|The Courier N° 147 - Sept-Oct 1994 - Dossier Public Health - Country report Swaziland (European Commission - The ACP Courier, 1994)|
by Dr B. Gessesse.
This paper is written with particular reference to the South Pacific developing countries, notably Papua New Guinea. Outstanding natural beauty, immense resources and invaluable biodiversity are rapidly being destroyed due to a number of faulty land-use methods. These include shortened fallow periods, uncontrolled fires, soil loss, logging and mining. Extension services to rural areas are neglected. More danger is expected in the foreseeable future ifthe present trend is allowed to continue unchecked.
Writers, aid agencies and development workers are increasingly concerned about lack of sustained growth in the developing countries. Yet what is surprising is that most of the causes of under development are clear and the solutions in many cases are not beyond reach, so long as genuine endeavours are made. We may be surrounded with a number of constraints, but significant potential also exists, albeit that it still has to be realised.
The level of food imports to the South Pacific area is surprisingly high. In PNG, annual imports of rice alone are in the region of 160 000 tonnes costing some $40 million. However, figures from the International Rice Research Institute suggest that 'there are over two million hectares of unutilised land suitable for irrigated, rainfed lowland and upland rice production". This is hardly surprising when one looks at how other countries manage to produce rice under less favourable climatic conditions. At the beginning of the 20th century, Australia imported rice, but since the 1920s it has been a net exporter. Currently, it sells mainly to the South Pacific (more than 20% of its exports go to PNG) and to the countries of the Middle East. It is also looking to expand into new markets in the East. PNG and similar countries should learn from this success.
The advice PNG has been getting from foreign consultants that it is not feasible to grow rice locally does not appear to be genuine and constructive, especially if one looks at it in terms of the wider 'costs' resulting from the lack of local production, job-creation and self sufficiency.
It is a similar story with animal products (such as frozen meat, tinned fish and dairy produce), where the level of imports has been too high due to a lack of local production. The opportunity cost of such imports is correspondingly very high. A proportion of that money could be used for local production, job creation and the stabilisation of rural communities.
Local production has suffered not so much because of the absence of technical know-how, but due to a lack of extension services (such as veterinary provision, slaughterhouses, cold storage facilities and transport), which are needed to improve the rural infrastructure. The modern-style, commercial silvopastoral projects have largely collapsed for this reason. Indeed it has not even bean possible to expand production of smaller domestic animals such as pigs and chickens. Yet it is simple to rear these animals. They can be managed at smallholder level, there is strong demand for them locally and their value is enormous.
The use of traditional, shifting cultivation is leading to the destruction of forests and to ecological degradation in many places. In the past, where there were low population densities, extensive forest lands and subsistence production techniques, such practices did not cause any significant damage. Nowadays, however, bath the number and needs of people are increasing and this is exerting immense pressure, leading to shortened fallow periods, deforestation and reduced land productivity.
Ways, accordingly, need to be found to improve on this system of working. One of the most effective approaches might be to plant fast-growing, nitrogen-fixing, multi-purpose trees and shrubs on land under fallow. This can improve the soil nutrient status in a short period of time and may provide additional benefits in the form of firewood, timber for construction and fodder.
Agro-forestry is the system that combines production of food-crops, wood and, in some cases, animals, on the same piece of land, either simultaneously or sequentially. Apart from the additional productive benefits mentioned above and the protective ones (shade and shelter), the woody perennials are used for biological nitrogen fixation in order to aid land productivity on a sustained basis. Given that commercial fertilisers are often unaffordable, and that there are difficulties in applying them at the level of the rural smallholder, agroforestry certainly has attractive potential.
Some types of mixed cropping are by no means new to the South Pacific region, forming part of traditional cropping systems. Shade trees are commonly used with cash crops such as coffee and cocoa. Another very interesting innovation from the PNG highlands is the Year Garden system. This combines the production of coffee with the cultivation of numerous food crops including taros, yams, bananas, sugarcane, highland pit-pit, vegetables and pandanus. It is very successful in terms of soil improvement and production of diversified crops on a sustained basis. However, realising the full potential of agroforestry on a wider scale has not been possible, principally because of a lack of extension services.
Local tree planting neglected
The great potential that is grossly neglected is the involvement of the people themselves-in planting, managing and utilising their own trees. In view of the massive destruction of natural forests, and the very poor record of governments in planting and managing forests, 3 there is clearly a need now to tap human potential. Given the complexities of land tenure systems in the South Pacific region, the logical approach would be to help the people help themselves in the sustainable production of the food and wood that they require, by removing the constraints that exist. As Lundgren and van Gelder rightly pointed out in 1983, it is 'only through large-scale voluntary adoption of tree planting by farmers and rural populations (that there is) any theoretical hope of meeting the needs.'
The fact is that local communities have huge resources, in terms of both people and land, to undertake tree planting for various purposes. These may include production of wood (especially for fuel), improvement of food production, erosion control and rehabilitation of degraded sites. However, achieving this requires rural people to have access to dynamic and effective extension services, not only to increase awareness and motivation but also to provide the necessary incentives and technical assistance.
If this can be achieved, the wider advantages will be enormous. Local jobs could be created. The required food, wood and cash could be produced locally. The trees planted could act as buffer zones between community settlement areas and the remaining natural forests, thus easing pressure on the latter. Rural communities could be stabilised. Migration to urban centres, and the social problems that flow from this, could be minimised. And countries could be put on the right track towards sustained growth and self-sufficiency.
Governments can afford to provide these basic extension services. In addition, there are several international development agencies which may be willing to support such efforts. It is very much a matter for decision-makers and their advisers to get their priorities right. Sectors such as forestry were expected to make a huge contribution to sustained aural development but, as yet, there are few signs of this having succeeded. There is an urgent need to reverse the trend, if the existence of government forestry departments is to be justified, other than for the issuing of logging permits.
Turning to the question of non timber forest products, these are conventionally referred to as 'minor' products, a fact which has contributed to the lack of recognition and support which they deserve. By way of example, in PNG, a number of butterfly collectors are making good incomes. But good extension services are needed to increase awareness of the importance of insects and to help in identifying valued species, methods of avoiding damage and the infrastructure improvements required to facilitate farming, collection and marketing.
Similar potential exists for other products such as honey, mushrooms and rattans. The potential of honey is neglected due to a lack of know-how about beehives and production techniques. Mushrooms are grown on only a limited scale, mostly in the highlands. Likewise rattans,which have a very wide range of uses (for items such as baskets, mats, furniture, cordage and walking sticks), are not being exploited to the full.
Destruction of resources
Widespread environmental damage is reported as a result of careless and destructive logging operations. Most foreign companies are not concerned with the resources and wellbeing of other countries and most logging activity is based on destructive methods. False declarations of important commercial species, and the transfer pricing associated with this, have been widely reported. This minimises the amounts paid to the resource owners in royalties, and to the state in export duties and profits taxes. It is worth noting that the landowners' main purpose in allowing logging operations is to have their rural infrastructure and services improved-and sadly, this has not happened to a satisfactory level.
Tropical rain forests may be complex in their composition and structure but this does not mean that they cannot be managed on a more sustained basis. I agree with Roche, who wrote in 1992 that 'modern professional forestry standards in logging, where foresters are allowed to apply them (for example, in most countries of Europe), would not tolerate the grossly exploitative logging practices which are commonplace in tropical countries at the present time... There is no scientific basis for the statement that natural forest ecosystems in the tropics are too complex to be managed.'
There are similar problems associated with most mining operations. Lack of proper environmental plans has requited in severe degradation and pollution of mine sites, rivers and their surrounds. Degraded sites are not rehabilitated. The future utility of the land and the requirements of future generations are being grossly jeopardized.
The greed of foreign companies, the limited capacities of government, the shortage of adequately qualified officers and the helplessness of rural resource owners are mainly responsible for these acute problems. Unfortunately, the damage is likely to continue being wrought until the consciousness of the resource owners is raised. They must exert pressure on their governments and foreign companies to do what is needed to safeguard their wellbeing and that of their offspring. In the meantime, we are confronted with a time bomb involving the rapid destruction of resources, in many cases beyond the possibility of recovery.
Fire also poses a big threat in the region, causing the destruction of forests and wildlife. Repeated outbreaks impede the natural succession of species, converting land into kunai (grassland which is degraded and unproductive). During dry periods, it is not uncommon to observe a series of separate conflagrations raging across the horizon, consuming huge areas of forest. As the use of fire is usually associated with traditional 'slash and burn' cultivation, it is easy to see how they can spread when not properly controlled. There is an urgent need here to organise effective extension services and the importance of systematic awareness-raising campaigns cannot be over-emphasised.
Systematic human resource development is required to aid in the management of resource. This includes the need to upgrade skills at all levels- policy-makers, managers, supervisors, researchers, extension workers and land owners. These skills are seriously lacking at present. Training institutions are not producing professionals of the required quality or in sufficient numbers. Program to upgrade the skills of field officers are generally neglected and there is an absence of effective collaboration between the relevant departments and institutions. Professional jealousy is not uncommon. Training of national counter parts is seldom undertaken by expatriate experts-who, after all, want to keep getting contracts-and this leads to increased dependence. Given this state of affairs, manpower development and efforts to move towards self-reliance are seriously jeopardised.
Additionally, as was mentioned earlier, land is customarily owned by the people. Because of previous land expropriations, the colonial legacy, and inadequate government services, traditional landowners are hesitant to release their land to prospective developers who may, for example, be interested in reforestation. It is worth mentioning here that according to traditional beliefs, a person who plants trees may eventually claim the ownership of the land in question. This is one of the main reasons for the meagre rate of replanting. Accordingly, it would make sense to develop a competent extension network that could facilitate mutual trust and understanding, and encourage public participation.
In conclusion, it is extremely important to get the priorities right. In the first place, the natural forests should be managed on a sustained basis. The extent and management of forest plantations ought to be improved and organisational structures for forestry extension should be developed. There also needs to be closer cooperation between the relevant institutions while appropriate technologies should be developed for sustained management of resources and to help towards the achievement of self-reliance. Finally, public participation should be supported at all levels in those areas where the resources and wellbeing of the people are directly affected. There is, in short, an urgent need to reverse the trend of destruction in favour of more sustained management. And we must act before it is too late. B.G.