| CERES No. 55 (Vol. 10 No.1) Jan.-Feb. 1977 |
The most sophisticated instrument is often the most fragile. To get a horse moving, one only has to shout, "Gee up!" and he's off. To put a jet in motion is quite another matter. It so complex that it would be unwise to start it flying without innumerable preliminary checks.
Human societies follow the same rules, whether national or international. When a development project is carried out by FAO and financed by UNDP, it is normal and desirable that the two administrations study all its components in detail before launching it. Because of this, it has the best possible chance of fulfilling expectations from the point of view of efficiency and finance, or long-term repercussions. This is, most often, the best method to follow.
Most often. But not always, because there are cases where speed is of paramount importance. It can happen, for example, that a given situation (a natural disaster or, more simply, an opportunity to be seized) needs emergency action. If action is not taken in time, the damage caused by the disaster may be irremediable, or the hopes raised by the favourable opportunity may have dissolved.
To meet this kind of situation, the FAO Council, in its sixty-ninth session, approved the Director-General's proposal to launch the Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP). A flexible, lightweight, fast-moving instrument, the TCP had to be independent of any financing body whose bureaucracy might lie heavily upon it. It is therefore financed by the regular budget of FAO, which has allocated to it the sum of $18.5 million for 1976/77.
Bearing in mind that a fairly low ceiling has been fixed for all TCP projects, one might think their scope will be limited in comparison with the big dams or the integrated programmes developing entire regions and costing millions of dollars. But this would be misunderstanding the essential characteristic of the TCP, which has no intention of replacing any existing project or financing. Its aim is more modest and more ambitious- more modest because its financial means are limited, and more ambitious because it is able to use them more quickly and more accurately than any other organization, clearing bottlenecks and acting just where and when it is necessary.
Metaphorically, it will be the water that primes the pump, the drop of oil that helps the wheel turn, the plank on which a convoy crosses a ditch. For this type of action, magnificence is superfluous: it is enough to be on target. That is why the average cost of each of the 32 projects already approved amounts to 575 000. Four others, already completed in 1976, total $414 245.
What criteria do these projects meet ? They cover four fields: crisis in agriculture as a result of disasters, natural or other (pests, disease, war); preinvestment studies; training, mainly at the grass-roots level; any other unforeseen requirements of limited scope.
Bur that is not all. They must generate further action, on the principle that a TCP project is never an end in itself but always a beginning, a prelude to something bigger. It follows that the emergency aid provided (always in the form of a gift) is essentially temporary. It also follows that this aid normally tends to put the agricultural sector on its feet again rather than deliver the goods.
Finally, while it is the business of the TCP to repair mechanisms that have broken down, it must also be said that it relies, as far as possible, on the national institutions, the experts, the products and the machinery of the country concerned. lust the opposite of tied aid.
To preserve grain
As much as half of a grain crop can be lost to rats, ants and other insects, and modern methods of grain preservation can be costly and unsuitable to small farms. The problem is particularly acute in Africa, and this is why the National Agronomic Research Centre at Bambey, Senegal, has undertaken a comparative study of traditional methods used in several west African countries.
The project is not completed yet, but some regional techniques hew already been found to be quite effective. For instance, if grain is mixed with sand, insect movement is restricted, but the problem is the difficulty of rehelps: for instance, smaller millet grains mixed with large sorghum grains allow less space for insects. The grains can later be separated by sieving. Placing grain in sacks and sacks in sheds is also effective, as only the outside of the bags has been found to be damaged.
Researchers at the Centre are also testing small concrete bins that can be built at relatively little cost.
This book describes the work of the "Minimum Cost Housing" programme carried out at McGill University (Canada). The project consisted of building a house with materials that are generally unused, and with nonspecialized construction techniques.
Under the direction of Engineer Alvaro Ortega, the McGill team has built a pleasant looking house, resorting to ingenious ideas and inexpensive methods, some of which could be used in many parts of the developing as well as developed world.
The 128-page book is illustrated with photographs, diagrams and plans. It contains an introduction, a section on house building, one on water and energy, references to current research and a bibliography.
Operation Ecol, in English or French, Can. $5, School of Arhitecture, McGill University, Montreal, Canada.
Declining birthrate, or increasing death rate?
There are indications that the world population growth rate, which reached a peak in the late 1960s, has started decreasing. Indeed, according to figures released by the Worldwatch Institute, a nonprofit research organization funded by private foundations and United Nations and governmental agencies, it may
When delegates follow one another to a podium sued' as that of the FAO Council to state the viewpoints of their governments, there is bound to be much reiteration. And this is how it should be, because it proves that at least a wide consensus exists in most domains. But there arc also some moments when the "conversation" seems to become more animated than mere statements of official position would warrant. A sort of dialogue ensues from one speech to the next, one delegate expressing an idea that Is taken up by another two hours later and then, the next day, a third draws conclusions.
Thus, during the last FAO Council, which was held at the end of November in Rome, C.J. Valdes of the Philippines asked that the concept of aid be redefined. He said that we are told that in 1975 the net flow of financial resources to the Third World is estimated to have exceeded 1 percent of the CNP of the DAC member countries for the first time since its establishment in 1961.
Maybe so! But one also has to consider the return flow from the Third World to the developed world, evaluated as follows: the total debt of the developing countries is $225 000 million (for 1975), of which $90 000 million were commercial loans and $135 000 million concessionary loans. If the commercial interest rate of 8 percent and the concessionary rate of 4 percent are taken into consideration, we arrive at the figure of $12.6 thousand million in annual return flow to the developed countries as interest alone. To this must be added a return flow of at least $6.2 thousand million as annual capital amortization payments on these loans. Including the other return flows, the repatriation of profits and the payment for technical services, this would give a figure of roughly $25 000 million.
This is only a rough evaluation but it should be possible for international organizations to make precise calculations and then to put figures on the official graphs.
A first supporter of this suggestion came forward the same day in the person of J.G. Kharas, delegate from Pakistan. J.S. Camara, representing Guinea, added that if we calculate what we receive officially as aid, and the real portion of that aid that we actually get, it must be recognized that this real aid does not surpass 25 percent, the other 75 percent remaining to the developed countries. We should encourage the creation of new financial institutions, which will depart from paths traced by the older ones so that the developing countries are not saddled with new debts to pay off old ones. This wish was to be taken up again the next day by A.T.M. Silva, delegate of Sri Lanka, who returned to this subject to say that one should speak of aid in terms of "net inflows rather than inflows per se."
Cereal losses (see p. 7), too, naturally held the attention of numerous delegates after the opening address by D.F.R. Bommer Assistant Director-General, Agriculture Department of FAO. The Lebanese delegate, K Choueri, called for action. What is necessary, he said in substance, is to allocate extra-budgetary resources for feasibility studies to enable member countries to obtain loans for silo construction and all types of storage facilities at the farm and village level.
J.G. Kharas of Pakistan agreed and said this must be done quickly so as to take advantage of the good 1975-76 harvests, the surpluses from which must be stared rapidly. Citing the Yugoslav M. Trkulja, who recalled the recommendation of the Group of 77 to set up a fund of $20 million to this end, A.T.M. Silva of Sri Lanka expressly asked the Director-General of FAO to consider this problem, insisting on the fact that his delegation attached high priority to it. And J. Kafurera, of Burundi, asked that action be taken without delay.
Thus invited to explain his intentions fully, Edouard Saouma agreed on the first point: "net aid" should be redefined in FAO documents. He also sold yes to war on pre- and postharvest losses. The goal that he had set himself was precisely to have storage facilities constructed, to aid countries to organize the corresponding managerial services and to train the necessary manpower. Finally, he said he would formally propose the creation of the special 520 million fund to the FAO Committee on Agriculture, which was to convene in April.
But beware, the Canadian F. Shefrin warned jokingly: if this project should lead to setting up a series of committees, five or six working parties and the writing of a dozen reports, not only would FAO be going contrary to the recommendations of the Director-General, but this could only be described as "postharvest losses" for FAO. have gone down from nearly 2 percent a year in 1970 to ].64 percent in 1975.
According to Lester Brown, director of the Institute, "these trends suggest the world's population will not double in size before levelling off, as most demographers predict."
Two of the world's most populous countries have paced the slowdown of demographic growth: China and the United States. China, says Lester Brown, appears to have had a decline in birthrate more rapid than any other country, and "it may be family planning's greatest success story": the crude birthrate dropped from an estimated 32 per 1000 in 1970 to 19 per 1000 in 1975. According to statistics gathered from various sources, the rate of natural demographic increase has dropped, during the same period, from 2.4 percent to 0.8 percent.
During the same period, the growth rate in the United States declined by one third, from 0.9 to 0.6 percent, a decrease that was not widely anticipated. And the German Democratic Republic, as well as several countries in Western Europe, now have a negative growth rate.
But the decline in demographic growth is not only due to decreasing birthrates. The report also shows that, in poorer countries, there has been an increase in death rates, due mainly to food shortage.
A near starvation level
Two recent reports are used to estimate deaths from hunger in Bangladesh and in India. One is a Ford Foundation report pointing out that the daily per caput cereal consumption in Bangladesh, which averaged about 425 g (IS ounces) during the 1960s, probably fell to a near starvation level of 340g (12 ounces) in 1972.
Data for the Matlab Bazar district (where records have been kept by the International Cholera Research Laboratory) indicate that the death rate increased from an average of 15.3 per thousand for the 1966-70 period to 21.4 in 1971-72. An extrapolation to the entire country indicates that hunger claimed more than 400000 lives in 1971-72.
In the state of Uttar Pradesh in northern India, the death rate climbed from 20.1 to 25.6 per 1 000 in one year-from 1971 to 1972-after the failure of the 1972 summer monsoon and the worldwide shortage of wheat supplies. If increased mortality is accounted for by food shortage, it means that hunger claimed nearly half a million lives in the state alone, more than 200 000 in the state of Bihar, and 100 000 in the state of Orissa.
"Nationwide," writes Lester Brown, "the decrease in food supplies probably cost well over a million lives." Sri Lanka was another Asian country where people, particularly in the lowest income groups, suffered from food shortage. According to the International Planned Parenthood Federation in London, death rates among workers and their families on the tea estates increased from 11.0 in 1973 to 18.7 per 1 000 in 1974.
The question open
In Africa, Ethiopia and the six Sahelian countries suffered most from food shortages in the 1970s. According to the report, the Ethiopian disaster and the drought that struck the Sahelian food system may have cost 100 000 to 250000 lives.
Food shortage, ecological stresses and increasing concern over the population problem may invalidate U.N. projections that show world population increasing from the current 4 thousand million to some 10 to 16 thousand million before levelling off, believes Mr. Brown. "There is every indication population will continue to slow through the last quarter of this century," he concludes. "The question left open to the international community is whether this will occur through a continued decline in the birthrate, or periodic increases in the death rate"
Underexploited tropical plants
Have you ever heard of the following:
• grain amaranths, whose seeds have extremely high levels of protein, notably of the essential amino acid lysine, which is usually deficient in plant protein.
• arracacha, or Peruvian parsnip, which looks like œlery and is often grown in the Andes instead of potatoes.
• chaya, a shrub with nutritious, spinach-like green leaves, known only in Central America.
• mangosteen, which some claim to be the world's best-tasting fruit, growing in the humid tropics of southeast Asia.
• uvilla, a grape-like fruit almost unheard of outside of the western part of the Amazon basin; it can be eaten raw or used to make a kind of wine.
• tamarugo, a leguminous tree native to the Atacama Desert in Chile and capable of growing through a metre-thick layer of salt. Pods and leaves are excellent forage.
• guar, with its high-protein seeds, resembling. the soybean and containing a gum that is in increasing demand by industry.
• ramie, a tall perennial bush with a fibre of superior quality (strong and free from stretch and shrinkage), native to east India.
You may find out more about these and many other little-known but potentially useful tropical plants in a book recently published by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. Underexploited Tropical Plants with Promising Economic Values is avails able for free from the Commission on International Relations (JH 215), National Academy of Sciences - National Research Council, 2101 Constitution Ave. Washington, D.C. 20418, U.S.A.
Soybeans and bees
Soybeans are self-pollinating, but they can also benefit from pollination by honeybees. Experiments with caged soybean plots have shown that bees can increase yields of some varieties by 15 percent.