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close this bookCERES No. 058 (FAO Ceres, 1977, 50 p.)
close this folderWorld report
View the documentTime for a little order on the commodity markets
View the documentThe new IMF facility: an oxygen mask
View the documentBiogas plants
View the documentThe club of the friends of the Sahel
View the documentA return to traditional cropping
View the documentRADAM discovers an unknown world
View the documentDevelopment aid: UNCTAD is trying to sort it out
View the documentReversal of a historical trend: more young farmers in the United States

Time for a little order on the commodity markets

Meeting in Rome from 2 to 6 May, the FAO Committee on Commodity Problems has sounded the alarm: world markets are in delirium, and the waltz of prices, stocks and trading seems never-ending. In 1976, coffee exports, for example, increased by 85 percent in value, rising from $3.9 to $7.3 thousand million, and cocoa exports by about 8 percent. On the other hand, sugar exports dropped from $10.7 thousand million in 1975 to $7.3 thousand million in 1976, while the scarcity in 1975 gave way, in 1976, to surpluses: a depression in world prices was the result. It is possible that in 1977 consumption will increase in the United States and Canada, these two countries having recently forbidden the use of saccharine as a food additive. Overall, increases have been noted, not only for coffee and cocoa, but also for rubber, tea, bananas, rice and soya.

The price of coffee continued to soar during the first quarter of this year. That of cocoa showed a sharp rise in January and February, and fluctuations in March-April. The price of cotton, which had dropped at the end of 1976, rose again at the beginning of 1977. It is foreseen that consumption will drop this year.

There are few changes to be noted on the world market of industrial fibres. The price of tea, on the other hand, is flaring up. It is almost twice as high now as it was in January 1977.

The demand for soya is considerable, but it is feared that production will hardly increase at all. The figures for harvests in the United States where, in recent years, these fluctuations have been very pronounced, are anxiously awaited. In March, the price of soya increased by 17 percent; that of soybean oil by 20 percent and that of coconut oil by 38 percent. Moreover, during the first quarter of 1977 there were substantial rises in the prices of the principal oilseeds, oils and proteins (oil meals).

The price of beef has increased slightly, production having been reduced in North America and Western Europe. EEC purchases have dropped. However, frozen beef stocks remain considerable. It is foreseen that exports will be lower this year than in 1976. There is also a drop in the price of pork.

Sagging production of wheat and coarse grains is foreseen for 1977, but it is possible that availabilities will remain unchanged thanks to stocks having been replenished in 1976. A record volume for world trade in rice was registered in 1976: 8 1 million tons. Exports from developing countries showed a rise of 75 percent. However, a slight drop is expected this year. According to forecasts, total stocks of cereals, at the end of the 1976-77 season, will reach 155 million tons, or 33 million more than at the end of the 1975/76 season.

Markets are evenly balanced with regard to bananas and rubber, the prices, on the whole, remaining stable. It is foreseen that butter stocks, already considerable, will again show a tendency to rise.

It becomes increasingly obvious that markets must be regularized by the constitution of adequate and well-managed stocks, by the negotiation of agreements on all commodities, and by the creation, finally, of the famous "common fund," on which it was not possible to reach agreement in March-April last, despite the efforts of UNCTAD. We will mention this again in November at the latest.

· Food losses: the $20 million Fund progresses

As we hoped in ceres No. 55 (p. 7), the FAO Committee on Agriculture meeting in April approved the creation of a $20 million fund for the struggle against food losses. This does not mean to say, alas, that it will become operational at once, since it must still receive the endorsement of the governing bodies of the Organization ... and the subscriptions. Democracy has its drawbacks.

How will this fund be used? The FAO Committee on Agriculture requests that campaigns be launched at national level to invite people to reduce food losses. Awareness of the problem is necessary. Also, it may be remembered that the United Nations wishes to encourage efforts on a planetary level to reduce by half, by 1985, food losses during transit from producer to consumer.

It will not be easy to obtain satisfactory results quickly. Obstacles will undoubtedly arise, particularly at village level. Moreover, specialists in tropical postharvest technology are extremely few. However, the FAO Committee on Agriculture considers that the constitution of a fund should be supported, because, despite the difficulties to be overcome, the prospects of a victory are very enticing. As one press release put it, "the prize of success will be enormous."

· ESCAP issues its 1975 yearbook

The import and export trade in the countries of Asia and the Pacific more than quintupled in the decade 1964 to 1974. This spectacular growth doubtless represents one of the most positive facts of the economic development of this region. This is shown by the 1975 statistical yearbook just published by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). It contains information for 34 member and associate member countries of ESCAP, not only on trade, population, agriculture and industry, but also on employment, energy supplies, consumption, transportation, communications, wages, prices, forestry, fisheries and, at the end, all the social and financial indicators.

According to ESCAP, the total value of imports during the 10-year period 1964 74 rose from U.S.$24 thousand million to $ 137 thousand million. Exports rose even more, reaching the same level as imports in 1974, whereas in 1964 they came to only $20.5 thousand million. The share of the developing countries in the region's trade was almost six times larger in 1974 than in 1964. In fact, the value of the imports of these countries increased from $12 thousand million to $61) thousand million while that of exports, which attained only $10 thousand million in 1964, reached $68 thousand million ten years later.

Nevertheless, and despite this impressive development of trade, the rate of population growth versus food production is a matter of concern. While the annual growth rate of agriculture and food production was 2.4 percent, population growth accelerated year after year, rising by as much as 2 percent between 1973 and 1974.

· The Asian Rice Trade Fund: a difficult birth

More than two years after its creation, in December 1974, the Asian Rice Trade Fund is still not operational. Established under the auspices of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), this Fund was supposed to assist the participating countries in meeting foreign exchange difficulties arising from fluctuations in the rice trade, notably, by providing facilities for government-to-government transactions.

Nothing could be done up to now due to lack of financial resources as well as of participants: there are only a very few rice-exporting countries among the signers of the agreement, while the developed countries of the region are completely excluded from membership. Thus, the first step is to open the Fund to wider membership.

Meeting at the beginning of March in Bangkok to consider ways of bringing the Fund into operation, its Board of Directors decided that all member countries of ESCAP, both developing and developed, could join it. The Board, moreover, entrusted ESCAP with contacting several international agencies to help in its financing. If, indeed, it could be considered as a development project of the Asian region aimed at food security, it could be assisted by agencies such as the World Bank or the Asian Development Bank. Detailed proposals on the mechanisms for guaranteeing markets and the establishment of a system of ceiling and floor prices will need to be formulated by a working group, in consultation with the countries concerned.

The new IMF facility: an oxygen mask

With some countries on the brink of bankruptcy or already having ceased to pay, and others heavily indebted, anxiety occasionally penetrates international finance, which however makes a virtue of impassivity. To prevent the spread of this malaise, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has received a mandate to create, as quickly as possible, a new financial mechanism. The decision was taken at a meeting of finance ministers of the Committee of Twenty in Washington, D.C., at the end of April.

The "kitty" that will be collected will serve to refloat both the industrialized and the developing countries that are experiencing payment difficulties and do not look as though they will get out of them for several years. This difficult situation, peculiar insofar as it has lasted some time, is to a large extent the result of world recession and inflation and the 1973 increase in the price of petroleum. Since then, the oil-producing countries have accumulated surpluses by way of external payments to the order of $140 thousand million. These surpluses have been set off by deficits among some industrialized countries-with the exception of the United States, the Federal Republic of Germany, Japan, the Benelux countries and Switzerland-and all the economically developing countries. To settle the bill, the countries in deficit would have been able to print more money if, by any chance, they had been in a position to make the creditors accept the notes. Unable to do so, they filled up the hole by getting into debt, particularly on the international financial market where the oil-producing countries have placed their surpluses on deposit. With such a mission, which has consisted in fixing the interrelation between surpluses and deficits, so as to maintain a sort of perpetual motion, the big international banks have excelled with new methods.

Nevertheless, many countries, in order to keep afloat, are indebted up to their necks in unprecedented proportions and on more and more onerous conditions. OECD calculates at $90 thousand million the accumulated indebtedness of the industrialized countries in deficit, among which France, Italy and the United Kingdom are prominent As to the indebtedness of the poorer countries, it has been around $80 thousand million since 1974. Worse, contrary to general opinion a few years ago, all hope of a remedy to the situation before 1980 has fled. The swelling of the debt in recent years and its probable expansion in the years to come have aroused anxiety, particularly among the private banks, which have covered a large part (between 50 and 60 percent) of the borrowing It must be added that, since 1974, conditions for private credit are hard: higher interest rates and duration again down to five years. Consequently, credits granted since 1974 will fall due at the same time as those granted earlier.

Will the debtors be able to meet their payment. If not, presumably their financial credibility will be called in question. Some people have not hesitated to put this type of question and a strong back-stopping operation by IMF was the reply. The international organization's action seems all the more timely inasmuch as, when granting assistance to a country, after having examined its books and imposed conditions, if necessary, it delivers a sort of certificate of respectability to the debtor.

Why another financial mechanism? The services of IMF were already much in demand in 1976, since it granted some $7 thousand million in loans, of which half were by way of compensatory financing for exportations. Furthermore' it has granted credits of $2 thousand million out of the unexpended balance of the oil facility set up in 1975. In all, although it requested another parallel mechanism arranged by the rich countries in the Group of Ten for the credit in January to the United Kingdom, IMF is short of money to accomplish the missions assigned to it. The new facility, called the Witteveen facility, will; enable it to replenish its coffers. It will collect $14 to $16 thousand million; through equal contributions, - on the one hand from industrialized countries, like the Federal Republic of Germany, the United States, the Netherlands and Japan, and on the other, the oil-producing countries - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait; the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela. According to certain indications, Saudi Arabia's contribution on which depend the contributions of the other countries- would; be of the order of $4 thousand million. Thanks to this- fund, IMF would grant countries in deficit credits of a longer duration than that of the' traditional loans (usually five years) but not exceeding seven years. These credits would carry a near-market interest rate (between 5 and 6 percent). However, there should be a subsidy to reduce the cost of loans for the less favoured developing countries. It must also be rioted that certain conditions, similar to those imposed on the latest credit slices of IMF, will be placed on the provision of credit

The Fund will also examine the; possibility of raising the quotas. This would be another contribution to increasing not only its resources but also the possibilities of credit for member countries. In this connection, the developing countries have requested the doubling of quotas, but it is probable that the Fund will-work toward an increase of 25 percent next autumn.

Biogas plants

It is estimated that about 1 350 million tons of cow and buffalo dung are burned every year as cooking fuel in India. This represents a serious problem; as much of this cattle dung could ,be used as fertilizer to increase agricultural production.

To try to avoid this wastage, the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in New Delhi began; as far back as in 1939; research on a process that would permit the use of cattle dung as fuel as well as fertilizer. This had led to the development of the gobar biogas plant, which produces combustible gas to be used as fuel, and se slurry residue used as fertilizer. Fermentation of a mixture of dung and water takes place in an underground chamber or well, and this produces gas, collected under a floating cap and piped, without further processing, to a stove or a lamp. By now, more than 10 000 gobar gas plants are used in India.

Experience has shown that the dung from four or five cows can produce enough gas to meet the lighting and cooking requirements of a family of five. Although the investment required to build a plant is relatively high (a few hundred dollars-depending, of course, on the size of the plant), it is recovered within a few years in the form of fuel, fertilizer and better crop yields. There are practically no maintenance or operating costs; some biogas plants in India have been operating continuously for more than 20 years.

Research and case studies have been carried out in India to determine the optimal designs, construction methods and materials, sizes and different uses of gobar gas plants (for instance, improving school or factory sanitation facilities by fermenting human excrements, and recovering the gas to reduce fuel expenditures).

Potential users in other countries can obtain detailed information from various sources:

Mohan Parikh, Yantra Vidyalaya, Suruchi Campis, Bordali, Gujarat, India 394601; Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi, India; FAO, Rome (Agricultural Development Paper No. 75, "Processing and utilization of animal by-products"); Nigel Florida, cuso, 151 Slater Street, Ottawa, Canada; a book in French, "Gaz de furnier," published by La diffusion nouvelle du livre, Soissons, France.

The club of the friends of the Sahel

The terrible drought that raged from 1968 to 1972 showed how vulnerable the Sahelian region was to natural disasters. As a result, attempts are being made to reduce this vulnerability. First, a series of studies was carried Out by the United Nations, the World Bank and FAO, among others. To prepare the second or '´action" phase, an association was formed last year at the instigation of Maurice J. Williams, Chairman of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of OECD. It is called the Club of the Friends of the Sahel, and includes the Sahelian countries and some industrialized nations. Launched last March, the Club is losing no time: by the end of the year it had outlined a global strategy, taking into consideration previous studies on the region. Approved by the ministers of the Sahelian countries at a meeting last December in N'Djamena, Chad, this strategy aims to protect the region from famine and ensure its food self-sufficiency and autonomous growth by the year 2000. The main objectives are to double traditional foodgrain production between now and 2000, to increase rice production fivefold, and raise wheat production (almost nil today) to more than 500 000 tons a year.

A top priority win be the development of dry farming. To this end, it will be necessary to put more /and under cultivation, to increase yields (try the use of fertilizers, animal-drawn ploughs, etc.), and to guard against drought by introducing species with a short vegetal cycle. It is interesting to note that a sine qua non was approved by the Sahelian ministers to the effect that there should be a coherent price policy to ensure an adequate income for the producer. This was not always the case-far from it-in the past.

The Club of the Friends of the Sahel also envisages the development of irrigated agriculture. This will be secondary to the dry farming effort because of the problems of training men and financing the irrigation works.

The third aim will be animal husbandry. Production systems will have to be changed, breeding intensified, and specialization by zone introduced.

The Club of the Friends of the Sahel still has to organize the different programmes within this global strategy, and to obtain financial aid. A high-level session of the Club will discuss these matters in Ottawa at the end of May

Thinking in terms of the year 2000 does not mean forgetting the present. If the meager harvests envisaged in the Sahel are to be saved, precautions must be taken immediately. This is what the Office for Special Relief Operations in FAO intends to do, by building up a fund of $3.9 million to protect millet crops against locusts, rodents, birds and other pests.

However, FAO's participation does not stop there; at the creation of the Club in May 1976 in Dakar, FAO was represented by a delegation headed by its Director-Ceneral in person. Since then, it has been participating actively in the work of four groups on animal breeding, irrigation, rain-fed crops and fisheries. It is also lending its services in a consultative capacity to five sub-committees.

Finally, it may be noted that the study on agricultural development prospects for the Sahelian countries from 1975 to 1990, prepared by FAO as a simple working paper for the use of politicians and technicians in the zone and for nations and organisms willing to participate in one way or another in Sahelian development efforts, is now one of the basic documents used by technical groups in the Club of the Friends of the Sahel.

A return to traditional cropping

What is the place of traditional intercropping systems in modern agricultural practice? There are increasing indications that such systems should not be rejected wholesale as primitive and uneconomical. In fact, it appears that past research aimed at improving cropping systems has not paid enough attention to some of the techniques developed by small farmers, and that a scientific approach to such systems can sometimes give better results than the use of technology primarily developed for single-crop systems.

More than 80 researchers have met recently at the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Dar Es Salaam, in Morogoro, Tanzania. They have reviewed many of the aspects of intercropping systems traditionally used in several African countries, and have concluded that the study of crop interaction, soil management, pest and disease control, as well as plant breeding, is likely to help achieve better yields.

A number of significant examples were given. For instance in Zaire, maize is often grown on raised beds separated by furrows. After the harvest, the maize stalks and leaves, together with weeds and other crop residues, are put into the furrows, which become the following year's beds. Researchers of the National Maize Programme have shown that this practice does increase the following year's yields, but that a further increment can be achieved by planting cowpeas with the maize.

In Nigeria, there is a traditional three-year mixed cropping cycle in the area surrounding Zaria; here, researchers have shown that yields can be increased if maize is added to the usual millet-sorghum intercrop. Trials have also shown that during the third year, when cotton is grown between cereals, cotton yields could be improved if it were planted earlier than was the custom among farmers.

In Uganda, where maize and beans are traditionally intercropped, the beans are usually planted two to three weeks after the maize. Research has shown that this delay reduces the yields of both crops: better results are achieved when both maize and beans are sown simultaneously.

These and other examples have shown that, in the study of multiple-cropping systems, research must focus on the whole system, rather than its individual components. The social environment-the farmer himself-is part of the total system, and this aspect should not be neglected. Thus traditional intercropping systems, already adapted to the farmer's environment, can be improved without the substantial alterations often required by the introduction of single-crop technology. Such a scientific approach can help integrate traditional practices with modern agriculture.

· Preventing shigellosis

Most scientists believe that shigellosis, a particularly severe form of dysentery, is not a waterborne infection. But recent research, carried out in Bangladesh, has shown that water may be a more important factor than person-to-person contact, and that the improvement of water, nutrition and basic hygiene may be a key to preventing outbreaks of shigellosis.

Epidemics of shigellosis broke out in 1972 and 1973 in Teknaf, a peninsula at the southernmost point of Bangladesh. This infection had been an insignificant cause of dysentery before the 1971 war of independence. But, after the Cholera Research Laboratory in Dacca identified the infectious agent as the Shigella dysenteriae bacillus, a dysentery project was established in Teknaf. In the first 18 months, 1 700 cases were treated, and 700 cases were shown to be infected with the deadly type I bacillus (40 percent of children under the age of six did not survive the disease).

According to Dr. M. Mujibir Rahaman, director of the project, an important finding was that families taking water from the tanks or ponds where people also bathe and wash their clothes had a higher rate of shigellosis than those using community wells.

Now participants in the Teknaf project have adopted as a priority the prevention of disease through a programme of health and hygiene education, and the improvement of sanitation and water supplies. The effectiveness of these measures will be seen only if and when there is another major outbreak.

Dr. Rahaman points out that it was the same shigella organism that caused a major pandemic, affecting several million people, in Central America in 1969/70. The disease disappeared as mysteriously as it had come.

· World trade flutters

World trade increased by 3 percent in 1975 over the preceding year. Actually these findings, published in The Yearbook of International Trade Statistics, 1975 of the United Nations just issued, only seem positive. While true in value terms ($870 thousand million compared with $842 thousand million the preceding year), it is not so in volume: taking price increases into account, the 1975 exports of the market economy countries actually decreased by 7 percent. This is the largest drop registered since the Second World War.

As regards the developing countries, the exports of the OPEC countries decreased during 1975 while their imports continued to grow, reducing their surplus from $86 thousand million in 1974 to $58.5 thousand million. The exports of other developing countries remained, in 1975, at a level similar to that of the preceding year, while their imports increased by 6 percent. Their balance of payments, therefore, showed an imbalance even greater than in 1974, the deficit increasing from $28 thousand to $36 thousand million. This increase of the deficit was aggravated by the rise in import prices (12 percent on the average), whereas the export prices have, on the contrary, decreased slightly.

On the other hand, the developed countries in 1975 saw their trade imbalance almost halved - from $68 thousand million to $35.7 thousand million. Inversely to what took place in the developing countries, the exports of the developed countries increased by 6 percent, while their imports remained at the same level as in 1974.

· New experimental station

The Turkish Ministry of Agriculture is developing an agricultural experiment station that may become one of the most important ones in the region. Four hundred hectares of land will be devoted to research on a number of crops, the major one being wheat, of which Turkey is the world's seventh producer (with 14.7 million tons in 1975).

· A new arrival in the financial world: the Arab Monetary Fund

The Arab Monetary Fund (AMF), another expression of Arab solidarity, is now under way. At a meeting in Abu Dhabi from 18 to 21 April, the finance ministers (or the governors of the central banks) of the twenty countries of the Arab League, as well as a Palestinian delegate, appointed Gawas Hachem, former minister of planning in Iraq, Director-General of the organization. They also designated as members of the governing board the following countries: Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Mauritania and Somalia. The first meeting of the governing board was on 20 May in Abu Dhabi, headquarters of the Fund, to study the first files.

One year after the adoption of its statutes, AMF-an idea launched in February 1974- is now operational. What is its mission? Like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), of which it is a replica, AMF will grant loans to countries suffering from payment difficulties. To do this, it has been endowed by its founders with a capital of 250 million diners (about $900 million). The biggest subscribers are Algeria and Saudi Arabia (38 million diners each), followed by Iraq, Kuwait and Egypt (25 million each). As with IMF, the loans will be proportionate to the subscriptions of the member c,ountries (at most, four times the subscription), and subject to certain conditions.

As well as this very classic schema of credits opened in favour of temporarily impoverished countries, AMF has a more ambitious aim: that of promoting Arab monetary unity. This aim is certainly not proclaimed in its statutes but the means of achieving it are set out: definition of an accounting currency - the diner (equivalent to 3 SDRs); defence of the stability of Arab currencies; convergence of financial policies; attempts to define a common investment policy for Arab capital outside the Arab zone; and promotion of an Arab financial market. Finally, AMF should be a useful forum for establishing a common position on problems discussed in international monetary circles. Now that their economic and financial power is incontestably established, the Arab countries intend, far more than in the past, to make their voice heard in monetary discussions. And the international community has recognized their right to it by doubling their quota, and thus their voting rights, in IMF on the occasion of the last increase in quotas, which is now being ratified.

· A new source of rubber

A shrub of the sunflower family, growing in poor desert soils, is a potential competitor of Hevea a source of rubber. It is the guayole (Parthenium argentatum Gray, fem. Compositae), which grows in arid regions of north-central Mexico and the southwestern United States.

The latex is contained in cells throughout the plants, particularly in the roots and stems. The whole plant must be harvested, and then sliced into small fragments; the tissues are macerated, and the lighter rubber floats over the vegetal residues.

Research on the guayule plant was conducted in the United States during the Second World War, when Hevea rubber was in short supply, and some 1 300 tons of guayule rubber were produced. After the War, research as well as production were discontinued, and there is no commercial production to day, although attempts at growing the shrub have been made in Turkey and Spain.

A pilot operation was recently established in Mexico. There have been some problems, notably in getting rid of residual resin impurities, but many of these are being overcome.

The potential of guayule now appears to be very important indeed. Hevea rubber supplies about one third of the world's market, the rest being made from synthetic elastomers.

These are superior to natural rubber for some uses, but inferior for others (and they are based on petroleum).

Wild plants can yield as much as 12 percent latex (dry weight) and improved varieties up to 20 percent. The shrubs can live as long as 50 years, which represents a considerable advantage, as the rubber can thus be stockpiled until a good market is available.

New methods of extracting latex are now being teed, and it is expected that the major problems will be solved within a few years. The guayule could then become an important cash crop in arid and semiarid regions.

Queries to:

E. Campos. Director
Centro de Investigaciones en Quimica Aplicanda,
Aldama Ote. No 371, Saltillo. Coahuila, Mexico

Fernandex Aguirre, Director General
Comision Nacional de las Zonas Aridas
Tonala N° 30 Mexico 7, DF

National Academy of Sciences National Research Council 2101 Constitution Avenue Washington, D.C. 20418, U.S.A.

RADAM discovers an unknown world

The extraordinary potential of remote-sensing techniques is increasingly being taken advantage of by a number of developing countries. And it can be predicted that the constant improvement of scanning and radar technology will produce such a powerful extension of' the human "senses" that space is likely to become indispensable to future development.

So far, the most spectacular results are being achieved in South America, notably Brazil, where the national space agency, the Instituto de Pesquisas Espacias (INPE), has been engaged in research for more than 10 years, combining "transferred" technology and native ingenuity to provide unprecedented tools for rational, large-scale development.

Brazil has a ground station that receives information directly from Landsat (formerly ERTS) every 18th day, when the satellite passes over the country. Within a few years, INPE has launched programmes of' crop forecasting, detecting shifting fishing areas, mineral and geological research, as well as monitoring of development activities {such as deforestation) that may have significant ecological impact.

Particularly impressive results have already -come from the RADAM (for Radar Amazon) project that uses airborne radar, whose reflected signal is recorded on film. The technique is used to explore the world's largest wilderness area, covering 5 million km². How little this area is known has been illustrated by the discovery of a ma/or tributary of the Amazon {a river several hundreds of kilometres in length), and the relocation of mountain ranges. The RADAM project has also identified fertile soil and rare earths, deposits of tin, iron, bauxite and other minerals.

The RADAM programme is coordinated with a ground effort, for the exploration by boat and helicopter-borne crews of selected sites for assessment of' agricultural and mineral potential More than 5 000 sites have thus been visited, and the data gathered have been translated into interpretive maps (soils, vegetation, agricultural potential, proposed land use, geology and geomorphology J.

It is estimated that at least 2 percent of the huge Amazon basin has good soil and one 100 000 km² area has been identified as having fertile soil suitable for intensive agriculture.

Brazil is the only developing country with a Landsat ground station, but other South American countries have started programmes based on data received from the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Bolivia, for example, has identified large deposits of potassium and lithium, and Chile has prepared hydrologic maps used to assess water availability in arid regions.

Remote-sensing technology is rapidly improving. Techniques are being developed, for instance, to superpose satellite scanner images and airborne radar images, so as to combine information provided by each of these techniques. Computer programmes are being designed to correct errors resulting from geometric distortion, the scattering effect of earth's atmosphere and poor contrast. Laser films are used to produce more accurate images, and future satellites will have still better ground resolution.

Natural resources, and their rational use, are a key to the development Of many countries. Remote sensing is a tool capable of providing heretofore inaccessible information about both.

· Water management

The International Training Centre for Water Resource Planning has been created in France with the support of the United Nations Environment Programme. ITCWRP is open to the international community to ensure the theoretical and practical training of future water resource planners and administrators. Courses will be given to groups limited to 30 trainees, and will last two to three weeks. Several consecutive courses, covering different areas of water resource planning and management, can be followed, under the direction of international specialists. The basic working language is French, but English translation will be provided, and courses in other languages can be organized.

The Centre also aims to become a meeting place for working groups on water management, and may in the future organize regional conferences in other countries. It is financed by the French Government and UNEP Grants can be made to cover living costs and travelling expenses to the Centre, located near the airport of Nice in the south of France.

ITCWRP, Sophia Antipolis, Boite Postale No 13, 06560 Valbonne, France.

· A new Asian centre

An Asian centre for the development and transfer of technology is about to be established in Bangalore, in the heart of India. Meeting at the end of February in Bangkok, the representatives of the member countries of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) stipulated the functions of the new centre, whose creation had been decided in the spring of 1975. Its objective will be to strengthen national capacities in the development of indigenous technology and to adapt imported technology to local needs.

More specifically, the Bangalore centre will be expected to identify, select and evaluate the technology appropriate to national needs as well as the capabilities and the resource endowments of the countries of the regions. To facilitate the acquisition of new technology, the centre will furnish engineering and consultancy services.

The information collected will then be disseminated throughout the region. This centre should become the focal point of a vast network of national institutions concerned with the development and transfer of technology. It will not, therefore, substitute, but rather will supplement national efforts of Asian countries toward self-reliance in the field of technology.

Several countries have already announced their intent to participate in the financing of the new centre. France pledged a sum of $20 000, Sri Lanka $2 500. Australia, Japan, the Netherlands and the U. S. S. R. have announced they would also support the centre. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) pledged financial support to a maximum of $100 000 for 1977.

ESCAP was requested to conclude "with immediate effect" an agreement with India for the establishment of the centre. The participants at the Bangkok meeting urged the start of activities without delay. The first item on the work programme: to compile a list of national institutions that will be part of the network.

Development aid: UNCTAD is trying to sort it out

Official development aid (ODA) by the industrialized countries to the poorer countries was $13.6 thousand million in 1975, or 0.36 percent of their GNP. Their financial contributions were valued at $39.9 thousand million (1.05 percent of GNP). Being official figures scrupulously prepared by the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of OECD, they seem to be above suspicion. But do they really reflect the truth ? Not altogether. Not that there is any trickery. But our viewpoint is selective, with a tendency to narrow the field of analysis. Our statistics relate to net official development aid or net financial contributions, i.e., gross payments less the amortization corresponding to reimbursement of principal. However, reimbursement of interest has been completely ignored. Even if it is modest for official aid granted on liberal conditions, such repayment could be considerable for all private aid: commercial credits, banking credits, investments and loans on the financial or Eurodollar markets. Payments by way of interest to the private sector can be estimated at $5 or $6 thousand million in 1976, for a debt valued at $60 thousand million, which would have carried a 10 percent interest-a rate chosen arbitrarily, but not too far from reality. Our statistics haughtily disdain these reimbursements which are, however, far from negligible.

A group of experts met recently, at the instigation of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), in an attempt to approach reality.

An adjustment seems to be necessary, the more so since the developing countries have turned increasingly to banking credits and financial markets in recent years, and their share of indebtedness in this connection has risen to about 55 percent. No easy problem since, according to DAC, the charge (principal and interest) of a commercial debt represents about $23 thousand million per annum as against a charge of $2.6 thousand million by way of ODA.

Such a readjustment would highlight the cost of private aid. Has anyone enough political courage? Enough to come closer to the truth? No. It would also be interesting to know the transfers of assets from the poorer countries to the industrialized countries and, for example, the flight of capital toward the coffers of the Swiss banks; and what the poorer countries borrow on the Eurodollar market, where operations are often covered by a thick fog. The oil-producing countries should make their intentions clearer, and also their operations, which represent about 15 percent of financial aid to developing countries.

The group of experts also considered to what extent the aid programmes of industrialized countries' governments are in conformity with the objectives fixed for the Second Development Decade (1971-80).

Without questioning the quantitative objectives (1 percent of GNP of the donor country for financial transfers, of which 0.7 percent should be in the form of ODA), new orientations for aid policy are being outlined. Until now, it has usually been the means for a minority to improve its standard of living. Henceforth, aid should aim to satisfy the basic needs of the largest number in the field of education, food and health; it should also set up small, labour-intensive industries providing jobs on the spot and products to meet local demand.

Reversal of a historical trend: more young farmers in the United States

The course of events in the world in the past century created a certain image of development: industry was the vehicle of the future, agriculture the guardian of the past. The farmer class, tradition-bound and hostile to change, was diminishing steadily, in number as well as in proportion, in all dynamic countries. It had come to the point where to designate the rich countries, the economically most developed, one uses the term "industrialized countries." How far would this trend go?

The answer is known today.

In the United States, the most industrialized country of the world, the return to nature is a phenomenon that cannot fail to attract attention. It is not merely a matter of a new attitude toward life but of a trend that may have economic and social implications. It is significant, in this context, that the number of young farmers is on the increase in the United States: in five years, the increase was 35 percent.

According to an analysis of census figures by Calvin L. Beale, of the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there were 358 000 young farmers less than 35 years of age in 1975, versus 265 000 in 1970. These numbers refer only to those who gain their livelihood from agriculture and who have made it their principal job.

After the First World War, the number of farms and of agricultural enterprises diminished greatly in the United States, resulting in a rise in the average age of farm operators: from 43.5 years in 1910 to 51.3 in 1965. In the same period, the proportion of farmers less than 35 years old dropped from 29 to 11.5 percent. This evolution was quite alarming and evoked concern as to where it would all end. In 1970, a peak figure was recorded: the median age of farmers was 53. I years.

However, in the years that followed, an inversion of this trend was observed. From 1970 to 1975, the average age of farmers declined from 53.1 to 50.4. During the same time the number aged 60 years or over diminished by 23 percent (from 601 000 to 461 000).

Therefore, in this regard, agriculture seems to be going through a transition. Foreseeable, the day has to come when the situation will stabilize.

Meanwhile, why is the number of young farmers increasing in the United States? One reason is rising farm income-a better profit picture. Another is that young people have a new concept of rural life and of work on the land, which they often prefer to city life. Their philosophical attitude has changed just at the time when they have to choose an occupation. Finally, the number of young people seeking employment is particularly large at present due to the high birthrate -the baby boom- registered in the 1950s.

In any case certain articles of faith have to be corrected. There was once the impression that the average age of farmers was advancing, and that the rural exodus would go on forever. But, since 1970, there has been a reversal of these trends.

· The oyster raft

In Sierra Leone, oysters are grown on ropes hanging from rafts made of bamboo and old oil barrels. The method has two major advantages over the traditional gathering of oysters from mangroves in brackish water: the oysters are much easier to harvest and they are much larger (because they are not exposed to heat during low tide). A single oyster raft can yield some 60 kg of oyster meat in 6 to 9 months.