Cover Image
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



Before using this guide, please read the notes in the introduction booklet.

All of the material in this module has been carefully thought out and tested with youth groups in a number of countries. It contains material which is thought to be important and appropriate for young people to know. However, because every group is different, it is not possible to produce a booklet which is perfect for everyone, so it is important to remember that this booklet is intended as a guide for the leader.

This means that it is up to you the leader to use this material as you see fit You may wish to adapt some of the group activities to make them more appropriate to your group.

Some of the material you may not wish to present yourself - perhaps because you do not feel technically competent or because you find it embarrassing or awkward to discuss certain matters with the youth group. In these cases you may wish to ask a local expert in that subject to address your youth group. For example, an agricultural extension officer for the agriculture projects, a small business advisor for income generating activities or a health worker for the health and nutrition aspects. Use of a resource person like this does not make your role as the group leader any less important, but they can add interest and authority to the subjects taught.

The modules may be used in any order, but the modules with the same colour cover are best used together since they cover one general area

First edition was published and field tested in 1988 and 1989 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Project INT/88/P98 "Integration of Population Education into Programmes for Rural Youth in Low-Income Countries" with funding from the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA).

This revision was published in 1990 and is based on field test findings from the first edition.

The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official view of FAO. The designations employed and the presentation of material in this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of FAO concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.

Original Concept and Text: W.I. Lindley & S.A. Dembner
This Revision: J.F. Cook
Original Illustrations: Anella Armas
This Revision: Pandora Money


By participating in the activities of this module, it is intended that the group members will:

· Understand the concept of environment.
· Understand the need for rational use of natural resources.
· Understand the effects of rapid population growth on natural resources.
· Understand how they can help with the management and conservation of resources.

Basic concepts

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

· The basic natural resources are air, water, agriculturally productive land, forests, human power and energy.

· When all of the natural resources are being used within their limits and protected to ensure that present and future needs are met, this is called a balance of nature.

· Rapid population growth can disturb the balance of nature and have negative effects on natural resources and their capacity for sustained agricultural production.

· Everyone should help to protect the environment.

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.

Activity no. 2 - Phrases that should never be said

Phrases that should never be said

Activity in game form to get participants to identify and contest misleading statements about the environment and population.



· The group leader asks for a volunteer. He or she moves far enough away from the group so that they cannot hear the discussion.

· Another group member picks out one of the "phrases that should never be said" (copied onto individual slips of paper by the group leader from the list on pages 25 and 26).

· The participant (or the group leader if the participant cannot read) reads the phrase out loud.

· The leader and the group discuss the phrase and whether or not they agree with it.

· The volunteer who left returns and asks the group, "What is the phrase?"

· The group members take turns giving clues such as, "I won't say it, but I can tell you I don't agree because..." For example, if the phrase were "The forests will last forever," the partner's response might be, "I won't say it but I can tell you I don't agree because we already have to walk much further for fuelwood today than we did five years ago."

· From the clues given, the volunteer tries to guess the secret phrase (or its general meaning).

· When the volunteer finally guesses the phrase, he or she is applauded by the rest of the group.

· The game continues with a new volunteer.

Note: The group leader should try to ensure that all members participate as volunteers and in providing clues.


So that group members will be able to:

· Clear up misunderstandings about the environment and natural resources.

· Understand that population growth increases pressure on our natural resources.

· Understand that everyone has a role to play in conserving and managing natural resources.



· The "phrases that should never be said" on the following pages (or other ones the leader may wish to add) copied down onto individual strips of paper in advance by the group leader.

· Desire to reflect, think and guess.

· Cooperation between group members.

Some background information for the group leader

What needs to be done to ensure that: our environment, and especially our natural resources, will be able to meet our needs and those of our children?

There are two basic things that need to be done to ensure that our environment will be able to provide I for our children and their children, etc.

1) Protecting and managing natural resources

In terms of land use, this means making intelligent decisions about which land we use for farming, for grazing, for forests, etc.

With water, we will need to use every single drop as if our lives depend on it - because they do. This may mean building local dams or tanks to collect rain water or run-off. It certainly means becoming more efficient in the way we use water for our family needs and for our crops. Perhaps most importantly, it means making sure that we don't contaminate or pollute the water supplies we have.

Protecting our forests means only cutting trees which will not lead to soil erosion, not cutting trees on steep slopes, not cutting all the trees in one area, and planting new trees to replace those that we use. It means introducing improved stoves that use wood or charcoal more efficiently.

The important thing to remember is that each one of us has a responsibility to care for and protect the environment.

2) Reducing the population growth rate

No matter how careful we are with our environment, however, it still can only provide for a certain number of people on a sustained basis. And based on the way our population is increasing, we are going to exceed the limit. This means that we must have fewer children than our parents did. Otherwise, we will make it impossible for our children and their children to have healthy, happy lives.

Some "phrases that should never be said"

Everything on this Earth was put here for man to use as he pleases.

It doesn't matter how we use our natural resources. There will always be enough for all of us.

It's the Government's job to protect the environment.

Pollution is only a problem in the towns and cities. The rural areas are still pure.

Scientists will be able to solve all our ecological problems.

The Earth can support any number of people.

It's O.K. to cut down all the trees for fuel. Soon we will be using other kinds of energy and then the trees will be useless.

Activity no. 3 - Caring for our environment: a necessity for now and the future

Caring for our environment: a necessity for now and the future

Activity involving group preparation of posters and/or a drama on environmental and population-related concepts.



Note: Posters could also he sent, via the youth coordinators, to the central population organization, to be redistributed to other youth groups or reproduced at a national level.

· The group leader asks the participants to identify some natural resources which are under pressure locally due to increases in population (i.e., land, water, forests, etc.).

· The group discusses slogans or sayings which point out the need to conserve and manage these resources (some examples are provided on the following pages).

· The participants produce a series of posters illustrating their slogans. Posters could be produced one at a time to further stimulate group participation. Group members can work in teams.

· The posters are exhibited in the community by the participants and are then either posted in public places or are taken home by the participants.

· The group may then like to organize a drama about the environment, how it is being damaged and what solutions can be applied by the community - for performance to the community.


So that group members will be able to:

· Reinforce their knowledge about the basic natural resources.

· Make rational decisions about the need to manage the environment and control pollution to meet the needs of present and future generations.

· Stimulate community awareness of environmental and population-related issues.



· A large sheet of paper for each group member.

· Some kind of drawing material for each group member (pencils, pens, paints, charcoal, etc.).

· Slogans or sayings related to environmental issues (some ideas are offered on pages 34 and 35).

· Enthusiasm and imagination in presentation of the drama.

Some background information for the group leader

What are some of the natural resources that are being damaged by rapid population growth?

Agriculturally productive land. As the number of people grows, the amount of land needed to feed them also increases. In many countries, there just isn't enough good land. In others, there is still land but it is of en far away from where most people now live. Since, as we said before, most people are no longer nomads, they prefer not to move long distances from their homes and families.

As a result, the land that is already being farmed gets used more and more intensively. This can lead to the depletion of the soil to the point that it never recovers. What used to be productive agricultural land becomes barren wasteland, or even desert.

Something else that happens is that land gets put to the wrong use. Across Africa, land that is only suitable for the grazing of animals is being used for crop production. Without its grass cover, this fragile soil is quickly eroded - that is, swept away by wind and water. Once this happens, it becomes useless for agriculture or even for grazing.

Water. Without a steady supply of relatively clean water, almost no living thing can survive. Once it seemed that the supply of water was unlimited, but we now know that is not true. Therefore, the more people there are, the less water is available per person.


In places where people get their water from wells, this can mean less water per person and a need for increasingly deeper wells.

In places where people get their water from rivers or lakes, the effect of having so many people bathing and washing their clothes and using water for their crops can be to leave an inadequate water supply which may also be polluted and unhealthy.

Forests and fuelwood. Many people in the developing countries use fuelwood or charcoal to cook their food and heat their homes. With the rapid growth of human populations, the trees are being cut down faster than new ones are growing.

Women and young people, who generally have the main responsibility for providing fuelwood, are having to walk further and further each day to gather wood or having to pay more and more for the wood if they buy it.

This need for more and more fuelwood, combined with the cutting of trees to clear more land for crop production, is leading to the progressive destruction of the forests. Once the trees are gone, not only is there no more fuelwood, but the land quickly becomes eroded. Without the trees and other ground cover to hold it back, the rain washes huge quantities of soil down into the rivers and dams of the low areas, causing them to overflow and flood. This loss of soil further reduces the amount of food the land can produce, and causes huge losses of life and property.

The Air: Burning fuels of any kind, whether firewood or animal dung for cooking, petrol in cars or coal and oil in power stations and factories, produces pollution in the air. The effect of this pollution is easy to see in the big cities where the air smells bad and buildings are stained. When you look at a city from the distance, it is easy to see the dust and haze from the car exhausts, fires and factories. Even in the countryside though, as the population increases, the amount of fuel used for cooking increases, adding to the air pollution.

Governments around the world are now becoming very worried about the effects of all this air pollution. Some scientists say that people are making so much air pollution that the sun's heat is being trapped on the Earth, making the Earth hotter and changing the weather (they call this the greenhouse effect). One effect of this is that the sea level may rise, which would cause more floods of coastal towns and villages.

The air

Reducing the use of fuelwood by using other forms of energy like the solar cooker in Activity No. 4 is one way to help reduce air pollution.

Some possible slogans or sayings for environmental or natural resource posters

It's a disgrace to waste water

Let's protect our natural resources, for the sake of tomorrow

Plant a tree today

Too many people = pressure on natural resources

The land, our hope for a better future

Water - Waste not, want not

Pollution is a dirty joke

Activity no. 4 - Building a solar heater/cooker

Building a solar heater/cooker

A participatory activity designed to construct a practical solar heater/cooker and at the same time increase group understanding of the difference between renewable and non-renewable resources.



· The group leader starts off a discussion about how our natural resources are of three kinds:

Renewable (that is, they can be managed so that they are constantly replenished) such as forests, water and agricultural land

Non-renewable (that is, when they are used up, they are gone for ever) such as oil, coal and natural gas

Unlimited such as the wind and sun

· The group then constructs a practical solar heater/cooker to demonstrate how solar energy can be used.

· If possible, the solar heater/cooker is maintained and used to produce some saleable commodity as an income-generating activity for the group.


So that group members will be able to:

· Understand the difference between renewable and non-renewable resources.

· Make rational decisions about the need to limit dependence on non-renewable resources and manage renewable resources.

· Gain practical experience in using the sun as an alternative energy source.



· The plans for building a simple solar cooker on pages 43-45.

· Locally-available, inexpensive materials (two cardboard boxes, one roll of aluminum foil, one piece of glass 30 x 50 cm).

· Group participation.

Some background information for the group leader

What are renewable and non-renewable resources

Some of the resources on the Earth are present in limited quantities and when they are used up, they are gone forever. These resources are called :nonrenewable. Examples of non-renewable resources are coal, oil, natural gas and other fossil fuels; silver, gold, diamonds and other metals and minerals.

Since we cannot create more of non-renewable resources, the only way we can protect these resources is to use them as efficiently and carefully as possible. At the same time, it is necessary to plan to satisfy our needs using other resources. Rut no matter how careful we are, if the number of people continues to increase rapidly, the demand for these non-renewable products will also increase, and there is the chance that many of them will be used up before we can develop alternatives.

Other natural resources, if managed properly, can be used over and over again without ever running out. These are called renewable resources. Some examples of renewable resources are agricultural land, pastures, forests, water and all of the living things which we use to sustain ourselves (plants, animals, fish, etc.). People are also a renewable resource. To continue to provide for us and for future generations, renewable resources must be carefully protected and managed. Otherwise, they too can be consumed and lost forever.

Unfortunately, this destruction of renewable natural resources is already a serious problem in many areas. In Africa, many species of animals have disappeared completely. Others exist only in very small numbers in game parks or reserves - such as lions, elephants and giraffes.

The cow

Even more serious is the destruction of land and water resources. Under pressure from rapidly increasing populations, the forests and grasslands of Africa are being cleared for agricultural production at a rapid pace. Much of this land, however, is unsuitable for sustained agricultural production and when its protective cover of grass and trees is removed, erosion quickly sets in. Once the thin layer of fertile topsoil is washed or blown away, the land will never again be able to support life. Barren stretches of what was once green pasture can be seen all over Africa.

The cutting of the wooded areas is also having a damaging effect on the supply of water - already in short supply in much of Africa. When the living cover is removed from the soil, it loses its ability to hold water and release it gradually. As a result, when there is no rain, the soil is dry and arid. Then when the rains come, without the protective cover of grass and trees, the water rushes along the soil without seeping in, causing floods and damage to crops and livestock, and loss of human life.

It is not too late to save our renewable resources. But each one of us must do our part to conserve and protect them. It is not a job that we can delegate to others or expect the government to do for us.

There are also a very few resources which. at least for the moment, seem to be available in unlimited quantities. Two of these are wind and sun. In many areas, people are beginning to develop ways to use the sun and wind to meet our energy needs.

The solar cooker which the group will build as a part of this activity can be used to cook most of the foods which we normally eat, without using any of the fuels we usually require (oil, kerosene, wood, etc.).

The sun

Not only does this help us to conserve non-renewable and renewable resources, but it also can save time and money. Although the solar cooker takes a little longer to cook food than a traditional stove or fire, no time is required for collection of fuelwood. or the purchase of fuel. And since the solar cooker maintains an even temperature, it is not necessary for someone to constantly watch the food that is being prepared. While the solar cooker is working, the person responsible for preparing the meal can be doing other activities.

Building a solar cooker

Materials require for building a solar cooker

Materials required:

· Two cardboard boxes, one slightly smaller than the other. The larger box should have a top or lid.

· One roll of aluminum foil.

· One piece of glass approximately 30 x 50 cm.

· Some dry grass, straw or sand.

The building process:

The building process:

1) First, as in the drawing, take the smaller cardboard box and cover all the inside surfaces except the bottom with aluminum foil. Also cover the inside of the lid or cover of the larger box with aluminum foil.

2) Cover the bottom of the inside of the smaller box with some dark coloured material (painting it black would be best, but even colouring it with dark-coloured soil would be O.K.).

3) Take the larger cardboard box and put a layer of straw, dry grass or sand in the bottom.

4) Now place the smaller box inside the larger one and fill up the space between the two boxes with more sand, straw or dry grass. This material will help to keep the heat in your solar cooker. Cover the filled space between the two boxes with something that will keep the sand or grass from getting inside the smaller box (perhaps another strip of cardboard box).

5) Place the piece of glass over the top of the cooker so that it completely covers the smaller box, and the solar cooker is done.

6) To use the solar cooker, remove the piece of glass and place the food to be cooked (in a dark-coloured pot) inside the cooker. Then replace the glass.

7) Put the solar cooker in a sunny place and position the lid of the outside box so that it reflects the rays of the sun into the box (as in the diagram). In not much more time than it usually takes to cook whatever food it is, your solar cooked meal will be ready.

Solar cooker in a sunny place

Booklets in this Leaders Guide Series:

Population and Agriculture
Population, Employment and Income
Population and the Environment
Population and Nutrition
Population and Health
The Family and Family Size
Human Growth and Development
Responsible Parenthood
How the Population Changes
Community Involvement

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Integration of Population Education into Programmes for Rural Youth INT/88/P9