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close this bookConservation and Development in Northern Thailand. Proceedings of a Programmatic Workshop on Agro-forestry and Highland-Lowland Interactive Systems, Held at Chiang Mai, Thailand, 13-17 November 1978 (UNU, 1980, 114 pages)
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View the documentProgramme on the use and management of natural resources
View the documentHighland-lowland interactive systems in the humid tropics and subtropics: The need for a conceptual basis for an applied research programme
View the documentNorthern Thailand: The problem

Programme on the use and management of natural resources

Walther Manshard

In a world with a human population that will double in the next 35 years at the present rate of growth and that aspires to an ever higher standard of living, the demand for natural resources can only increase exponentially. The provident use and management of natural resources is necessary not only to provide the basics of food. clothing. and shelter, but also to minimize tensions created as a result of a real or perceived scarcity. It was these considerations that caused the Council of the United Nations University (UNU) to establish the use and management of natural resources as one of the three priority programmes of the University. the other two being world hunger and human and social development.

In actual operation for only four years, the University is attempting to solve pressing global problems through scholarship-that is. research, training. and the dissemination of information. From a small headquarters in Tokyo the University is establishing a far-flung network of associated institutions in each of its priority areas, and the actual work of the University takes place primarily at these centres

The Programme on the Use and Management of Natural Resources (NRP), which only began operations in February 1977, is now concentrating on three main problems: (1) the increasing environmental deterioration and mismanagement of natural resources in the humid tropics with special reference to rural areas; (2) ineffective application of knowledge to the management and development of arid lands; and (3) limited energy supplies. especially in rural areas of developing countries. A series of meetings in early 1977 served to identify more specific topics where it was felt the Programme could have a significant impact. and also to outline proposals for action. Since then nine associated institutions and seven research and training units have been established and begun operations, by 1980, 11 associated institutions and 15 research and training units will be part of the NRP networks.

The sub-programme on the Ecological Basis for Rural Development in the Humid Tropics is created in response to the first of the three problems It has been organized using the concept of resource systems. In the initial stage four types of resource systems are being studied and developed as the means for more effective and ecologically sound utilization of natural resources in the humid tropics. These are (1) rural energy systems, (2) agro-forestry systems, (3) water-land interactive systems, and (4) highland-lowland interactive systems. In addition, efforts are being made to further develop and test the methodology of the resource systems approach.

The first category, rural energy systems, is analysing the production, distribution. and utilization of various fuels, especially wood, as it is still the primary energy source in most rural areas of tropical countries. This project is developing strategies for the prevention of the degradation of the vegetation cover. for more effective management of energy resources in order to improve the available energy supply. and for the introduction of technological innovations.

A second set of research and training activities is concerned with agro-forestry systems. These systems combine both tree and field crops, and often livestock as well. as a means of sustaining high productivity without the environmental deterioration that so often accompanies efforts to increase productivity With the emphasis on small-scale farming, this project will synthesize new and existing knowledge, and then disseminate the management techniques developed.

Water-land interactions is the basis for the third set of resource systems. This project will emphasize freshwater swamps and coastal areas. as these two areas are tremendously productive, but little understood. and often under-utilized.

The final set of resource systems is concerned with highland-lowland interactions. Here the UN University will not be as much concerned with the usual erosion, flooding. and sedimentation problems, but more with developing an integrated understanding of all the resource flows: capital, labour. and raw materials as well as. and as part of. the "natural'' systems, between the highlands and the lowlands. This understanding is critical to the formulation of effective natural resource planning and management at any level. In addition, a project on natural hazards mapping is being initiated in Nepal to provide a basis for land use planning.

The second sub-programme is Assessment of the Application of Knowledge to Arid Lands Problems. As its name implies, this sub-programme is not concerned with the development of new information through research but with the more effective utilization of existing knowledge. Initially a series of studies are being conducted to analyse the transfer of knowledge from scientists to planners, decisionmakers. and the individual resource-users. Differences in perception of resources and their use are also being investigated. Once the barriers to the transfer of knowledge have been identified. a number of means to overcome them will be implemented, including the delineation of management options. the development of an arid lands management curriculum, publishing of management guidelines, etc.

The final sub-programme, Energy for Rural Communities, is concerned primarily with establishing a series of pilot projects to test and demonstrate the use of non-conventional energy sources in rural areas of developing countries. With the emphasis on solar energy and biogas. the relationships between architecture and energy use will be studied as well as the development of specific devices such as hot water heaters. Since the basic technology has already been established, social and cultural considerations will play a major role in the projects. In this way. the energy available for development will be increased while minimizing the environmental deterioration that results from a heavy dependence on wood and avoiding the high cost of fossil fuels. In keeping with the network concept, these projects are being linked together by an exchange of UNU Fellows, researchers, and engineers. Furthermore. in order to break the usual isolation of researchers in developing countries. a much broader informational network is being established through the monthly publication of ASSET Abstracts of Selected Solar Energy Technology. A final area of interest to the NRP is geothermal energy. As the general goal is to develop the capability of countries to utilize resources. the emphasis is on training and curriculum development.

In summary, the Natural Resources Programme of the United Nations University is designed to solve particular pressing resource problems of regional and world-wide importance. The Programme is oriented around two cross-cutting themes-ecology and energy, with emphasis on two major ecological zones-the humid tropics and the arid lands. The solutions proposed, or, more appropriately. the instruments of attack, are those of scholarship- research, training, and the dissemination of knowledge. A specific mix of these activities is being carefully developed for each project at each location. While the emphasis is on developing countries, each activity will stimulate the growth of scientific communities and promote the critically needed exchange between scientists. Although the experience of most of the participants and the nature of the work itself might be academic, beyond the academic publications and methodologies developed, practical results will emerge in the form of policy recommendations and more information for decisionmaking. Equally important is the training of personnel, a result that is difficult to measure in tangible terms but critical to the solution of future problems. It is this general function, increasing capabilities to solve problems through scholarship, that is probably the most valuable and distinctive function of the UNU Programme on the Use and Management of Natural Resources.

The workshop at Chiang Mai University concentrated on two aspects of the total Natural Resources Programme-those relating to agroforestry and highland-lowland interactions. By promoting research and training activities at Chiang Mai University, the workshop amply demonstrated the enormous potential of the UN University to make major contributions to renewable resource management in Northern Thailand and. through the UNU network, elsewhere in the humid tropics