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close this bookCERES No. 147 May-June 1994: Cerescop (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 1994)
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Chief Editor: Thomas Pawlick
Acting Associate Editor: Peggy Polk
Art Editor: Christian Besemer
Copy Editors: Dominique Hoeltegen, Medhat Makar, Enrique Yeves
Editorial Assistant: Laure Calderan
DTP Assistant: Emelyn Alazard
Managerial Assistant: Isabella Moretti

Collaborating on this issue: Lorenza Manzi

Editorial Policy Board: P.J. Mahler (Chairman), E.P. Cunningham, M. de Francisco, B. Huddleston, K. Killingsworth, J.P. Lanly, R. Lydiker, T. Pawlick (ex officio), M. Randriamamonjy, R.L. Welcomme, M.S. Zehni, M. Zjalic.

Published bi-monthly by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. ISSN 0009-0379. The opinions expressed by the contributing authors are not necessarily those of FAO or Ceres. The designations employed and the presentation do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. Individual articles and photographs not copyrighted may be reprinted provided the credit line reads: “Reprinted from Ceres, the FAO Review”, and two voucher copies are sent two the Editor. Unsolicited manuscripts and art work not accompanied by return postage will not be returned.

Editorial Offices: FAO, Via delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy.
Tel.: (6) 57974094
Fax.: (6) 57973152

ISSN 0009-0379.

Waiting the crust to settle

Calm has finally come, after the storm of ferocious debate that marked the latter stages of negotiating the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), signed in December. Now the world must wait to see how the dust settles-particularly whether agricultural trade is truly freer, and to what extent developing countries are helped or harmed by the changes wrought by the new accord.

The European Union and the U.S. successfully settled their longstanding disputes over agricultural subsidies, with the Europeans resolving their internal wrangles over those issues and accepting substantial cuts in farm supports. While that particular feud overemphasized the interests at stake between the major players, developing countries struggled during the talks to obtain more concessions to reflect their interests.

Many developing countries share a common dependence on agricultural products and textiles for export income. So they placed their hopes on the GATT, on the ability of industrial nations to agree to drop farm subsidies, lower tariffs sharply and open markets by easing quotas. In the end, they had to settle for much less in all three areas. Toward the end of 1993, the GATT secretariat produced a report suggesting developing countries were making more concessions than developed countries. Once the GATT was actually signed, however, new tariff reductions made the final outcome somewhat more balanced.

Reform benefits

Estimates of the benefits to the world economy of GATT tariff-cutting on goods range from US$212 billion to $270 billion a year by the year 2003. A study by the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) envisages 90 per cent of that annual benefit will come from trade reform, with the remainder reflecting tax cuts on industrial goods. The wealthy industrialised nations of the OECD stand to reap two-thirds of the benefit from trade liberalisation in goods and almost all the gains from liberalisation of services.

Most countries, developed and developing, will gain on balance, but those likely to suffer most from the new GATT are those which can least afford it: the poorest food-importing countries, such as those of the Sahel. Consumers and efficient producers will benefit in most parts of the world but those sectors losing trade protection, especially farmers in developed countries, will lose.

Agriculture played a major role in stalling the Uruguay Round. World food prices have fallen in recent years because of the depressive effect of export subsidies in the U.S. and the European Union. The new GATT portends a 21 per cent drop in the level of subsidised food exports, which could lead to a 10 per cent rise in agricultural prices. One major crop to be affected by the GATT is the wheat market: it is expected supplies available on world markets will fall by 50 million tons between 1995-2000. From a trade dominated by subsidies, in the next millennium the wheat business will operate in an almost totally free market.

As well as reducing export subsidies, the new GATT calls for conversion to tariffs of all non-tariff trade barriers. (“Tariffication” is more obvious and more consistently applied.) Tariffs will then be steadily reduced by about 36 per cent on average. Subsidized export volumes will fall by over one-fifth. Both subsidy land tariff reductions are to be completed within six years (in industrialized countries) and 10 years (in developing countries). “Least-developed countries” are effectively exempted from such commitments.

The downside

In light of the above, the unequivocal losers, at least in the short term, are poor countries which are net importers of food. They will have to pay those higher world prices for food. Moreover, African, Caribbean and Pacific countries which enjoy preferential trade conditions with certain developed countries will lose that preferential edge as tariffs fall generally for all imports covered by the GATT.

Consequently, a special mention is made in the GATT to provide transitional help, possibly through food aid and support for agricultural development, to the poorest food-importing countries. Strategies promoting food production in those countries and government efforts to improve rural infrastructure, agricultural research and extension are exempt from GATT controls.

Also, food aid will be exempt from limits on subsidised food exports, therefore allowing a continuous flow of food aid in order to meet the needs of those in food crisis.

Least-developed countries and net food-importing countries, which experience problems with external payments, will be eligible for financing from a “food window” proposed for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and from the World Bank. However, it is not clear just what kind of increase in the cost of food would trigger access to such special aid.

The Uruguay Round of GATT negotiations was the first to include agriculture, so it is not surprising a role for FAO is envisaged in the agreement. The GATT foresees greater utilization of FAO's expertise through its Consultative Committee on Surplus Disposal, the Codex Alimentarius and the International Commission on Plant Protection. The expectation is those three FAO groups will be consulted more and more often on sensitive questions about dumping and non-tariff barriers to agricultural trade. Given the highly political nature of those issues, it is not yet clear how much authority FAO will exercise in assessing and helping conciliate agricultural trade disputes between nations.

Pierre D'Angelo

GATTing the pesticide regs

Just how free international trade in agricultural products will be under the new General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) is a matter of conjecture. Subsidies were the flashpoint for discussion in the recently resolved Uruguay Round of negotiations, but the spotlight now is on other non tariff trade barriers hindering the movement of foodstuffs around the world-particularly pesticide use.

Pesticide residues in food are a source of much suspicion and conflict between countries and frequently result in embargoes on imports, or denial of entry permits for shipments which fail to satisfy the importer nation's own rules. These can be disastrous for the exporter when perishable food or produce is involved.

Three years ago a bitter trade row flared when a shipment of Beaujolais Nouveau wine was stopped by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency after it was found to contain residues of a pesticide not registered in the U.S. The dispute was finally settled in time for the American public to enjoy the new wine, but it was emblematic of the problems that can rise when there is no single set of rules to go by.

Harmonize rules

Just after the GATT deal was signed in December, the 24 countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) undertook an ambitious project to help countries harmonize pesticide use regulations. Two non-OECD member states, Mexico and Hungary, subsequently joined the effort. This cooperative approach between nations should reduce the number of trade disputes over differences in pesticide regulatory standards. As importantly, the OECD aims to promote more efficient and above all safer pest control. It is hoped the results of this effort will also benefit developing countries not party to the OECD.

The overall goal, say OECD officials, is to harmonise pesticide legislation and, where possible, explore and promote alternative methods of pest management.

The potential for trade disputes wasn't the only impetus for the OECD project. Many industrialised countries had already embarked on the mammoth task of reviewing old pesticides. Some of the chemicals were licensed decades ago, and are still in use today. Under the OECD umbrella, wealthy countries quickly saw the benefit of working together to review the chemicals and devise new, harmonious regulations with their key trading partners.

“Pesticides have been in use for 40 or 50 years and a lot of the older products have been superseded by newer ones,” said FAO agricultural officer Bill Murray, FAO's representative on the OECD project. “The idea is to try to apply modern standards to these older products and see if they stand up. But it is a vast undertaking. There are hundreds of pesticides up for review at the moment.”

In an effort to reduce the workload, and avoid wasteful duplication of testing and research, countries are being encouraged to agree on a mutually acceptable set of regulations.

Pooling resources

“Pesticides is an enormous area and there is a lot of regulatory activity. Countries face a huge amount of work, often with very short (legislative) deadlines,” said Jeanne Richards of the OECD's Environmental Health and Safety Division. “They figure that if they could share some of the work, it would go faster, and it would also be beneficial to put their heads together and pool information.

“In quite a lot of cases, the problem has been that some countries were not aware of what other countries were doing,” said Richards. “If importer countries knew what kind of criteria the exporter countries were using, if they knew more about the exporters' own pesticide use requirements and their risk assessment processes, they would be more inclined to accept their products.”

The first step taken toward the goal of harmonisation is a pilot project based on seven widely used pesticides.1 By comparing countries' various approaches to regulating the chemicals, the team put together by the OECD hopes a common stand can be reached. Guidelines for testing pesticides will also be reviewed and added where needed, especially in the relatively new field of environmental impact assessment.

A fundamental part of the project will involve drawing up recommendations on how best to phase out hazardous pesticides, how to promote the safer use of acceptable pesticides, and how to cut back on the overall use of pesticides by favoring more environmentally friendly pest control techniques where appropriate.

FAO is closely involved in this phase, which officials say has important implications for the developing world as well as the industrialized countries.

Fertilizers and pesticides brought on the Green Revolution in developing countries in the 1960s and '70s. Yields increased drastically, but over time widespread use of the chemicals led to environmental degradation and illness when they were inappropriately used. Yields could not always be maintained, and insects developed tolerance to pesticides. FAO is working hard on sustainable answers to these problems through its integrated pest management (IPM) program, which promotes alternative techniques such as the use of resistant crop varieties, better crop rotation and more use of biological pesticides and other forms of pest control. The consumption of pesticides in the developing countries has declined from its peak of 620 000 tons in 1980 to 572 000 tons in 1993.

But pesticide use is still higher than it need be, say FAO agronomists. In 1991, the estimated expenditure on pesticides in the developing world was US$5.7 billion. In many cases, safety standards for using and storing the chemicals were inadequate.

Although not direct participants in the OECD project, the developing world stands to gain as part of a knock-on effect, say FAO officials.. “Ideally, what would come out of this would be a widely accepted international review, so there would be no need for the developing countries to do their own evaluation,” said Murray. “They should have access to the conclusions, enabling them to concentrate their limited resources on improving their infrastructure to control chemical imports and the use of pesticides in their country.”

One thorny issue is the question of exporters selling pesticides on the international market which have been banned in their own countries. While the OECD project won't deal with that matter head-on, it is hoped in the long term that promotion of worldwide standards and regulations will discourage such pesticide double-standards.

Monitor imports

FAO officials say developing countries need to be encouraged to monitor more closely the pesticides their farmers import, and the use of the chemicals. Doing so would improve the quality of agricultural products. At present, some manufacturers in certain developing countries operate outside accepted industry standards, producing older pesticides, often of poor quality. The low prices of these products make them very attractive to other developing countries. But governments of importer countries have themselves been long aware there was a need for tighter regulations, and that cheap pesticides are not always the bargain they might seem.

“There have been a lot of examples where these cheaper pesticides have no active ingredient, or much lower quantities of it than is stated,” said Murray. “So the farmer puts this stuff on his land and it has virtually no effect. Buying the cheaper product is not always money well spent.”

1 Amitraz, dinocap, dicofol, diazinon, iprodione, endosulfan and pyridate.

Clare Pedrick

“I've never tasted foreign rice...”

The irony was not lost on Japanese farmers: in the year of the GATT, while they were mounting their toughest fight ever to keep foreign rice out of their exclusive market, much of Japan's own rice crop failed. The nation was forced to import emergency supplies to meet more than 20 per cent of its needs.

Once predominantly an agricultural society, Japan now needs no introduction as one of the world's industrial powerhouses. Yet it was difficult for Japanese society to accept the decision of the Hosokawa government in late 1993 to accede to the demands of its trading partners and open the door to ongoing imports of foreign rice. Failure to do so, Hosokawa warned, threatened resolution of the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), signed in December.

Public protests to the contrary, many Japanese consumers and rice farmers viewed GATT concessions with a degree of resignation, knowing their national interests lay more with freer trade under a successful GATT than in preservation of the rice status quo. Yet memories of war-time hunger and famine linger in modern Japan, as do indelible cultural and religious links tying the urban population with the country's almost mythical rice paddies. Surprisingly, the high price the Japanese people pay (both as consumers and taxpayers) for homegrown rice hardly seemed to enter the debate.

High-price rice

If there was a prize for uneconomical rice farming, Japan would win. According to a 1991 FAO study comparing the costs of growing rice in different countries:

· in terms of average financial costs of producing rice per hectare between 1987-89, Japan was highest: US$12 934/ha. That's four times the cost in the second most expensive producer in the developed world, Italy, at $3 188/ha. The U.S. cost: $1 223/ha;

· in terms of cost per ton of paddy, Japan leads again: $1 987/ton compared with $543 in Italy and $195 in the U.S.1

But Japan has had a long commitment to assuring rice self-sufficiency, as demanded in the wartime Basic Food Law of 1942, still on the books when the GATT was signed. Consumers and the government pay dearly to keep aging and “weekend” farmers going on tiny, uneconomic plots, most less than one hectare and known colloquially as “cat's foreheads.”

Several times a year, a Tokyo office clerk named Toshiko Wada buys a 14-kilogram bag of rice for 628 yen/kilo (US$5.70/kg) directly from a farmer in Ibaraki Prefecture, just north of Tokyo. She figures she's getting a deal because she's bypassed the Byzantine distribution system which boosts rice prices in the country by another third.

That farm-gate price is not much of a deal compared with rice available outside Japan. As Wada was doing her shopping, on the international market the f.o.b. price for a high quality Thai rice to Japanese customers was just 25 cents a kilo. American Japonicastyle rice, also suitable for the Japanese market, fetches a higher price than the Thai rice-33 cents a kilo.2

Suspicions abound

Even if she were aware of the vast price differences between Japanese and other rices, Wada remains suspicious of foreign imports. “Rice is our main staple food, and I'm worried what's in the foreign rice,” she said, reflecting a widespread concern among Japanese consumers that imported rice may have been treated with dangerous chemicals.

Hiroshi Daimaru, president of a small fishery company, gets Koshihikari rice from a relative in summer and winter, in exchange for salmon and cod roe. “I've never tasted foreign rice, but the gradual liberalization of the rice market cannot be helped in light of this era of internationalization,” he said.

Unusually cool, wet weather and typhoons in the summer of 1993 devastated the Japanese crop. By January of this year the country was committed to importation of two million of the 9.5 million tons it needs for the year. Even with the GATT concessions, those imports will be much lower in future than during this disastrous year. A six-year grace period allows slow integration of imports: starting in 1995, the country will allow non-emergency imports of four per cent of its total needs (roughly 380000 tons).

After six years, total allowable non-emergency imports will be eight per cent of needs (approximately 760 000 tons).

A public opinion poll taken immediately after the GATT was signed revealed that 68.6 per cent thought acceptance of the minimum access formula was “unavoidable” and just 19.4 per cent opposed it.

However, consumers have not completely bought into the concept of open rice markets. When asked about switching from import restrictions to tariffs, a matter to be discussed in the final year of the GATT grace period, 43.3 per cent of respondents in the Yomiurz Shimbun newspaper poll replied it should not be accepted; 34.6 per cent were in favor.

Storage is cheaper

Countries fighting for access to Japan's rice market argued it would be cheaper for the government to buy and store a year or two's worth of rice than to continue protecting its internal market from outside competition. FAO experts estimate it would cost the Japanese US$3 billion to buy and store a year's supply, while the subsidised cost per year is nine or 10 times that amount.

Late last year, indications that the government would agree to open up rice markets led to angry public protests by Japanese farmers. The Socialist Party, with a solid power base in rural areas, threatened darkly to bring down the Hosokawa government. But finally most parties came on side as the opening of rice markets seemed inevitable in Japan. (Meanwhile, in South Korea, violent protests against the opening of that country's rice market continued long after the GATT signing, in hopes of preventing its ratification by the Korean government.)

Mikio Nishide, a rice farmer, said he had long anticipated the opening of the Japanese rice market. He grows mainly Koshihikari, one of the nation's most popular rices, on his 4.8 ha in Ishikawa Prefecture. Last year Nishide, 45, saw his rice production drop by four tons to 15 tons, and sold the bulk of it for about 670 yen/kg (US$5.90/kg)-a price set by the central government to the local agricultural cooperative. By the time it reaches the table in households or sushi restaurants in Tokyo and other Japanese cities, it commands nearly 1 000 yen/kg because of the costly distribution network.

“My main concern is whether the price of our rice remains stable,” said Nishide, a father of three sons. “I don't consider foreign rice a threat. I'm simply trying to grow good and competitive rice.”

Shiro Yoneyama and Kate Dunn

1 C.L. Yap: “A comparison of the cost of producing rice in selected countries,” FAO Economic and Social Development Paper #101, ISBN 92-5-103077-4.

2 Prices extracted from FAO's Export Price Index for Rice (1982-84 = 100), and the document Follow-up to the Guidelines for National and International Action on Rice in 1992,” FAO Committee on Commodity Problems (Intergovernmental Group on Rice) CCP:RI 9315, March 1993.

The shock of (non-) recognition

Two months before Japan officially announced the decision to partially open its rice market, students at the Asahikawa Technical High School in central Hokkaido conducted a blind tasting of Japanese, Californian and Australian rice. The results from the “Rice Battle in Asahikawa” shocked the students, including an 18-year-old who is the son of a rice farmer: of 21 housewives, teachers and other local residents in the group, 13 chose the California brand Nishiki as the best, six chose the Japanese Sasanishiki and two favored the Australian rice. All the rice was cooked in the same type of electric pots, under the same conditions. In 1993 the worst rice harvest since the end of the Second World War, coupled with the December 13 decision to ease curbs on rice imports, prompted many Japanese to prepare to eat foreign rice, like it or not.

Worrisome results Rice tastings such as the Asahikawa event in October have taken place in many spots around Japan since then, and their results worry Japanese rice growers, rural politicians and bureaucrats. A tasting in Tochigi Prefecture of the Cherry Blossom Castle brand from Australia in December led to the discovery that many people could not tell the difference between Australian and Japanese rice, including the popular Koshihikari rice. The national food agency also carried out a taste-test of rice from California, Thailand and China in December, with Agriculture Minister Eijiro Hata, chefs and other experts participating. Their conclusion: foreign rice is not so bad after all, and is more affordable than domestic brands.

S.Y.

Salmon saga: Murphy's law as a fish story

As fish stories go, this one's a whopper. It all began 25 000 years ago in southwestern France, when nomads discovered the river that was later to be named the Dordogne. The salmon that swam in the river ensured the survival of those early inhabitants, and so the waters were venerated by the men and women of the early tribes.

For thousands of years, salmon and seven other species of fish migrated up the Dordogne, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean north of Bordeaux. In the 19th century, salmon were so plentiful that servants insisted in their employment contracts that they would not be obliged to eat it more than four times a week.

But at the turn of the 20th century, hydroelectric dams were constructed along the Dordogne, impeding salmon reproduction. Biological memory calls adult salmon back from the ocean, to swim upstream in freshwater rivers to the exact spots where they and their progenitors were born. When dams or other obstructions get in the way, the salmon are wiped out. The dams were equipped with fish ladders-barely submerged “steps” over which water flows. The ladders were to make it easier for the fish to get home when nature called them, but for some reason weren't enough. By 1920, salmon had disappeared from the Dordogne.

Half a century later, in a country dismayed by the pollution of so many of its rivers, the clean fresh waters of the Dordogne inspired the government of France to consider a salmon restoration project. It sounded easy: studies showed between 3 000 and 6 000 salmon a year could migrate up the Dordogne.

Murphy’s law

But 15 years and FF 40 million (US$7 million) later, the “king of fish” still has not returned. Although some 250 000 salmon are released into the river every year, barely a hundred manage to reach their spawning grounds. Why so few?

“It's Murphy's law !” exclaims Guy Pustelnik, the biologist in charge of restoring salmon in the Dordogne. “If anything can possibly go wrong, it will.”

The problems began when the river was stocked with Scottish salmon. Scottish salmon haven't got the right build i.e., the right amount of fat, and therefore the endurance-to swim up the length of the 475-km-long Dordogne: rivers in Scotland are much shorter. Instead of wasting their energy swimming all that distance upstream, the salmon simply made a Upturn back to their native river, in Scotland! Young salmon tagged for the Dordogne River run were discovered back in the U.K.

“We soon realized this fish was not suited for a river this long,” said Guy Pustelnik. “So we fell back on salmon from the Loire, which you might say is cut out for this route” up the Dordogne.

A lot of time and money would have been saved from the start had modern-day experts learned from the region's first fishermen. It was 25 000 years ago that one of those long-dead nomads carved on the ceiling of his cave an exceptionally realistic adult male salmon, the first known depiction of a salmon in the history of art. The scientists of the 20th century deduced from the size of the fish in the 1.1-metre-long cave relief that they should restock the Dordogne with salmon weighing 10-12 kg.

In their second try, scientists caught huskier brood stock in other French rivers, such as the Loire, which is longer than the Dordogne. The wild genetic stock is raised in ponds at the base of the Chateau de Vitrac, a village perched high above the Dordogne. “These are the only farmed salmon to be raised on a hill,” says Guy Pustelnik. They are certainly the only ones to splash about at the foot of a castle.

In anticipation of the salmon's return, new fish ladders were built on three EDF (Electricite France) dams downstream from the spawning grounds. Unlike earlier ladders, these are provided with a tour guide-a current of water- to orient the fish.

The river now has all the modern conveniences a salmon could wish. At the Tuilieres dam, one of the highest, a lift has been installed to facilitate the fishes’ access to the upper ladder: the salmon swim into a cage at the base of the dam; the cage is then raised and the fish are dumped onto a ladder so they can continue heading upstream. Cost of the facilities between the estuary of the Dordogne and the spawning grounds: FF 30 million (US$5 million).

The river was thus opened up to salmon travel. A pity nobody realized the fish might want to return downstream as well. Unlike their cousins in the Pacific, which spawn and then die, nothing prevents the female Atlantic salmon from enjoying a longer life between river and ocean. But heading downstream, the salmon are too weak from spawning to get beyond the filtration systems placed at the top of dams to prevent detritus from clogging the turbines. The parent fish die of exhaustion. Most of their fry manage to escape through the bars of the filtration systems, but 20 per cent of them are cut up in the turbines.

Those fry that survive become smolts before they reach the Atlantic. They travel 4 000 km to Greenland, where they feast on shrimp, which is what gives them their pretty pink colour. They return to the Dordogne only to reproduce.

The way back to their happy mating grounds is still not assured. Roughly 3 000 professional and amateur fishermen set out vast webs of driftnets to catch lampern and shad in the Dordogne estuary north of Bordeaux. Those nets are 60 m long- bigger than an Olympic-size swimming pool.

“A vast number of salmon attempting to migrate to the breeding grounds are intercepted,” says Pierre Dulude, a Canadian salmon restoration specialist who recently wound up a two-year stay in Dordogne. It's easier to get around such a problem in Quebec, he says. “The provincial ministry responsible for fisheries only has to ban fishing for it to stop overnight. If fishing were to be banned here in France, there would be a riot!”

These coddled salmon are considered a nuisance by commercial fishermen in the estuary and by water sports enthusiasts, according to Pustelnik. So it's probable more constraints on exploitation of the river are needed to encourage salmon spawning.

Many French salmon afficionados have not lost hope of seeing salmon come back in great numbers to the Dordogne, even if clearing the way is costly. Says Guy Pustelnik: “Salmon is the best way to advertise that the river is clean. I think it is only common sense to pursue this goal. We're almost there; we can't stop halfway.”

Michel Arseneault

The chinampa system: marshland magic of the Aztecs

The Aztec Empire sent Europe a wealth of new foods- maize, chilies and tomatoes, to name but a few-all grown on what today would be considered marginal land. Many of the farming methods that made this possible are still practised and could help resolve the conflict between the twin requirements of environmental protection and agricultural expansion.

The ancient farming method perhaps most applicable to today's needs is the chinampa system, a network of raised fields atop manmade islands built up in the middle of lakes and marshes in what is now the outskirts of sprawling Mexico City.

Raised-field agriculture was not an Aztec invention. Earlier evidence is found in Teotihuacan (north of modern Mexico City, near the area's famous pyramids) and among the lowland Maya, as well as in Bolivia's Lake Titicaca and the swamps of Suriname, but it was under Aztec rule that the chinampas were most extensively built and intensively cultivated.

To build chinampas the Aztecs piled lake bed clays and muds, aquatic plants, dryland silage, canal muck and manures one upon another in precise layers between parallel reed fences stuck in the bottom of Lakes Xochimilco and Chalco. Long fingers of dry ground alternated with narrow canals in a tightly laced configuration that resembled an endless water maze. Once the ground was raised to its proper height, willow trees were planted at the banks' edges to control erosion and provide shade and firewood.

Efficient farming

Chinamperos economised labor wherever possible in order to increase overall productivity. The chinampas' low profile above the water table, their long and narrow layout between parallel canals, and their layering of specific soil types reduced the constant need for irrigation. The ground's capillary action sucked sufficient amounts of canal water up and over to the roots of crops cultivated on top.

The chinamperos' greatest labor economy was through the use of seed-beds, thus allowing them to concentrate on crops at their most delicate stage. The beds were laid out along the edge of the chinampa and filled with the canal's syrupy bottom mucks. This luxuriant growth culture ensured germination and early vigor.

The use of seed-beds realised extraordinarily high transplant expansion ratios. In the case of chilies, the ratio was as high as 1:75 (that is, one square metre of seed-bed yielded 75 sq. m of transplanted viable seedlings). Thus, for almost one-half of their growth period the chilies occupied less than two per cent of the area ultimately needed for harvest.

Chinampas' productivity was high even by today's standards. Estimated maize yields varied between three and five metric tons per hectare, with two crops often harvested in the same year. Still today, chinampa harvests have been known to outweigh those from agricultural research stations, and in 1986 it was a chinampero from Mixquic who won Mexico's annual maize-growing contest.

The chinampas began their long decline shortly after the Spanish conquest. Lake drainage, neglect of hydraulic control works, and pollution by untreated effluent all contributed to the destruction of their original 200 000 hectare expanse. By 1988, only half the remaining 2 300 ha were being actively farmed, and some twenty useful plant species unique to the chinampa zone had disappeared over the previous two decades.

The current situation is of grave concern to chinamperos like Jose Genovevo Perez of the Pueblo de San Luis Tlaxialtemalco. He is pleased Unesco declared Xochimilco a World Heritage Site in 1988, an honor which brought wider attention to the chinamperos' plight and spurred the Mexican government to launch its Ecological Rescue Plan recently.

Not history yet

The 1985 earthquake in Mexico cracked feeder canals and led to a partial drying of the chinampas. FAO responded with assistance in reconstructing the island-canal system, which Jose Genovevo says was a step in the right direction. “But the chinampas are still endangered, and we want everyone to know we've got to do more to save them,” he adds. “Even our schoolbooks forget we chinamperos are still alive. But we're not history yet.”

The person most responsible for alerting the outside world to the chinampas as an ecologically sound farming model is a conservation minded botanist named Arturo Gomez-Pompa. He first became involved almost 20 years ago through his work with the National Research Institute of Biotic Resources (Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones sobre los Recursos Bidticos, or INIREB), based in Veracruz.

The chinampa system had long ago been adapted to the climate and soils of Mexico's temperate highlands. As G-Pompa saw it, the challenge was to modify and then transfer the system to marginal sites in his country's tropical lowlands, in order to increase food production while preserving the environment. This idea's feasibility was underscored by archeological evidence from Belize's Pulltrouser swamp and the Yucatan's Candelaria basin showing the Mayans also had once farmed raised fields under similar conditions.

Chinamperos from Mexico's Central Valley were brought to Veracruz and nearby Tabasco to assist in the construction of test plots in coastal swamps and lagoons. Modifications were made along the way, sometimes after painful trial and error, and some experiments were eventually abandoned. But others gradually took hold and attracted outside interest. The most successful of these are the raised fields of the Chontal Indians, located not far from Tabasco's capital.

Today's thriving Chontal plots apply a modified chinampa technology to the Mayan forest garden system known as “pet kot,” a small mixed-use plot of fruit trees and food crops. Aquatic plants are composted as fertiliser, but there is little attention to the other standard chinampero practices. Thus, even though Gomez-Pompa sees that chinampa building and farming techniques cannot be transferred wholesale from one place to another, he feels they do provide a model for reclaiming and using marginal sites in land-poor regions.

But while chinampa-based agriculture might be ecologically and economically feasible elsewhere, questions remain about the future of the original plots. Are Xochimilco's chinampas simply a monument to Mexico's past, or are they still agriculturally appropriate for their time and place in a city of twenty million people?

Given the nation's total food needs, some experts consider Xochimilco's chinampas as anachronistic as the tiny corn patches known as milpas which are still planted in downtown Mexico City by a few quixotic campesinos. On the other hand, one recent estimate suggested the existing chinampas could potentially satisfy one-quarter of the city's demand for fresh vegetables.

With or without major public subsidy, and regardless of the alternative use of the land they still occupy, the chinampas continue to serve as a living textbook of pre Columbian agricultural science. And, with the help of dedicated chinamperos like Jose Genovevo and experts like Arturo Gomez-Pompa, one finally learns to see the value of this ancient farmlore.

Louis Werner

An Early Warning System that works

Corruption, human foibles and the restrictions posed by manpower shortages too often nullify the effectiveness of the famine Early Warning Systems (EWSs) in place across the Sahel. One of the few exceptions is Mali, whose successful grassroots approach sometimes includes a healthy dose of scepticism, as shown by this report.

DOGON COUNTRY, MALI-Two EWS investigators, attached to the Ministry of Territorial Administration, were carrying out a monitoring mission. Dourou District had had a bad harvest the previous year. How bad would things get before the next harvest?

The investigators checked in Pelou, a village of 1 000 inhabitants, whose chief immediately launched into an alarming speech.

“Our stomachs are bloated, we're feverish,” protested Tegue Ande Timbely. But neither he nor his children showed signs of malnutrition. “Nobody has more than two meals a day”, he continued. But this was normal for the time of year. How much millet had the village harvested the previous year? Enough to eat for a month and a half”-an estimate corroborated by observations of the local agricultural services.

The EWS inspectors suspected food distribution might not be necessary in the area. Their grassroots understanding of the situation convinced them the peasants had more than one string to their bow. In the dry season, they knew, these farmers produce onions, which they sell in order to buy some of the millet they need. The women harvest and sell tamarind and wild grapes, while youngsters leave the village to find work in the plains, where rice is cultivated, or in the towns.

Tndimbely insisted he'd received no help from his children, who left in the “exodus.” To feed his family (“15 mouths”), he had to sell his 20 goats and borrow money from shopkeepers: The debts I have hanging round my neck amount to about a hundred thousand francs (FF 2 000).”

But when asked how he expected to survive until the next harvest, he grew evasive: I'm waiting for a solution. It will be the grace of God.. Such fatalism was in clear contrast with the man's obvious resourcefulness. So the survey workers peppered him with questions:

Had he no more goats to sell?

None!

What about that little herd they'd glimpsed in his yard that morning?

The old man's answer was somewhat farfetched: the animals were borrowed from neighbors so he could make a good impression on his visitors-for a man to have no animals “is embarrassing, it's a dishonor.”

The EWS agents were unconvinced. “If we listen to him,” they commented, “we should send food aid right away!” In the jargon of “famine-watchers,” the chief of Pelou and his fellow villagers were only suffering from Socioeconomic problems,” which required no external intervention.

In contrast, in a neighboring district the last harvest had been destroyed by locusts and insufficient rain and some-though not all-villages really were in trouble. Here the EWS staff recommended food aid: about 20 kilos of sorghum per resident, to be delivered before August. Distribution began.

On a visit to the district capital, Kani-Gagouna, however, agents saw their recommendations weren't being completely respected. The grain delivered had been distributed among all the villages of the district, including the capital, where it wasn't really needed. The most needy seemed to be making a gesture of solidarity toward those better off-but was it of their own free will? For a long time food aid had been misappropriated in all sorts of ways, and its management by local authorities continued to nurture suspicion, justified or not.

As such cases show, Mali's EWS recommendations are based on scrupulous observation of local conditions. Every month, officials in the capital at Bamako receive abundant information from local administrative posts: dab ranging from rainfall to the price of cereals and livestock, even the number of patients treated in health-care centres. If necessary, the information is often cross-checked or verified on the spot.

The EWS agents are careful not to cry wolf. Granting unjustified appeals for food aid would ruin their credibility. They don't request it unless there is an absolute need-and such reliability has earned respect. A report published in June 1993 by Great Britain's Save the Children Fund and the Institute of Development Studies shows Mali is the only Sahelian country where the recommendations of the Early Warning System are followed up by those in charge of food aid.

Not easily heeded

In Chad, Sudan and Ethiopia, however, famine-watchers' opinions are not so easily heeded. In Ethiopia in 1991, only one-third of the food aid recommended by the World Food Programme was actually distributed. In Niger, the EWSs' signals didn't prevent the region of Damergou from experiencing the beginning of a period of famine in July 1993. And rumor holds that one prefect actually fed his horses on cereals intended for starving people.

“We did our work,” declared the director of Niger's EWS. But according to the weekly paper Le Dcrate, the system “has been virtually non-operational for a long time, due to the lack of funds that would enable the regional and subregional units to survey the areas concerned, and to collect and process data.” It's a vicious circle: there's no staff to undertake proper monitoring, so the EWS warnings are not considered credible and are therefore not taken seriously.

Before the advent of democracy, Mali itself wasn't such a happy contrast. Under its old system, one EWS agent came upon a group of officials in the process of splitting up a food aid cargo on the banks of the Niger River. Caught red-handed, they tried to buy the agent's silence with 10 tons of cereals. The country's EWS, created at the instigation of several foreign finance agencies, had estimated Malian food aid requirements in 1988 at 13 000 tons-but the government had requested 200 000 tons from foreign donors. In 1990 the minister in charge of supervising the EWS went so far as to propose eliminating the organisation altogether.

The change since those days has been welcome, and could provide a model for other systems.

Pierre Barrot, SYFM News

Dependence on tobacco crop poses Third World dilemma

The World Health Organization is hoping to build a “Tobacco-Free World” by the year 2000, but smokers are not the only ones who have difficulty giving up “the weed.” For developing countries such as Zimbabwe, tobacco-growing is an economic habit necessary to the health of national finances. Ironically, tobacco sales help fund government programs in health, even though increasing tobacco consumption within Zimbabwe and other Third World producing countries threatens the long-term health of citizens.

WHO is lobbying for at least a 10 per cent reduction in tobacco production in the major growing countries by 1995. That may be achieved not because of concerns about health effects of smoking, but because of a worldwide glut of tobacco which has driven down prices.

In 1993, the average international price of tobacco was US$1.25/kilo compared with the 1992 average of US$1.68/kg. Zimbabwe, China and Brazil are talking of a 20 per cent slash in production while the U.S. is contemplating a 10 per cent reduction.

Developing countries will have to sell more of their tobacco at home, because of the worldwide glut and because anti-smoking campaigns have been successful in cutting demand in the developed world. WHO reports tobacco consumption is fast gaining popularity among African youths, mainly because there are no regulations governing advertising and marketing of tobacco and its products on the continent.

In Canada, by comparison, strict controls on cigarette advertising and high taxes on tobacco products have significantly reduced smoking in the last decade. In the U.S., antismoking campaigns have contributed to the problems of tobacco giant Philip Morris, which is reducing its work force by eight per cent-14 000 jobs.

The foreign agricultural service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast that in 1993, 503 457 metric tons of tobacco would be grown in 33 African countries, representing just six per cent of the 8.4 million tons grown worldwide. Zimbabwe is the largest tobacco producer and exporter in Africa, accounting for about 44 per cent of the continent's production. The crop is Zimbabwe's largest single foreign exchange earner and in 1992 raised about US$414 million, nearly 30 per cent of the country's total export earnings of US$1.5 billion.

It is obvious Zimbabwe cannot easily give up tobacco. But the industry has already been affected by the international glut, as it will be by U.S. legislation which will require all cigarettes sold in the States to have a minimum of 75 per cent American-grown tobacco. The U.S. is one of the leading importers of tobacco from Africa. The international market crunch is already being felt in Zimbabwe, where in 1993 tobacco growers lost about US$31 million (Zimdollars 200 million) in foreign currency earnings over the previous year.

In 1993, Zimbabwe exported about 30 000 tons of its total production of 180 000 tons, which will drop to 150 000 tons in 1994. The country exports tobacco to 72 nations around the world. A 1990 FAO report said Zimbabwe and Malawi accounted for 94 per cent of all tobacco export earnings on the African continent. However, the trend is for developing countries to consume more of the tobacco they produce: FAO predicts almost all tobacco grown in Africa will, by the year 2000, be consumed locally.

That's a lot of new smokers in Zimbabwe, Malawi and elsewhere in Africa, but the pro-tobacco lobby in Zimbabwe dismisses health worries by saying anti-smoking campaigns are “alarmist.” WHO statistics about the death toll from smoking are unrealistic “exaggerations,” according to Ian Alcock, president of the Zimbabwe Tobacco Association. (He is also chairman of the sub-Saharan Africa section of the International Tobacco Growers' Association, and believes the oversupply situation will stabilise by 1995.)

WHO says about 300 million people die annually from tobacco related diseases. If the habit is not discouraged effectively, another 10 million people could die every year from smoking-related causes-two million of them in Africa.

Alcock said there have been attempts to “kill” the tobacco industry since 1604 and boasts the industry will “never die.” Out of a total population of 10.4 million in Zimbabwe, Alcock said, 500 000 depend on the tobacco industry for survival and “to kill the industry will be killing the people.” He was supported by his associate, Peter Richards, who said the destruction of the tobacco industry would seriously maim the economy. The sentiment, he said, is “when the tobacco industry sneezes in Zimbabwe, the entire economy catches a cold.”

Increasingly, anti-smoking campaigns are being painted as another move by industrialised countries to perpetuate the dependence of developing countries. Addressing an all Africa conference on tobacco control in Harare in November, Richards said the organisers were seeking to crush the tobacco industry and plunge Zimbabwe into poverty.

“Zimbabwe has made huge strides in improving the health and education of its people,” he said. “It does not perpetually hold forth a begging bowl. To a large extent, these milestone achievements have been built on tobacco income. My country needs tobacco to sustain economic growth, to be in a position to combat far more urgent matters than the alleged smoking-related diseases,” he said.

WHO's plan to reduce worldwide tobacco production by 10 per cent by 1995 would cost Zimbabwe more than a quarter of its 1992 balance of payments, or more than a quarter of the country's health budget, according to the International Tobacco Growers' Association.

“One cannot simply say that because tobacco has become a threat then we can roll up the industry,” said Zimbabwe's Health Minister Timothy Stamps. “It is a question of how we move from a lucrative crop which benefits the nation, without traumatising a very fragile economy.”

So crucial is tobacco to Zimbabwe's economy that even President Robert Mugabe, when asked about the anti-tobacco campaign during a visit to the United Nations in 1992, said production would only stop when the world stops smoking. Mugabe asked why WHO has targeted tobacco, while ignoring the hazards of excessive alcohol consumption.

“We feel there should be a campaign to make people aware about the danger of overdrinking as we should about the dangers of oversmoking. I don't know why WHO should choose smoking as the most hazardous of all possible hazardous practices and leave drinking alone.

“In my country, most road deaths occur from drinking...but no one is talking about it because they brew whisky in Britain. Those are the things we must start with first,” said Mugabe, bringing a new dimension to the debate.

Developing countries, including Zimbabwe, gain economically from the tobacco trade and are unlikely to give it up-at least not until the health-care costs outweigh the benefits of tobacco to the economy, something which will not be obvious until a large segment of the population has spent a lifetime smoking.

Ndaba Nyoni

FAO in action

SAVING CARIBBEAN SEEDS

A seed program to preserve and promote Caribbean varieties has been undertaken by countries of the Caribbean common market (CARICOM) and Suriname in conjunction with FAO, and U.S. and German aid agencies. Among the problems:

· “too sweet for the market” is a delicious edible cassava grown on one Caribbean island. As the name implies, this ecotype is not generally marketed so is gradually dying out;

· market demand for the hot Scotch Bonnet pepper of the West Indies cannot be met because of inadequate seed supply;

· one Caribbean country went outside the region to buy seeds for certain groundnut and cowpea varieties, not knowing they were readily available within CARICOM. A two-year project (GCP/RLA/108/ITA), funded with US$1.5 million from the Italian government and executed by FAO and the CARICOM secretariat, should improve seed production and trade in the region. Efforts focus on regional training in seed production, processing, storage, distribution and quality control; establishment of a systematic regional information network on germplasm availability, variety description and variety trial results; preparation for CARICOM countries of technical standards on seed quality and seed health, to speed up germplasm exchange and enhance seed marketing among the member countries.

MORE SILK FOR SRI LANKA

How many Sri Lankan silkworms does it take to spin enough of that marvellous gossamer for all the saris worn by the island's women? Certainly more than the 50 tons of green cocoon produced annually in Sri Lanka. Domestic demand is 400 tons annually, for saris alone. Supplying more of its own needs would mean employment and the country would spend less foreign exchange on imports, according to Sri Lanka's Silk and Allied Product Development Authority (SAPDA). To achieve its goal of producing 100 tons annually, SAPDA decided to move production from government farms to smallholder farmers, but needed assistance in developing extension services for silk production. With FAO's assistance in project SRL/91/012, extension officers were trained to work with smallholders. Local people skilled in the silk industry, but without formal training, were engaged to demonstrate on-the-spot field techniques and practical skills. They were supervised by experts. Use of local people cut expenses and meant farmers were reaming from people speaking their language. When the project ends this year, SAPDA expects 2 000 farmers will be working in silk.

TFAP UPDATE

The latest update of the Tropical Forests Action Programme (TFAP) has been released by FAO. The program goal is to reduce deforestation in tropical zones. The document is a compilation of national work plans from around the world, and has been highly controversial. Some groups argue the plans help powerful logging interests more than they protect the interests of local people dependent on indigenous forests for food and sustainable economic activities. In his introduction, program coordinator Jean Clement seeks input from all sides. For further information, contact TFAP, Forestry Division, Food and Agriculture Organization, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy.

Ships on an unknown sea

Nearly a quarter of our world has embarked on a voyage of socio-economic discovery whose end is nowhere in sight

By Sharon L. Cowan

A staggering proportion of the world's national economies have embarked on the uncharted seas of radical transformation. What they are doing is hard, painful and has never been attempted before.

In Eastern and Central Europe alone, 27 countries-including all the states of the former Soviet Union and covering 13 contiguous time zones- have decided to cast off central planning and move toward market economies patterned after the Western European, North American or Japanese models. In alphabetical order, the list starts with Albania and proceeds through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), Georgia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, Romania, the Russian Federation, Slovakia, Slovenia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan and finishes with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

In Asia, China began decollectivizing agriculture in 1979 when it introduced the Household Responsibility System. More recently, countries such as Laos, Vietnam (with Doi moi), Cambodia and Mongolia have followed China's example, and some optimistic observers already speak of Vietnam as the next “tiger” on the Asian economic landscape.

Africa's socialist countries, including Ethiopia, Tanzania, Benin, Angola, Mozambique and-until chaos engulfed it- Somalia, as well as sub-Saharan nations are working through programs of structural change prescribed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. Similar programs are under way in countries of South Asia and Latin America. As of last 31 July, a total of 65 low-income countries had arrangements under the IMF's Structural Adjustment and Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facilities.

The trend has taken off so rapidly and to so many parts of the globe that one begins to wonder which economies are not currently in the midst of transition. In recent months Cuba has taken some small steps toward privatisation in certain sectors of the economy, and it appears to be only a matter of time before that island and North Korea begin to make the shift.

Transforming a national economy is a courageous-and controversial-undertaking. Economists differ as to the optimum pace of reforms, the best order in which to introduce changes and whether the Japanese or the West European model is better. Looking back, they have produced reams of analyses on the causes of failure in the centrally planned economies, and their views of structural adjustment are a hornets' nest of disagreement. Adding to the complications is the tremendous diversity among the countries in transition.

What does a middle-income, industrialised European country like Hungary have in common with a Central Asian herding economy like Mongolia or with sub-Saharan Tanzania, which has one of the lowest levels of per capita income in the world and 66 percent of its population living in rural areas?

Not only are there enormous differences between the three large groups of countries in Europe, Asia and Africa but there are also striking contrasts from country to country within each group. Socialist ideals took hold at different points in the history of different countries. One society may be more clearly agrarian than its neighbors. Some have demonstrated greater commitment to what Western economists label “reform” than others. Because of its nomadic culture and special trading and political relationship with the former Soviet Union, Mongolia's economic difficulties today may bear little resemblance to those of other transition economies in Asia. In the former Czechoslovakia and most other East European countries, collectivisation of agriculture was nearly total, but in Poland and ex-Yugoslavia, the rural populations resisted collectivization, and small private farms remained the norm.

One thing in common

But, despite the differences, these countries do have something in common: they all have begun a hard journey toward a future that is hazily defined, but promises to be better than the cur-de-sacs of their previous economic regimes.

It is impossible to overestimate just how hard a journey it is. To speak of mere difficulties is to grossly underrate the pain of transition for the populations involved. Most of the economies in transition have been hit with high inflation, sharply falling agricultural output and high unemployment, particularly in the rural areas. In Eastern Europe and Mongolia, the loss of markets due to the collapse of the COMECON trading system has made matters still worse. The single most painful feature of transition is probably the unprecedented loss of security. Rural people now live in the grip of uncertainty not only about their jobs, but also about their housing, their pensions and their very futures. With a new emphasis on export crops and a neglect of food crops, even food security is at risk.

For the rural/agricultural sector, reform consists of a package of several often-bitter pills-dismantling of the central planning, marketing, distribution and input supply apparatus, privatisation of farms and related enterprises including land, equipment, buildings and plants, the shedding of redundant labor, liberalisation of markets and price controls, introduction of taxes.

In all the centrally planned economies-whether they featured collective farms or not-the state or party was the principal actor in agricultural planning, processing, marketing, distribution, input and equipment supply, transportation, even decisionmaking about which crops to plant. In organizing itself for these and other tasks, the socialist state created institutions whose indicators of success had little to do with efficiency or profitability.

An important function of state farms and agricultural cooperatives was to absorb excess rural labor. They became agro-industrial entities housing or administering so many functions other than agriculture-housing construction, road-building, kindergartens and schools, cultural facilities, health services-that they could fairly be compared to rural municipalities. In China, in fact, the rural commune has now been abolished and replaced by the township as the basic unit of government administration in the countryside. In redistributing land, Vietnam is expected to keep a certain area-no more than five per cent-of available agricultural land for public services in each locality.

Wage-earner mentality

One result of the state or cooperative farm system was that people working within the rural societal units developed specialized roles, and with the passing of the older generations, they lost much of the general knowledge and capacity needed for running a whole farm. The system fostered a wage earner mentality and suppressed entrepreneurial impulses-even among farm managers, who, in effect, were carrying out production plans drawn up and handed down from above. Today, as the state- no longer able to finance and manage farming enterprises-seeks to put farming back into private hands, there is often a dearth of individuals with the right combination of experience, interest, capital and inclination to take the big risks associated with private farming. At the same time, many thousands of specialized farm workers are finding themselves unemployed as the new private farms scramble to shed excess staff and maximize efficiency.

The privatisation of collective farms or agricultural production cooperatives, parastatal marketing boards and other agro-industrial enterprises presents a number of tough challenges for governments. What form should privatisation of property take? Should land and other property be given back to its former owners or their heirs or should they be offered other forms of compensation instead. Should property be redistributed to agricultural workers on the basis of the “sweat equity” they have invested over the years? Should there be a distribution of vouchers or stock certificates representing partial ownership of an enterprise? And so on. Each society undertaking privatisation has had to choose a course of action which may include one or more of these options. And there is the additional problem that privatisation is often resisted by those who may have the most to lose-managers of large farms and related enterprises.

The legislative and technical effort needed to support such massive shifts of property and the creation of a hitherto non-existent private sector is also immense. Bankruptcy law, competition laws, accounting standards, company law, association law, cooperative law and environmental protection laws have to be drawn up. Laws and systems to ensure the legal interests and rights of landowners and tenants, and provisions for exchange, transfer, leasing, inheritance, mortgaging and taxation must be firmly in place before private farming can thrive. Without some certainty on these points, individuals are unwilling to take the risks involved in farming, and lenders are unwilling to extend credit where ownership of property is unclear.

The approach that Albania and Laos have taken to privatisation is to divide communal agricultural lands so that every rural household receives a small farm. This, at least over the short term, skirts the unemployment problem that other transitioning economies face. But the resulting farms are too small to be economically viable without state subsidies. While the state cannot afford to subsidize all small farm households, it would cost still more to support them as unemployed migrants to the cities. In the countryside, they can at least produce their own food.

Paolo Groppo of FAO's Agrarian Reform and Land Settlement Service has studied the rural situations in Laos and Lithuania at first hand to see where they need help. “First,” he says, “we have to understand who the small producers are and how they are living. In Laos, for example, there are no documents at all. Next, we have to understand the mistakes in land distribution that have been made so far and try to see that viable land parcels are distributed. It's important to determine the conditions of viability-today, and five years from now.” It is important, Groppo says, to create legal and market mechanisms that will allow for the merging of small farms over time.

T. C. Varghese, also of FAO's Agrarian Reform and Land Settlement Service, compares Laos with China's experience. “Laos has two advantages over China and other countries,” he says. “There is a lot of land, and they are at an earlier stage in the distribution process.” It is one thing to promulgate laws and prepare land cadastres, he says, but it is another to make sure people understand the significance of a legal provision. He says trainers should be trained to educate the populations of economies in transition about the new laws and their implications.

There is also an environmental dimension to land tenure. Under socialist farming structures, particularly in the former U.S.S.R. where communal farming took root in the early part of the century,
agricultural workers felt little if any sense of attachment to the land, and a highly mechanized, high-input approach to agriculture often caused serious degradation of soils and water supplies. Experience shows that when tenure is secure, farmers are more willing to undertake conservation practices and make such long-term investments as constructing and maintaining canals and terraces.

Unemployment in the short and medium term is a thorny problem for most economies in transition. In the absence of the kind of social safety nets that Western Europe has developed, the newly unemployed are fully exposed, left to rely on family and friends, find scarce alternative employment or try entrepreneurial activity-legal or otherwise.

In Central Europe and many of the former U.S.S.R. successor states, more is happening than economic transition, and unemployment can threaten the very continuity and future of the reform process. With the revolutions of 1989, these countries opted both for market-based economic systems and pluralistic political decision-making. The willingness of a government to plunge onward with difficult reforms is continually influenced by a vociferous electorate, which is feeling the short-term pains. And the rural/agricultural sector is often especially conservative, having been the beneficiary for decades of policies aimed at bringing rural living standards into line with urban ones.

Case for cooperatives

In the search for solutions to problems faced by the food and agricultural sectors of economies in transition to a market orientation, one concept comes up again and again: cooperation. As dozens of countries cast off collectivist approaches and look for viable free market alternatives, the establishment of true farmers' cooperatives could provide at least a partial answer. When state and parastatal channels for marketing, distribution and input supply are dismantled, small farmers need to organize free market alternatives. By forming cooperatives of their own, farmers can obtain the services they need, achieve economies of scale and avoid going through dealers and other middlemen. But legal and institutional changes will have to be completed to allow the formation of farmer-owned cooperatives.

Cooperatives could solve the problem of how to divide buildings and equipment when large collective farms are broken up and the land distributed to individuals or households. With some assistance, farmers could form cooperatives to share storage space and scarce agricultural equipment. And in Lithuania and Albania where the thousands of new farms are too small to be viable, farmers may find it to their advantage to market their produce through their own cooperatives.

Under Tanzania's Cooperative Act of 1991, cooperatives are being “de-officialized” and turned over to the members to run them as true cooperative enterprises. Farmers now elect their own cooperative leaders and express their views about the services they want the co-ops to provide. This meant a radical change in the thinking of the staff of Tanzania's Department of Cooperative Development and of cooperative officers dealing directly with farmers. They had to shed the mentality of inspectors and supervisors and think of themselves as promoters and trainers of the fledgling cooperative enterprises. And it was just as important for cooperative members to grasp the concept that the cooperative was truly their enterprise and to understand the practical effect of the new cooperative law.

Farmers in Central and Eastern Europe also have to change their thinking. Because of the often brutal methods with which collectivisation policies were carried out after the Second World War, farmers often think of “cooperative” as a dirty word. Farmland and other property were confiscated without compensation and rural people who resisted were deported or killed. It is no wonder many rural producers today are loathe to consider the advantages of forming cooperatives in the new free market environment. They need help to understand what a true cooperative is.

Women face special risks during the difficult transition to market economies because of a tendency for even the most advanced of the Marxist-inspired societies to slip back into old attitudes about women's roles. Women workers are often the first to be dismissed from their jobs, and they are hardest hit by the loss of maternity and child-care provisions, the first employee benefits to be cut in unprofitable companies. Studies in China showed that the retreat from collective farming to the family farm fostered a resurgence of patriarchy in the countryside and a diminished status for women. In the absence of a strong feminist movement, women's economic status and social positions can decline in transition economies.

Most of the former Soviet-bloc countries got high marks for their constitutional guarantees of the legal equality of women and men. But, while the state encouraged women to be actively involved in the productive labor force, men never became very much involved in the work of food preparation and child care. As economies in transition draft the new legislation required to support the ideological and economic shifts, they have the opportunity to establish new institutions based on the assumption of true and legal equality of the sexes.

The same holds true for environmental questions. New policies and legislation can promote a more efficient use of natural resources and prevent the recurrence of past ecological disasters in many socialist countries, which are only now coming to light. The emerging free press and electronic media, farmers' cooperative movements, NGOs, and bilateral and multilateral development agencies can all help to make citizens aware of environmental issues.

To boost the odds for successful transition, countries may also want to design education and training programs in spheres like land cadastring and setting up networks of equipment dealers.

The radical ideological transition now under way calls for basic reorientation on the part of farmers and consumers. The level of sophistication with which ordinary citizens relate to the new economic rules of the game varies widely from country to country. A recent study of household income and expenditure among Mongolian herders reported that “during the period of centralized economic planning, commodity-money relations were governed by the organized marketing system and there were no direct economic links between producer and consumer. Neither the herders nor the collective/cooperative were able to participate in market relations, and as a result, these groups today have little understanding of the market and marketing”-nor of the costs involved in grass and hay preparation, transport and the like.

The international community has taken a somewhat tentative attitude toward the economies of Eastern and Central Europe and the newly independent republics of the former Soviet Union, in part because of the clear need to balance their requirements for help against those of more desperately poor nations in other parts of the world. In a resolution passed at the end of 1993, the UN General Assembly called for improved market access for exported goods and services from the European countries in transition-not only because this would support the processes of transformation, but also because integration of these countries into the world economy “will have a positive impact on world trade and global economic development.” The resolution goes on to urge the UN Secretariat to improve its capacity to provide policy advice and technical assistance to these countries, but within existing resources.

Increased and freer international trade, the hoped-for result of the recently concluded GATE negotiations, may be the best hope for many of the transition economies in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America. More porous western markets should have a positive effect on the economies of the least developed countries. And, as former Polish finance minister Leszek Balcerowicz put it, “Western governments do not seem to realize their own potential to damage or increase the chance for successful economic reform in the former socialist countries, through actions that appear to be quite marginal to them.” Newly emerging free market economies can help themselves by developing agricultural products which are complementary rather than competitive with products already plentiful on the world market.

There are some important intangibles as well. For international experts and organisations wishing to help the economies in transition, perhaps the most important items they can pack in their briefcases are humility and respect. No matter how much experience any organisation may have in addressing similar scenarios, the fact is that each country presents a unique set of circumstances. And while the expertise of bilateral and multilateral organizations, international NGOs and high-powered consultants certainly is greatly needed, the truth is that what these societies are attempting has never been tried before. National pride and local knowledge are not to be trampled upon but rather to be prized as providing the energy needed for the long road ahead.

After Mengistu, a mammoth task

Trough debate, trial and error and plain hard work, Ethiopia struggles to shrug off 17 years of mismanagement

By Dessalegn Rahmato

The overthrow, after 17 years in power, of Haile Mariam Mengistu's Stalinist-style military government in Ethiopia was welcomed by much of the free world. The insurgents' May 1991 victory was seen as a step toward liberation of one of the world's most tightly controlled totalitarian systems and most centrally planned economies. Coming just 18 months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the regime's ouster was seen to have important parallels with the collapse of socialist dictatorships in the former Soviet bloc, and to offer the same hopes for a brighter future.

The change has undoubtedly opened up exciting opportunities and challenges for a country whose obsession with pursuing radical socialist policies spelled disaster for much of its population, especially the large rural community. But the transfer of power has also brought problems in its wake, which must be tackled quickly. As with other former socialist regimes, in the Soviet bloc and elsewhere, the disintegration of the old system has led to a widespread sense of confusion and instability which, left unchecked, could prove almost as dangerous as the excesses of the fallen dictator.

Two and a half years after Mengistu's collapse, the social/political climate in much of Ethiopia is still one of extreme uncertainty. Much of the old has been swept aside, but the new has yet to be fully defined. This is especially true in the agriculture sector, of predominant importance to the economy and mainstay of the vast majority of its people. Here, an entire system has been dismantled, or fallen apart of its own accord. But in many areas, new structures have still to be put in place of the old, discredited ones. In others, replacement structures bear too close a similarity to the old ones for comfort.

Debating land

Important choices loom, most notably in the vital land tenure debate which began this year, paving the way for fresh legislation on an issue fundamental to Ethiopia's rural community. This and other decisions taken in the next few months will play a crucial role in determining the success or failure of the difficult transformation.

The transition government has a golden opportunity to free Ethiopia of the stifling centrally planned economy which strangled all hopes for agricultural development, especially in the last 12 years of the Mengistu regime. But it must be careful while avoiding the pitfalls of its predecessor, not to slip into the equally dangerous trap of leaving peasants entirely to their own devices. Any attempt to resurrect elements of the old system will be doomed to failure. But so too will a total free-for-all. Some form of state intervention is essential, especially in the rural sector which was taught for so long to rely on a centrally directed system, however imperfect it might have been.

It is a measure of how imperfect that system was that the peasants themselves reacted so forcefully to end it, as soon as they were given the chance. As early as 1990, the government in its death throes made a move toward a mixed economy, introducing a reform which allowed members of peasant cooperatives to choose between retaining or dissolving their organisations. That first brush with free choice brought a massive vote of non-confidence, and the majority of cooperatives were closed down amid angry charges of mismanagement and embezzlement.

Ethiopia's peasant community had plenty to be angry about. The three categories of rural organization around which the agricultural system revolved-peasants' associations, producers' cooperatives and service cooperatives-were highly politicised, run with ideological rather than agricultural goals in mind. Far from fostering agricultural progress and modernisation, the rural organizations hampered development and acted against the interests of the peasant society they'd been set up to protect. Peasants were often coerced into joining, forced to pay prohibitive subscriptions and abide by a system which militated against their making anything but the most meagre profits from their land.

As so often happens, original objectives, praiseworthy in themselves, became distorted as political dictates took over. The peasants' associations were launched in 1975, the year after the military government came to power, with the ostensibly laudable aims of administering land, settling disputes and protecting common resources. But despite a promising start, and considerable achievements in the complex and pressing task of land reform and distribution, they quickly deteriorated into highly unpopular institutions, widely resented for their heavy-handed tactics and for the scant attention they paid to the wishes of the peasants themselves. There was virtually no member participation. Instead, these and the other two cooperative systems were largely run by party agents and political activists.

Gradually, the original aims became clouded. The organisations became little more than the tools of an increasingly authoritarian government, absorbed into the grinding state apparatus which had been built up as part of the obsessive drive to socialize the country.

Little by little, the range of activities laid down for the rural organizations were extended beyond the original goal of protecting and developing agriculture. As early as the mid-1970s, peasants' associations were obliged to collect what were euphemistically described as “voluntary contributions” from members. These were, in effect, extra taxes-added to an already heavy tax burden- to fund expenses which had little or nothing to do with agriculture, such as national defence, aid for drought victims and rehabilitation for people displaced by war.

At about the same time, the government began using peasants' associations as an instrument of military conscription, forcing them to recruit large numbers from the peasant population to fight the Somali invasion, a much resented practice which was repeated the following decade. Peasants' associations were also made to enforce the highly unpopular resettlement program in the mid-1980s, selecting and preparing often reluctant settlers for moves to other parts of the country, where they had no idea what future awaited them. From the early 1980s onwards, the peasants' associations became responsible for imposing and enforcing grain quotas, a system by which rural households were obliged to sell a sizable chunk of their grain harvest to a state run purchasing agency, at prices far below the open market.

Co-ops unpopular

Producers' cooperatives, supposedly designed to market and distribute produce fairly and efficiently, were unpopular from the outset. At best inefficient, at worst downright unethical, these organisations allowed almost no input from the peasants themselves. Officials were generally hand-picked, and day-to-day activities including harvesting, cropping and marketing were often directly controlled by party officials who were frequently incompetent, corrupt, or both.

Corruption and mismanagement were so rife in the service cooperatives, which handled the purchase of consumer goods for rural communities, that basic goods such as soap, salt, sugar, simple textiles and paraffin oil were generally in desperately short supply in the cooperative shops. Often, the Ethiopian Domestic Distribution Corporation, a huge and corrupt bureaucracy which had the monopoly on supplying service cooperatives, was unable to supply the goods required and attempted to off-load other goods for which there was little or no demand.

The service cooperatives themselves became notorious for waste and mismanagement. Ministry of Agriculture documents show between 1987-89 more than 24 million birr was misappropriated by those service cooperatives which the ministry had audited. That was almost certainly just the tip of the iceberg, given that audits were carried out on fewer than 25 percent of cooperatives. Lack of technical expertise meant machinery and equipment were bought, often with the financial support of international donors, only to find there was no provision for spare parts or servicing.

Not surprisingly, the widespread sense of resentment and exasperation among peasants led to a backlash against the rural organisations. The peasants abandoned them as soon as they were able. Today, few of Ethiopia's rural institutions can be said to be in a relatively healthy state. But the transition from old to new has also given rise to an unnerving hiatus, which is unsettling to much of the peasant population. Lack of firm guidelines have left some community resources unmanaged, open to theft and destruction. No new policies have been formulated on fundamental issues, not just land and property rights, but also agricultural production and distribution and consumer supplies for rural communities.

On one hand, among the most damaging effects of the centrally planned system was that it totally ignored regional differences and special needs in farming practices and resources. But the current lack of any uniform policy has also given rise to widespread confusion and inconsistencies. In some cases, political officials from the transition government have taken their own initiative to set up new rural organisations, without consulting the Ministry of Agriculture or other national bodies.

Some rural organisations, formed to replace the old system, have repeated the worst mistakes of their predecessors. They are often undemocratic, riddled with bureaucracy and plagued by state interference. The peace and stability committees, units which have replaced the peasants' associations dismantled in some parts of the country, have few leaders from the ranks of the rural communities themselves. Goals of self-management and popular participation appear as remote as ever.

Service cooperatives have thrown out their old leaders, only to find them replaced with officials hand picked by local government authorities. In many cases, the absence of any new structures mean the assets of service cooperatives have been frozen, so supplies of consumer goods and milling services have been further limited in rural areas.

Such problems have been exacerbated by the devastation of parts of the country due to fighting and looting, and by Ethiopia's continually worsening economic situation. As is the case in other former socialist countries in transition, it seems things will get worse before they get better. Past experience has left most peasants with a deep-rooted suspicion of any community organisation. The new government will have to work hard to overcome this hostility if it is to make any new system work.

Yet structures are desperately needed to encourage development, oversee agricultural production, marketing and distribution, organize consumer supplies and protect community resources and the environment.

History lessons

An important lesson to be learned from recent history is that it would be self-defeating for a former socialist state to be turned over to a totally free market system, without any social safeguards for its people-often born and raised to look to the state for guidance.

Abandoning rural organizations altogether would leave Ethiopia's huge peasant community with no framework whatsoever, leaving people to sink or swim, almost certainly the former.

Once the land tenure issue is settled-and it must be settled quickly and decisively-the next priority will be to draw up a clear policy for creating new rural organisations. The best way to restore faith in any such bodies is to put power firmly in the hands of peasants. New rural structures, whatever form they take, must be self-managed, with a high degree of accountability demanded of their leaders. Membership must be entirely voluntary and open to all. Almost as important, incentives must be such that the benefits of joining are obvious to all.

These structures must be independent, free from any political interference and totally separate from any political activities, such as tax collection, conscription and enforcing law and order.

The Ministry of Agriculture has prepared draft legislation on rural cooperatives, which would encompass the aims of voluntary membership, self-management and democratic decision-making. But the ministry reserves for itself a strong role, taking charge of registering, inspecting and auditing the structures, a move which would run counter to the goal of truly independent cooperatives.

Extensive visits to rural areas, and talks with peasants and Ministry of Agriculture officials, have convinced the author of the need for two main types of rural organisation: 1) primary peasants' organizations and, 2) voluntary cooperatives.

The primary peasants' organisations would replace the highly unpopular peasants' associations, the new name helping overcome reluctance on the part of the justifiably skeptical public. Cosmetic differences aside, these new groups would be genuinely different, more dedicated to the needs of the local community rather than the goals of central government, and more democratically run.

They would administer land rights-once the government has passed new legislation-to protect the environment, including land, forestry, fisheries and water. They would promote development projects in tandem with the government, in the field of agriculture, but also in education, health care, roads and income-generating enterprises.

The huge task of restructuring the cooperative system will take time and will not be feasible until the land rights question has been settled and the peasants' associations are independent. Future cooperatives may take the form of purchasing, marketing or service cooperatives, the latter being the most comprehensive in scope. Their precise nature should depend on the needs of each local community. Whatever system is chosen, future cooperatives must not be coercive in any sense and their focus must be one of development, rather than the simple provision of consumer goods and services, as was previously the case. Incentives to join should be compelling, such as lower charges for milling and cheaper price-tickets in cooperative stores.

Properly run cooperatives could play an important role in improving the storing and distribution of fertilizer and seeds and in stocking grain, in order to ensure constant supplies at regular prices during the hungry season. This would reduce the need for peasants to turn to high-priced private suppliers when their own stores run out and would lessen the incidence of hunger in areas prone to famine.

Such organisations could also take the responsibility of managing loans, promoting rural manufacturing enterprises and dealing with the particular problems of their local community, whether it be animal disease or human health care.

In the case of production-oriented cooperatives, past experience has so jaundiced peasants that any attempt to resurrect them will be difficult and almost certainly ill advised. But there is a place for some such structure, provided they are wholly self-managed. Such a scheme would give local rural communities the benefits of combined marketing and purchasing power for farm produce and all the advantages that pooling land and assets can bring in terms of yields, innovative farming techniques and mutual support. It would also give the peasant community the autonomy they so clearly crave.

As for the thorny question of supplying consumer goods, source of much discontent under the previous system, it would be wiser and more efficient to contract purchasing out to private businessmen, especially since the economic situation is likely to worsen, making consumer goods supplies scarcer than ever in the foreseeable future. This would free cooperative officials to use their time for other projects of benefit to the community. A narrow focus on the supply of consumer goods was one of the major defects of the previous system.

Running the cooperative shops as private businesses, possibly in the hands of trusted members of the community, should ensure greater efficiency, less waste and less corruption. The cooperatives could receive a share of profits and help set prices. Cooperatives as a whole should be encouraged to run as profitable organisations, paying dividends to members.

A national, privately run body could be formed to serve as an umbrella for local co-ops. With a name such as the National Federation of Cooperatives, this would be a profitmaking body, entirely independent from the state, and would act as the executive arm of the regional cooperatives, handling bulk buying of supplies for them, to get better prices, and marketing their produce on national and international markets.

Another national and similarly independent body, to be called the Cooperative Promotion Unit, could be formed to oversee the mammoth task of re-organizing the capillary system of individual cooperatives and subsequently look after training and legal matters. It would audit local cooperative books and take legal action against anyone, from inside or outside the system, who tries to abuse, steal or embezzle cooperative assets.

Powerhouse in the making

From feudalism to communism to economic superstardom, China's multiple metamorphoses seem poised to pay off at last

By K.K. Taimni

In little more than a decade, China's image has changed from one of poverty and backwardness to being viewed as the world's next economic superpower. In a relentless drive to unshackle economic structures dating from the days of strict adherence to socialist doctrine, China has deepened reforms that have brought a boom in rural areas.

Rural institutions for protecting land rights, production and distribution, credit and banking in rural China are still in the process of evolution. The roots of today's evolving institutions are still anchored in the former commune system, but serious and concerted moves are afoot to separate the communes' economic activity from their former political and government functions, and to develop more market-friendly, responsive rural institutions and enterprises.

To comprehend the present status and strivings of rural China, its evolution since the 1950s must be understood.

Feudal system abolished

After the founding of the People's Republic in 1949, the old land system was abolished. By the end of 1952, land had been taken from its previous owners and distributed free to more than 300 million landless or near-landless peasants.

While the old, feudal landownership structure was gone, China's new rulers feared agricultural development would be hindered by the backward production techniques and management methods of peasants. Accordingly, the government intervened to encourage farmers to organize into producers' cooperatives. At the time, three types of agricultural cooperatives were officially supported: supply and marketing co-ops, rural credit co-ops and agricultural producers' co-ops.

Producers' cooperatives remained the prime concern of the party and government in all subsequent attempts to socialize rural institutions and centralize control of the means of production and distribution in rural areas. As a result, agricultural producers' co-ops went through four stages of transformation and refinement: mutual aid teams; elementary agricultural producers' co-ops; advanced agricultural co-ops and people's communes.

Mutual aid teams were a kind of producers' coop organized voluntarily by farmers' households. Generally, one team consisted of a dozen or so households. Land and other means of production in use by teams were all privately owned, and each team independently managed its own resources. Members exchanged labor, draft animals and tools.

Elementary agricultural producers' co-ops were made up of mutual aid teams, with 30-40 households. Farm households were expected to join a coop with their land as contribution toward share capital. Draft animals and large production tools were also pooled in the co-op, which was managed as a single entity with all members working as labor. Benefits generated were distributed to members on the basis of their labor input, though a small proportion of the surplus was also distributed according to each member's respective share of land.

Advanced agricultural producers' co-ops were much larger, and consisted of 120-150 households. Land, draft animals, and large production tools were priced and put into the co-op for common use. Members pursued production as a unit, with benefits distributed in a unified way.

In 1958, state policy dictated a large-scale movement to develop people's communes. Within a short period, 740 000 advanced agricultural producers' co-ops were transformed into 26 000 people's communes. All assets of the advanced co-ops were summarily and indiscriminately transferred to the communes, in which income was shared equally between members.

Party leaders wanted to tighten their control in rural areas and curb capitalist tendencies among peasants, as well as eliminate tensions which had been developing between producers' co-ops and local governments regarding responsibilities and functions. They also wanted to mobilize local resources to put up large dams and irrigation facilities and create assets for improving farm productivity.

Within the commune organisation, in the initial stages, a three-tier structure was introduced to create “optimal units” for various specialized functions. Thus the commune, as a central organization, remained responsible for policymaking in political, social and cultural affairs. General administration and agricultural operations were somewhat more decentralised to large production brigades, from which day-to-day farming operations devolved to smaller production teams. Those teams were made up of 20-30 households each. The teams owned tools and farm animals, and served as accounting units for distribution of wages. The brigades, on the other hand, were the size of the erstwhile advanced producers' cooperatives (120-150 households) and owned light machinery, small factories, workshops and the land.

Communalization did not result in complete socialized ownership. Private plots continued to exist. On- and off-farm labor could be profitable for the peasant once his or her commune responsibilities were met.

It is generally conceded that despite its obvious rigor and regimentation, commune life did succeed in creating additional irrigation facilities, preventing floods and avoiding famine in the 1960s.

Then came the 10-year Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Farm productivity declined largely due to overcentralization, excessive bureaucracy and lack of motivation among individual farmers and workers, who were effectively discouraged because their individual efforts were not rewarded.

Then came the decisive reforms of the 1978 Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. One of its farthest-reaching decisions was to “gradually separate government administration from enterprise management, extend the decision-making power of the enterprises and make them relatively independent socialist economic units.”

An equally crucial decision taken later by the party was to make localities responsible for their own expenses and revenues. Central authorities encouraged localities to develop their local economies and generate revenues.

The former decision turned communes into business-like enterprises, and the latter forced local political officials to become entrepreneurs. It was the only way in which they could hope to hang on to their positions and advance their power.

Land use disbursed

Today, almost all farmland held by the communes has been decollectivized and its use given to individual households. The household responsibility system has been incorporated in the Constitution and the Agricultural Law of China. Under this system, land and other means of production are contracted out to individual farmers by the people's communes. The contractor-farmers are entitled access to the equipment and machinery of the commune, but otherwise they enjoy full production autonomy defined in the contract, which spells out the contractors' obligations in terms of production returns and quotas.

Farmers have the right to sell their produce in the free market once they've met their contract quotas. They can also sell in markets far from their home villages.

China's reforms of the 1980s have not actually re-established private landownership. To avoid recreating a landlord class, landownership remains in the hands of the local community, to which rents are paid by farmers who lease and work the land. Village communities, particularly in the economically advanced areas in coastal regions, routinely subcontract land for short periods to groups of migrants from poor regions. For example, in the Beijing suburbs in the early 1990s, there were roughly 100 000 peasants growing vegetables under contract on community-owned farmland.

Land is not sub-contracted for long periods, however, for fear the migrant workers will earn squatters' rights on the property and be difficult to evict in this time of vague property ownership rights.

Once political and government responsibilities were taken from them, people's communes once again became known as co-ops, dedicated to economic development. These born-again agricultural producers' co-ops provide technical, production and marketing support services to the contractor-farmers. The co-ops, however, continue to be “owned” by the local government and are therefore “unions of labor” only.

The services they provide include: administration and coordination of agricultural operations; provision of support services to farm households; accumulation and redistribution of capital; establishing and leasing/managing enterprises.

In 1992 there were 1 380 000 grassroots-level agricultural producers' co-ops in China.

With the deepening of the rural economic reforms and shifting orientation toward the market economy, these co-ops are loosening up and diversifying. Specialized agricultural co-ops are developing around cash crops and are characterised by voluntary participation, mutual help in financing, and an open-market orientation.

At the same time there has been a rapid growth of Rural Cooperative Funds, set up by the producers' co-ops to manage collective surpluses and community finances. The funds finance community specific activities, non-profit operations and local share-holding economic enterprises/cooperatives.

These Township and Village Enterprises (TVEs) were first promoted when agricultural producers' coops were converted into people's communes in 1958. These enterprises were the non-farm counterparts of farming operations and were owned and run by the communes. Since the 1978 reforms, the TVE sector within the commune system (generally referred to as commune- and brigade-run enterprises) has emerged as the most vital factor responsible for hastening rural development in China.

By the end of 1992, the number of TVEs exceeded two million, with annual output at 1 768 billion yuan (US$204 billion). They accounted for one-third of the gross industrial output of the country. These enterprises produce a diverse range of products and services, from electrical equipment and machinery to coal-mining, cooking oil, chemicals, building materials, processed food, textiles, paper, catering, construction and transport.

Following the reforms, the ownership of TVEs has taken three forms:

1) common share enterprises, in which all assets are inventoried (including funds, materials and labor initially contributed by households) and converted into shares. Shares are then allotted to the village council, individual households, individual workers, and workers as a collectivity, according to broad criteria laid down by the central government. Each TVE has its own board of directors, responsible for management and operations of the enterprise;

2) leased-out enterprises, in which the business is leased to individuals by the township or village council. The operators pay the government in question a fixed amount of money, as under the responsibility system practised in agriculture;

3) shareholders' cooperatives, in which several farmers pool funds and expertise and buy the enterprise from the local government.

Complementary types of co-ops also revived in the post-reform period include:

a) supply and marketing co-ops, now the main channel through which surplus products are marketed once the quotas of state marketing organisations are met. These co-ops run shops, both for supply of farming needs and consumer goods, processing enterprises, trade centres, industrial product wholesale centres and waste material collection centres. At the primary level, there were 35 000 such supply and marketing co-ops;

b) rural credit co-ops are the other major type of agricultural co-op in China. These are communally owned banking institutions-the only formal banking institutions-in rural areas, and are linked to the Agricultural Bank of China. They mobilize rural deposits, advance loans and provide elementary financial services to their clients and members. At a recent count there were 58 000 rural credit co-ops in China with 330 000 branches employing 490 000 full-time staff. Almost all 176 million rural households in China are members of these two types of agricultural cooperatives;

c) handicraft co-ops, which in China also include light industries as well as arts and crafts. These co-ops are permitted to retain a high percentage-70 per cent-of their profits for their own use.

Shares sold

The break-up of communes and subsequent disbursement of their assets often necessitated introduction of new financial arrangements and instruments to implement re-organization of the rural economy. As well, collectives had collapsed and the increase in rural income stemming from higher prices for agricultural products meant there was a lot of cash looking for places to go. While the return on bank deposits was limited, investment in shares of co-ops often meant returns of more than 25 per cent per year.

Since the early 1980s, small enterprises at township and village levels have been the primary force in the development of new financial instruments such as bonds and shares. While there are many variations (and there was no formal regulation of the issuance of shares by enterprises until 1987), four main formats have been commonly adopted: equity shares issued to re-organize the properties, including land and buildings of the previous owners (i.e. communes); employment supply shares issued to raise funds against assurance of providing employment, or accepting supply of materials from the shareholders; workers' shares issued to worker employees; public shares issued to the general public.

These new co-ops are governed by the Provisional Regulation on Farmers' Share-holding Cooperatives, issued by the Ministry of Agriculture. Such enterprises are distinguished from “collective” co-ops, in which members do not personally own or contribute shares.

In terms of their membership, these co-ops can be categorized as: household-combined type, in which two or more farmers pool share capital. Many of these are in fact partnership businesses merely carrying the name of a cooperative; collective farmers' integrated type, in which farmers join with township and/or village enterprises to pool production factors and set up share-holding co-ops. The number of shares is determined by the assets pooled; multi-units integrated type, a union of state-owned enterprises or institutions with agricultural producers' co-ops, rural households, domestic or foreign traders, scientific research institutions and foreign companies which set up share-holding co-ops by contributing share capital in cash or through equipment, land, technology, etc.

China has a population of over a billion people. By the year 2000, its total rural labor force is expected to be 520 million. Agriculture will absorb only 200 million of those people, and most of those jobs are seasonal and really only provide half-time employment.

The need to improve productivity to feed an ever-growing nation was therefore not the only impetus behind rural reforms. With the unemployment and underemployment picture looking so desperate, the Chinese government wanted to find ways to keep people busy. It is important to recall radical reforms in agriculture-decollectivization had proceeded largely without official sanction and were fait accompli before they were discussed and endorsed in 1978. The reason is the central state and its agents in rural areas were remote, one from the other, each having its own interests and agenda. Local officials had been made responsible for their own expenses and revenues in the early 1980s. Yet a degree of centralized control remained. That incomplete division between national and local responsibility has meant China's economic reforms are partial, often uncoordinated, and vary in intensity and degree of success and acceptability by the people in different regions. Centralized command and deregulation often coexist, even within a sector. Many reforms have been reactive and ad hoc.

To increase their revenues, local officials encouraged or established rural enterprises. Income from those industries helped rural people prosper and solidified the power of local officials. By 1987, industry had already surpassed agriculture as the dominant source of rural income. By the end of 1992, employees of township/village enterprise totalled 12 per cent of the total rural labor force.

Still, several issues remain to be resolved. Among these: absence of appropriate laws for the governance of cooperatives, collectives and enterprises; ambiguity in the role of local political authority vis-a-vis economic enterprises; an underdeveloped system of accounting, management and auditing; absence of effective machinery to safeguard the interests of leased landholders, employees, suppliers and creditors.

The Chinese authorities seem to have learned some lessons from their experiences with reforms, including:

· farmers must be guaranteed property rights and their interests safeguarded;

· it is harmful to distribute income equally among farmers, irrespective of individual contributions to the collectivity;

· government should refrain from actually running economic enterprises;

· local industrialisation on the basis of local resources should be encouraged.

In retrospect, some of these points might seem obvious, even a little trite. But these very points are often overlooked in many former socialist countries, while planning the restructuring of their economies.

“Laissez-faire” without a net

Eastern Europe s farm sector lurches into capitalism

By Peggy Polk

Nowhere is the truism “old habits die hard” truer than in the harsh transition going on in the countryside of Eastern Europe. Decades of dependence on the collective model of agriculture collapsed along with the Berlin Wall, and the sudden vacuum that resulted has left the “hero farmer” of communism at risk of becoming capitalism's newest jobless statistic.

The positive elements arising from the rubble are still tentative, hesitant and sometimes reluctant. Even in Hungary, which had managed to remain slightly to the west of the communist ideal, attempts to create new rural institutions allowing farmers to function in an agricultural free market are incomplete at best.

Efforts to integrate social benefits into new or revamped institutions appear to be practically nil in Hungary-and probably elsewhere as well. The social safety net has disintegrated and, at least for the present, no one is trying to weave it back together. That means no more guaranteed full employment, no more free nurseries, education and health care, no more paid vacations and subsidised retirement. They were fine and worthy social goals of the communist system, well worth the investment because they served also as effective tools of propaganda and pacification. But who will pay for them in the post-Communist era? Certainly not the government.

What governments throughout Eastern and Central Europe have been doing since 1990 is enacting legislation providing for the restructuring of state and cooperative farms and creating conditions for the privatisation of the agriculture sector as a whole- then stepping back to let laissez-faire take its course.

In Hungary, collective farms-known as production cooperatives-were given the 12 months ending 1 January 1993 to decide how they wanted to restructure. According to Janos Juhasz, who has served as director of the Cooperative Research Institute in Budapest and is now attached to FAO's Rural Development Analysis and Organization Service, this turned out to be primarily a choice between becoming a voluntary cooperative, declaring bankruptcy or becoming a shareholders' company. “In practice, not too much has changed,” he said. “Most re-established as agricultural cooperatives with the same organization and management as before, and only 10 per cent of members took advantage of the opportunity to withdraw their land.”

The government has also moved to combine the more than 260 existing savings cooperatives scattered throughout the countryside into a Bank of Rural Hungary. The old savings cooperatives, which had served only to collect savings and provide short term consumer loans, will now become a unified system with national finance facilities for emerging agro-business enterprises. And that was pretty much that.

Three-part philosophy

Ferenc Laczo, a staff scientist at the Cooperative Research Institute, says if there is any philosophy guiding government it has three parts:

“1) Destroy the old structure;

2) pretend market economy conditions already exist so that consequently nothing, or almost nothing, has to be done to create new institutions (after all, under market economy conditions this isn't a government issue);

3) let the people do what they can.”

And what most people seem to want to do is to be told what to do. What Juh calls “the wageworker mentality” still prevails, especially among Hungarians too young to remember pre-Communist agriculture. Lacking any experience in management, they are willing to settle for something approaching the secure nine-to-five life they once lived.

“To date,” Juh said in a case study he pre pared two years ago, “few members have left their cooperatives to undertake private farming. Their number is expected to increase, but the trend will depend on the final shape of legislation and on the technical, financial and infrastructural conditions of private farming.” Juh says not much has changed since he wrote that report.

“Visiting the countryside,” he says, “I got the impression those families that decided for private farming are those in which the older generation is still alive. It's the older people who decide to take a chance because they once had the experience. Now they have a terrible nostalgia-and the assistance of the younger family if they can convince them to start again.

“There are not very many young, entrepreneurial-minded agricultural workers. Instead, the entrepreneurs may be complete outsiders, who believe agriculture is a good business but have no expertise. The agricultural workers with the expertise are worried about losing their jobs. Most still trust their former managers and re-elect them under the new structure. They tell the managers, 'You provide us with work, and we'll go on as before.' “

This attitude can be dangerous. Some managers have taken advantage of naive and trusting workers.

“The former managers are smart guys. They know where the good land, machinery and houses are,” Hans Meliczek, chief of the FAO Rural Development Analysis and Organization Service, says.

“There is a danger that they are cheating the farmers of the collectives, who are ignorant. They say, 'This is good for you.' And the farmers say, 'Okay, you have been my boss for the last 20 years. Yes, sure, I'll sign.' That's how they lose their entitlement and the managers become feudal lords.”

Ladislav Kabat, the rector of Nitra University in the Slovak Republic who has served as a visiting professor at two U.S. universities (Delaware and Cornell), says it is little wonder agricultural workers are in a state of confusion, given the rude awakening they were in for when communism collapsed.

In what was formerly Czechoslovakia, he says, agricultural cooperatives “often established a very special social and political climate in rural areas.” Farmers enjoyed an exhalted status with access to vacations on the Black Sea, visits to Rome to meet the Pope, travel to Moscow and Paris.

“The communist ideology always played the hunger and famine cards. It treated members of cooperative farms like national heroes helping us to escape hunger and famine,” Kabat says. “Ideologically run propaganda had a significant influence on the minds of our population, and the farm or land laborer, peasant or agricultural worker is still considered someone who should be treated more favorably than the others.”

But today, Slovak agriculture is in a state of collapse, stripped of government subsidies and protectionism and left naked to market forces. Nationally, unemployment is approaching 13 per cent in the Slovak Republic. Kabat estimates that 80 to 90 per cent of cooperative farms are on the verge of bankruptcy, and private owners who have reclaimed their collectivized land want their profits to go to long-term improvements rather than for making “social payments.”

Like Hungary, Czechoslovakia enacted laws intended to create a framework for the economic transformation of agriculture. The Land Law of May 1991 aimed at restoring land to its original owners and transforming cooperative farms into independent, market-oriented units. The Transformation Law set 31 December 1992 as the deadline for converting all cooperatives into privately owned production, marketing and/or processing units.

Kabat was one of the original owners of farmland collectivized in the 1950s and '60s, and he was all in favor of the Land Law. But he, like many others, soon changed his mind about claiming his land and embarking on private farming. “We recognized all the complications and barriers we would have to face-lack of capital and lack of experience, just to mention the most important ones,” he said.

Fragmentation of agricultural land was another key factor. Kabat said that in the cooperative where his land is located, 1 200 hectares had more than 700 owners and were allocated in more than 7 000 plots. “What is the incentive for an owner, who lives in the city, to claim back his ownership rights to 0.10 ha of land?”

The result is that almost 20 per cent of collectivized land has been left unclaimed. Of those Slovaks who did claim their land, 95 per cent-Kabat among them-chose to leave it with the cooperative in return for a “very small but permanent annual rent. We continually criticize the management, but there is no better solution available, nowhere to sell the agricultural products for a better price,” he says. “And the lack of markets has a great deal to do with the restrictive trade policy that the industrialised countries apply at the same time that they press for the economic transformation of Eastern and Central Europe.”

Changes in store

Kabat believes that most Slovak cooperatives will survive for the present-albeit “with significant changes”-because there is no capital available to create and support new production structures. He expects some individuals to little by little assemble larger units of land and join with others in using existing machinery and other facilities in a loose form of cooperative.

“The most important change will be to increase the personal responsibility of individuals for their labor and economic results,” he says. “The spirit of 'collective' work will disappear as soon as people are compensated only for what they produce.” In the long run, he predicts that the cooperatives will be transformed, often dominated by farmer-managers, who are not necessarily the owners of the land.

“The most important role of our educational system,” Kabat says, “is to teach our people to better understand and to adopt the philosophy that those who work more and better are those who succeed, that higher qualifications deserve higher pay as do talented, capable managers with special skills, who are willing to take risks and that higher quality and better efficiency are vital in every part of the economy.”

Both Kabat and Juh would also like to see cooperatives go beyond primary production and develop processing and marketing facilities as western agriculture has done Canada's marketing boards are a prime example-to provide more employment and increase profit. Juh cites an FAO study estimating that only 20 per cent of the consumer's food dollar goes for primary production. Twenty per cent is for services, machines and input and 60 per cent for processing and marketing.

At present, the farmer is getting only the first 20 per cent. And the Hungarian government has deliberately stood aside, leaving farmers without the subsidies that had kept them afloat under communism, without the processing know-how and lacking the vast market that COMECON had provided, Juh says. Hungarian agriculture, which was outstandingly successful at providing quantity for the Soviet bloc, now looks like an economic dinosaur weighed down by inefficiency and inertia and so far unable to provide the quality demanded by western markets.

“There used to be a huge demand, especially in the Soviet Union, for our wine. Now we are left with a vast quantity of awful wine that no one will drink,” Juh says. “The fact is that we are not able to sell rubbish anymore. Our production is on a par, even better, than anyone's. But we don't have the infrastructure to increase the value added. It is not agricultural technology that we are lacking but the psychology of the entrepreneur-management, business, marketing.”

Nevertheless, Juh is optimistic about the future. “Of course, drawbacks, mismanagement and mistaken government policy are almost unavoidable, but to me the general trend of development is positive in the whole Hungarian economy,” he says. “Right now, it is more positive in other parts because foreign capital has entered-Suzuki in the automotive industry, for example, and others in the more profitable sectors of food processing and marketing rather than in agricultural production. But even so, the trend is positive also for agriculture- given more effort, cost and, unfortunately, unemployment.”

Lessons for the West

In the view of some informed observers, Hungary and its neighbors could eventually come up with new and effective models that have something to teach the Western industrialised countries as well. FAO's Hans Meliczek says the natural tendency so far has been for the countries of Eastern and Central Europe to think they should try to “abolish everything from the past,” and many conservatives in the West encourage this. “But,” he said, “we have to recognize that even if they were overburdened with party functionaries, collective farms did fulfil social functions.”

A number of institutions are trying to help by organising workshops and commissioning studies to enable agronomists and the farmers themselves to report on their experiences and exchange views. The conclusions are not necessarily unanimous. Meliczek recalls two workshops held in the same building at the same time-one sponsored by FAO and the other by the European Commission. “They came up with diametrically opposed recommendations,” he said. “The FAO group said, as I do, that the collectives had social advantages, which should not be lost, and the EC group said that everything must be abolished and we must have only family farms.”

On one point virtually all the experts agree: there is no single answer. Each country, each locality, each former cooperative or state farm will have to tailor its own solution to fit its own particular needs. And meanwhile, waiting for a new system to evolve, much of the region's agricultural land lies idle with small plots being cultivated by one or two individuals. The heroic agricultural worker has, for the moment, turned into a subsistence farmer.

Further reading: Reorienting the cooperative structure in selected Eastern European countries. Vols. 1, 2 & 3, ISSN 1020-1211, FAO, Rome, 1994.

Restructuring agriculture in Eastern and Central Europe. 1,2 & 3, FAO, Rome, 1993.

Both series are available from FAO Distribution and Sales Unit, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy.

Development COMIX!!!

Move over Mickey Mouse, Ramu and Earthbird have real work to do

By Helen Gillman

KAPOW!-along with WHAM!, BANG!! and BOOM!!!-pretty much describes the impact of comics in development work and extension, an impact still largely ignored by the very organisations whose business it is to bring rural people the information and inspiration they need to succeed.

Kenyan illustrator Terry Hirst has produced numerous comic strips and books for government and development organisations in Africa for the past 15 years. He's convinced the medium is as powerful as television, but says too many development organisations are missing the boat when it comes to exploiting it.

“These organisations have to forget about the decision-makers and go for the people,” he says. “And if you want to get concepts across quickly, you go for comics.” People “love them.”

Virtually every time the medium is used, the results prove Hirst right. A recent survey of the effectiveness of a comic produced by the Bay of Bengal Program (BOBP) for fisheries development in the region found local fisherfolk wanted more educational comic books, and were even willing to pay for them. A series of comic books produced by the FAO Community Forestry Unit during the past two years has been translated into several languages, and the unit has received hundreds of requests for additional copies. Also successful have been numerous French publications, such as a recent album on locust control, Les dents du ciel.

Working in East Africa since 1983, Hirst has produced comics on issues ranging from immunisation to soil conservation, marine ecosystems and agroforestry. The Nairobi-based International Council for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF) has published several of his strips in its magazine, Agroforestry Today.

“There is a huge market for African comics in Africa,” he says. “Children seize them and when you consider that any audience in Africa is by definition a young audience, then the medium is an excellent means of informing and educating.”

No surprise

That what the French call bandes dessin should prove popular in a development context should come as no surprise. Comics drawn for entertainment are part of a massive worldwide industry which had its roots in the late 19th century-when pioneer scrips like Little Nemo and The Yellow Kid first appeared in American Sunday newspapers-but which has grown almost exponentially in the 20th century. In the United States alone, more than 100 million people read comic strips every day and syndicated U.S. strips attract an audience of around 200 million in 60 countries. Surveys consistently show comics are the most widely read section of any newspaper. In France, home of the internationally popular Asrerix, even the late president Charles De Gaulle was an admitted “partisan” of the comic book character Tintin.

The modern concept of the comic strip and book has easily transcended cultural boundaries. Japan-home of ”Salaryman” - has the largest comic book industry in the world, while huge industries flourish in China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Mexico and India, where they are used both for entertainment and to transmit serious messages, particularly concerning health and religion.

The propaganda value of comics was recognized in the Second World War, when American and Canadian GIs carried comic books in their rucksacks of Superman conquering the Axis forces. At the same time, famous cartoon characters, notably Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse and other creations, made government propaganda more easily digestible for the public.

In the 1960s, satire in cartoon form was widely employed by politically oriented groups seeking to spread partisan messages in the so-called “underground press” In the same tradition, New internationalist magazine, which takes an ideological approach to issues of world poverty and inequality, produced its entire April 1991 issue in comic scrip form. A parody of the Star Trek television series and films, the comic was titled “Starve Trek,” and used humor to make scathing comments on what it called “the inappropriate and self-serving nature of much of Western aid to the Third World. “

So, if comics have such broad appeal, why aren't they used more often in extension and development work?

The answer is complex, but lies in two main considerations-the fundamentally “top-down” approach of international organisations, and debate about the “cultural appropriateness” of reading materials for grassroots audiences.

Academic elite

Most international organisations tend to generate publications for an elite academic readership. While some, including FAO and the World Health Organization (WHO), have from time to time targeted non-academic readers, the publishing activities of most such institutions remain basically top-down and not geared to “low-level” publications.

WHO's Director of Health and Biomedical Information in Alexandria, Christopher Zielinski, has written several articles on publishing for the grassroots. While working with WHO's Regional Office for South Asia in the late 1980s, he was involved in publishing a comic book designed to convey health messages to schoolchildren in India, as well as a guide for adapting the book for culturally diverse audiences.

“Given the statistics on the enormous paper output of the United Nations system, it may seem hard to imagine that an insufficient number of publications are being produced,” Zielinski wrote in a 1987 Development Dialogue article. “There may be outrageous excesses in some areas, but there remain major sectors of the population which are not considered target audiences for development organisation publications-generally the audiences at the peripheries, or grassroots. And yet, these are the prime target audiences for most development activities.”

Militating against attempts to publish for the grassroots, Zielinski admits, are sheer audience size, the need to undertake time-consuming pre- and post-publication testing, and the onerous complexities of distribution. In India, for example, a print run of 600 000 would be needed to distribute one copy of a publication to each village. And this wouldn't take into consideration the many different languages and cultures of the country. The average print run of a UN publication, in contrast, is 2 000.

“It's clearly beyond the budgets of most development agencies to attempt to cover such large target audiences,” he says.

However, comics produced for extension use or to convey public service messages in developing countries fall into two main categories: 1) project-specific, where a comic is developed, tested and published for a particular linguistic/cultural group, and 2) generic, where a comic has universal, non-culture-specific appeal Project-specific comics, though aimed initially at a particular group, can often serve as a prototype and be adapted for other groups.

“The specialist skills resident in a development organisation,” says Zielinski, are “derived from experience gained in many countries, and can be harnessed to produce a good generalised product-to test it, ensure and demonstrate that it is effective in promoting the behavioural changes desired, and to design the produce in such a way as to facilitate its use and adaptation in different specific cultures and languages.” Then others can use it as a model.

Keith Richmond, chief of FAO's Editorial Branch, chinks the prototype approach is probably the most effective one in publishing for the grassroots. “We simply can't produce 161 versions of the same booklet,” he explains. “You need to prepare a kind of prototype and then present it to countries and say, 'you adapt it.' In some countries visual perception of objects differs from region to region and even from valley to valley. Given such limitations, we can only provide a base people can work from. Of course, you could go in and test before producing a publication, but you can only do that within a particular project or program.”

During a recent visit, Richmond was impressed by Indonesia's comic book industry, and returned to FAO headquarters convinced more use should be made of the medium. “I've been trying to get the message about comics across after the visit to Indonesia, but without much success,” Richmond laments. He believes the resources of existing comic publishing industries, such as those in Indonesia or Latin America, should be utilised by agencies like FAO. “We can provide the raw material, or perhaps finance local artists, and collaborate with NGOs and groups producing local publications in order to have the material translated and adapted for the local audience, “ he says.

Ideas in practice

Zielinski put similar ideas about prototypes into practice with a comic designed to educate schoolchildren in northern India about immunisation. Stories of adventure contained four adventure tales-respectively involving a mythological demon, a flood, a magic kingdom and robbers-each with its own child-hero who promotes immunisation after making up his or her own mind on the basis of experience and others' advice.

For example, in “The flood,” 11-year-old Ramu and his baby brother Goloo lose contact with their parents after a flood destroys their village. Ramu cares for his brother, while searching for his parents, and after hearing of a measles epidemic in a refugee camp takes Goloo to the camp doctor for immunization. When Ramu's parents finally find their children, they are extremely proud their son took such responsible action.

Zielinski tackled both the top-down and cultural appropriateness problems with the Indian comic book. Aimed initially at a grassroots audience of 30 000 children in northern India, it was also intended to serve as a prototype which could be adapted for other linguistic or cultural groups. The idea proved workable, and the comic has reached a lot more than its original 30 000 print run. UNICEF has translated it into 15 languages and distributed it throughout India free, while one of the largest commercial publishers in the country bought rights to the comic. Hundreds of thousands of the books were to be printed, for sale mainly in urban areas.

The target group of children live in rural and semi-urban areas and, though from low-income families, attend school. They have poor “visual literacy,” meaning they can't understand picture stories without some explanation, although their verbal literacy is average for their age group in their own language. They have almost no access to reading materials outside school and no access to comics which are popular among urban children.

The prototype comic was designed to facilitate its adaptation into the many different languages and cultures of India, and in 1988 Zielinski's of rice produced an adaptation kit, with an instruction book for both direct translation into other languages and complete cultural adaptation.

Two years of planning and development went into production of Stories of adventure. Decisions on format and style were based on earlier studies of the region, as well as a survey conducted in rural, semi-urban and urban schools, designed to gauge children's familiarity with the medium.

“We knew most people remember what they see longer than what they hear,” says Zielinski. “However, in some cultures and societies where there may be little familiarity with printed media, visual literacy cannot be taken for granted, particularly among those whose reading ability is weak. Color can be an irritant, rather than an embellishment-it can even be intimidating.”

Color can also have specific meaning. For instance, in black Africa red, the color of blood, is the color of life. Black is the color of trial and suffering, while white is the color of the dead and is also used to keep death away.

Crucial consideration

For Anamaria Decock, an FAO development support communications specialist, such considerations are crucial. Working in population and communications, she uses various methodologies and media to awaken critical awareness of the relation between family size, land, natural resources, environment and food. She first used comics while working on a literacy program in Latin America in 1980.

Her definition of the medium when used in development projects veers dramatically from the concept of the traditional, Western-style comic. Cultural appropriateness is a key factor: no publication is developed without first gathering extensive information through Weary surveys and testing to determine social and cultural target audience profiles and study all-important visual perceptions.

“You might as well not use any pictures if they don't correspond to the visual perceptions of the target audience,” says Decock. “It's very dangerous to use Western-type comic books in low-literacy populations, because they don't understand the symbols. Comics are all about symbols and in a country or region where Western symbols are irrelevant the medium has to be adapted to be effective.”

Traditional graphics, such as stars to denote pain, lines to indicate movement and onomatopoeic words such as Wham, Pow and Zap, can be easily misunderstood-particularly in regions where people's visual perceptions don't correspond with the esthetics of western design. Decock's experience with development comic books for projects in sub-Saharan Africa showed these images can be completely misinterpreted, diminishing the effectiveness of the book and diluting its message.

“How can we communicate with men and women in rural areas where literacy levels are low?” she asks. “To them, a poster is first 'that thing on the wall.' And when they start wandering over the images, bit by bit, carefully moving from detail to detail, their eyes jumping up and down, left and right, one discovers that they read a picture in a completely different way.

“Over the last decade some exciting things have happened in Africa,” Decock says. “Communications specialists and media workers have discovered, first by trial and error then through systematic research and pre-testing, how to communicate effectively through pictures without the back-up of text or slogans.”

During pre-testing of a comic developed for teenagers in Malawi it was found that local youngsters thought stars, as well as the traditional “copy balloons” or dialogue bubbles were flowers. “With a symbol such as a cloud to denote dust, they look and look and try to decide what it is,” she says. “Social and cultural symbols need to be very clear, so that when you show people the comic, they can tell you the story.”

Decock has found that in comics where basic social and cultural symbols were appropriate to the audience, it is possible to use other, more complex techniques, such as displaying separate actions and even time-lapse in the same picture-frame, or in immediate succession.

Zielinski concedes that cultural and social appropriateness, as well as visual literacy, are important in comics for grassroots readers. But he cautions that they can be overemphasised, and differs on how best to tackle them. The key, he believes, is production of a good prototype, based on thorough testing.

“Materials intended for use in prototypes, particularly those aimed at the grassroots, must be subjected to a rigorous cycle of pre- and post-publication testing,” he wrote in World Health Forum in 1986. “It is possible to be quite culturally appropriate using a fully conceived and realised final product, which can then be adapted. For instance, our prototype in North India was adapted for use in South India and Burma. From our experience of the medium, the most difficult thing is the selection of characters, and then the story has to be broken into the right order. The detailed cultural references, such as clothing and customs are fairly easy to add on later.”

This is where the adaptation kit comes in: a version of the main comic shorn of cultural and social characteristics, accompanied by instructions on how to produce local models.

“I think people who insist on making their publication culturally appropriate make it out to be much more difficult than it really is,” says Zielinski. He is also convinced that visual literacy is a problem easily resolved. “Traditional comics have quite a sophisticated and implicit visual language which certainly doesn't work in all areas of the world, and people who try to experiment with audiences not familiar with this language might find a lack of comprehension. But how long does it really take for someone to pick up this language? I'd be surprised if a kid in a rural environment took more than a week.”

This, he believes, is where pre-publication testing is essential, in order to determine which symbols or aspects of the proposed comic do, in fact, limit or block comprehension. Pre-testing for Stories of adventure was carried out in schools in northern and central India for readability (Cloze tests), visual intelligibility, and the ability of the material to transmit technical information. Pictures were tested without text and text without pictures, then text and pictures together.

“We received a lot of feedback and there was a lot of redrawing as a result,” recalls Zielinski. “For instance, children didn't understand the notion of a flashback, so we redrew the story into a linear time-frame.”

Transcending boundaries

The FAO Community Forestry Unit's Earthbird series shows what can be achieved with comics that cut across cultural boundaries. The idea was to create a publication with universal appeal, and the overwhelmingly positive response to the four books produced indicates the concept worked.

To achieve such appeal, the storyline has Earthbird fly around the world to “see what people are doing to make the earth a better place to live.” He visits each of the book's four child characters in their home regions-Helena in Europe, Musa in Africa, Suni in Asia and Juan in Latin America.

Cultural anthropologist and former Community Forestry publications manager Gary Thomas explains that using generic characters avoided many constraints. Cultural symbols, customs, traditions and the diverse environments could be generalised. Where lifestyles, languages and cultures can change not only from country to country, but village to village, this approach assured a wide market for the comics' message. The comics have been used at an agricultural college in Mozambique, classrooms in Tanzania and Vietnam, and an environmental education project in Ethiopia. They've been translated into French, Spanish, Vietnamese, Laotian and Kiswahili.

Earthbird's creators had extensive field experience with CARE International and drew on lessons learned during CARE's work in raising environmental awareness among African schoolchildren. Aimed at a young market, the forestry comics have a bright, entertaining format-although the wordy, information-packed text instantly gives it away as more than just entertainment.

“I have a 14-year-old who only reads comics, and he wasn't impressed with this one, I have to admit,” says Thomas. “For him it was too wordy, too educational. But all that means to me is that he's not part of my target population. He's jaded, sophisticated and looks for something entirely different in a comic. But for kids in a classroom in Vietnam or Tanzania it might be virtually the only literature they have in the class for months, and the teacher might cake up to six weeks to work through the material. In this case, it's an appreciated and useful product.”

The comics contain “teacher's pages,” outlining exercises and activities to help instructors further develop ideas mentioned in the text. “Even though the comics are aimed at a young audience and we've tried to make them as entertaining as possible, we recognised they needed substance,” says Thomas. “There is a substantive scientific aspect to each publication.”

Extensive consultation was held with technical staff before the comics went to press, to ensure the information was technically correct and not too simplistic. This caused some setbacks for the publication team. “Technical people can be very protective about their field of specialisation,” says Thomas. “While we didn't have to worry so much about the fine details of cultural and language concerns, we found these people very concerned about oversimplifying an area in which they did their PhD.”

Where they relate to environmental issues, forestry subjects can also generate emotion and ideological argument. The Earthbird series was screened carefully to ensure its messages weren't political.

Senior Forestry Officer Marilyn Hoskins finds comics extremely useful, especially in dealing with semi-literate target groups. “Many professionals don't like the idea of comics because they don't believe they're serious,” she says. “But they have to adapt. They have to realize many of the people we're working with can read, but not very well. A comic helps them because it's attractive and simple in format, but lets you discuss complex issues-and readers have the satisfaction of feeling they've achieved something by understanding.

“Basically there's still too much 'lecturing' development going on-the top-down approach-rather than work which focuses on self-help and education. The problem is that lecturing is much easier. You don't need too many examples. You can be very theoretical while showing slides and transparencies and using a blackboard. With something like a comic, you have to think carefully about the message in every frame. A great deal of practical knowledge and research goes into this type of publication. It may be necessary, for example, to conduct anthropological studies to understand the traditions of a group, so as to be able to transmit the right message to them.

Bay of Bengal Program

The 13-year-old, multi-agency Bay Angel fisheries program aims to help the small-scale fisherfolk of Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the Maldives, using extension activities to develop and promote new techniques, technologies and ideas. Last year, the program published its first comic, Our fish, our wealth, on the theme of overfishing. Issued first in English, it was translated into Tamil and Telugu and distributed along India's Coromandel Coast.

Unlike the lively, youth-focused Earthbird series or WHO's Stories of adventure, the BOBP comic targets adults. It doesn't try to entertain, but to tell a straightforward story. It discusses how the fish resource can be equitably divided among small-scale fishermen, those using mechanised boats, and trawlermen. Its central character is Raghu, a fisherman's son who returns to his village after training at the fisheries institute. Using his newly acquired learning, as well as his natural ability to communicate with and understand his people, he shows the community how to resolve the problem.

Generally low-literacy levels among these fisherfolk was a key factor in deciding to package the message in comic form, says program information officer S. Muthiah. “After discussion with fishermen on the beach, we concluded there was a need to educate them on how the resource could be preserved for the benefit of all,” he explains. “Considering the literacy level, we felt lectures and discussions would be worth while, but we also needed a visual impact.”

Cost was an important factor, which ruled out the use of video. “We decided using printed materials was cheaper and simpler and settled on using a strongly illustrated comic, which would use local language.”

The 16-page book forms part of an overall information/communications strategy including local radio, pamphlets, posters, lectures and manuals for extension workers. A second comic is now being developed. Again using the Raghu character, her shrimp, their lives will discuss the problem of overfishing Tiger Shrimp, explaining the species' life cycle and behavior and urging use of widermesh fishing nets in deeper waters to avoid destroying the resource.

In both comics, close attention is paid to clothing, types of boats used and local names for fishing equipment used along the Coromandel Coast. “We felt the message of the first comic would be easier to accept if it was culturally targeted,” says BOBP Senior Extension Adviser Rathin Roy. The comic was not pre-tested, but was distributed before general publication at adult education centres to obtain feedback on interest levels, suitability of language and the effectiveness of pictures The positive results of a post-distribution survey sparked plans for the second book, which will be published in English, then offered to NGOs in the region for translation into local languages.

Pointer to the future

Comics' attractive, simple formats and easy-to-understand messages make them appealing to populations with low literacy skills. They can be produced cheaply and, if designed with adaptation in mind, can reach massive audiences. Even where projects call for culturally appropriate publications, variations on the traditional comics concept have succeeded.

As demonstrated by the Earthbird series and Stories of adventure, NGOs are anxious to take a published product, adapt and distribute it. The prototype approach adopted by WHO for its immunisation comic proved cost-effective in spreading information. As Zielinski insists, this success may point to one of the best means available for international organisations to reach the grassroots-the main target of most development activities, yet the least-served by most information materials.

Cry the plundered country...

Restoring the land: environment and change in post-apartheid South Africa, edited by Mamphela Ramphele and Chris McDowell, Panos Publications Ltd., 9 White Lion Street, London N1 9PD. U.K., 216 pp., £7.95.

Wide avenues, shining cars, sprinklers rotating sweet water over sloping lawns, laughing children splashing in the garden pool, tree-shaded tables laid ready for evening drinks after a hard day at the office: this is white South Africa. But leaving the white suburbs, the streets become dustier, the houses smaller, the gardens non-existent. The color changes from green to grey. Then come dirtier streets, and houses built of blocks. A pall of heavy smoke hangs over shanty towns that sprawl out as far as the nearest Independent homeland.” The first hint of agriculture in this progression is the term “shack farming,” where landowners, rather than cultivate their fields, rent them out for the construction of timber and corrugated iron huts, each the home for a nonwhite family. Foul-smelling, polluted streams trickle through the dusty land. A few lean cattle munch the waste litter which blows everywhere. The landscape is treeless, every branch and trunk having been torn down for building or fuelwood.

Such is the picture of South Africa given by the authors of Restoring the land. More than 20 South Africans of all races contributed to this book, together describing a plundered country of desecrated ecosystems, and people alienated from their traditional way of life. Sadly, perhaps inevitably, the book is more a record of the rape of the land than a paradigm for restoring it to fertility. Despite the contributors' brave willingness to start from “small beginnings” and dream of a new rural democracy, the task facing them seems almost overwhelming.

A delicate balance broken

From the mid-17th century onwards, black farmers and pastoralists in South Africa were gradually dispossessed of most of their land through armed conquest, spurious treaties and economic pressure. The Land Act of 1913 restricted landownership by Africans to seven per cent of the country's total area. This was increased to 13 per cent in 1936 as a “compensation” for the loss of parliamentary voting rights. With few exceptions, the land allocated to black Africans was barren and unproductive, and scattered throughout the country. Tribes, already split up by the appropriation of land by white settlers and the creation of artificial boundaries by colonial administrators, were further divided. The delicate balance between a traditional human society and its environment was broken.

The first “native reserves” were set up more than 100 years ago. They were perpetuated in 1948 as part of official apartheid policy, as so-called independent or self-governing “homelands.” Over the next three decades, massive forced removals to the homelands took place. At the same time white farms, which had formerly employed one third of the African population, were mechanised, and the unemployed farm workers were crowded into the homelands. Marginal land was Flowed by people desperately trying to eke out a living, leading to the desertification of large rural areas formerly covered by good grazing land. Dung replaced wood as fuel as woodlands were stripped. Any remaining grass was overgrazed, and land erosion and abject poverty followed. In one area the average size of landholdings shrank from 1.72 to 0.43 hectares in a little over three decades, while the percentage of landless families increased from 10 to 43 per cent.

Although the worst scarring and visible erosion has been inflicted on the black homelands, the environmental damage in the white farming areas may actually be worse, since these occupy 87 per cent of all land in the country and practically all of the best agricultural land.

Deforestation has also been going on for a long time, starting with the stripping of indigenous woodlands to provide fuel for passing steamships, then clear-cutting to make way for plantations, arable and pasture land and to provide timber for mines and other uses. An early investigation of the effects of deforestation, some 70 years ago, found that rivers and the marshy lakes described by early travellers had disappeared. Flash flooding and river siltation have resulted and vast quantities of topsoil are lost annually. Monocropping, inappropriate plowing, ranching, excessive use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides are all degrading the environment.

Thus, while the white farms meet nearly all of the country's food needs, earn substantial foreign currency through the export of fruit and vegetables, and provide the raw materials for profitable wool and cotton exports, these successes have been achieved with little or no concern for sustainability.

Following bad example

South Africa's original forest dwellers, as in many parts of the world, had lived in relative harmony with their environment, hunting only for subsistence and gathering the fruits of the forests at a sustainable level. White settlers, seeing sport and profit, began to kill indiscriminately, and the indigenous people soon followed their bad example. Many species are now endangered, and wildlife conservation has come to be seen by black South Africans as of little value when weighed against the welfare of their undernourished children.

Ironically, when whites finally awoke to the need to conserve wildlife and began setting up parks and reserves, their efforts-which too often ignored the needs of local people-were looked on by blacks as just another tool to destroy local African communities. The establishment of reserves led to a curtailment of indigenous peoples' hunting and grazing rights, which caused resentment and encouraged poachers.

More recently, attempts (see Ceres No. 125, Wildlife as a crop) have been made by the government to involve local black African populations in the management of game parks as profit-sharing partners, with local guides accompanying tourists on safari. Visitors stay in traditional thatched huts, and provide a ready market for locally produced reed mats and other purpose made artefacts sold as souvenirs. Yet such programs are opposed by animal rights purists, on one hand, and on the other by many already hostile or embittered local people, who misunderstand them.

South Africa doesn't lack laws to protect its environment and reduce pollution-there are some 60 statutes on the books-but enforcement, according to the authors, is lax. The notion of protecting public rights is relatively alien to South African law, which is rooted in Roman and 17th-century Dutch law, and litigation is cumbersome and expensive. In 1989, the Minister of Environmental Affairs was given wide powers, but by the end of 1991, apart from some noise on pollution control regulations, the authors charge he had done little to protect the environment.

South Africa occupies only four per cent of the African continent, yet the country generates nearly 17 per cent of the continent's GNP, accounts for 40 per cent of its industrial output, 26 per cent of the maize crop and 50 per cent of the wool clip. With the estimated 30 per cent of the comparatively wetter eastern half of the nation uncultivated, and abundant mineral wealth, there is still great potential. To many less favored Third World countries, this would seem an enviable situation.

Yet the future is bleak. The cities and their peripheries suffer some of the worst industrial pollution in the world; the soil of the homelands has been reduced to dust, and much of the indigenous population has lost its identity in the process. Millions of black South Africans have been uprooted from more sustainable traditional ways of life and dumped down in man-made deserts, real-life versions of Tolkein's “land of Mordor, where the shadows lie.” With tribal rights, customs and communal duties long-forgotten, they are adrift in a barren landscape, their indigenous knowledge lost forever.

It is possible still to dream, as the authors of this book do, of again seeing clear running streams and wooded hills, but how can life be given back to a people so long suppressed? It must be done, but the effort required will be strenuous indeed.

John Herbert

Ambiguous title, useful advice

Listening for a change, by Hugo Slim and Paul Thompson, Panos Publications Ltd., 9 White Lion Street, London N1 9PD, U.K., 147 pp., £9.95.

The title of this book is rather confusing: does it mean that indigenous people have not been listened to before, or that, by listening, something new will be heard? The text itself does little to clear up the ambiguity, although in their final chapter the authors refer to their effort as “an introduction to the many different ways in which people are attempting to speak and listen to each other in development work today.” The latter is probably a fair summation of this manual, confusing title notwithstanding.

Obviously, many aspects of rural people's lives can only be appreciated through the words of the people themselves. But where to listen and what to listen to aren't easy choices. And once having heard what people have to say, interpreting their statements requires skill. This book should help development specialists and planners working in a participatory context to make the most of oral testimony.

Varied situations

Varied situations are considered: the real effects of resettlement in major development projects; how people cope with the trauma of civil unrest; the study of history and traditional rights and customs, and the way to a deeper understanding of indigenous knowledge and local practices.

While use of oral testimony is recommended at all stages of a project, much of the best data will involve looking back at the consequences of past efforts, from whose mistakes we can learn. For example, women in southern India don't go fishing, so project planners didn't take the impact on them into consideration when fishing methods were modernised in Kerala State. But a later oral testimony study showed how much of their lives had been changed by the project, and how they might have benefited had their needs been considered. “Men talk, but women only gossip,” seems an all-too-common attitude among (male) project planners-a costly one for women.

An early example of the collection and use of oral testimony cited by the authors comes, interestingly, from the industrial North: the Foxfire project. Secondary students in the American state of Georgia were asked to collect the opinions, attitudes and memories of elderly local people. Young and old learned from each other and a series of books was published based on the interviews.

Similar exchanges in developing countries today are proving important in narrowing the “generation gap,” so often widened by imported, northern-style education. Local people-young or old-often make the best interviewers, because of their language fluency and knowledge of local customs. But the authors insist that training in interview techniques is essential. One of the book's most useful sections provides tips on preparing for interviews with children and the elderly: the use of “focus group” discussions (in which several people discuss a topic while guided by a moderator); the importance of “body language;” how to choose the right venue, time of day and even the most suitable season for interviews; use of tape recorders and the place and limitations of written questionnaires.

Sources of oral testimony are examined, including local story-tellers, proverbs, religious rites-even the songs women sing while pounding grain or doing other jobs. All give clues to the history of a people, land rights, tribal practices and laws.

Distortion and taboos

But reliability shouldn't be taken for granted. Like legends and literature, oral testimony can distort facts in a hundred different ways, for political or cultural reasons, or simply to make a story sound better. Taboos and shame can also inhibit conversation. The authors cite the reluctance of Brazilian fishermen to speak about prostitution. In other cultures, people may assume that certain questions are unanswerable, being in the realm of mystery or the superiority of God's knowledge. Sometimes patently fantastic stories can tell the most about a people-when the interviewer realises that the fantastic is really symbolic.

More accurate memories are stored in so-called “memory banks,” a method of recording, documenting and analysing oral testimony being developed in several regions. Networking between these “banks” could become as crucial to project planning as data banks of strictly technical knowledge.

Of course, accurate translation from one language to another is always fraught with difficulty. When the transcription is from the rambling statements of a farmer speaking dialect into the European language of a completely different culture, imperfect results must be accepted. Even when working in a single language, two versions of the same interview can differ widely, with each reporter seeing the relative importance of the facts differently. What one ignores, the other may emphasise. The book gives much space to the problems of transcription and translation.

Though generally useful, the book has some notable faults. Its layout makes frequent use of short asides, set in heavier type than the main text, and some of its most interesting material is found there. Unfortunately, sprinkled through and breaking up the main text, it's hard to decide when-or if-to read them. Taken as they come, they break one's train of thought and distract from the initial narrative. Left for later re-reading, they may lose their context-an irritating interruption. Also, while the authors insist on the careful indexing of recorded oral history, the index of their own book is very limited. References are adequate, but more addresses of lesser-known publishers and organisations involved in the work of gathering indigenous knowledge would have been helpful.

John Herbert

Much more than a handbook

Tenido con colores naturales: recuperacie una tica tradicional (Dyeing with natural colors: the recovery of a traditional technique), by Celestina Stramigioli, Ediciones Ayullu Busqueda, Buenos Aires, 1992, 156 pp.

As its title suggests, this is a practical handbook on using natural plant and mineral dyes. But the author is a history professor with an interest in anthropology, rural sociology and artisianal production, and she has made it much more than that. The result of a study backed by the Instituto de Botca Darwinion, in San Isidro, is also an extremely interesting examination of the lives and work of local craftswomen in Argentina's San Juan Province, Department of Jachal-women weavers who are at the same time farmers, amateur botanists and the standard-bearers of local tradition.

“Their lives are not limited to the textile sector,” says the author, find the resources around them, they are able to distinguish the plants that can be used in dyeing, but also those with medicinal or nutritional properties....They live scattered throughout the department and work at home, alternating weaving and housekeeping. On their own, they solve the problems of the different stages of the production cycle, from purchasing raw material to selling the finished product.

“(But) the weavers of Jachal can't keep to a regular work pattern. For a start, they find it difficult to obtain sufficient wool, and the sale of their woven fabrics doesn't create a substantial income. They normally supplement their earnings by cultivating onions, working as domestics or in factories.”

It's hardly surprising that the future of such a profession-which entitles them to no social security benefits, no access to credit, gives them no way to promote their products and is not a decisive source of income-is uncertain. “The number of weavers is gradually diminishing,” writes Stramigioli sadly. Her book strives to preserve their endangered way of life and labor, while making readers aware of the need to help these tenacious women, who work in harmony with nature and their own culture and have every right to a more reassuring future.

Deep historical roots

The roots of their craft in fact reach deep into the past, to the ancient Inca Empire which had its centre in Peru, but extended as far as San Juan. There, the Paracas people were dyeing wool and could produce a hundred different hues when the Romans were only beginning to learn such techniques from the Greeks, the Etruscans, and the Orient. Arriving centuries later, the Spanish conquistadors admired the colors the indigenous populations obtained from local natural dyes: “They produce such perfect shades of crimson, blue, yellow, black and other colors that we have never seen in Spain,” wrote Cieza de Leon four centuries ago. The colors and patterns established a kind of code whereby people were identified: the unmarried girls of Calchaqui, for instance, wore multi-colored clothes while married women wore only plain colors. During Argentina's Gaucho Wars,” the color of horsemen's ponchos identified them from a distance as friends or foes.

Countries were built on such colors. Belize, for example, was settled partly due to the search for campeachy wood, used in dyeing. Such products attracted English colonists-and pirates-to the dangerous coasts of the Spanish Crown, from Guatemala to Mexico, while the Portuguese came to Brazil searching for the wood which would give them the dye known as Brazilian red. To foster the continuing use of natural dyes thus not only protects the environment from the polluting effects of industrial dyes and aniline, but maintains a cultural connection with Latin American history.

It also bolsters the economic independence of the Indian and mestizo populations of the New World.

The women of Jachal, with their collections of big pots and mortars and their deep knowledge of field botany, formed a group around Stramigioli, pooling their experience to make progress even as she watched. Some of them had jealously guarded the secret of “passing the wool through the ashes” (from the fire under the dye pot) to fix colors, or of using soot (or “rust”) to make a unique grey tone. Now these secrets were shared with the entire group-and are explained in detail in the book. As a result of their cooperation, the variety of colors was increased. In the past, they had produced some 15 shades of brown and pink, which gave them the guanaco and rJicuna colors used for ponchos and scarves. But by experimenting with new plants they obtained 15 more shades, ranging from yellow to a range of greens and a series of brown and red hues. Where formerly they extracted most of their dyes from the bark and roots of plants that are becoming scarce as a result of environmental damage, the new dyes were obtained from the leaves of more abundant trees and bushes, making it easier to find raw materials.

Clear description

While the use of grasses and bark in dyeing involves more work than with industrial processes, it costs three to five times less than dyeing with artificial aniline, and produces more subtle, yet durable colors with greater artistic quality. The book's clear text and detailed drawings precisely describe these dyeing techniques, the different plants employed and their respective uses.

For example, it explains how to make up the skeins of wool for dyeing, how to wash them with natural plant-based soaps, the role played by water and temperature, how to purify and soften the water and what proportion of water to pour into the pot per kilogram of wool. It discusses application of mordants to fix colors, the use of water and soil, and explains how the dregs from wine barrels, alum (potassium aluminum sulphate) or water with fermented bran and iron oxide can be used to fix dyes that give a pleasant shade of grey.

Also analysed are the effects of different colors obtained from bark, roots, trunks, ligneous fruits such as walnuts and walnut shells, the resin of the carob tree, and the fruits, flowers, stems and leaves of other plants-all of them listed under both their local and scientific names. Dyeing techniques-when to put wool into the pot and when to remove it, the best type of pot, how to wash and test the wool's resistance to fading are also examined.

Each plant is presented with its properties, characteristics, recommended harvesting period, drawings for identification, and the colors that can be obtained from it- including newly discovered ones hitherto unknown to the weavers. The names and qualities of tints are labelled and standardised.

Finally, the book looks at the craft itself, the traditions handed down from mother to daughter, and at the weavers' wider empirical knowledge not only of dyeing but also of the medicinal use of plants. It even sheds light on the weavers' religious beliefs: they commend their souls to Saint Martha, partron saint of fabrics, and to the Virgin Mary, “who is depicted spinning beside the child Jesus in numerous paintings.”

Though seemingly a modest regional study by an academic, this small book in fact presents valuable methodological lessons for researchers. It also reminds us that there is much to discover about the artisans of the rural world that can enrich our understanding of humankind and its environment.

Guillermo Almeyra

Reactions

Ceroscope “beautifully added”

I've been a reader of Ceres since May 1991. Although the topical articles on wide-ranging issues concerning agriculture and the environment have universal appeal, they are most relevant for developing countries.

I particularly find “Cerescope” very informative and interesting. Convey my thanks and appreciation to those who have been responsible for it (Pierre Antonios, Peggy Polk, Kate Dunn) for editing this column so beautifully.

Syed Sami Ahmad
Ghazipur, India

I wanted to tell you that I enjoy Ceres. It is informative, attractively laid out and very readable. I like the relatively short (Cerescope) articles, practical for those of us who are busy and never seem to have enough time to sit and read.

I work in conservation and rural development, so I have plenty of people to pass it on to.

Dhyain Jennifer Bongor
Nairobi, Kenya

African goals In Colombia

As a Colombian government veterinarian, I'd like to inform you of a project I'm planning and would like to implement in the Armero region, Tolima department, which was the scene in 1985 of the tragic eruption of the volcano Nevada del Ruiz. It's a question of exploitation of the so-called West African goat. This ruminant is raised in our region without the appropriate means and techniques, but furnishes meat for the poorest people and is a support to the family economy which has been insufficiently exploited and appreciated. There are some 18 000 West African goats scattered on farms and in villages.

I wish some international organization would collaborate with us to launch a project to raise these goats in enclosures, where we could measure the known parameters and make crosses to improve the breed, because inter-breeding has led to degeneration. Any study or experiment in improving these ruminants that could be made available to us would be useful for such a project. I'd like, particularly, to know the results of work done by Helen Turner, H.W. Vivanco, E.S.E. Galal and C. Devendra.

I enclose a photo of a troop of goats looking for something to browse in a field where the lava flow passed after the eruption of Armero. It's a situation we want to change.

Jose Eduardo Peralta Varon
Ibague-Tolima, Colombia

Ed. Note: Your request for information on husbandry of the West African coat has been passed to the FAd Animal Production and Health Division, whose specialists will contact you directly. In addition, Ceres sends you a complimentary copy of the FAO publication Observations on the goat, as well as a copy of Ceres No. 134, which contains articles on farmers' efforts to recover from the effects of the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, in the Philippines.

“It keeps me awake nights”

Your magazine is of interest to our group, Families for the Agro-veterinary and Medical Development Project (FAPRODARME), and counts among my own research documents. We found the articles in No. 136 useful such as the discovery of a rapid means of rice selection, as described by Alan Carpenter in Computerized phytotron speeds rice breeding, which keeps me awake nights. In the same issue the article by John Weeks, Making the impossible possible: growing crops with salt water, was instrumental.

Our country is sick, and its economy gravely ill for us in the lower class. Our association has thousands of difficulties. We've tried for six years to establish projects, but have no means.

Mujinga Maskhi Musumary
Likasi, Katanga, Zaire

Wrong tack on ticks

Regarding the article in No. 142, A new tack on ticks: enlisting the immune response, the author interviewed me for this article, and the material under the heading “seeking solutions” is based on what I told the writer. However, the sentence “Dr. Rupert Pegram, who is working on an East Coast fever and tick control project also in Zimbabwe...” is in error. East Coast fever per se does not occur in Zimbabwe. The term I used, as in the FAO project document, is Theileriosis.

I would be grateful if you could publish a correction, to avoid embarrassment to the government of Zimbabwe, myself and FAO.

R. G. Pegram
Harare, Zimbabwe

Ed. Note: Here is a perfect example of how a simple juxtaposition of words can lead to errors. The sentence in question was originally: “Dr. Rupert Pegram, who is working on an East Coast fever control project, and also on tick control in Zimbabwe...” In typesetting, the word order was inadvertent reversed. Ceres apologizes for the mistake.

Biotechnology centre

In Ceres No. 141, I read that the biotechnology centre formerly administered by UNIDO is now independent. I'm very interested in the same areas in which the centre is engaged. However, you did not mention where the centre is now located.

Ahmed M. Irrobeh
Arab Company for Livestock Development
Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Ed. Note: The new address of the centre is as follows: International Centre of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), Padriciano 99, 1-34012 Trieste, Italy.

Permission to reduce

I've read your excellent No. 138 (Integrated farming systems), and I realize your magazine reflects the best information available on the theme of development and on avant-garde research in all areas Reading it is truly stimulating.

I'd like to ask permission to use a reduced version of the cover drawing by Clarissa Mitchell in our ecological bulletin.

Claudio Marquez
Martinez-Bs.As., Argentina

Ed. Note: Permission to reprint material from Ceres is granted provided the artist's name is given and the source is credited as follows: Reprinted from Ceres the FAO reviews

“We cannot even eat”

The project I'm managing is quite new and we are just trying to gather funds here and there to keep it afloat, so the university community can benefit from our effort. We don't have funds enough to sustain our various programs and the university authority is unwilling to provide funds for outside publications. Our pay is so poor that we cannot even eat well in a month.

Since we are working for the benefit of the rural poor, who come to our farm to get training without paying fees, I would like FAO to extend a helping hand by supplying Ceres free of charge.

Bernard Duncan Umanah
Faculty of Agriculture University of Calabar
Calabar, Nigeria

Ed. Note: Your name has been added to the list of qualified readers in developing countries for whom FAO bears the cost of a subscription to Ceres.