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close this bookCERES No. 106 - July - August 1985 (FAO Ceres, 1985, 50 p.)
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FAO in Action

SOIL CONSERVATION STRESSED FOR AFRICA

Most African governments south of the Sahara have expressed interest in supporting soil conservation measures, but their achievements in this field have been limited by insufficient budgetary allocations, according to a recently completed study. Part of the problem is attributed to the failure of national planners to understand soil conservation's potential for economic and other benefits. These findings stem from a regional soil conservation project for Africa being executed by FAO with funding from the Norwegian Government. The immediate objective of the project is to acquaint countries in the region with the scope of the soil erosion problem and with possible solutions to it. As both human and livestock populations have increased, traditionally cultivated areas have been farmed more intensively, pasture land has been seriously degraded, and cropping has expanded into more marginal areas resulting in reduced vegetative cover, wind and water erosion, silting up of lakes and reservoirs, and, in some cases, the abandonment of agricultural land. In the initial phase of the project all African countries south of the Sahara were contacted to determine their interest in collaborating in future phases of the project and to identify their specific requirements in soil conservation Of 42 countries approached, 31 agreed to participate in the project and to receive an investigatory mission. The resulting report, while showing that erosion is causing declines in yields, reveals also that both the effects and processes of soil loss are highly variable. Legislation directly related to soil conservation in Africa is rare. Although soil conservation research in Africa is carried out by numerous national and international agencies, drastic improvements are needed in the collection and analysis of hydrometeorological data. Other priority areas identified in the studies include research in semiarid zones suitable for grazing and farming, humid upland areas with high population concentrations, and tropical forests scheduled for exploitation. Almost unanimously, the countries contacted recomended that training of personnel would be the most effective way that a regional project could contribute to solving the problems of soil degradation.

COLOMBIA STRENGTHENS REGIONAL PLANNING

As a preliminary step toward encouraging its regional governments to manage their own development programmes, the Government of Colombia is establishing a system f or regional agricultural planning, combined with an agricultural information system. With technical advice received under the auspices of an FAO/UNDP project, the Ministry of Agriculture is collaborating with departmental governmens in the creation of regional agricultural planning units (lRPAS) in each of the departments and territories of Colombia. Of a designated total of 27 units, 24 are already in operation, with a total staff of 215, of which nearly two-thirds have been provided from the departmental secretariats of agriculture and planning. A key element in the scheme is the establishment throughout the country of a system of agricultural statistics based on information from vegetative and land-use maps, from which a sampling standard will be designed and applied to selected areas for surveys of various aspects of agricultural and livestock production. Among the functions that will be assumed by the regional planning units will be the elaboration of development strategies, the design of projects and investment plans for short-, medium-, and longer-range in regional agriculture. The regional units will also be involved in improved coordination among institutions at the departmental level for purposes of agricultural planning and will promote the dissemination of agricultural information through statistical bulletins and the establishment of agricultural data banks.

VIETNAM UPGRADES LOGGING PRACTICES

With the aim of increasing the level of log harvesting activities by some 30 per cent over the next few years, the Vietnamese Ministry of Forestry has undertaken to improve its harvest and transport technology with the assistance of a $3,5 million FAO/UNDP project for logging training and development. During the past couple of years the newly established logging training and development centre at Di An, Song Be province, has been providing courses for mechanics, power-saw operators, and operators of heavy logging equipment. A considerable number of forestry technicians, mechanics and logging supervisors have been sent on study tours abroad to Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, India, Austria, Italy, Sweden, and Japan. With new logging equipment provided by the project, logging demonstration operations are being carried out in Ma Da, Dong Nai province. The project also has a 1 000 hectare forest concession where intensive forest planning, engineering, and felling inventories are carried out to demonstrate sound forest management.

NEW SOYA VARIETIES FOR SMALLHOLDERS

During the past 10 years Zambia has been experiencing increasing demand for soybeans and its products, and a number of high-yielding varieties have been developed for commercial production. However, adaptation of this crop among small-scale farmers has been limited due mainly to the difficulty of obtaining, storing, and using properly the inoculum essential to the successful production of commercial varieties. Accordingly, in cooperation with an FAO/UNDP national oilseeds development programme, the Government of Zambia undertook to investigate the possibility of introducing varieties of soybeans acceptable to small-scale farmers who otherwise would have only groundnuts, beans, or bambara groundnut as a legume for rotation in their farming systems. Unfortunately, all these legume crops face agronomic limitations in various parts of the country. Through a selection programme initiated by the Government in 1976, two naturally nodulating varieties of soybean (Magoye and Hernon 147) were identified and have demonstrated the capability of producing commercial yields of more than 2 000 kg/ha without the need for seed innoculation or applicaof high levels of nitrogen. Another practice recommended for commercial soybean production which small-scale farmers found difficult to adopt was the drilling of seeds in narrow rou spacings. Smallholders have traditionally planted their maize crops in hills in wide rows. Yet experimental data has indicated that soybeans planted in spacings similar to the traditional maize crops can obtain yields comparable to commercial plantings because better germination is achieved from the hill planting system than by drilling. In view of the initial promising results of the soybean work the Zambian Government has involved Lintco, a parastatal organization with an extension and credit system for cotton production among small-scale farmers, in the promotion of soybean production among these growers.

NEPAL BOOSTS OUTPUT OF VEGETABLE SEEDS

With the twin objectives of improving the diets of Nepalese people and increasing farm income, the Government of Nepal has undertaken to vastly increase vegetable seed production in the country. Supported by a $3.1 million trust fund from Switzerland, FAO has been helping Nepal to identify suitable seed production areas in temperate, subtropical and tropical climate zones of the country. Five seed-production centres have been established and facilities have been created for evaluating and maintaining varieties for seed cleaning, storage, and quality testing. Field trials with 200 foreign varieties of cabbage, cauliflower, carrot, onion, tomato, bean, pea, chili, eggplant, and cucumber have been begun, and super)" or varieties of each crop have been identified for adaptation to Nepalese conditions. In 1984 about 42 tons of high-quality vegetable seeds were produced, but it is planned to expand this further to 80 tons per year, involving private growers as well as government schemes.

NEW STRATEGIES FOR QUELEA CAMPAIGN

Plant protection services of 17 West African countries are expected to benefit from a regional project for research and training in crop protection against bird damage. Soon to enter the last of its scheduled five years, the $1.4 million FAO/UNDP project is aiming at improved knowledge of the ecology and biology of grain-eating birds in order to develop medium- and long-term strategies to protect cereal crops. Grain-eating birds in West Africa, and in particular the quelea, have been recognized as a public calamity for more than 30 years, and a variety of means have been mounted in the offensive against them, including burning and destruction of nests and aerial spraying with pesticides. By undertaking studies of the population dynamics of birds, the project has fostered a better adjustment of protective methods to the birds' biological cycles and has eliminated some of the more environmentally hazardous methods of control, at the same time reducing the cost and frequency of control operations. Trials are currently being carried out in humid zones to develop methods of protecting rice crops other than aerial spraying.