programs can be designed for various levels of employees. Kuhn (2011) attributed the increased enrollment in Food Science Programs across the United States to universities providing programs with the knowledge and skills that workplace demanded. Industries can also make available internship for the students thereby allowing them to understand how their theoretical knowledge is applied in manufacturing. Experience gained by the students would help to make them more prepared for employment.

The large food manufacturing industries can serve as adjunct laboratories for the courses thereby reducing the capital expenditure required for the purchase of laboratory equipment and materials by the university. This arrangement may also enable students to be exposed to up-to-date equipment.

Further, introduction of a programme in food science at the Univ. of Guyana will expand the scope of offerings available. Students will have the opportunity to attend a program focused on providing the skills for the food industry and allied areas. Graduates of the Guyana School of Agriculture subprofessional programme who were exposed to the basic principles in food science and have an aptitude and interest in that field will have the option to expand their knowledge and training in the degree program.

The overall goal is to cater for national needs and export internationally. As demonstrated by the results, there is a local market for the commodities. Consumers gain from the benefits of the availability of processed foods, such as longer shelf life and the convenience of having prepared food. A small percentage of processors exports to the Caribbean, North America, and Europe, which has the potential to grow since international demand for processed food is expected to increase (IBIS World, 2011).

Conclusion

The results of the study did point to the need for interventions to support food manufacturers in Guyana. There is scope for the introduction of a Food Science program at the Univ. of Guyana. Discussions should take place between the university, industry and other stakeholders to formulate a program that meets the need of the Guyanese community. In the short term, specific courses focusing on food processing may be designed for the 2 categories of manufacturers. The aim, however, should be the establishment of a food science program at the university. Students will receive requisite skills to transform and add economic value to foods and possibly create niche and high-value markets for Guyana's produce.

The cost of establishing a Food Science Program may appear to be prohibitive but Guyana will gain tremendously from investing in the program. According to Weiti-Charles and others (2002), international organizations are willing to assist universities and research institutions in funding projects which are aimed at improving food production. In Guyana, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the Inter-American Inst. for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Inst. (CARDI) are potential agencies that can be approached for assistance in the establishment of a Food Science Program at the Univ. of Guyana. Each agency also has a network of scientists and other professionals that can lend their expertise in the formulation and implementation of the program.

Finally, it is necessary to point out limitations of this study. The population of large manufacturers in Guyana is very small. Although efforts were made to involve all the companies in the study only three responded. The researcher recognizes that in 2011 the Inst. of Food Technologists had updated the standards for approved undergraduate food science programs. However, the 5 categories remain essentially the same.

Acknowledgments

The author thanks the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry Research and Publications Committee, Univ. of Guyana for providing financial support for the research; colleagues at the university for critically reviewing the manuscript and Mr. Cleveland Paul of the National Agricultural Research and Extension Inst. for his assistance.

Appendices

Questionnaire I

This questionnaire is designed to determine whether the Univ. of Guyana should introduce a Food Science Program. The information you provide will help to assess the need for the program.

The questionnaire is divided into 2 sections; section I requires you to provide some information about your organization, section II asks about specific core competencies your employees are expected to have in performing their duties. The core competencies used as the standard are those identified by the Inst. of Food Technologists to be included in undergraduate Food Science Programs in the United States.

Section I

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Section II

Table 3.  This section requires that you indicate the areas of core competence your employees are expected to have in order to perform their duties. The core competencies used as the standard are those identified by the Inst. of Food Technologists to be included in undergraduate Food Science Programs in the United States. Please place a tick (✓) in the box corresponding to your response. N/A = Not applicable Avail. = Available Unavail. = Unavailable but required
Area of competenceSkills requiredN/A
(Avail.)(Unavail.)
Food chemistry and analysis   
  1. Understand Chemistry underlying properties and reactions of various food components   
  2. Knowledge of food chemistry to control reactions in foods   
  3. Understand major chemical reactions that limit shelf life in foods   
  4. Principles behind analytical techniques associated with foods   
Food safety and microbiology   
  5. Identification of important pathogens and spoilage microorganisms in foods and the conditions under which they are grown   
  6. Utilization of laboratory techniques to identify microorganisms in food   
  7. Identification of conditions under which pathogens are commonly inactivated or made harmless in foods.   
  8. Explanation or application of principles involving food preservation via fermentation process.   
  9. Understanding of microbial inactivation, adaptation and environments.   
 10. Identification of conditions, including sanitation, under which pathogens and spoilage microorganisms are commonly inactivated or made harmless in foods.   
Food processing and engineering   
 11. Identification of source and variability of raw food materials and description of their impact on food processing operations   
 12. Principles that make a food product safe for consumption   
 13. Mass energy balances for a given food product   
 14. Principles and current practices of processing techniques and the effects of processing parameters on product quality.   
 15. Properties and uses of various packaging materials   
 16. Requirements for water utilization and waste management in food and food processing   
Applied food science   
 17. Application of the principles of food science in practical, real world situations and problems   
 18. Application of statistical principles to food science applications   
 19. Application of principles of food to control and assure quality of food products.   
 20. Identification and discussion of current topics of importance to the food industry.   
 21. Application of government regulations required for the manufacture and sale of food products   
Success skills   
 22. Use oral communication skills   
 23. Use written communication skills   
 24. Defining problems, identifying potential causes and possible solutions.   
 25. Application of critical thinking to new situations   
 26. Opportunities to apply high standards of professional integrity and ethical values   
 27. Work effectively with others.   
 28. Provide leadership   
 29. Independently research scientific and nonscientific information   
 30. Manage time effectively   
 31. Manage group projects, run meetings, chair committees   

Thank you for your participation

Questionnaire II

This questionnaire is designed to determine whether the Univ. of Guyana should introduce a Food Science Dept./Program. The information you provide will help to assess your needs and better serve the community.

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Ancillary