Cover Image
close this bookSouthern Lights - Celebrating the Scientific Achievements of the Developing World (IDRC, 1995, 148 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentForeword
View the documentChapter 1 - A northern misconception demolished
View the documentChapter 2 - Is there really science in the south?
View the documentChapter 3 - How the south got left behind
View the documentChapter 4 - Third world achievements
View the documentChapter 5 - Marching to a different drummer
View the documentChapter 6 - Solving global problems together
View the documentChapter 7 - What needs to be done
View the documentAcronyms
View the documentBibliography
View the documentAcknowledgements

Chapter 5 - Marching to a different drummer

The methods of science are everywhere the same; so, in that sense, science is international. The applications of science are nationally oriented, however, and the technologies are culture specific. From that viewpoint, science and technology often differ in the North and South. One of the differences is that in the South more must be done with less, and at less cost.

Health-care systems in the South cannot provide many of the services that the North takes for granted, for example. There is simply not enough money available, and in many cases there are not enough human resources.

This means that approaches toward health care in the South and North differ from one another. In some countries, until recently, the health systems attempted to copy the model of a former colonial power. That approach is changing, however, as health-care providers recognize that systems conceived for the North could be quite unsuitable for the South.

The search for cheaper alternatives in the South has sometimes benefited the North, as shown by the treatment of tuberculosis. In the 1960s, countries such as Canada controlled the disease by admitting patients to large sanatoriums for long stays. This treatment was expensive, in terms of both patient costs and lost productivity. India could not afford similar treatment, so tuberculosis patients were usually treated at home. Research by WHO in India showed that well-supervised drug treatment at home, without the bed rest and special diet considered necessary in Canada and the United States, was just as effective as hospitalization. Nor did it expose family members to any special risk, as feared. Today in the North, the old sanatoriums are closed or used for other purposes, and in both North and South treatment of tuberculosis is more effective. And it is the North that has benefited most from the massive savings the research in India proved possible with home care (WHO 1988).

Using Traditional Knowledge

Over the centuries, the countries of the South have developed their own ways of treating illness. These systems are known to international agencies as “traditional medicine.” In the past, these methods were often denigrated or ignored by the medical profession in the North. Too often they were not considered worthy of notice because they were not based on the same scientific concepts as “modern medicine.” Sometimes their practitioners were referred to slightingly as “witch doctors.”

About 20 years ago, attitudes in the North began to change. During the 1970s, WHO, for example, set up a Working Group on Traditional Medicine. Writing in a special 1977 issue of the WHO magazine, WorId Health, the Director General, Dr Halfdan Mahler, said:

For far too long, traditional systems of medicine and “modern” medicine have gone their separate ways in mutual antipathy. Yet are their goals not identical - to improve the health of mankind and thereby the quality of life? Only the blinkered mind would assume that each has nothing to learn from the other.

WHO recognized traditional medicine because most of the world depends on it for primary health care, and its practitioners constitute a potentially important resource for health-care delivery. In addition, medicinal plants used in traditional systems are very important to human health.

In 1991, WHO defined traditional medicine “as comprising therapeutic practices that have been in existence, often for hundreds of years, before the development and spread of modern scientific medicine, and are still in use today. These practices vary widely, in keeping with the social and cultural heritage of different countries” (Mahler 1991).

WHO does not blindly endorse all forms of traditional medicine. It recognizes that although many elements are beneficial, others are not, and “some are definitely harmful.” WHO’s role is to explore the merits of traditional systems in light of modern science to maximize useful practices and discourage harmful ones, and to promote their integration with scientific medicine.

Making Medicines from Plants

One of the most active areas of research is evaluation of plant-based traditional remedies. In India alone, 500 million people depend on plant-derived drugs for their health needs. WHO has estimated that by the turn of the century about 80% of the world’s population will rely on plant-based medicines. Yet, although the importance of medicinal plants is growing, the number of plants is declining.

WHO is trying to encourage local production of pharmacologically active products as substitutes for imports and for use in national drug programs. The natural products division of the us National Cancer Institute screens thousands of plants annually for substances with anticancer activities. These plants come from the oceans and tropical forests of more than 25 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America (Hart 1991). Whenever possible, those who collect the specimens seek the knowledge of local healers about the plants, hoping to profit from this vast resource before both traditional medicine and the forests disappear.

“It’s a race against time,” says ethnobotanist Paul Cox of Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. “I think we have only about another 20 years.”

In the 1970s, Zaire established the first African national research program on traditional medicine. Sponsored by IDRC, the study by the country’s national Research and Development Board - which had a department of traditional medicine for several years - involved 600 healers and 4 000 patients. The project studied how the healers operated, who they were, what plants they used in their herbal remedies, and what success they had.

By that time, many other African countries - including Benin, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Togo - had established national centres to study the plants used by healers. Dr Oku Ampofo, then Director of Ghana’s Centre for Scientific Research into Plant Medicine and one of the first Western-trained doctors to take traditional medicine seriously, said that clinical trials showed that traditional African medical treatments for guinea worm (a parasite) and Herpes zoster (shingles) were highly effective, while there was no effective remedy for either condition in modern medicine. The traditional treatments used a concoction of roots of Combretum mucronatum for guinea worm, while the root bark of Balanites aegyptiaca, when ground into powder and made into a paste, healed Herpes zoster lesions within a week. He also claimed success with herbal remedies for diabetes mellitus and bronchial asthma.

Modern Science Examines Ancient Remedies

Two members of the Diabetes Research Institute in Britain’s Aston University, Birmingham, reviewed traditional plant medicine treatments for diabetes, which they called “possibly the world’s fastest growing metabolic disease” (Bailey and Day 1989).

They said that “since the availability of insulin, folklore medicines for diabetes have almost disappeared in occidental societies, although they continue to be the cornerstone of therapy in underdeveloped regions. Renewed attention to alternative medicines and natural therapies has stimulated a new wave of research interest in traditional practices, and the World Health Organization expert committee on diabetes has listed as one of its recommendations that traditional methods of treatment for diabetes should be further investigated.”

More than 400 different plants and plant extracts have been described as reputedly beneficial for diabetics, the researchers said. Most claim hypoglycemic (blood-sugar lowering) properties, “but most claims are anecdotal and few have received adequate medical or scientific evaluation.”

Yet review of 140 publications persuaded the researchers that “the study of such medicines might offer a natural key to unlock a diabetologist’s pharmacy for the future.” They concluded that while traditional antidiabetic plants were unlikely to produce “an orally active botanical substitute for insulin,” they might lead to new ways of stimulating insulin production in diabetics through the development of new compounds. Or they might be useful “as simple dietary adjuncts to existing therapies.”

Later studies by Indian medical researchers showed a leaf extract of Gymnema sylvestre did indeed reduce insulin requirements in some patients, as a result of an apparent increase in their bodies’ production of the hormone. The researchers also found the plant extract appeared to slow the artery-hardening complications that appear in diabetics (Baskaran et al. 1990; Shanmugasundaram et al. 1990).

Why Seek Traditional Healers?

During a visit to the IDRC project in Zaire, I learned that healers seek not only the physical, but also the emotional and spiritual causes of illnesses. They view the patient’s life as a whole. They live with the people they treat and in most cases know a lot about their patients and their families - and their treatment takes account of such factors.

All the healers I met seemed very different from the stereotypical view Northerners have of “witch doctors.” For the most part, they were just ordinary people - unassuming and even rather humble, with a genuine interest in helping humanity. Their occupation was regarded as a trust, but it also brought them status. These healers were open about their treatment methods and, like doctors everywhere, they were willing to share their experiences.

Traditional medicine also flourishes in Indonesia. When I visited North Sumatra University, Dr Hasjim Effendy, then head of the physiology department in the medical school, said he was sometimes surprised by the effectiveness of the treatments of the dukuns, as traditional healers are called. They were particularly skilled in setting bone fractures and dislocations, and the healing process seemed to progress faster than with modern medical treatments.

Researchers in an IDRC-sponsored study in Indonesia concluded it was desirable to have dukuns participate in the health system, and recommended their integration into national health services, as was already being done in Java with dukuns specializing in childbirth.

There Are Differences

Dr Ampofo once explained why traditional healers so often serve their patients well (Nichols 1982):

The approach of the traditional practitioner to his patient is quite different from what we get in western medicine. Western doctors are interested in the disease the patient suffers from, and the traditional healer is interested in the person, making him whole completely. Sometimes in Western medicine the doctor relies mainly on laboratory reports. He may spend about two or five minutes only with the patient and just give him a prescription. There is no empathy between the two. The traditional herbalist will study a patient even for a couple of hours, for a whole day, before he treats that patient, taking into account the patient’s religious belief, his cultural background; and I think our system is a much better approach because you deal with the whole personality and not just his disease.

More recently, the Dean of Benin University’s Health Sciences Faculty, Dr Eus Alihonou, said of his country’s use of traditional medicine practitioners in health research (quoted in Badou 1994):

Their inclusion represents a philosophy of building the new on the old, as the Beninois like to say. The new rope is spliced onto the old. We have to work together with traditional healers, who are great repositories of local knowledge. They are also members of their communities, just like the local peasants.

By the way, we have made a point of dealing with genuine peasants, not with retirees or intellectuals who occasionally dabble in farming. Some might wonder what peasants could possibly know about research; let me assure you, they know quite a lot.... There are undoubtedly intellectuals among the peasants who know how to look for ways to solve their problems. If for no other reason, community members - peasants - must be involved in research.

But There Are also Similarities

Some of the North’s medical community consider that medicine and psychiatry in the North and the South have much in common. In 1977, neurosurgeon C. Norman Shealy wrote in Occult Medicine Can Save Your Life (Shealy and Freese 1977):

As I see it, physician, witch doctor, shaman, medicine men are all essentially faith healers and have always been.... A careful study by Dr Jerome D. Prank, professor of psychiatry the Johns Hopkins University, revealed that the recovery of American soldiers from schistosomiasis, a parasitic blood infestation, was dependent on the men’s emotional condition; those who failed to recover were found to feel unloved and to have lost faith in their doctors. Even full recovery from

Asian flu, as has been clearly shown by a Johns Hopkins medical team, depends on the emotional state of the patient, something which the doctor - the healer - can handle only by providing the love and faith these soldiers with schistosomiasis lacked.

Psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey opens his 1973 book, The Mind Game: Witch Doctors and Psychiatrists, with the statement: “Witch doctors and psychiatrists perform essentially the same functions in their respective cultures. They are both therapists; both treat patients using similar techniques; and both get similar results. Recognition of this should not downgrade psychiatrists; rather, it should upgrade witch doctors.”

Torrey says the term “witch doctor. apparently arose out of the 18th and 19th century European exploration of Africa, when new cultures “were rapidly assigned their proper status in The Order of Things.

We were white; they were black. We were civilized; they were primitive. We were Christian; they were pagan. We used science; they used magic. We had doctors; they had witch doctors. This simplistic reductionism is still remarkably prevalent in our thinking about other cultures, though it is being reevaluated. It afforded an easy way to inflate the self-esteem of the white races, though, of course, at the expense of others.

Books like Shealy’s and Torrey’s show how, in its development of a more holistic approach during the 1970s, Northern medicine underwent a rapprochement with the methods of traditional medicine in the South. Both authors urged study of traditional medicine’s approach and the integration of it and other nonscientific systems into the North’s medical systems.

Today, this more open approach to healing has led to a full-fledged movement in the North called “mind-body medicine.” In a 1993 compendium of essays by leaders in the field, Daniel Goleman and Joel Gurin note that “the use of these approaches is becoming more widespread and they are gaining more respect and interest from researchers in major medical institutions.”

Their book was endorsed by the Fetzer Institute, a nonprofit us educational organization that promotes “scientifically tested health care methods that utilize the principles of mind-body phenomena” and publishes a quarterly journal, Advances. At least one national conference is held annually on this theme; the us National Institutes of Health has hosted a workshop on alternate therapies; and, in 1993, the Public Broadcasting System aired a five-part series called “Healing and the Mind,” sponsored, in part, by an insurance company.

The South as a Laboratory of Ideas

The difference between conditions of life in the North and the South, and in the approach often taken by scientists from these regions, have given rise to new perspectives that will benefit both. One example is Dr Osuntokun’s work in coronary artery disease.

Coronary Disease and the Third World - Dr Osuntokun, whose work with tropical ataxic neuropathy was described earlier, had as his doctoral supervisor Dr Adetokunbo Lucas, former head of WHO’S Tropical Medicine Program and currently Professor of International Health at Harvard University’s School of Public Health.

In a telephone conversation, Dr Lucas noted Dr Osuntokun’s studies showing that coronary artery disease was relatively rare among Africans until recently. Autopsies in Africa and in the United States showed great differences in the amount of fat deposits on the insides of arteries - which lead to heart attacks and strokes - between people in Nigeria, Senegal, Uganda, and the United States.

“Those studies should have been followed up because they indicated quite clearly an environmental cause to atheroma, much more strongly than I think most of the other studies had shown,” said Dr Lucas. “One of them, for example, showed that among women 60 years old, about 60% of their cerebral vessels were free of atheroma [fat deposits].

“The situation is now changing dynamically in the sense that the younger generation of Nigerians are now beginning to show complications of atheromatous changes, presumably as a
result of lifestyle changes such as diet and cigarette smoking. It would have been very nice if we had been able to monitor the evolution of this as a new disease in the area. In developed countries it’s very difficult to define a truly low-risk group, and yet when I was a clinician in Ibadan for 16 years [from 1968 to the mid-1970s], I did not see one case of acute myocardial infarction [heart attack] in Nigeria. I was in a teaching hospital where they were doing 1 200 autopsies a year. We saw [infarctions] among British and Lebanese; [but among Nigerians] postmortem arteriograms showed arterial vessels were clean and open. That position has now changed and people are now falling down dead with acute myocardial infarction.”

Alzheimer’s Disease, North and South - Dr Osuntokun’s more recent investigations have taken him into another field of major interest to the industrialized world: dementia of the elderly, especially Alzbeimer’s disease.

Developing countries currently contain more than half the world’s population of elderly, and that proportion should reach 75% by the year 2020 (Osuntokun et al. 1992). Alzheimer’s disease accounts for two-thirds of dementia of the elderly in Caucasian populations; but, apart from reports from China, there is little or no information on dementias of the elderly in developing countries. Osuntokun’s studies suggest Alzheimer’s is rare among black Africans in Africa, yet black Americans of African lineage commonly suffer from it.

“We emphasize the potential value of cross-cultural epidemiological studies of ethnic groups in different environments and with difference prevalence ratios of Alzheimer’s disease, in identifying putative environmental factors for this disease,” the authors say.

Comparative studies are now underway between Africa and the United States, and the researchers believe they may well reveal risk factors that are prevalent in the North, but relatively absent in the South. If it were possible to reduce the risks, the incidence of Alzheimer’s could, perhaps, be reduced in both the North and the South. Prostitutes and HIV - One of the few recent promising discoveries in the worldwide attempt to conquer AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) comes from a slum called Pumwani in Nairobi, Kenya. A project funded by IDRC and other Canadian agencies (Plummer et al. 1993) has revealed that the immune systems of some prostitutes appear to prevent them from becoming infected by HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). This finding contradicts accepted theories about the cause of AIDS: no immune responses are known that will protect the body against HIV infection.

The project’s findings also contradict another tenet of current HIV knowledge - that all individuals are supposed to be equally susceptible to infection, and that the risk increases with increasing exposure to the virus.

The Canadian and Kenyan researchers found that women who had been prostitutes for the longest time seemed to have the lowest frequency of HIV infection. A small percentage of the women enroled in the study repeatedly tested negative for HIV, while a large percentage tested positive. The apparently immune group has since remained HIV negative for up to 8 years.

Searching for possible explanations, the researchers found that the apparently immune group had more, not less, potential exposure to HIV, because its members had more clients and reported no more condom use than the others. Nor did these women have fewer other sexually transmitted diseases than the other prostitutes - which could have helped explain the discrepancy because these other diseases make HIV infection more likely.

The reason for the apparent immunity remains a mystery. A similar phenomenon has been found occasionally in other countries among small groups and individuals who have avoided development of AIDS for long periods despite being HIV positive. These groups and individuals, together with the small group of Kenya prostitutes, could serve as a model for further research. Such models - currently exceedingly scarce - are vital to scientists’ understanding of how HIV works. The Kenya research may prove helpful as the basis of further research that might lead to development of an HIV vaccine.

Lessons in Longevity from Chino

It may seem surprising that a country like China, which for decades has found it difficult to provide adequate food for its hundreds of millions of people, could teach the North anything about diet. Yet, an article in New Scientist (Vines 1990) reports that:

Since the birth of the People’s Republic in 1949, China has experienced a revolution in public health. In one of the great medical success stories of our century, the Chinese have largely won the battle against malnutrition, and infectious and parasitic diseases. At the death rates of the 1940s, about half the children born in China could expect to die before reaching middle age. But at current death rates, more than 90% can now expect to survive to middle age, as in the West, and China has achieved this “epidemiological transition’ in less than half the time it took Britain.

The article was based on what was then the latest in a series of publications resulting from a huge nationwide survey of the causes of all deaths in China between 1973 and 1975. About 6000 people worked on the survey, which covered 96% of the population. One of the largest epidemiological surveys ever conducted, “Diet, Life-style, and Mortality in China,” was updated in 1989.

The study involved researchers from both the North and the South, and revealed some interesting contrasts between causes of death in China and Britain. Cholesterol-related diseases accounted for one-third of all deaths among middle-aged Britons whose diets were rich in saturated animal fats.

“In Britain, an average of between 40 and 45% of dietary energy comes from fat, but in rural China in 1983 only 15% did so, and virtually all that came from plant fats, not animal or dairy fats,” reported New Scientist (Vines 1990). “As a result of this largely vegetarian, almost vegan diet in rural China, cholesterol levels are, by Western standards, extraordinarily low, and coronary heart disease is rarely recorded as a cause of death.”

Richard Peto, of the ICRF Cancer Studies Unit at the University of Oxford, one of the study’s collaborators, said: “The Chinese experience shows that most of Western coronary heart disease is unnecessary.”

Industrialization has brought many life-style changes to China. Consumption of animal fats, for example, has increased. This has made China a sort of living laboratory for epidemiology, where changes can be correlated with disease. Not surprisingly, the study found that increased meat consumption increased diseases such as heart attacks, cancer, and diabetes.

In a recent conversation, Dr Peto explained why developing-country studies like the one in China are valuable:

They give us a better idea of what normality might be. In terms of epidemiology, looking at populations that differ from Western populations is useful because it shows that every disease that is common in the West doesn’t have to be common. Overall, our death rates are lower than those in developing countries and we’re less likely to die before middle age and in middle age, so it’s not that they’re healthier than us. But whatever diseases are common in the West, you can find some other population where they’re not common. This is one of the perspectives that is provided by research in developing countries - that every disease that is common among us doesn’t have to be. It’s not normal to get coronary artery disease in middle age. It’s not normal to have a lot of intestinal cancer.

Prediction: Half a Billion Deaths from Tobacco

Whoa studies of tobacco consumption show how vital research in this field is. According to the Whoa Collaborative Group, the developed world is responsible for most deaths from smoking during the current century. By the next century, the emphasis will shift to the developing world.

In many parts of the developing world, more than half the men are smokers, and death rates from chronic disease are already high in many parts of Asia and Latin America.

Over the past few decades, there has been a massive global increase in cigarette smoking - the chief effects of which will not be seen until the next century. Smoking causes deaths not only from lung cancer, but from many other diseases, and risk factors vary from region to region. Although the risk of death from cardiovascular diseases is not as high among Third World smokers as it is among smokers in the developed world - because of their lower exposure to other risk factors such as high blood-cholesterol levels - the high prevalence of respiratory diseases in the Third World may greatly increase vulnerability to pulmonary diseases.

In 1990, the WHO consultative group on statistical aspects of tobacco mortality, chaired by Dr Peto, reported the following in the Proceedings of the 7th World Conference on Tobacco and Health (WHO 1990):

During the 1990s, there will probably be about 3 million deaths per year from tobacco. About 2 million will be in developed countries, but estimates for other countries are not yet as reliable, so the total of 3 million has an uncertainty of about one million either way.

Worldwide mortality from tobacco is, however, still rising rapidly (particularly in the less developed countries), partly because of population growth but chiefly because previous large increases in cigaret smoking by young adults will have caused large increases in mortality by the time the young adults of today are middle aged.

On the basis of current smoking patterns, the date when worldwide annual mortality from tobacco will exceed 10 million (of which about 3 million will then be in developed countries) probably lies sometime in about the 2020s. (Those aged 35-69 in 2025 were aged 0-34 in 1990.)

Without large reductions in early smoking uptake or smoking persistence, there will probably be over 10 million deaths per year during the second quarter (2025-2049) of the next century. This would mean that over 200 million of today’s children and teenagers will be killed by tobacco, as will a comparable number of today’s adults, i.e. that a total of about half a billion of the world population today will be killed by tobacco. Some will already be over 70 and might have died soon anyway, but about a quarter of a billion will be 35-69, losing on average about 20 years of life.

These predictions, reported the Consultative Group, are based on the best currently available evidence of what it calls “this great epidemic.” But they still need to be reinforced or modified in several different parts of the world - for example, parts of China, India, and Latin America - by large prospective studies that progressively record smoking habits over the years.

What is important is that such studies could be used to help modify behaviour and decrease smoking and, therefore, reduce the deaths produced by this worldwide epidemic.

Making Health Policy Decisions Together

The realization that it is impossible to provide everyone everywhere with high-quality, affordable health care led to the establishment of a nongovernmental organization within the UN in 1993 (Wilson 1994). Known as the Council on Health Research for Development (COHRED), it included 38 countries, agencies and organizations, and a 17-member board of directors, of whom 12 members were from developing countries.

Before COHRED was formed, the world’s poor rarely participated in decision-making affecting their health. The emphasis, moreover, was mainly on new technologies, rather than on providing affordable services. The Essential National Health Research (ENHR) strategy was evolved through COHRED to help mainly poor countries make difficult choices and solve problems using scientific methods that involve their own people, researchers, and decision-makers. Some countries are already using this strategy. In Benin, Professor Alihonou is the Director of the Regional Health and Development Centre (CREDESA), which is responsible for ENHR.

CREDESA has developed a community-based information system for use by local residents. Its representatives spend time in the villages, explaining research results to residents, organizing seminars, and using songs to teach sound health principles. For example, in teaching about nutrition, health-care professionals and parents develop menus together that reflect the parents’ purchasing power and the family food supply. Later, the mothers prepare the menus by themselves. These teaching methods are much more economical than traditional ones.

In Bangladesh, spurred by ENHR, a group of young researchers are trying to solve the country’s basic health problems. Previous policy has largely neglected the socioeconomic aspects of peoples’ lives. Under the new strategy, university lecturer Golam Azom is trying to determine the socioeconomic characteristics of drug addiction on families in a northern Rajshahi town. He wants to know what drives people to their addictions, what types of drugs they use, and the impact of drug abuse on their families. His findings should assist in finding ways to help affected families to curb drug abuse.

In Bangladesh, there are projects to assess the efficiency of health-care delivery by hospitals. Their findings will be disseminated among policymakers and the media.

In specific instances, when compared to the North, the South will be seen to be marching to the beat of a different drummer. In health systems research, where the North is considered light years ahead of the South, it seems that knowledge from the South can benefit the North. Today, both the South and the North are searching earnestly for ways to reduce escalating health-care costs. Collaborative efforts such as ENHR’S approach could help both find optimal solutions to their health problems.

Toward Sustainable Development

Since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit (United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, UNCED), adoption of the principle of sustainable development has been a major Third World development thrust. Says a World Resources Institute (WRI) publication (Faeth 1993):

Throughout the world’s farming regions, such problems as salinization, erosion, soil compaction and waterlogging, water pollution and depletion, and desertification indicate that much of today’s agriculture is unsustainable. The damage can no longer be ignored, not when 1.2 billion hectares of land - an area as large as India and China combined - have been seriously degraded since 1945.... If current land degradation trends are allowed to continue, farmers will be extremely hard-pressed to grow enough food, fuel, and fibre for the more populous world of the next century. Erosion alone has destroyed an estimated 430 million hectares of arable land.

Without conservation measures, 500 million more hectares of the developing world’s rainfed cropland may become irreversibly unproductive over coming decades. To keep up with growing demand, agriculture must be put on a sustainable footing.

Yet despite the need, there is no consensus on what agricultural sustainability means, the WRI said. The authors of its case studies devised analytical methods of quantifying the financial, economic, and environmental costs and benefits of conventional and alternative production systems. Previous comparisons have ignored the impacts of the different systems on natural resources - a critical omission. The following are among the study’s findings:

- The Indian study focused on alternatives to conventional rice paddy-wheat rotation systems in a semi-arid district of the Punjab. The area requires heavy dosages of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides, repeated deep plowing, and heavy use of groundwater. Eighteen combinations of tillage, irrigation, and fertilization practices were analyzed for paddy-wheat, and three more for maize-wheat. Conventional paddy-wheat rotation was found to be more environmentally damaging, less profitable to farmers, and less economically valuable to society than alternative farming systems that conserve natural resources.

- In Chile, the study found that the existing price structure and cost-benefit ratio give peasant farmers - but not commercial farmers - financial incentives to adopt organic practices.

- In the Philippines, the benefits of natural pest control were clearest when pesticide-related health costs were accounted for. The authors proposed that national pesticide policies should greatly restrict use of the most hazardous pesticides and eliminate all subsidies on pesticide use.

- In the United States, the authors concluded that recent changes in agricultural legislation fail to provide the incentives needed to move farmers toward sustainability. The incentive structure of the farm program in fact works against sound resource management. Farmers who plant crops to control pests and manage soil fertility receive less government support than those who follow the program if the crops they plant are not on the approved list.

Insuring Food for the Future

What is being done to ensure agricultural sustainability in the Third World?

The IARCS, once criticized for heavily promoting chemical fertilizers in their “green revolution” production systems, now emphasize farming techniques that increase crop yields without compromising future productive potentials of the agricultural resource base. This is illustrated by the inclusion of two new centres devoted to research on trees: the International Center for Research on Agroforestry (ICRAF) and the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). Another example is a major project with sustainability goals established by the International Potato

Center (CIP) in the Andean highlands. The two main principles of the project are preservation of genetic diversity in the region and development of better land-use systems.

Central to CIP’s genetic diversity program is the work of 73-year-old Carlos Ochoa, who for 40 years has roamed the rugged Andes mountains and valleys in search of wild potato species (CIP 1993). Ochoa has discovered 80 of 240 known wild potatoes - more than any other individual. Three have been named after him. And, for his work, he was awarded the Bernardo A. Houssay Inter-American Science Prize by the Organization of American States in Washington in 1992.

In discovering and preserving wild species, Ochoa and other collectors provide the genetic diversity enabling scientists to develop new varieties that will grow under difficult environmental conditions, produce higher yields, or resist insect pests and disease. In the Andes, there was serious danger of losing this diversity. As farmers migrated to the cities, they abandoned potato fields and terraces that had been cultivated for thousands of years, and where wild species were dying out as a result of erosion, deforestation, and the harmful effects of chemical pesticides. Many of the species Ochoa saved are now believed to be extinct in the wild - buried under volcanic ash, destroyed by bulldozers building the Pan American highway, or crushed under slums in the outskirts of Lima.

Ochoa’s long searches have taken him into dangerous territory. Near the Peruvian village of Chota, a band of thieves mistook him for a treasure hunter and tried to kill him. He escaped with a wild potato species by hiding under a rocky overhang. Another time in Colombia, he rescued a wild species from destruction by a volcano that had lain dormant for years, but erupted just after he left the mountainside.

Ochoa’s prize find was the potato species described by Charles Darwin in the 1830s. Ochoa found it in 1969 in the exact spot Darwin had - in a cove in the Chilorchipelago off the coast of Chile.

This hardy Peruvian explorer-scientist, a Fellow of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington and the Linnaeus Society, comes from an unlikely background. He is the son of a wealthy landowner, and, until joining CIP in 1971, he financed most of his own expeditions. He is a graduate in agricultural engineering from the University of Cochambaba, Bolivia, and the University of Minnesota in the United States. Before joining CIP, he was professor of plant breeding at Peru’s Universidad Nacional Agraria in La Molina.

Ochoa’s work is helping to solve what UNEP calls, in its 1992 publication, Two Decades of Achievement and Challenge, “one of the most pressing environmental and development issues today” - the loss of the Earth’s biological diversity. “About one quarter of the Earth’s species may be lost within the next 30 years,” states UNEP. “With each species that disappears, developing countries - stewards of most of the planet’s biological wealth - lose potential for sustainable development.”

Fighting the loss of biological diversity and working for sustainable development does not benefit just the South. The North also depends on the Earth’s biological wealth for its wellbeing, and, as that dissipates, its citizens will become poorer.

Managing Pests with Less Chemicals

The “green revolution” that saved millions of people from starvation and helped make a number of Third World countries self-sustaining in the production of rice and wheat, depended largely on heavy use of chemical pesticides for its success. The ill effects of pesticide overuse on the environment and on personal health are well known, and recently it has been shown that, in at least some cases, the health costs of pesticide use outweigh the economic benefits for farmers.

A major study in 1993 on the health effects of pesticide use on rice showed that Filipino farmers’ earnings from crops treated with pesticides were invariably negated by the cost of treating health problems caused by the pesticide (Pingali and Rola 1993). In the place of pesticides, international institutes are now promoting integrated pest management (IPM) programs. These programs emphasize nonchemical methods of pest control, such as planting of pest-resistant varieties and the pests’ natural enemies to destroy them. Pesticides are not excluded, but are used only when necessary to prevent crop and profit losses. Even then, the pesticides are selected on the basis of human and environmental safety.

Working with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), scientists in China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia the Philippines, Thailand, and Viet Nam are now showing that, through {PM, farmers can substantially decrease their reliance on chemicals for pest control. Farmers, local government officials, and extension and research staff participate in FAO’S IPM program.

In selected Asian national programs that collaborated with the FAO program in 1990 and 1991, more than 1 million person-days of field training was undertaken (FAO 1991). Farmers’ profits were calculated to have increased by more than $60 per hectare after training. In one village near Yogjarkarta, a farmers’ group paid more than 25% of their monthly incomes for 3 months to support a full season of the {PM Farmers’ Field School. IPM - trained farmers in West Java attained higher than national average yields in demonstration sites with 80% less pesticide use. In Bangladesh, trained farmers spent 60% less on pesticides, yet found their profits increased by 15%.

Voracious Enemies of the Green Spider Mite

Scientists in South America and Africa are also involved in helping farmers with IPM programs. The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Nigeria are collaborating to help cassava farmers protect their crops against its most important pest: the green spider mite (CIAT 1993). This mite has spread from various parts of South America to northeast Brazil and Africa, where it has few natural enemies. It defoliates new cassava leaves, stunting the plant’s growth and reducing its yield, or killing it outright.

A species of predatory mites (phytoseiids) helps control the spider mite. It does so with horrifying effectiveness - jumping onto its prey and sucking out its stomach contents, leaving nothing but a desiccated carcass. Two members of this species, originally from Brazil, were successfully established in Africa through a multinational effort organized by IITA, in collaboration with CIAT and Brazil’s national agricultural research agency, EMBRAPA.

Another predatory insect farmers can breed is the Polistes wasp, which attacks another pest - the cassava hornworm. The wasp’s technique is even more blood-curdling: it stings and paralyzes the hornworm, cuts it into strips, and carries the pieces back to the nest to feed its young.

CIAT entomologist Dr Anthony Bellotti says Brazilian farmers concoct a “green milkshake” to protect 30000 hectares from the hornworm. “The milkshake is a homemade pesticide made from virus-infected hornworms liquefied in water with a kitchen blender. It harms only the hornworm,” he explains.

Integrated pest management is currently gaining interest in the North. And the North could benefit from its use at least as much as Third World countries do - perhaps more, considering the gargantuan load of chemicals industrialized countries dump daily into the environment. But as the us part of the World Resources Institute study indicates, much more needs to be done. Perhaps much of that could be learned by the North from experience gained in the South. The next chapter will examine further the need for North-South collaboration, and particularly why it is essential if we are to solve major global problems that affect both North and South.