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close this bookPopulation and the Environment (FAO)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAims/objectives
View the documentBasic concepts
View the documentActivity no. 1 - The hen that laid golden eggs
View the documentActivity no. 2 - Phrases that should never be said
View the documentActivity no. 3 - Caring for our environment: a necessity for now and the future
View the documentActivity no. 4 - Building a solar heater/cooker

Activity no. 1 - The hen that laid golden eggs

A story to illustrate the dangers of overuse of the natural resources.

The hen that laid golden eggs



· The group leader starts off by gathering the group participants in whatever traditional manner is used for storytelling.

· He or she introduces the topic by explaining that the Earth's natural resources are a precious treasure. If we use them wisely and care for them, they can provide us with all we need for our well-being. But if we abuse them, waste them, or put too much pressure on them, these resources will be destroyed, and with them the basis of our existence.

· The group leader then tells the story on the following pages.

· After telling the story, the group leader starts off a discussion by asking the group members some of the questions that follow the story.

Note: The leader may like to substitute the story of the hen that laid golden eggs with an appropriate local story which also describes misuse and destruction of a valuable asset.


So that group members will be able to:

· See that our environment is made up of natural resources which must be protected and managed if they are to be sufficient for present and future generations.

· Identify natural resources that are under increasing pressure due to population growth.

· Discuss how the balance of nature is being threatened in their community.

· Make some decisions on how the balance of nature can be maintained or restored.


Wit what?

· The story and questions on the following pages.
· A good storytelling manner.
· The participation of the group members.

The story of the hen that laid golden eggs

The golden eggs

A farmer went to the chicken house to see if any of his hens had laid an egg. To his surprise, instead of an ordinary egg, one of the hens had laid an egg of solid gold! Taking the egg, he rushed to the house to show it to his wife.

After that, every day, the farmer rushed out to the chicken house to check on his hen and at least once a week, it gave him a beautiful golden egg. With the money they got from the eggs, the farmer and his wife were able to build a bigger house and buy many fine things.

I wonder, said the farmer to himself, if I could get more eggs from my hen? So he began to feed the hen special food and to keep her in a special cage and, just as he had hoped, the hen began to lay two or three golden eggs every week. The farmer was very happy and had even more money to spend.

But as the farmer grew richer, he also became greedy and stingy, and he began to give the hen less special food and take less care of the chicken house.

As a result, the hen that laid the golden eggs became weak and sick and began to lay fewer and fewer eggs. Finally, one day, she stopped laying eggs completely.

With that, the farmer became very angry and, thinking that if he killed the hen, he could have all her treasure at once, he cut her open and found - nothing at all.

The farmer killed the hen

Some questions to start off the discussion

1. What do you think the story is trying to tell us?
2. What do we mean by environment and natural resources?
3. Which natural resources are limited in supply? Are there any that are unlimited?
4. Why are natural resources in danger now? Were they always in danger?
5. What are some of the natural resources that are in short supply in our community?
6. What are some of the things we can do to protect our natural resources?
7. What effect is the growth of the population having on the natural resources in our community? In the nation?

Some background information for the group leader

What do we mean by environment?

The environment is the combination of external conditions - physical, social and cultural - that surround us.

Depending on what we are talking about, the environment can be our home, our community, our country, or even the whole world.

The important thing to understand is that we are part of our environment: we affect it and it affects us.

Why is there so much concern about the environment these days? Was it always a problem?

From the time human beings first appeared on the Earth, and for thousands and thousands of years afterwards, the total number of people was small. People lived in small groups and ate the wild fruits and seeds they could gather. They also used the animals and fish they could catch. Almost all people lived a nomadic lifestyle, that is, when they had eaten all the food available in one area, they moved on.

Under these conditions, that is, in this environment, many people died as children and only a few lived to the age of 30. The effect of the people on their environment was only temporary; when they moved on, the animals and plants increased in numbers again.

There existed a balance of nature. The waste and refuse produced by some organisms was used by others as raw material. For example, the oxygen produced by plants was used by animals and man to breathe. The carbon dioxide produced by animals helped plants to make sugars. Every species played a role and all waste material was eventually transformed into something useful. Man and nature lived together in harmony.

Slowly, however, events began to occur that would change this balance. People learned to control fire to make tools, and most important of all, to cultivate the plants and protect the animals they used for food.

The savanna

As a result, the first villages sprung up, almost always in places where there was plenty of good land and water. These villages were a new kind of environment. This new environment grouped together larger numbers of people, and the living conditions were slightly better than those of the nomads. However, many children still died young and diseases and wars often wiped out entire villages.

The people who lived in villages began to have a longer-lasting effect on their environment. By farming in one spot for several seasons, they used up the fertility of the soil, and the size of their crops decreased. Since there was still lots of unused land, they simply cleared another plot near the village. They found that if they left the first plot without farming it for 5-7 years, a fallow period, it would regain much of its fertility and could be farmed again. As long as this fallow period was respected, there was still a balance of nature.

But at the same time, men began certain actions that had long-term or even permanent negative effects on the environment, that is, they began to upset the balance of nature. For example, they cut down trees on hilly areas. Without the trees to protect it, when the rains came the soil was eroded, that is, it washed away, leaving only hare rock that would never be good for growing trees or crops.

These were warning signs but almost nobody paid any attention. There were still not very many people and most thought that the environment contained enough natural resources - air, soil, water, minerals, etc. - to supply any number of people, for all time.

Then, about 300 years ago, a very important change took place. The steam engine was invented. This led to the development of huge factories that used enormous quantities of natural resources, especially coal, oil and minerals. These factories also needed people to work in them and so cities grew around these industries.

The lost forest

Many other inventions followed the steam engine; electricity, telegraph and telephone, movies and television, automobiles and airplanes, modern industry. Some of the most important discoveries were in the field of medicine. Vaccines and cures were discovered that could greatly reduce: the number of deaths from illness, especially those that attack young children. In addition, diet and nutrition improved among many people.

But not all the effects of the "industrial revolution" were positive. One problem was that although fewer people died from illness, just as many children were born to each family and this led to the cities becoming more and more crowded. Often, there were too many people for the public services - health, sanitation, etc. And the factories were creating problems that had been unknown before their arrival. In many places, the blue sky was turned grey with dust and smoke and the pure water was polluted with waste materials.

This rapid population growth and disturbance of the balance of nature had its effects on the rural areas too.

Although the medical advances took longer to reach the rural areas, soon the number of people who lived a full life had dramatically increased. With so many people, most of the good land for farming was put into use and more and more of the forests were cut for firewood. To make matters even more difficult, the people in the rural areas had to produce food, not only for themselves, but also for the people in the cities.

As a consequence, rural people began to clear land that was not really good for farming, or to return to fields before they had a chance to regain their fertility. It was no longer possible to allow land to lie fallow for several years.

Today, it is clear that rapid population growth is a serious threat to our environment. Our Earth contains a fixed amount of natural resources and they are being used or abused at an extremely rapid

It is extremely important that we make use of the Earth's resources in a way that does not destroy them - so that they will still be available for our children.

The field

Damage to the environment is starting to affect the whole world but the only way to change this is by communities and individuals acting more responsibly. In the richer countries where population has stopped growing, people must learn to use less fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal). In the less developed countries, population growth and land use are more important.


1 Our Earth contains a fixed amount of air, soil, water, oil, coal, natural gas, minerals, metals, etc., AND NO MORE.
2 These natural resources are being used up or polluted very quickly.
3 The more people there are, the less time they will last.
4 We must take care of the environment and our natural resources.
5 We must use much less of them.
6 We must use them over and over again wherever possible.