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close this bookCERES No. 119 (FAO Ceres, 1987, 50 p.)
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View the documentUS views of aid: scepticism mixed with good will
View the documentIndia, China seek improved efficiency in biogas schemes
View the documentPoorest are hurt by Sri Lanka's food stamp scheme
View the documentNew African accord brings benefits to landlocked states
View the documentIndia develops integrated system for village energy
View the documentHybrid varieties boost yields in Chinese cotton
View the documentUrban agriculture offers new elements in Argentine diets

US views of aid: scepticism mixed with good will

In the past decade there have been notable changes in the economic and political role of the United States in the international community, in US relations with the Third World, and within the Third World countries themselves. Yet the question of how US public opinion has responded to, or been reflected by, these changes has not attracted much serious analysis. In an effort to fill this gap two non-governmental organizations, the Overseas Development Council in Washington, DC, and Interaction of New York, have recently published a comprehensive study which suggests that Americans in general consider international development issues and US relations with the Third World to be less important than - or even to conflict with - domestic problems and other US foreign policy objectives. The survey also found that Americans have negative perceptions of Third World governments and are sceptical about the effectiveness of aid and aid agencies. On the positive side, the study reported that "public support of US economic aid for the developing countries is firmly rooted in humanitarian concern and a sense of responsibility."

The report, entitled What Americans Think: Views on Development and US.-Third World Relations, based its findings on four distinct research elements covering legislators, politically and socially active Americans, a sample of the general public, and focused group discussions. (See box.) Among the highlights of the study:

To most Americans, developing countries and their problems seem physically and culturally remote. Eighty per cent of the "activist" group characterized themselves as "not knowing enough about Third World countries and their problems". A majority of Americans (56 per cent) believed that living conditions in the Third World have stagnated or deteriorated over the last decade. Only 32 per cent believed that conditions have improved.

Americans have strong negative perceptions of Third World governments, but not of the people of those countries. Eighty-eight per cent of the general public believed that aid is frequently misused by foreign governments. Among the activist group, 58 per cent believed that corrupt governments are a very serious problem in Third World countries. Only 18 per cent considered "people who do not work hard enough" to be a serious problem in developing countries.

Despite current pressures on the US budget, a majority of Americans - 54 per cent - favoured US economic assistance to other countries, a level of support that has remained remarkably steady for nearly 40 years. Seventy-eight per cent of the general public agreed that as a leading nation in the world, the United States should set an example by helping poor nations. Nearly 90 per cent agreed with the statement that "wherever people are hungry or poor we ought to do what we can to help them." And 75 per cent of Americans believed that helping the Third World will also benefit the United States in the long run. Americans consider economic assistance a legitimate tool to use in pursuing US political or strategic objectives, but are concerned that such objectives are not always achieved.

The major reasons given by Americans for favouring economic assistance reflect a humanitarian desire to help other people. Relief for victims of natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, and drought were given high priority by 74 per cent of the general public sample, but long term development programmes perceived to deliver assistance most directly to needy people - programmes such as health care, education of family planning, assistance to farmers, and US voluntary programmes were also given high priority by a majority of respondents.

Strong support for agricultural assistance, the cornerstone of long term development efforts throughout much of the Third World, was high lighted by the fact that 87 per cent of the general public agreed that "we should help farmers in other countries learn to grow their own food, even if it means they buy less food from the United States." This response seems to indicate that Americans are willing to give domestic interests lower priority if the needs of the Third World are clearly perceived to be greater.

Yet even while they support assistance efforts, most Americans doubt the effectiveness of aid. Among general public respondents, 85 per cent believed that a large part of aid is wasted by the US bureaucracy. Of those who had made contributions during the past 12 months to private agencies working overseas, about three out of four has "just some" or "little" confidence that money given to such organizations reaches the needy. Among the activist group 94 per cent believed that much foreign aid never reaches the people who need it.

Beyond this general pessimism as to how aid is used, considerable opposition to economic assistance is rooted in domestic self-interest. Two thirds of the general public and nearly three quarters of the activists cited domestic poverty, the US budget deficit, or general US problems as reasons for opposing aid. Two out of three Americans strongly agreed with the statement that "we need to solve our own poverty problems before we turn our attention to other countries." Four out of five activists believed that the United States should take care of its own financial problems before helping debt-burdened developing countries.

For the international development community, the study's findings may represent a rather confused picture of positive and negative attitudes. On the positive side are evidence of widespread feelings of humanitarian concern, a sense of responsibility toward other countries, and generally steady support for the concept of US economic assistance. Counteracting this are signs that the general public remains poorly informed on foreign policy issues, is unaware how the US aid efforts compare with those of other developed countries, and believes that much aid is wasted or ineffective.

Frances Vieta

India, China seek improved efficiency in biogas schemes

One of the salutary results of increased oil prices during the 1970s was a greater interest in nonconventional sources of energy. India and China, both pioneers in production of biomass energy, have accelerated diffusion of biogas digesters in their rural areas to relieve the crisis in cooking energy. In both countries biogas is regarded as a means of ensuring soil renewal, environmental protection, and hygienic cooking.

With a warmer, more stable climate and easy availability of cow dung, India is in a more advantageous position than China for popularizing biogas. However, as a result of different socio-economic systems and approaches to programme administration, China has about 7 million biogas plants covering about 5 per cent of its rural population, while India's 600 000 biogas plants serve less than 2.5 per cent of its total rural population. But India has begun giving impetus to its biogas diffusion programme. According to Vasanth Sathe, India's Energy Minister, over 85 per cent of the Indian biogas plants set up under the National Programme for Biogas Development (NPBD) launched in 1980 are in use, while only about 4.5 million of China's 7 million biogas plants are in a functional state at any given time. Reasons cited by Sathe for the "large-scale failure and disuse of the Chinese biogas plants" were leakage and corrosion, massive temperature fluctuations, lack of a well-oiled machinery to monitor and repair biogas plants, and the latest government policy of promoting high technology ventures in preference to alternative technology systems, such as biogas and bullock carts. Observers speculate that the Chinese biogas programme has been stagnating since 1980.

Chinese biogas plants are much less expensive than their Indian counterparts. A cost-benefit analysis of China's biogas programme shows that for an individual household the investment cost of a family-sized biogas plant is recoverable within a year's time. On the other hand, the Indian biogas digester originally designed and promoted by the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) costs around US$650, a sum that only rich farmers owning at least five head of cattle can afford. Moreover, the benefits of biogas technology are indirect, since biogas plants do not bring in cash income. As a result, even with large and generous government subsidies and liberal bank loans, the investment cost is not recoverable in less than four or five years. Chinese biogas digesters of "fixed dome design" are simple to operate and cost the equivalent of $25, or about 15 days' earnings for the average Chinese peasant family.

At present, much of the dung produced by about 260 million head of cattle in India is made into patties and burnt away as wasteful cooking fuel. Assuming an average production of 10 kg of dung per animal per day and a collection rate of 60 per cent, the

amount of dung available in the country in a year works out to 575 million tons, which could generate a staggering 300 million tons of humusrich manure. As it is, 30 million m3 of biogas equals 20 million tons of kerosene oil, nearly three times the annual consumption of the commodity in the country. According to an estimate by the Indian Planning Commission, given the prevailing land distribution and cattle ownership pattern in the country, there is scope for installing as many as 15 million biogas plants.

China has the advantage over India in feedstock for biogas. The Chinese depend mainly on pig and human excreta to feed their biogas plants. Since pig rearing is one of China's most common household economic activities, 70 per cent of the 250 million pigs in China are privately reared. Most rural Chinese households are potential customers for biogas. India, on the other hand, emphasizes cow dung as the feedstock for biogas generation.

In contrast to the egalitarian Chinese approach to the diffusion of biogas to the rural masses, biogas technology in India has failed to reach the rural poor. For biogas technology to be viable, the minimum requirement is four to five head of cattle, but in India only 22 per cent of the 85 million rural household possess five or more head. This makes the administration of dung collection and gas distribution extremely difficult As Professor T. K. Moulik of the Indian Institute of Management, who recently visited China to study the biogas programme there, notes, "Broadly, India's biogas technology development programme can be characterized as te, in both the initiative and participation, while the Chinese process has been largely egalitarian."

Another area of striking difference between India and China is that, in contrast to Chinese farmers, Indian peasants have yet to grasp fully the potential of biogas plants to produce humus-rich fertilizer. Indian planning experts feel that the biogas technology in India is unlikely to make headway unless the rich farmers in India are convinced that the humus-rich manure produced in biogas plants is good for crops and soil.

Though KVIC has been busy popularizing biogas digesters in India since 1950, by the late 1970s there were not more than 100 000 biogas plants in the country. Those who initiated the development of biogas technology in India were concerned more with technological efficiency than with the cost element, construction methodology, or social acceptability. The floating gas holder type of digester promoted by KVIC, though technologically viable, was rejected by India's rural masses because of its cost - $650.

Another important difference is that India's floating dome biogas plant requires about 27 m2 of land for the plant and slurry pit. In most Indian villages, dwellings are so close together that it is rare to find a house-hold with sufficient land for a plant. On the other hand, in Chinese villages, space required for biogas plants have not posed a serious problem.

While in India the biogas programme was imposed from above without active and meaningful participation of the users, the initiative for the Chinese biogas programme came first from the peasants of Sichuan province. The official Chinese policy on biogas encourages initiative and people's participation at all levels. Thanks to this decentralized strategy, biogas diffusion in China has become a people's movement. The strategy has led to the evolution of inexpensive, locally adaptable technology of fixed dome water pressure bioqas digesters. But the stranglehold of centralization and professionalization has been so strong on the Indian biogas programme that not only has the people's participation in me programme been minimal but also research and development efforts have remained confined to laboratories.

The Indian biogas programme has been making rapid strides since NPBD was launched in 1980. During 1984 85 against the target of 150 000 plants, NPBD was able to set up 180 000 units, thus demonstrating the slow but sure acceptance of biogas by Indian villagers. Quoting several independent surveys, official sources say that the failure rate of Indian biogas plants has now dropped to 15 per cent from 40 per cent in the early 1980s.

Taking into account the socioeconomic realities in the rural areas, India has been vigorously developing and promoting a variety of low-cost but technologically efficient models. This multi-model approach seems to be yielding dividends if the latest figures on the spread of biogas plants in India is any indication.

In the final analysis, both the Indian and Chinese biogas plants seem to be moving toward me same goal - large-scale popularization of bio-energy through decentralized, egalitarian strategy and introduction of inexpensive but technologically efficient digesters.

Radhakrishna Rao

Poorest are hurt by Sri Lanka's food stamp scheme

At one time or another governments of many developing countries have faced the need to make food available to low-income groups at less than market prices or even production costs. One of the most common measures adopted for this purpose has been the introduction of price subsidies on a range of staple foods.

But while food subsidies may be regarded as one of the few feasible ways of making income transfers for the benefit of the poor, the financing of such programmes can place a heavy burden on national budgets. In both Tanzania and Zambia, for example, costs of subsidizing food to consumers has far exceeded the budgets of the ministries of agriculture.

In recent years as the economic crisis has squeezed national budgets a number of developing countries have tried to curtail or eliminate food subsidy programmes. One notable example has been Sri Lanka, where, in 1979, a 44-year-old general price subsidy programme was swept aside and replaced with a direct income transfer scheme, which used food stamps. Considering that earlier attempts to cut back on the general subsidy scheme had lad to massive protests by labour unions and even to rioting, the Sri Lankan decision, part of a general package of reforms intended to liberalize the economy, and to give the market a larger role in determining prices and the allocation of resources, could only be regarded as politically courageous. And considering that the new scheme reduced the cost of food subsidies in Sri Lanka from 17.1 to 9.1 per cent of overall government expenditures, the political gamble would appear to have paid off.

However, a research report recently published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has found that the well-intended income transfer scheme has resulted in a deterioration of the nutritional welfare of households in the lowest segment of income distribution and has not been able to protect them against the effects of inflation. When the new food stamp scheme was introduced in 1979, the average recipient household received only 83 per cent of the benefits previously enjoyed under the food subsidy scheme. Subsequently inflation in food prices further reduced the real value of food stamps to 43 per cent of the previous benefits. The value of food subsidies in 1978 represented nearly 18 per cent of the average household budget, compared with only 9.7 per cent for the food stamps in 1981-82. And although the per caput calorie consumption in three out of four households remained the same or increased during this period, a reflection of the effects of overall economic growth on average household income, calorie consumption in the poorest 20 per cent of households declined about 8 per cent per caput from an already low 1 490 calories to 1 368 calories. Clearly, the new food stamp scheme was not effective in helping the most vulnerable households.

Among the difficulties encountered in introducing the new scheme was that of carrying out a valid means of identifying the low-income groups. To be eligible for food stamps, household income had to be less than Rs 3 600 per year with marginal adjustments for larger families. However, the IFPRI study found that while the food stamp scheme was restricted to only about half of all households, compared with the near universal coverage of the food subsidy scheme, not all of these households were in the lower half of the income range. The poorest 20 per cent - the quintile that would form the target group if income were the real criterion - received only 38 per cent of the total food stamp outlay. "Leakages to beneficiaries in higher quintiles," the study noted, "have raised the cost to government to two and one half times the actual costs incurred by households in the lowest quintile."

The IFPRI study suggests that a nutritional goal, such as ensuring the consumption of a given amount of energy would be a more satisfactory way of measuring the effectiveness of an income transfer programme than simply seeking the enhancement of the general welfare of more disadvantaged sectors of the population. The study estimates that if all of the Rs 1.7 billion spent on food stamps in 1982 had been transferred only to households in the bottom quintile, their per caput calorie consumption could have been increased to about 1 540 calories, or about 70 per cent of the recommended allowance. To ensure consumption of the recommended allowances, 220 calories per caput per day, would require a fourfold increase in the food stamp programme funding.

Peter Hendry

New African accord brings benefits to landlocked states

New potential has just been given to the Northern Corridor Transit Agreement (NCTA), thanks to which three landlocked low-income countries of East Africa - Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi - will gain access to the Port of Mombasa, Kenya, through a 2 000 km corridor linking the heart of Africa with the Indian Ocean.

Signed in Bujumbura, Burundi, on 19 February 1985 and ratified in November 1986, the Agreement did not become effective immediately: a number of problems, not least logistic difficulties, could not be completely resolved owing to both the lack of funds and the absence of an appropriate regional organization, namely the Permanent Secretariat originally envisaged in the Agreement and now soon to be set up in Nairobi.

The Coordination Authority, composed of the transport ministers of the signatory countries, has examined the priority investment proposal for the "northern corridor" and approved the transport improvement projects to be submitted to the Directorate-General for Development of the EEC.

NCTA, which is the outcome of five years of negotiations, is part of a UNDP-UNCTAD technical assistance programme for developing landlocked countries of Africa. It includes projects for the following nine protocols: harbour and maritime facilities, route and transit facilities, customs control, documentation and procedures, freight transport by rail, freight transport by road, handling of dangerous goods, facilities for forwarding agencies and their employees, and compulsory third-party insurance for motorists.

East Africa is the poorest region of the African continent, and its lack of mineral resources - unlike the southern African regions - means that nearly half its GDP comes from the agricultural sector. Uganda is particularly dependent on agriculture (82%); Burundi is too, but to a much lesser degree (56%). Foreign currency revenues in these countries come almost exclusively from agricultural exports: coffee accounts for 90 per cent of the total export value (see Table), the other major exports being tea and cotton fibre.

The improvement of transport facilities via the "northern corridor" is vital for the landlocked countries. The situation of Uganda is especially delicate: 95 per cent of its trade passes through the "corridor", against 80 per cent for Rwanda and 60 per cent for Burundi.

Uganda's coffee exports increased only slightly from 1983 to 1985: in 1984, they dropped by 8 per cent to 133 200 metric tons against 144 274 tons in 1983, and in 1985 they barely exceeded the 1983 level, reaching only 152 300 tons. Rwanda exported 34 259 tons of coffee in 1985, compared with 31 554 tons in 1984 (+8.5 per cent). Burundi, some of whose exports are transported through the port of Dar-es-Salaam (Tanzania), exported 33 918 tons of coffee in 1985 against 29 000 tons in 1984 (+16.9 per cent).

Between 1970 and 1982 the picture was even gloomier for the landlocked countries of East Africa: Rwanda's total exports increased at a rate of only 2.4 per cent a year while imports grew by 11.5 per cent a year. During the same period Uganda's total exports and imports dropped by 9.2 per cent and 7.9 per cent a year respectively.

The Northern Corridor Transit Agreement is assumed to be capable of overcoming the numerous obstacles that hinder communication in the subregion. The main problems are caused by: the variety of languages used by the different governments in their foreign trade relations; the lack of transport infrastructures and insufficient or outdated transport equipment; high customs and other duties; the complicated paper work required for authorization to cross state boundaries and the incompetence of some customs officers.

Today, freight transport via the "northern corridor" is carried out mainly by truck, as the railways are on me whole unsatisfactory and lake transport is only just getting under way. Thanks to NCTA measures reducing the obstacles to transport development, and with the improvement of Kenya's road network, it now takes 11 days to travel by road from Mombasa to Uganda, 17 days from Mombasa to Rwanda, and 22 days from Mombasa to Burundi. Before these measures were implemented those trips took 13, 24, and 30 days respectively.

It is estimated that about 500 000 deadweight tons are transported via the "northern corridor". In 1985, however, the volume of goods passing through the port of Mombasa dropped by 20 per cent with respect to 1984 (to 381 000 tons from 478 000 tons). This can be explained mainly by me fact that there was a 43 per cent decline in imports to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Zaire. The sharpest drop is recorded for products exported to Rwanda and Uganda. An acute economic crisis continues to prevail in Uganda, as may be seen by the recent devaluation of its currency imposed by the International Monetary Fund.

In Kenya, the road transport system has developed more than the rail system, as demonstrated by the fact that in 1984, road transport receipts amounted to $12.4 million against $3.9 million for rail transport, according to the 1986 Annual Statistics Bulletin for Kenya. In 1985, the gap widened to $14.3 million for road transport and $3.7 million for rail transport, i.e., almost four times for road transport.

A Kenyan source explains that "users prefer road transport because the same truck makes the trip from start to finish, whereas train freight must be transferred at the Tororo-Malaba frontier post, between Kenya and Uganda." Furthermore, trucks have to pass through Uganda to reach Rwanda and Burundi from Kenya and vice versa.

All things considered, recent highlevel talks in Kigali, the fact that Zaire has joined the "northern corridor", and me creation of a free-trade zone at Eldoret are all tangible signs of the region's awareness of the need for closer collaboration aimed at relaunching traffic along a "corridor" that one African diplomat called a "lifeline" for the region's landlocked countries.

Pierre Antonios

India develops integrated system for village energy

Not long ago, Khandia, in the Indian state of Gujarat, was typical of many underdeveloped villages. Inhabited by about 130 farming families, it had no motorable approach road and had been bypassed by the state electric grid. Far from the centres of development and lacking irrigation facilities, its fragile farming economy depended on the whims of the weather. Villagers eked out a sort of living from whatever their impoverished wheat and rice fields yielded, in brief, Khandia epitomized the problems facing some 270 000 villages in India, to which it would be extremely difficult and prohibitively costly to provide electricity from the national grid.

Few urban-oriented energy strategists have given much thought to the peculiar energy needs of rural communities or to the evidence mat no single energy system is likely ever to meet the diverse requirements of villages. The concept of integrated rural energy systems seeking an optimum mix derived from sources like biomass, wind, and sun to meet the varied needs of rural communities is only now going through the process of experimentation in many parts of the Third World. Unfortunately, many village-based rural energy schemes that have been launched with great fanfare have fizzled out in the end due to a lack of interest on the part of villagers and of efficiently run institutions to monitor the functioning of the system.

Against this backdrop, Khandia's achievement in ending its long energy crisis by making use of local resources in an integrated manner stands out as an encouraging example. Thanks to the introduction of integrated energy techology, Khandia today is witnessing many perceptible socio-economic changes. A supply of piped gas for cocking has ended, for women, the daily drudgery of collecting firewood. The introduction of biogas stoves has eliminated health hazards associated with wood fires. Khandia's women have more leisure time than ever before. Irrigation, made possible by power from biomass gasifiers, has contributed to the expansion of agricultural activities with the result that young men, many of whom used to be obliged to leave the village to seek work elsewhere, are now able to find worthwhile jobs in their own village.

The villagers of Khandia made their initial approach to the Gujarat Energy Development Agency (GEDA), a state organization committed to all forms of energy conservation and development, to ask for help in devising an integrated energy system based on local resources. In mid-1984, at the suggestion of GEDA, 130 village families formed an energy society to generate energy from renewable resources and to share it equitably. Simultaneously, GEDA sponsored a survey of the energy needs of the village.

The survey revealed that 85 per cent of Khandia's energy requirement is accounted for by cooking. Village women used to spend much of their time collecting firewood for this purpose. The survey also showed that

Khandia receives adequate sunshine through most of the year. Its other resources were plenty of wasteland and cattle. The wasteland could provide space for raising plantations to feed the gasifiers while cattle could provide dung for the biogas operation. Based on these findings, a combination of energy devices were installed at Khandia, signalling the beginning of integrated rural energy planning.

The system in Khandia comprises a gasifier able to generate 25 kW of power for running street lights, pumpsets, and flour mills and four 4.5 kW biomass gasifiers for running water-lifting devices. The gasifiers are fueled from a 12-hectare plantation of tamarind, neem, and eucalyptus trees. There is also a biogas plant capable of yielding 85 cubic metres of gas per day. The village energy cooperatives buys dung at 10 paise per bucket and the resultant gas is supplied to 55 households. The only drawback is that the gas is supplied for only a few hours each day. The slurry left as a by-product of the biogas operation is shared among the villagers.

In addition to these devices, GEDA has also installed a solar hot water system, three solar stills, and a photovoltaic-powered refrigerator at the village primary health centre. Television and radio for community viewing and listening also run on a photovoltaic system.

The most important feature of Khandia's energy programme is the careful balancing of the village's energy needs with the availability of local resources. It would, for example, make little sense to introduce windgenerated devices since wind speeds are very low in this area. Similarly, large-scale introduction of solar cookers is not feasible, since most cooking is done after sunset.

The total investment for the various energy devices in Khandia has been estimated at Rs 1.5 million, as against a cost of Rs 1.8 million if conventional power sources had been used. GEDA's Executive Director, Dr K. S. Rao, says that the cost per caput for the project was only Rs 1 875, while Rs 2 262 would be required for electricity alone using conventional means. Like all institutional or community-based non-conventional energy projects in India, the Khandia programme has benefited from state subsidies. GEDA also assumed responsibility for installation of the system and for assuring its proper functioning. However, the village energy society takes care of day-today operations.

Encouraged by the success of the Khandia project, GEDA has now launched similar projects in five more Gujarat villages. "Khandia was an ideal village to experiment with noncommercial sources of energy," says Dr Nanubhai Amin, Chairman of GEDA. "we wanted a village with as many hostile conditions as one can think of so that future models would be adapted easily to any such village. Khandia is a case study to examine centralized versus decentralized systems wherein production and utilization of energy based on locally available renewable resources of energy are in the hands of the village community. I am convinced that a thousand such Khandias can be created throughout the country."

Radhakrishna Rao

Hybrid varieties boost yields in Chinese cotton

New varieties of cotton developed in east China's Shandong province are producing results comparable to the increases in harvests of wheat, rice, and maize produced by the green revolution.

In just seven years the new varieties have trebled Shandong's per hectare yield, and last year, as farmers extended acreage, total cotton output reached 942 500 tons, or 5.6 times that of 1979. Shandong has been propelled to the position of China's largest cotton producer and exporter and accounts for about one fourth of the nation's annual output Prosperous peasants are now able to invest more in chemical fertilizer and in grain and sideline production, and an all-round growth of the rural economy is occurring as a result.

Four prefectures in western Shandong reflect the economic power of the "cotton revolution". They were designated by the state as among the ten poorest areas in China at the end of the 1970s, with large numbers of peasants depending on government relief and grain supplies. But in 1986, the four prefectures together, with a population of 22 million, sold 540 000 tons of surplus grain to the government. Between 1978 and 1986, in Linqing county in northwestern Shandong, per caput income rose from 42.3 yuan renmimbi to 441. "Cotton has brought us big fortunes," farmers say.

Shandong province, located at the lower reaches of the Yellow River, has a warm, temperate climate. With deep and fertile soil and moderate rainfall, the vast alluvial plain is ideally suited for growing cotton, but from 1949 to 1979, output was low and unstable. Per-hactare cotton yield averaged only 258 kg annually. Year after year, cotton production met only half the demand of the province's textile industry. For more than a century, Shandong grew cotton varieties known as Trice, Stoneville, and Deltapine-15, which had been introduced from the United States, and from them, the province bred new varieties, but no good strain suited to local conditions emerged. Finally, Qin Hezhen, a leading provincial official in charge of agriculture, asked, "Why can't we have varieties of our own?" His question took 15 years to answer.

Progress was slow at first. Early in 1961, the provincial Cotton Research Institute had abandoned the practice of developing better varieties through selection in favour of cross-breeding, but their 10-year efforts with hybrids still did not produce remarkable results. Then in 1971, Pang Juqin, in charge of the experiment, learned that radiation could vary the inner genes of seeds. He sent a researcher at once to the Atomic Energy Research Office in the provincial Academy of Agriculture Science, where the seeds were treated with Cobalt 60.

A year later, the first seedlings to appear amazed scientists. "Many of them were abnormal," Pang Juqin recalled. Some had incomplete "limbs," some several "heads", and some no heads at ail. "But the deformed seedlings didn't make us feel dejected," said Pang, now the vice director of the China Cotton Research Centre. The scientist discarded the abnormal strains and continued to experiment with normal ones. Three years of experiments produced better plants. Then came regional experiments that showed one new strain produced higher yields than any other strain or variety.

The strain, named SC-1 by the institute in 1976, soon began to replace foreign varieties. Four years later, in 1980, it had become the variety of choice and spread to 573 000 hectares, accounting for 77 per cent of the area sown to cotton in the province. Early that year, scientists at the provincial Cotton Research Institute wrote, and rushprinted, a 45 000 -word booklet on methods of cultivating the new strain. Some 150 000 copies of the booklet were distributed to farmers before the cotton planting season, and that year the province produced 537 000 tons of cotton, almost double the record 270 000 tons in 1973. The average per-hectare yield reached 727 kg (in terms of ginned cotton), 2.3 times that of the previous year. It has been calculated that the adoption of the new variety in China had produced a direct economic result of 5.7 billion yuan renmimbi (about US$1.54 billion) by 1984.

Then followed SC-2, SC-3, SC-4, SC-5, and SC-6, bred by scientists from the same institute, Jinan's Shandong Agricultural University and Huimin's Agriculture Research institute. All produced yields equalling or surpassing SC-1. Moreover, the fibre strength of SC-1 did not meet export quality standards, and as a result it has been replaced by SC-6, which yields 13.5 per cent more than SC-1. By 1986, the sown areas of SC-6 in Shandong extended 705 000 hectares, 70 per cent of the total cotton acreage. SC-6 became a standard variety; that means that a new strain can be confirmed as excellent only if its quality compares favourably with SC-6.

In the last two years, many buyers have come to Shandong from Canada, Japan, the USSR, Europe, Hong Kong, and Southeast Asia. The province exported 140 000 tons of cotton in 1986-one-fourth of China's total cotton exports. Contracts for exporting 210 000 tons of cotton have already been signed by the province this year.

However, SC-6, like SC-1, still has its weak points: small seeds and poor disease resistance, agronomists say. However, some promising new strains are being tested. Early this year, China set up its first cotton research centre in Shandong with 2 million yuan renminbi (about $540 000) invested by the province and $693 000 contributed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The centre will carry out research, sponsor academic exchanges between scientists of China and other countries, train technical personnel, and offer consulting services. It brightens prospects for further development of cotton production and the promotion of the textile industry in Shandong province as well as elsewhere in China, which has become the world's leading cotton producer since 1982 (see table).

Zhu Wenzhi and Hou Dan

Urban agriculture offers new elements in Argentine diets

According to statistics, the Argentinians are a well-fed people. But averages, of course, are based on highs and lows. In the almost 4 000 km2 of the urban conglomeration of Greater Buenos Aires, some 2 million of the zone's 10 million inhabitants received food assistance from the Programa Alimentario Nacional (National Food Programme), which the constitutional government was obliged to set up. Clearly it is not enough that there exists a food surplus, that the infrastructure is good, that the urban markets are well supplied. The poor still lack the resources to feed themselves adequately. But even an income theoretically sufficient for adequate food is no guarantee that the poor will get enough to eat, since they often have to spend their income on other needs.

Argentina, like other Third World countries, is going through an economic crisis and a profound transformation with serious repercussions on the urban way of life, which is to say, on the lives of the majority of the population. Public indebtedness weakens the State and impedes social action; unemployment has become a structural problem and technological change is making it even worse; real salaries and opportunities decline just when social security and all the indirect salaries instituted previously by the Welfare State are threatened. Argentina, once destined by great men to be "breadbasket of the world", in this decade is seeing the return of the soup kitchens that fed the poor during the 1930s depression.

A study on urban agriculture in Greater Buenos Aires finds that Latin America, unlike Europe and the English-speaking countries, has scant experience with urban gardens. Recently urban agriculture has received new attention, since it requires less expenditure of energy in transport and preservation, offers at least partial employment to the unemployed, and permits greater use of natural and urban spaces, but urban gardens for self-sufficiency are still not widespread. According to the project, a garden can provide between 10 and 30 per cent of a nutritionally satisfactory diet and in the two lower-income groups (the indigent and the poor), it could contribute 5 to 20 per cent of a family's total income. The construction of an urban garden does not require great resources: just 50 square metres intensely cultivated, and worked only a day and a half a week, can supply fruit and vegetables to a family of five. Cash outlay is minimal as household refuse can be recycled and used.

Greater Buenos Aires contains much vacant land, of which most is private property but some is public (such as the land along railroad tracks), which could be used to grow fruit and vegetables. But in general the gardens are "back yard", since the typical single-family house usually occupies only a third of its plot (usually 25 or 30 metres deep by 10 in front).

Before the garden is put in, the soil must be fertilized. This means the gardener must travel to where good earth and manure can be obtained, possibly with a small truck. Then compost must be made with organic residues; the earth and bed must be prepared, and the garden must be enclosed with a fence of one sort or another. Advice on seed selection, sowing calendar, selection and combination of species for pest control, the setting up of a nursery for seedlings will be needed as will water for irrigation, of course, and an initial investment of time and labour. And finally, a pitchfork, a shovel, a hoe, and a spade in other words, gardening tools - will be needed.

Each bed, correctly prepared, can contain four to five rows of 5 metres each; four to eight beds, or between 80 and 200 linear metres, can be cultivated at a time. According to the Instituto Nacional de TecnologAgraria, 30 linear metres can produce a harvest of 37.5 kg of Swiss chard, 50 kg of aubergines, 25 kg of lettuce, 75 kg of beetroot, 50 kg of onions, tomatoes, or carrots, and 75 kg of cabbage - more than enough to feed a family of five.

Of course, every harvest will produce much more than the family can consume. Thus agreements with neighbours will have to be made, or techniques of food preservation will have to be learned, with the help of advisors, who will also make suggestions regarding which crops to plant together and when to plant in order to stagger harvest times of each crop.

Gardens for home consumption have great advantages over programmes of direct assistance or subsidies for the most popular foods. In production for family consumption, the project is in the hands of the direct beneficiary, who will, in the medium term, achieve his independence in nutrition. Moreover, a programme of gardens of this type will increase production of food and the use of local resources, mobilizing families, and this, of course, does not happen when families are passive recipients of subsidies.

But the gardens are not an immediate solution to poverty nor do they provide free food. Moreover, they can fail when they are not cared for properly or when natural disasters strike, such as the periodic floods that strike the low-lying areas of the outskirts of Buenos Aires, where the poor families live. And reconstruction of a destroyed garden takes four months, during which the family must resume work without producing food. And while any family will accept official food assistance, not every family has time or is willing to start and tend a garden.

Kitchen gardens do not hold the solution to the problem of feeding the poor of the cities. Diffusion of the idea has, under present conditions, been slow and laborious. Many Latin Americans who start a garden abandon it, either because they migrate or because it fails, often for reasons related to the willingness of the grower.

There exists, too, the cultural problem: it is not the poorest (who have abandoned all hope of improving their lot on their own) or the workers (or unemployed workers) who accept the idea of a garden. The young prefer to seek work, even temporary, outside the home before agreeing to work the land. The middle classes do not know how to cultivate, and they disparage work on the land (with the exception of the growing of flowers). The typical Argentine diet (meat, milk products, wheat products) gives scant attention to vegetables and requires cash expenditure to procure them, instead of cultivating fruits and vegetables for family consumption. Often, too, the land belonging to a house is set aside for the home of the eldest son when he marries. But it is possible, in any case, to promote - in the press and with radio and television programmes and with coordinated action on the part of local authorities - a kitchen garden project that relies on uncultivated land and seeds from the Government and the use of much private vacant land, perhaps with reductions of taxes as incentives to the growing of community gardens.

It is equally conceivable to organize, either privately or through the municipal collection of organic residues, a special programme directed at school lunchrooms, factory canteens, and restaurants in order to make high-quality compost to supply to growers at low cost. Assistance, direct and indirect, and the selection of seeds require special attention by the local government or specialized institutions in collaboration with the groups committed to the diffusion of urban horticulture, especially at first, since afterwards neighbours can organize themselves to teach others what they have learned.

Managua, Sao Paulo, Lajes (RGrande do Norte, Brazil), Panama City, and other Latin American cities have undertaken urban agriculture schemes, and the municipalities have donated public land for horticulture. The experience of Buenos Aires is not unique, but proves that it is possible to introduce in Latin America a type of agriculture popular in other parts of the world. Most important, it demonstrates that it is socially expedient to assist the poor to become producers, and at the same time defend the urban environment as well as its income and quality of life.

Guillermo Almeyra