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close this bookCERES No. 074 (FAO Ceres, 1980, 50 p.)
close this folderCerescope
View the documentNew credit systems for smallholders begin to show promise
View the documentFirst move made to tap geothermal source of energy project in Kenya
View the documentThe protein gap persists as mark of income disparity
View the documentPyrethroids win high rating for potency, safety
View the documentUse of true seeds may help spread potato culture
View the documentNew techniques for small-scale coconut growers
View the documentCost factors limit potential value of vegetable ''factories''
View the documentSome countries are avoiding the banana trap
View the documentTanzania to weigh impact on environment

New credit systems for smallholders begin to show promise

bypassing usury

In times of financial stress, small farmers in developing countries have usually been obliged to borrow from village moneylenders, rich landowners or traders, often agreeing to repay with their own labour on terms that may amount to 500 percent interest. Few existing financial institutions or credit programmes were designed to provide effective service for the poor and landless. Attempts to use cooperatives as a channel for rural credit have not been invariably successful. Consequently, the largest, neediest and least vocal segment of Third World population, an estimated 840 million smallholders, sharecroppers and landless labourers, remained largely out of the reach of the means available to improve their livelihood. And this despite evidence from many studies that small farmers are at least as productive as large operators in the use of additional capital.

Now, after years of frustration with traditional approaches, new procedures for supporting rural credit systems are offering to developing countries and international agencies some hope for advancing rural development. This prospect is due in large measure to the growing exchange of ideas and results of experiments among the developing countries themselves. An effective international network of institutions has made technical cooperation in the field of agricultural credit a reality. This development received its impetus from the World Agricultural Credit Conference, held in Rome in October 1975, which called upon the Food and Agriculture Organization to organize and promote "A Scheme for Agricultural Credit Development," to become known, predictably, at SACRED. After the endorsement of the Organization's governing bodies, the scheme became operational in 1977.

The scheme aims to help developing countries harness their own financial institutions in support of agricultural investment, focusing especially on the expansion of rural credit facilities to serve all farmers. It has fostered the establishment of Regional Agricultural Credit Associations in Asia, Africa and the Near East to encourage the exchange of experience and technical cooperation among developing countries. It has also served as a kind of broker, identifying financial resources that could be mobilized in donor countries and channelled through financial institutions in recipient countries to support rural development. It is also providing assistance in setting up training courses for rural credit and banking personnel and in selection of the trainees.

Participation in the scheme is open to all FAO Member Governments, to financial institutions, including commercial banks, in member nations, and to international and private agencies interested in development assistance. These members, or correspondents as they are termed, have signified readiness to participate in the scheme with funds or personnel, although there is no specific obligation either to extend assistance or to receive it. After two and a half years of operation, the scheme has 124 correspondent members in 21 developed countries. These, linked by the scheme through the Regional Credit Associations and subregional training centres to more than 200 financial institutions in the developing world, form the network on which the exchange of information and technical assistance is based.

The input of funds thus far has been modest, less than $3 million committed in the first two years of operation and covering less than half of the 143 project proposals put forward during that period. In addition to training support, already mentioned, projects have been designed for the establishment of specialized agricultural credit institutions, to support credit programmes operating through farmers' organizations, provision of soft loans for on-lending and seed money for guarantee funds, and the development of research and monitoring capability in credit institutions and regional associations.

Last summer's World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development placed rural credit in a much broader context than simply as another farm input. An effective programme of rural finance would involve regulating the flow of financial resources between the rural sector and usually urban-oriented national financial systems. What would be involved in such a programme would not be merely a credit package to certain limited, designated projects, but rather a deliberate process of re-orienting the entire financial system to cater to the credit needs of the entire rural institutional infrastructure, including inputs, processing, marketing, storage, and service cooperatives. In such a framework, SACRED's assignment assumes awesome proportions.

First move made to tap geothermal source of energy project in Kenya

Kenya is about to become the first country to harness on a big scale the geothermal energy accessible through a vast fault in the earth's crust across Africa from Mozambique to Ethiopia and on to Turkey. The project heralds considerable agricultural development in the region.

The World Bank has completed an agreement with the Kenyan Government for the joint financing, with help from third parties, of two geothermal electricity generation plants near Nairobi. They are to have a total capacity of 45 MW. Sources close to the World Bank describe the project, which is to cost about $41.2 million initially to meet a tenth of the nation's rapidly increasing energy requirements, as merely a modest beginning.

For the specialists whose surveys have led to the Kenya project regard the whole of the 6 500-km Rift Valley as a potential source of relatively cheap and abundant geothermal energy. Indeed, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) - which played an important role in securing the Kenya agreement - has already helped Ethiopia to locate more than 600 geothermal "hot spots." Predictably, most of them lie in the valley.

Kenya is undergoing rapid industrialization which calls for growing energy consumption despite all the ambitious national oil conservation policies. At present Kenya's oil imports cost $350.2 million a year and, in the absence of the ample and reliable domestic sources of industrial energy, the steady, steep increase of world oil prices could strangle the young economy at a particularly vulnerable stage of its development.

Unlike oil, geothermal energy is renewable because it feeds from the immense heat beneath the crust of the earth. In the few years since the oil crisis of 1974, more than 50 countries have made serious attempts at the exploitation of geothermal energy. It is being utilized in many places, including the United States, Iceland and Japan.

In Kenya, the construction of the Olkaria geothermal project near Lake Naivasha about 80 km from Nairobi follows more than two decades of intermittent survey and exploration. The development programme is based on a survey carried out by a combined team of Swedish and Icelandic consultants. UNDP has invested about $2.06 million in financing various surveys, feasibility studies and actual drilling work. The UN geologists and geochemists eventually withdrew from the work to make way for Kenyan specialists. The overall responsibility for the scheme rests with the East African Power and Lighting Company of Nairobi.

The projected plant is to feed from an immense geothermal reservoir identified 700 m beneath the earth's surface. The feasibility report recommended a stage-by-stage expansion of the programme both at Olkaria and at two other known geothermal regions. Apart from electricity generation, the Olkaria energy yield would be put to work for many purposes, including the dehydration of vegetables in driers probably similar to those used in Iceland.

A small dehydration thermal plant is already at work in the Naivasha area, near the geothermal field, where up to three excellent crops of vegetables can be grown a year. Geothermal steam is also applied in Kenya for the drying of pyrethrum, the plant base of a non-persistent, natural pesticide manufactured by a thriving East African industry.

One of the drawbacks of geothermal energy is the accompanying problem of chemical waste disposal. Arsenic, salt, boron and many other mineral compounds are frequently included among the geothermal effluents brought to the surface; they can be harmful to animal and plant life and can contaminate the water if discharged untreated. An ecologically sound method of large-scale geothermal waste disposal is therefore essential for any such project.

The authors of the feasibility study considered that local effluent disposal by infiltration in ponds and topographic depressions would cause no significant harm to the environment. One available alternative method is the re-injection of geothermal effluents into the earth; but a lot more research work is required.

Kenya's industrial planners are thus expected to compromise. First, they are to build a water-treatment plant together with the geothermal power stations. Later, they will launch an ambitious scientific research programme aimed at the development of a reliable and cost efficient waste re-injection technology.

The benefits of such a programme would be reaped first by Kenya in the course of its own long-term geothermal development, which may eventually turn the country into a net exporter of energy. It may also benefit many other countries-in East Africa and elsewhere- in their quest for cheap industrial energy from the volcanic depths of the earth.

The protein gap persists as mark of income disparity

- double for the rich

It is very difficult, if not impossible, to define the optimum level of protein or calorie consumption. The reason is that this level varies from one individual to another according to such criteria as age, sex, climatic conditions, height, weight, type of work... and many other factors. What can be measured, however, are the gaps in these levels of consumption between countries, regions or continents. Also the variations in these gaps between two given periods. Both are significant.

The table gives some idea. One cannot fail to be struck, first of all, by the fact that in 1966-68 the difference between the highest average total protein consumption (North America) and the lowest (Far East) was more than from single to double. In 1975-77, it was still more than from single to double, even if the record by then was held by Oceania. If all the industrialized countries together are compared to all the developing countries together, the gap is also maintained, and even very slightly accentuated, since it has risen from 39.7 to 40.7.

The inequalities are even more striking when one looks at the detailed distribution of these proteins. It jumps to the eye that increased income means increased animal protein, to the detriment of vegetable protein-at least when financial resources are sufficient not only to meet basic needs but also to allow for selection and diversification of diet. This rule is in evidence everywhere in the rich countries, although in North America, surprisingly, there is still a 2 percent advance in both categories of protein. But for the industrialized countries as a whole, vegetable proteins are dropping 4 percent on average.

It is quite a different story in the developing countries. They usually have less than enough to eat, and when income increases they must be content with improving their diet quantitatively by an additional portion of vegetable protein (mainly cereals). Animal protein is the food of the rich. This is why the difference between the lowest level (Far East) and the highest North America and/or Oceania) is not merely from single to double, but from single to tenfold! Here again, the gap is maintained from one period to another.

In this table, Latin America presents a rather special situation. It is the region which, in 1966-68 as in 1975-77, consumed more animal protein than any other part of the Third World, reflecting a slightly higher average level of income. It is also the only region in the Third World where vegetable protein consumption has dropped (- 6 percent). However, the amount of calories of vegetable origin has not dropped In the same way but rather has risen from 2 094 to 2 107 in the last ten years. Since the amount of fats of vegetable origin has not increased (it has dropped from 26.4 to 26.0 9 per person), one is tempted to believe that the explanation of this phenomenon lies in sugar consumption (+ 17 percent).

But the widest gap of all relates to calories, and is not shown in this table:

between the Far East and North America, availabilities of calories of animal origin were, in 1966-68, in the ratio of 1 to 12. Ten years later the ratio, between the Far East and Oceania, was also 1 to 12.

Pyrethroids win high rating for potency, safety

costly compounds

A range of insecticides perhaps 100 times more potent than DDT but without the long-term ill effects associated with chemical control is undergoing final laboratory checks before being released for widespread use in public health projects and agriculture.

The new synthetic compounds, copying the molecular structure of natural pesticides derived from pyrethrum, an East African flower, hold out a promise for controlling insects that transmit such diseases as malaria, yellow fever, megacardia (the enlargement of the heart), bubonic plague and sleeping sickness which affects humans as well as cattle. The insecticides are also useful against caterpillars that attack fruit, vegetables, tobacco, olive, vine and cotton crops and against insects damaging stored food stocks. Almost a third of the world's grain crops is lost annually to pests while in storage. A large proportion of this immense wealth may now be saved.

Since more insecticide is used on cotton than on any other crop, the new compounds may well account for a quarter of the world's foliar insecticides by 1982, according to specialist estimates. They are photostable, which means that they remain lethal even after long exposure to sunlight; and their use in the cotton fields could thus start a boom in that lucrative crop.

Since the introduction of DDT over 30 years ago, resistance by insects to that chemical and to other pesticides groups has developed in populations of no less than 108 vector species of public health importance; and some of them, in limited areas, have become resistant to almost all insecticides hitherto available. When a species develops a high level of resistance to an insecticide, one solution is to replace the insecticide with another belonging to a different chemical group. This often means the replacement of a safe and cheap compound with something more expensive or toxic requiring costly and complicated safety measures.

Insecticides have thus played an important role in reducing diseases, but they are no longer regarded as the most effective public health tool. Malaria, for example, has appeared in many areas once cleared of the disease and the vectors-anopheline mosquitos-have grown resistant to all the inexpensive insecticides that have been used to control them. While insecticides are introduced in nature to protect human health and welfare, they are powerful environmental pollutants. The assessment of the risks involved requires elaborate studies and screening programmes, which add heavily to the cost of developing new insecticides.

The new compounds have been developed by the world's oldest agricultural research institution at Rothamsted in England. Industry in Western Europe, North America and Japan is ready to go ahead with large-scale production pending final approval by the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO).

A spokesman for the WHO expert committee responsible for the final testing series observes that these compounds are "among the most active insecticides known. Sixteen synthetic pyrethroids have so far been tested in the WHO programme. Their unit cost is high, but their cost-effectiveness may be acceptable. This and their effects on non-target organisms will be critical for their acceptance for vector control."

Dr. Charles Potter, a leader of the research team that has produced the new compounds, was already employed at the Rothamsted Experimental Station when DDT was first widely introduced after the Second World War. He and his associates realized that the new agricultural chemicals were likely to cause long-term environmental damage. They set out to find biodegradable alternatives.

They turned to the daisy-like pyrethrum flower which had been used for a very long time as a source of potent, yet non-poisonous insecticides, the pyrethrins. But these natural insect killers are expensive to produce and they also break down chemically too quickly when they are exposed to air and light.

Late in the 1940s, the scientists launched a long-term project to investigate the relationship between the molecular structure and the insect-killing activity in pyrethrin compounds. This led to the synthesis of the new chemicals from other substances. The compounds are comparable to pyrethrins in their safety to man-but they are far more resistant to the effects of air and light and far more deadly to insects. Yet they are readily metabolized when swallowed by mammals and they break down in the soil, avoiding the pollution of the environment.

However, the new pesticides have some drawbacks. They kill beneficial insects such as bees and ladybirds and they are toxic to fish. But if they are carefully handled, these difficulties can be circumvented. Insects can also develop resistance to them, as to just about all other insecticides. In the meantime, the new compounds may win a breathing space for man to study the very mechanism of insect resistance.

Use of true seeds may help spread potato culture

research in Peru

Interest in the potato has been increasing steadily in the developing world. Because of its high food value, it is generally considered an improvement in quality over the many tuber crops already grown in these regions.

Yet the potato is basically a temperate crop (around 85 percent of the world's production occurs in the north temperate zone), and one relatively unadapted to high temperatures and humidity. Tropical conditions aggravate the plant's already high susceptibility to diseases, due largely to the fact that it is usually propagated vegetatively, permitting the transmission of many pathogens from generation to generation. In addition, the product is perishable and subject to many storage diseases.

Most importantly, it is almost impossible under tropical conditions to eliminate the potato's worst enemy: aphids, small plant-sucking files, which transmit viruses from plant to plant and from farm to farm. Even crop treatment with pesticides will usually kill aphids only after they have infested the plant. Besides viruses, several species of bacteria and fungi also cause potato diseases. Yields are drastically cut and quality sometimes suffers if the tuber sections used for sowing, known as seed potatoes, come from diseased plants.

As a result, most tropical countries must import the egg-sized seed potatoes to plant crops. The cost of seed potatoes usually represents an astonishing 50 to 60 percent of total production costs in tropical zones. Transportation costs are high, and the tuber cuttings require refrigerated shipment and storage and constant sanitary attention to avoid rotting and disease. Furthermore, developing countries sometimes receive varieties that are conditioned to the countries where they originated, causing adaptation problems.

Responding to these and other problems, the International Potato Centre (CIP), headquartered in Lima, Peru, is carrying out research aimed at replacing seed potatoes with botanical seeds, the true seeds of the potato fruit ball, usually employed only for breeding. CIP claims the use of botanical seeds could convert the potato into a food staple- instead of a luxury-for low-income sectors in tropical zones of the world. "The benefits would be fantastic," says FAO Agricultural Officer C. Rosell. "It would have a tremendous impact on the potato industry."

Botanical seeds would account for only 5 percent of total potato production costs in tropical zones. Transportation costs are obviously much lower, and seeds can be stored safely for months inside glass bottles. CIP says the amount of seeds needed to sow 1 hectare of potatoes would fit into the palm of a hand, whereas 2 tons of seed potatoes would be needed to plant the same area. Furthermore, the ability of seeds to resist disease is substantially greater than that of seed potatoes.

Although even in ancient times botanical seeds were used to achieve new varieties, usually potato fruits were thrown away because only the roots were considered usable. In the late nineteenth century, the American breeder Luther Burbank produced the large, smooth variety of potato named in his honour by using botanical seeds. About 25 years ago, research was undertaken to use these true seeds for sowing purposes. Unfortunately, the same genetic variability that Burbank depended on has been the main obstacle in replacing seed potatoes with botanical seeds.

Since seed potatoes are essentially clones, offspring receive the same genetic blueprint as the parent. Instead, planting true seeds, the results of the genetic reshuffling that always accompanies regular sexual reproduction, ensures tubers with a wide range of characteristics.

"It is still not well known how to obtain an homogeneous variety of potato by using true seed," affirms Rosell. "And of course stabilizing a variety is a must of any seed production programme; consumers in the tropics as well as in the developed world look for specific potato types with a certain appearance and Havour."

Still, CIP claims that variations among certain botanical seed examples have recently been reduced to acceptable levels. As a result of the Centre's research, there have been successful harvests in four different areas of Peru: the coastal, highland and low-land tropics, and the tropics located 1000 metres above sea level. In addition, an experimental station in North Carolina in the United States produced its first potato harvest from botanical seeds in 1977.

But the greatest success with botanical seeds has been realized in the People's Republic of China. Traditionally, the Chinese have had to transport tuber cuttings from northern Mongolia to tropical regions in the south, incurring high transportation and storage costs. Currently, China is producing botanical seeds in Mongolia for shipment south; the country transported 2.5 million tons of true seed in 1977 with excellent results.

CIP has seven centres operating as technology transfer units: three in Asia, two in Latin America and one each in Africa and Turkey. Their work includes maintaining contact with national research and extension institutions to disseminate the Centre's scientific discoveries and to detect local adaptation problems. The Centre hopes that the new species produced from botanical seeds will take hundreds of different names all over the world, and that this multiplication of names will serve as a yardstick for their success.

New techniques for small-scale coconut growers

- incentives are important

The coconut tree is particularly suited for smallholder agriculture in the tropics. The crop can be produced with modest capital and with simple technologies, and its numerous end products can be readily consumed by the farmers themselves. The tree is grown around farmers' dwellings and in the field either as a single crop or intercropped with food and cash crops.

Monoculture is an inheritance from previous generations who practiced shifting cultivation and subsequently settled on planting coconuts following a few years of food crops. But whenever possible, coconut seedlings are planted out at distances that permit intercropping, a practice that a farmer knows will give him a sense of security, especially if labour is available, expansion possibilities are small, the land is fertile and rainfall is sufficient. Some of the crops often cultivated are bananas, pineapple, coffee, cocoa, cloves, nutmeg and pepper. Moreover, the coconut tree's long productive life, the growth characteristics of its crown and the way the roots are distributed lend themselves to intercropping.

However, productivity per hectare in traditional coconut farming is low. Since farmers often plant trees too densely, intercrops receive little or no sunlight during the trees' mid-life when the shade cover is closed. In addition, farmers are reluctant to cut down averaged or Jowproducing trees, but instead are inclined to offset productivity by fill-ups. Nearmonopolistic buying by village traders can further reduce farm incomes. Husbandry of both the main crop and intercrops is often minimal, and improvements in infrastructure, research and extension support are slow in reaching the farmers.

Some major coconut-growing countries are on the verge of embarking on large-scale, high-cost coconut replanting schemes. But P. Poetiray, an agricultural officer of the Plant Production and Prosection Division of FAO, notes that there are large tracts which for various reasons do not as yet qualify for these schemes. "We feel that selective felling and rehabilitation of the remaining trees may bring greater rewards," Poetiray says. "Traditional coconut farming is still compatible with the resources available to the farmer, and it's capable of providing him with a modest but dependable income; what we're trying to do is simply help the farmer organize himself better."

For starters, Poetiray says, farmers should be encouraged to plant trees further apart. At planting distances of 9 metres, two rows of intercrops will receive abundant sunlight during the entire life-span of the trees. But at the often-used planting distances of 6 or 7 m, tree cover closes within five or six years and opens again only about 50 years later, making it impossible to grow more than pasture grasses and certain legume species during middle age. Even in old age, when the trees become very tall and crown size diminishes, usually only one row of intercrop can be successfully planted.

It is generally known that farmers are reluctant to cut down trees, even if lowproducing or diseased, for a number of reasons. In some cases, absence of shade may harm intercrops. In addition, levelling a coconut tree is hard, timeconsuming work-meaning less attention for crops. But, perhaps more importantly, tradition in Southeast Asia and the Far East usually forbids cutting down any tree planted by ancestors. "The farmer must have an overriding incentive to outweigh that tradition and hesitation," Poetiray points out. "Besides, even if he only gets 20 nuts a year, it's still 20 nuts."

Naturally, the main incentive for any coconut farmer wishing to sell his product are the current market prices for copra, the dried endosperm of the nut, usually crushed to make oil and often used as an animal feed. But according to Poetiray, national governments could provide other strong incentives: easy repayment conditions on loans, fertilizer subsidization and manpower support.

Time and labour may be saved through zero tillage, a technique that has been tested in West Africa and which is being increasingly practiced in some of the temperate regions. Instead of ploughing, which exposes the soil to erosion and compaction, drills are used to sow intercrops. Herbicides are applied to control weeds, which can pose a serious constraint in efficiently using the space between trees.

The 1970s witnessed an upsurge in coconut breeding and the development of high-yielding hybrids. Considerable improvements in yields have been obtained; however, only those farmers who can afford the needed capital, labour and technology are likely to benefit from these varieties. In addition, the new varieties are best suited for monoculture, marl farmers are reluctant to change their traditional systems of intercropping drastically.

Poetiray stresses that coconut improvement for intercropping must instead keep in mind the low resource base of developing world farmers. "We need varieties with good yields but with high tolerance to pests and drought. There's a large variability of coconuts in Southeast Asia and the Pacific which still needs to be exploited; we need more introduction and safe and free exchange of plant material for those countries with limited variability. "

These and other topics were discussed at the fifth session of the FAO Technical Working Party on Coconut Production, Protection and Processing held in Manila last December. The purpose of the FAO body, which has been meeting every four years since 1961, is mainly to promote improvement of coconut production and use, and to serve as a forum for the exchange of ideas.

Cost factors limit potential value of vegetable ''factories''

- energy, investment needs high

Is it possible to "manufacture" vegetables at will? Companies such as General Mills and General Electric seem to think so. General Mills is about to invest $4 million in a "factory" for lettuce and spinach, on the outskirts of Chicago. General Electric, a vast and complex transnational that numbers among its varied interests electronics, computers and jet planes, is planning a similar operation in conjunction with Quaker Oats and Campbell's Soup. Other giants of the food industry, such as Ralston Purina and Castle Cooke, have cornered most of the US market in edible mushrooms. This has been made possible by using advanced techniques, which they began adopting five years ago.

These new produce factories do not resemble hothouses, for they are win dowless metal constructions. Inside, optimum conditions for growing plants are reproduced in an artificially controlled atmosphere. No drought, no unseasonable or heavy rain, no pale winter sun or cloudy sky can affect these crops.

The useful part of solar light is reproduced by means of incandescent or halogen lamps. Special systems produce and maintain the required temperature, humidity and the nutritive composition of the atmosphere. The vegetables, whose roots are submerged in chemically enriched nutritive baths, are adapted to photosynthesis by means of artificial light. Exposure to light in the factories is more prolonged than it would be on a farm. Experts from General Mills calculate that with these techniques lettuces can be grown from seed in only one month, instead of the two or three months that are normally required.

The method has obvious advantages. Many more crops can be produced during the year, crops that cannot be affected by unforeseen weather conditions. Productivity is higher: it is estimated that the factories will produce from 20 to 25 kg of tomatoes per m2 as compared to the 10 kg and 5 kg yielded respectively in hothouses and on farms. Factories can be located close to cities, thus facilitating supplies of fresh vegetables, without any extra transport charges being incurred.

The method, however, has drawbacks. Highly skilled technicians are needed to supervise the various systems used for reproducing climatic conditions, for recycling residual heat from the lamps (which is recovered to heat the buildings in winter), for the re-utilization of water vapour and carbon dioxide given off by the plants, as well as for the electronic control of the environmental temperature and of the nutritive chemical solutions. However, the most serious problem is the cost, estimated to be in the nature of $300 000 per ha. Furthermore, the various systems consume a great deal of energy, which can only be partly recovered.

All this affects prices. These vary according to the product. Mushrooms are relatively cheap, but tomatoes are expensive. The system is based on high prices, since the market does not seem to be elastic and demand is always increasing. Partisans of the method maintain that prices may drop when the market is saturated or when production costs are lowered by means of the research that is constantly under way. It is a technique that holds out many possibilities.

H. von Hulst, Chief of FAO's Agricultural Engineering Service, considers the system to be "very interesting, but one that requires huge investments and which consumes a great deal of energy. At present, it is only feasible in developed or oil-producing countries." Such as, for example, Saudi Arabia, where tomatoes are imported by air from Kenya and the Sudan, or the United Arab Emirates, where they are flown in from India and Lebanon.

The need for fresh vegetables in these desert countries can easily be understood. And, since they are also oilproducers, the price of products from atmospherically controlled factories can compete with air imports. But this is not the case with most developing countries, nor with the greater part of the world's deserts, the latter of which cover 12 percent of the globe. However, how many technical products, which were initially expensive, have ended by becoming much cheaper and being distributed on a worldwide scale?

Some countries are avoiding the banana trap

- diversification evident

Its skin is not the only slippery thing about the banana: production goes skidding from time to time under the influence of hurricanes and other meteorological accidents, and export prices soar in consequence; producers' receipts waltz on the frosted rink of exchange rates, and the more fragile economies find themselves tumbling down in the general slide.

Eighteen countries alone are responsible for four fifths of world production. Brazil is in the lead, with 16.7 percent of the total in 1978, followed by India with 10.4 percent. Then comes the Philippines which, in the space of ten years, has passed from eleventh to third place among world producers; then Ecuador, which, on the contrary, has seen its share drop sharply during the same period (6.4 percent of the total as against 9.4 in 1969-71). The other two spectacular breakthroughs are Thailand and Colombia, which each gained 1.5 percent of production. For the rest, although on the whole countries increased their production, they have done it more or less in the same proportions, so that their respective shares have hardly changed. Perhaps the only exceptions to this rule are Panama (-1.3 percent) and Honduras (-1.0).

It should be noted, however, that they are not all sliding to the same extent, and some even remain rather stable. Brazil, for example, and India, although foremost among world producers, export respectively only 2 percent and almost zero percent of their production. Among the eighteen big banana producers, Ecuador, Colombia, China, the Philippines and Angola export less than half their production. As for the others, if they cultivate and harvest bananas, it is mainly for export: Panama sells abroad 51 percent of its production, Guatemala 60 percent, Honduras 63, Ivory Coast 66, Nicaragua 73, Cameroon and these countries have to tackle is the constant pressure of rising costs, whereas no guaranteed increase in sale prices compensates them for the effects of this Somalia 81 each, Guadeloupe 83, Costa pressure. Obliged to increase productivity Rica 87, and Martinique (an absolute to re-establish the balance, exporting record) 90 percent. The major problem countries are ready to produce more, and this increased production in turn risks coming on the market just as prices fall.

Increase consumption? Easy to say, but not so easy to do: in its Agricultural Commodity Projections 1975-1985, FAO anticipates that, despite the fast and continued growth of banana importation expected from the USSR and Eastern Europe, world demand will slow down considerably. With the North American, European and Japanese markets almost saturated, and the newer ones of the Near East and North Africa now slowing down (+ 5 percent per year) as a result of already high consumption and a lack of commercial infrastructure capable of following up the expansion, the near future hardly encourages optimism.

While waiting for the desired adjustment of production and exportation objectives to fit the world market, for the quota system, of which there is much talk but no clear ideas on how it should be established, and for the international agreement on bananas, the producer countries are left with the possibility of diversifying their economy.

This is what two thirds of the biggest exporters have done, as can be seen from the table. Panama, Honduras and particularly Ecuador have succeeded in reducing to a considerable extent their dependence on the banana market. There are about ten in this situation, which does not prevent them from continuing to be big exporters of bananas: Ecuador, for example, remains the foremost world exporter. But it has simply increased its exports from other sectors even more. The Philippines and Colombia have slightly increased their dependence on bananas, but they can afford to do so without serious risk: their banana sales abroad never represent more than 3.1 and 2.2 percent of their total exports.

This leaves the French overseas departments, Martinique and Guadeloupe, already very dependent on this one product, and increasing their dependence still further.

Tanzania to weigh impact on environment

- blueprint for better planning?

Tanzania plans a vast hydroelectric complex on the Rufiji River intended, among other things, to prevent the devastating floods that take place every five years leading to great economic losses.

But Africa's dismal experience in clumsy interferences with the environment by dam builders has caused the Tanzanian planners to exercise great caution. They have commissioned a thorough environment impact study covering a huge area surrounding the proposed dam site. Its findings, which have just been published, and the actual construction following its recommendations may prove an important blueprint for ecologically sound future development planning.

Hydroelectric constructions can cause socioeconomic upheavals for the local populations, affect animal, plant and fish life adversely and reduce soil fertility. The Rufiji scheme may well be the first major project to take into account from the outset all these problems in the light of present experience.

The Rufiji is Tanzania's largest river, its basin covering about one fifth of the country with perhaps 10 percent of the national population living there. Some 100000 Tanzanians could benefit from the dam, to be built at Stiegler's Gorge, 230 km from the river mouth. Construction will begin in 1982. The project could help ensure the country's self-sufficiency in electric power generation in the long term.

Given proper planning, the development complex would also create a good foundation for agricultural production independent of the river's flood seasons. It would provide year-round water transport in the basin, a boon for increased agricultural trade and for the transport of mangrove timber.

"Hydroelectric dams are becoming essential development projects in the face of dwindling fossil fuels," comments a specialist of the United Nations Environment Programme, which carried out the study for the Rufiji River Basin Development Authority. "But when man superimposes water over extensive terrestrial systems, he not only disturbs existing orders and natural ecological balances, but also creates new and unfamiliar systems and biological associations over which he has little or no control and for which, so far, he has practically no effective or feasible management experience. The rational attitude, therefore, is to anticipate possible problems and to be prepared to face them as best as possible."

To begin with, the new dam is likely to affect the animal population of Tanzania's biggest game reserve, Selous, which lies in the region. A rich variety of game - 90 000 elephants, 20 000 hippos as well as lion, rhino, leopard, zebra, impala and crocodile - will have to be protected from people who will find easy access to the area as it becomes more developed.

Declining soil fertility may result from the greatly reduced flow of silt to the flood plain. Salinization of the land must be prevented. There is also the danger of aquatic weeds spreading as a result of the increased supply of organic nutrient matter in the reservoir from the catchment area.

The Rufiji dam will disturb the river's ecosystem. Many species of fish, whose life cycles include essential periods of migration, will be prevented from travelling downstream. The mangrove forests, which abound in the river valley and provide local timber supplies, may also be seriously affected by the drying of the delta. It could also disturb the thriving local prawn industry.

Finally, there is the socioeconomic effect of large-scale dam building in developing regions, covered at great length by another report prepared for the World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development, held recently in Rome. An FAO specialist says that "the idea of new agricultural communities on virgin or reclaimed land, often a by-product of huge new dam projects, has always had tremendous appeal with governments, in part because new lands offer an alternative to thorny problems of agrarian reform in settled areas." But actual experience seldom justifies initial expectations.

Among the practical problems described by the report were the undue expectations of quick success by the settlers, the absence of ethnic homogeneity among them, lack of social amenities and non-agricultural work opportunities in the new communities, excessively rigid direction by governmental bureaucracies, inadequate training and extension services in the project areas, and official disregard for the special needs of women-particularly for the generation of an independent income.

Another difficulty unsuspected by the planners has been the hostility generated among people outside the new settlements by the special treatment given to the settlers. The present consensus among planners is that the more successful a settlement may appear, the more resentment it is likely to attract.

The environment impact study for the Tanzanian project, carried out by the international experts in cooperation with local specialists, is to form the basis of a multipurpose scheme that will be prepared by the Rufiji River Development Authority. Given the conflicts between the long-term needs of the environment and the short-term needs of large populations for increased supplies of food and fuel, the Tanzanian compromise between the two may well attract the urgent attention of industrial development planners everywhere.