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close this bookCERES No. 140 (FAO Ceres, 1993, 50 p.)
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FAO Review on Agriculture and Development: Roads to success: assessing rural transport

Chief Editor: Thomas Pawlick
Associate Editor: Pierre Antonios
Layout and Production Editor: Christian Besemer
Production Assistant: Emelyn Alazard
Copy Editors: Guillermo Almeyra, Armelle Braun, Medhat Makar, Peggy Polk
Executive Editorial 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), R.L. Welomme, M.S. Zehni

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.

ISSN 0009-0379

An old scourge reborn: Phylloxera attacks California grapes

California's output of grapes is forecast to fall by over 100 000 tons by 1997, victim of the first outbreak in more than a century of the dreaded insect pest Phylloxera vastatrix. The infestation could cost the premium winemaking areas of the Napa and Sonoma valleys north of San Francisco more than US$1 billion in lost income.

Production isn't expected to recover until 2002. And with replanting estimated to cost between US$18 000 and US$24 000 an acre, many of the state's smaller wineries, already hard-hit by the long U.S. recession, are not expected to survive.

The Wine Institute of California (WIC) has been quick to dismiss reports of future shortages of local wine or higher unit prices as “scaremongering.” The institute's director, Andrew Montague, called the outbreak “a limited problem now under control. “ But the California wine consultancy firm of Motto, Kryla & Fisher (MKF) believes that up to 40 per cent of the valleys' production could be threatened.

The state's scientific establishment was apparently caught unawares by a vine disorder that seemed to have long since disappeared. The last great outbreak of phylloxera was in 1878 and on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Rootstock imported from the United States accidentally introduced the louse into European vineyards, causing what has been called “the greatest viticultural disaster since the Flood.”

Connoisseurs still debate whether wine tasted better before or after the pest decimated vines in France and Spain.

The vines wither

Phylloxera attacks the roots of the vine, sapping fertility, reducing fruiting and, ultimately, causing it to wither. The pest reproduces very rapidly, with up to five generations every 12 months. This means the number of phylloxera can go from zero to more than a billion in a single year if conditions are right. There is no effective treatment. Because phylloxera live under the soil, pesticides slow but do not stop their advance, and there are no natural predators. Eventually, the vineyards must be replanted with new vines, which then take three years to mature.

Phylloxera cannot tolerate sand or migrate across sandy areas, which is why small pockets of original viticulture in France's Champagne region and the Douro in Portugal survived a century ago. Chile, encircled by the Atacama Desert, is the only wine-producing country in the world with no history of phylloxera infestation. Elsewhere the solution, as in the 19th century, has been to graft local grape cuttings onto the American rootstocks considered most resistant. With very few exceptions, the entire European wine industry is now a product of that Victorian ingenuity one of the first examples of systematic hybridization.

The technique produces many different rootstocks with varying resistance and differing in the yield and quality of their grapes. One is AxR1, a cross between Aramon, a variety of Vitis vinifera, and Rupestris, a native American vine. Most European vineyard owners have abandoned it, finding it insufficiently resistant for local conditions, but in California, AxR1 became the mainstay of a fast-growing industry that saw wine-grape plantings increasing by 150 per cent in the 1970s. The Oenology Department of the University of California at Davis (UCD), an internationally recognized centre of viticulture studies, gave AxR1 its recommendation, and two-thirds of all vineyards in the Napa and Sonoma valleys as well as many other of the state's wine-producing areas are planted with AxR1 rootstock.

The present phylloxera outbreak was first identified in 1983. One thousand of the region's 70 000 acres have been grubbed out so far, and 43 000 more acres planted on AxR1 will probably have to be replaced over the next few years. Fast action is needed because of the furious pace at which phylloxera travels. In the Napa Valley a century ago, it took only seven years for the louse to wipe out 20 000 acres.

But how could a rootstock, widely recognized as resistant to phylloxera in the United States, suddenly succumb to such an epidemic? Viticulturalist James Wolpert, chairman of the Phylloxera Task Force at UCD, says the answer lies in a new biotype, a Phylloxera B, which has learned to overcome the resistance of the AxR1.

A mutant appears

“Phylloxera resistance is not a black and white situation,” Wolpert says. “It is a sliding scale. What we had was a rootstock that was resistant to phylloxera here, but its resistance was not absolute. Other countries had tried AxR1, especially back at the turn of the century. In these countries, the vine was not resistant. Under our conditions, we found it to be resistant. We had tests that went back 30 years, between the 1940s and '70s, and we had no problems. As it turns out, the bugs eventually caught up with us. They mutated. Exactly how, where and when that mutation occurred we don't know.”

The main evidence for a new biotype is the current infestation and, to many, its “discovery” could be little more than a damage limitation exercise by a scientific community caught with its trousers down. Says Robert Joseph, editor and publisher of Wine magazine: “Some people say biotype B is just A with another name. I believe there is a new strain but also that AxR1 is a time bomb.”

Wolpert admits that, after a century of inactivity, the phylloxera threat slipped down the list of priorities. “It's a difficult thing to study,” he says. “We need to know a lot more about how the bug and the vine interact. It's been a worldwide situation that about the time rootstocks come onto the scene, people stop studying the bug because it's not a problem anymore. Once you've got rootstocks, people say, 'I've got more pressing problems,' and move on.”

The epidemic is sure to transform the face of the California wine industry. Annual replanting rates are predicted to rise from an average of 1 000 acres in the two valleys to 10 000 acres in 1997, according to Vic Motto of MKF, while some 30 per cent of the total wine-grape area will be out of production. With the return of phylloxera, vintners with own-rooted vines in Lake County, Mendocino, the Foothills, northern San Joaquin and along the coast between Monterey and Santa Barbara will also have to replant.

Faced with three-year profit losses and steep replanting costs, many will certainly go to the wall. But for those who withstand the crisis, the outlook could be much brighter. With closer spacing-often double the number of vines per hectare-and newer trellis systems, growers can increase production from the 1980s' average of 3.5 tons per acre to six tons and get an estimated 700 bottles of wine for each ton.

The sixty-four dollar question is what rootstock to replant in the afflicted vineyards. UCD has recommended a number of alternatives- 5C, 3309, 110R and St. George. But they may not exist in sufficient quantity to supply the wineries' needs, and their suitability for specific soils and microclimates has not been fully established. “Unfortunately, little research has been done on the alternatives,” Motto says. “Replanting decisions are being made today based on insufficient information. New combinations of rootstocks, clones and growing conditions require new research to avoid or minimize problems. Trial plantings and more funding are needed.”

The next 10 to 15 years, Motto believes, will be a resting time for the industry, which stands to lose more than 50 per cent of its premium Chardonnay supply and 90 per cent of the premium Cabernet/Merlot. AxR1, the king of California wine, is undoubtedly dead, and the search for its successor goes on.

Michael Griffin

Make way for super cassava

A quiet revolution is taking place in the development of cassava, Africa's most widely grown staple food.

In the mid-1980s, the root crop was yielding an average of six tons per hectare on African farms. Then, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Nigeria developed the high-yielding variety TMS 30572. It was widely adopted, and on-farm yields doubled to 12 tons per ha. Now, cassava yields are set to double again, giving farmers four times more than they enjoyed less than a decade ago and offering important possibilities for improved food self-sufficiency.

Crop breeders at IITA in Ibadan have been working on the improved cassava varieties since the institute was set up in 1967. Part of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), IITA's mandate is to increase the productivity of key African food crops and develop sustainable systems that replace slash-and-burn techniques.

Cassava, also known as manioc and yuca, grows in parts of Latin America and Asia as well as in Africa. The largest producers, along with Nigeria, are Brazil and Thailand. But it is of special importance to Africa where mostly small-scale farmers cultivate it under rain-fed conditions and some 200 million Africans in 30 countries-nearly half the continent's population-eat it daily.

What helps make cassava so important for Africa is that it grows in poor soils, does not require chemical fertilizer and can survive with little water. It needs only 60 millimetres of rain a month during the growing period, and if rainfall is less the plant's deep root system can tap underground soil moisture. In times of drought, when soil moisture is exhausted, cassava has a defensive mechanism-its leaves bear the lack of moisture. The leaves droop, but the tubers survive. Thus the claim that “where there is cassava, there is no hunger.”

About half of Africa's cassava is used for subsistence needs and half for commercial purposes. Because the tubers can be stored in the ground for more than a year, giving farmers the freedom to eat or sell when the need arises, it is a security crop. Tubers are processed into many different products, depending on local custom, including gari and fufu. In Latin America, the processing of cassava tubers into flour is thought to date back to 2000 BC.

New processing techniques

While it requires the least labor of all root crops, cassava processing by traditional methods needs a great deal of labor and is often done by families working together. But this too is changing. A post-harvest technology unit at IITA recently developed low-cost technology that substantially reduces processing time, saving about four hours a day of labor.

While cassava contains more calories per kilogram than any other root crop, it has the disadvantage of being low in protein. But nutritional value can be increased by fortifying the processed tubers with protein-rich crops like soybean. In areas where cassava is increasing, agricultural extension workers also stress the importance of growing vegetables.

To develop high-yielding varieties of cassava, IITA breeders crossed TMS 30572 with a wild species of the plant. This produced spontaneous polyploids, meaning the crossing of plant varieties had multiplied the number of chromosomes. The polyploids have up to four times the normal number of chromosomes and so offer the possibility of much higher yields.

The polyploids are undergoing extensive evaluations in four different agro-ecological zones in Nigeria-humid forest, moist savanna, semi-arid and mid-altitude areas. They are being grown and tested as far as possible under the conditions that exist on African farms, and several of the new varieties have reached the stage of testing on selected Nigerian farms. The results are highly encouraging. More than 200 triploids and tetraploids have been generated through open and controlled pollination, and two spontaneous somatic tetraploids have been adopted. Whereas TMS 30572 yields about 23 tons per ha on-station, some of the triploids are yielding 50 to 70 tons per ha.

Sang-Ki Hahn, a Korean crop breeder who heads IITA's cassava program, hopes the polyploids will yield up to 40 tons per ha, giving farmers two to three times more than present harvests. In the view of Lukas grader, IITA director-general, “The polyploids offer the potential for a significant breakthrough.”

A hedge against drought

The advent of this super cassava offers significant prospects not just for cassava-growing countries, but also for those where cassava is still little known. “In time of drought, cassava will survive when other crops wither,” says IITA crop breeder Alfred Dixon. Although it grows extensively across West and Central Africa, the crop only grows in small pockets in Southern Africa, which was hard-hit by drought in 1992. Maize, the staple food across most of Southern Africa, is vulnerable to drought, and scientists have been unable to develop maize varieties that can cope. “In Southern Africa, there is now a tremendous interest in increasing cassava production,” Brader says.

An Eastern and Southern Africa Root Crops Network, set up in 1987, helps countries of the regions develop root crops. IITA officials say that Zimbabwe is now trying to start a large-scale cassava program and that Zambia is expressing considerable interest in the crop. In Uganda, a World Bank project is helping expand the area under cassava.

Like maize, a small portion of cassava output is used for animal feed and for making beer, cosmetics and starches. “Cassava could be used instead of maize for such purposes, leaving more maize for food,” Dixon says.

IITA officials believe the new varieties will make cassava attractive to African farmers, both for their own food security and as a profitable commercial crop. The continent's growing population is raising demand and prices.

An IITA study of cassava in Africa found that in half of 275 villages in six countries that had not experienced famine, cassava was grown as the main crop. The study found that in villages where cassava was increasing, 30 per cent of growers said they were planting more of the crop as a hedge against hunger and famine, 25 per cent said it was because of growing population, and 20 per cent said it was because there was a good local market.

Cassava is planted out in stems, and in the next few years the all important link between research and higher farm yields will be the multiplying of stem material in order to bring super cassava to farmers' fields. Multiplication rates tend to be slow, and this could mean a delay in farmers reaping the benefits. But crop breeders are cautiously optimistic the new varieties will give Africa a long-overdue breakthrough to higher food output. “Africa will survive,” Hahn believes, “because of the advent of polyploidy in cassava.”

John Madeley

Rat-killer extraordinaire

Gliricidia septum, a fast-growing leguminous tree widespread in the tropics, has as many names as it does uses: “mother of cacao,” because its branches shade cacao plantations, “quick-stand” because it's easily propagated from cuttings, and “Imperata destroyer” for its herbicidal properties.

But the name that should mean most to small farmers is “rat-killer.”

Because rats attack plants at every growth stage, they pose a constant danger especially for high-density crops like rice. Some 10 per cent of the Philippine's entire rice crop is destroyed by rats every year, and recent advances in rat control have concentrated on such high-income cash crops.

But small farmers need help too. Unable to pay for high-cost pesticides, equipment and advanced techniques, they're forced to use traditional methods, which are rarely applied systematically and are often proved unsuitable. A better answer could be the use of natural toxins, which can be produced locally and require neither a high outlay nor external financing.

Enter Gliricidia septum, whose leaves contain a substance called coumarin which, under the effects of the bacteria produced in fermentation, is converted into the anticoagulant diacoumerol. Anticoagulants are an efficient natural method of pest control because they reduce the protein prothrombin, a clotting agent secreted in the liver, and eventually cause death from internal bleeding. Tests have shown that while the toxin that Gliricidia produces does not act rapidly, repeated doses lead to fatal hemorrhaging within a few days.

Unlike many other poisons, anticoagulants do not produce bait shyness, which rodents tend to acquire as soon as the first victims of other poisons are taken. And Gliricidia has a number of other advantages. It's not toxic to humans-in fact, its seedlings are even considered a delicacy. It serves as an excellent feed for livestock. It can form living hedges, posts for yam growing, provide green manure and enrich alley culture in barriers for erosion control.

Gliricidia septum acts potently on insects as well as rodents. In many countries, its leaves are placed in chicken runs, or left to soak in hot water and used to eliminate fleas and lice on domestic animals. In a survey in the Philippines, 72 per cent of the farmers interviewed said they put Gliricidia branches in their rice fields to keep bugs and other pests away.

U.S. scientists conducted research on the toxic effects of Gliricidia on rodents in Central America and reported in the American bulletin Echo Development Notes on how it is used. They found both bark and leaves effective.

Farmers in Honduras, they said, prepare the poison by taking two large pieces of bark from the Gliricidia tree and boiling them in water with about 10 kilograms of wheat. They toss the wheat into the fields, where rats and mice that feed on it die within days. Mexican farmers grind the bark or leaves, then mix it with damp wheat or spread it on banana slices. In Panama, they grind the leaves, mix them with cereals and leave the concoction to ferment in the hot humid weather, because this activates conversion of coumarin into diacoumerol.

Noting that no one has yet provided a precise formula for the poison, and that documentation is lacking on many farmers' experiments, Echo Development Notes has asked readers to send their individual recipes, including details on how they prepare the poison, what ingredients they use to make bait attractive, and whether their preparations can be stored and marketed. Ceres readers who can provide information should write: Martin L. Price, Echo-Development Notes, 17430 Durance Road, North Fort Myers, Florida 33917, U.S.A.

Fay Banoun

Genetic freshness: The biotech tomato heads for market

No longer need North American consumers put up all winter with pale pink tomatoes as hard and flavorless as golf balls. Soon other fruits and vegetables, from cantaloupes to cucumbers, will not only look but taste better, and frozen foods won't melt into mush when defrosted-all thanks to the advances of biotechnology.

In a move that left many critics uneasy, but the food processing industry satisfied, the U.S. government last year gave the green light to the new technology, rulina that food comprised of gene-altered plant material will not be regulated differently from foods made of conventionally bred plants. The first bioengineered food headed for market is the trademarked Flavr Savr tomato, guaranteed by its developers to taste vine-ripened and freshpicked.

Until the ruling by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the agency responsible for monitoring the safety of all drugs and many foods sold in the United States, the biotechnology industry had feared that foods produced by genetic engineering might be subjected to long delays for time-consuming tests and exhaustive regulatory procedures. The FDA decision set a precedent for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which regulates the production and sale of conventional as well as genetically engineered meats, poultry and fish, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which oversees genetically engineered and conventional pesticides and genetically engineered disease and chemical resistance in plants.

There was an outcry from environmental and consumer watchdog organizations, but both government and industry were content with FDA's decision to give biotechnology the benefit of the doubt.

Almost simultaneously with the FDA announcement, the Monsanto Corporation reported what it called a “very significant” genetic engineering development that may lead to herbicide-resistant varieties of wheat. More than a dozen other American companies have already produced about 70 varieties of cucumbers, potatoes, cantaloupes and other plants that contain genes from other species which, the companies claim, improve their quality.

Ripe but not rotting

The Calgene Company of Davis, California, developed the Flavr Savr tomato by splicing an extra gene into the chromosomes of an ordinary tomato to delay the chemical changes that cause fruit to decompose rapidly after normal ripening.

Tom Churchwell, head of Calgene Fresh, Calgene's marketing subsidiary in Chicago, took issue with reports that the Flavr Savr's great virtue is longer shelf life. Its real advantage, he said, is that it does not need to be picked while still green, but can be left to ripen on the vine and still reach the market- and the dinner table-before it begins to rot. “Neither grocery managers nor anyone else wants to keep tomatoes sitting on a shelf for more than a few hours or a day or two. The real gain for consumers is that they can get tomatoes of homegrown quality at their grocery stores 365 days a year,” Churchwell said.

Calgene's tomato is patented, which is another aspect of the new technology that raises questions. Could anyone buy a Flavr Savr, scrape out some seeds and plant them in the back yard? “Yes,” said Churchwell, “but that would be a patent infringement.” Churchwell said Calgene is not worried that amateur gardeners will become serious patent infringers because they already grow garden-fresh tomatoes. What is at issue-and what is patented-is not a specific variety but a process that, Churchwell noted, can be applied to transform “almost any good variety.”

Calgene is contracting with farmers to grow the new tomato for sale in U.S. grocery stores but does not expect to market the tomato's seeds, Churchwell said. It plans to develop varieties adapted to a wide range of localities throughout the United States, and eventually other countries, and to contract with local growers to produce crops for their area's fresh produce markets.

Third World possibilities

“I think the possibilities for these products are particularly promising in less developed countries where distances are long and transportation from farms to market is slow,” Churchwell said.

Under the FDA policy that is making all of this possible, biotech products will be regulated like other foods. Like the producers of other foods, biotech manufacturers will operate on a kind of honor system in respect to food safety. It will be up to the manufacturers to detect or anticipate potential health hazards and call them to FDA's attention.

If a manufacturer uses abnormal biotech ingredients in a product- even when abnormal ingredients are of conventional origin-he is required to notify FDA and submit to testing for safety and efficacy before he can market the product. But if a product is comprised of material that is basically no different from what is in an ordinary product and the manufacturer has no reason to suspect it might pose a hazard to health, he can market it without specific approval from FDA.

The teeth in FDA's procedure come from its powers to seize and force off the market any product it finds to be unsafe. A producer who offers an unsafe or misrepresented food pays the penalty of losing credibility with his customers, forfeiting the costs of market development work and being left with an unsaleable product.

Although critics condemn this indirect regulatory power as inadequate, government authorities insist that what seems to be a permissive procedure is actually highly effective and provides U.S. consumers with a safe food supply. The alternative would be for FDA itself to carry out pre-market testing to ensure the safety of every new food variation as well as the enormous range of existing forms and brands. This would duplicate the effort and might almost match the multibillion dollar cost of the food industry's own tests and quality control measures.

Defending the government policy, officials assert that genetic engineering is essentially the same as conventional selective breeding and cross-breeding to establish improved characteristics. In announcing the policy, FDA said it is consistent with recommendations of expert panels on this subject convened by the National Academy of Sciences and the joint FAD/WHO consultation on food safety and biotechnology.”

Mixing flora with flounder

Critics, however, contend that no conventional breeder ever tried, much less succeeded in, such feats as scientists are now attempting-like introducing into vegetables a fish gene that keeps flounders from freezing while swimming in Arctic water. The aim is to stop frozen foods from getting mushy when thawed.

In a complaint filed with the FDA, Dr. Rebecca Goldburg, a senior scientist on the staff of the Environmental Defence Fund, proposed three new rules that would add an element of caution:

1) that the new policy require formal approval by FDA before gene-spliced foods can be marketed;

2) that labels be required to disclose all substances added by genetic engineering;

3) that FDA be notified of changes in the composition of genetically engineered whole foods before they are marketed.

The Foundation on Economic Trends, headed by Jeremy Rifkin, announced a “Pure Food Campaign.” He called for similar FDA policies, threatened lawsuits and boycotts of genetically engineered foods by merchants and consumers and launched a nationwide write-in campaign and television, radio and print advertising aimed at blocking the FDA policy.

But all these efforts are unlikely to change the new FDA policy immediately. FDA spokesman Brad Stone insisted that, like any other set of rules, the policy on biotechnology will stand until the passage of time shows it needs revision.

Robert G. Lewis

Rabbit rearing is a frame of mind

Consider the benefits of rabbit-keeping as a source of animal protein in the tropics:

- production can start with a relatively small investment;
- rabbits can survive and breed on forage-only diets;
- rabbit-keeping can be done by men, women or young children;
- rabbit meat is comparatively low in fat and cholesterol and high in protein;
- one carcass can provide a meal for a family;
- the meat is easy to prepare;
- there are few taboos against eating rabbit.

Logically, more rural people and villagers should be taking up rabbit rearing to feed their families and earn extra income. But that isn't happening. Instead, there is a growing list of disappointed rabbit-keepers and unsuccessful projects. The rabbit isn't at fault. It's the human factor that determines whether a rabbit production project will succeed or not.

When a project fails it is for one of six reasons:

1) Keepers treat rabbits as pets- The rabbit-keeper and family may become attached to their animals, seeing them as pets rather than sources of income or food. One way to avoid this and keep the objective clear is to choose a type of rabbit that is less pleasing to the eye. Different cultures find different animal colors more attractive than others. It is a good idea to identify these preferences and take them into account, selecting the most unattractive colors and types for production-perhaps rabbits of mixed colors instead of the handsome all black or white breeds.

It helps to ensure that the rabbits have an accepted single owner, rather than the traditional multiple ownership. New keepers should learn how to kill their rabbits in a quick, effective and humane way before they begin raising them, or one person should act as the specialist killer for a village or area.

2) Production levels haven't been decided on-When food is in short supply producers understandably try for maximum output, but this can be a serious mistake with rabbits. It is better to regulate production to reach optimum levels that are more likely to be sustainable.

Rabbits are prolific. They can produce litters of six to 10 offspring after a gestation period of only 30 to 31 days, which means one doe is capable of yielding 30 to 40 or more rabbits a year. This level of production is impossible in most of the rural tropics, where rabbit-keepers must depend almost totally on forage-only feeding for economic reasons.

If village rabbits produce litters of more than six and there is no concentrate food available for the doe, it is better to kill the weakest to reduce the litter size to three or four. Most rabbit-keepers find this difficult, if not impossible, but they have to learn to be realistic. If they don't cull the litter the chances are the large litter will be too demanding for the doe to feed. The litter will reach weaning age at six to eight weeks in a weakened state and will not be able to transfer successfully onto forages alone. Swollen stomachs and undernutrition will lead to coccidiosis or other complications.

Rabbits are biologically capable of conceiving when still suckling, but this is another bad idea. If keepers are patient and wait until after weaning before re-mating, the doe will have time to accumulate the fat her body needs to produce milk-a crucial source of high energy food-when the next litter is suckling. Regular weighing of the doe after weaning will show if she is putting on fat reserves. Delayed remating will mean lower annual production per doe but will increase the chances that the doe is able to produce.

3) The work involved may be underestimated-New keepers may underestimate the amount of work involved in rabbit production, starting with building the hutch. It may be impossible to protect rabbits from human thieves, but a hutch should keep out snakes, dogs and rats. Construction can't be done in a few hours from bits and pieces casually available. It takes time and considerable skill.

Once the rabbits are established, a keeper has to devote at least two hours a day to even the smallest rabbit unit. And there can be no days off to go to weddings or funerals, because rabbits need attention every day of the year.

To make up for the poor quality of most tropical forage, rabbits need a regime of “variety, little and often.» Keepers must spend from half an hour to two hours, three times a day, collecting grass, weeds and herbs and feeding them to the rabbits in small amounts. It's useless to put a big pile of food into the hutch for the entire day's feeding, because once the rabbits have trod or urinated on the food and it loses its freshness, they won't eat it.

It is worth remembering that, through their behavior, rabbits can tell the keeper a great deal about their needs and condition-but only if the keeper spends enough time observing them.

4) Keepers forget rabbits aren't people-New keepers often treat a new litter like human babies, thus doing more harm than good. To avoid painful mistakes, learn the essentials about rabbits before raising them.

Suckling habits are important. Human babies usually suckle their mothers six to eight times a day, but young rabbits are allowed to suckle only once or twice at most from the first day of life. The newborn litter needs to be left undisturbed so suckling can take place. Consequences can be serious if a keeper disturbs the litter and a feeding is missed.

It's also essential to know that, because rabbits must run fast to escape predators in the wild, they've evolved a very light skeleton, which is easily damaged. If a rabbit is handled roughly or dropped, its backbone can he injured and its hindquarters paralyzed.

5) Growers ignore consumer attitudes-Consider the preferences and attitudes of consumers before beginning production, because rabbit is not like other meats they are used to buying.

A shopper may be put off by a skinned rabbit carcass, thinking it looks like a cat or even a human baby. To get around this, it is a good idea to pre-cut portions, rather than present the whole stretched carcass for sale.

Consumers should also be warned that rabbit meat is so soft and tender it may disintegrate when boiled. Dry cooking methods are better.

6) The danger of escape is overlooked-When rabbit-keeping is under consideration, local officials and farmers are often concerned that some rabbits might escape, become wild and turn into pests of crops and vegetables. This has been a problem with undomesticated or semi-wild types, but not with fully domesticated breeds. Concern is warranted, however, because even when domesticated, uncontrolled rabbits can cause substantial problems. The possibility of escapers should be considered under specific local conditions.

Rabbit-keeping is not without problems, but the problems are surmountable. Given some study, a willingness to work hard and sensitivity to the consumer, the rearing of rabbits could become a growth industry for the tropics.

Denis Fielding

In brief:

· Researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture report a natural insecticide made from extracts of a tobacco plant mixed with water has proved 78 to 94 per cent effective against a major crop pest-the sweet potato whitefly. Biosoap, produced from the Australian tobacco plant Nicotiana grossed, destroys the fly by weakening its exterior protection. The insecticide is biodegradable and presents no danger to the environment. The pest, a tiny dipteron capable of reproducing every 17 days, attacks 600 species of plants throughout the world by sucking sap from leaves and fruit. It causes millions of dollars damage annually to fruit, vegetable, alfalfa and cotton crops in the western and southern United States alone.

· In an effort to achieve self-sufficiency in food within two years, the government of Bangladesh has called on farmers to produce three crops a year. Agriculture Minister Majid-Ul-Haq said his ministry will extend irrigation to 4.8 million hectares almost half the country's cultivatable land- and provide farmers with seeds and fertilizer. Bangladesh has produced about 20 million tons of food grain annually in recent years, leaving a gap of about two million tons to be imported to meet domestic needs.

· The International Livestock Centre for Africa has begun a project aimed at conserving Africa's indigenous livestock breeds and types, which are under threat from imported exotic breeds. The plan of action calls for an invento ry of African genetic resources and establishment of breed development strategies. Many centuries of adaptation to specific environments, diseases and plant systems have created great diversity in Africa's animal genetic resources. Now that improvements in veterinary care, nutrition and general husbandry have allowed crosses or replacement of native livestock with imported and improved exotic breeds to increase production, it is feared many indigenous breeds will disappear. The ILCA project is linked to a US$15 million FAO plan “to preserve the ancestral gene pool of domestic animals in the developing world.”

FAO in action


The important multipurpose tree Leucaeena leucocephala, better known as the ipil-ipil, is under attack by a fast-spreading pest that was little known only nine years ago. Since 1984, the Leucaena psyllid Heterosylla cubana has travelled, apparently carried on air currents, from Central and South America and the Caribbean to Hawaii, the Pacific Islands, Australia. Southeast Asia' the Indian subcontinent, Mauritius and Reunion in the West Indian Ocean and, in late 1992, to Kenya' Madagascar and Tanzania. FAO has warned African foresters that the pest a member of a group of insects known as jumping plant lice. now poses an immediate threat to all of Africa and asked them to report any infestations to forestry officials. The FAO Forestry Department advises that chemical insecticides should only be used as a short-term emergency measure. The search for long-term solutions centres on strains of giant Leucaena resistant to the pest. and on species of predaceous beetles and parasitic wasps that attack the lice.


Small farmers in China have achieved marked success in fattening beef cattle using a simple and well-known technology based on crop residues treated with urea-ammonia. The experiment is under way in 12 villages of Henan and Hebei provinces in a series of FAO and UN Development Programme projects (CPR/6768, CPR/8858 and CPRE/88/057) totalling US$696 000. The farmers fed young local Chinese Yellow beef cattle with treated straw and a supplement of cottonseed cake. Not only did they succeed in fattening 180-kilogram animals to 450 kg in just over 12 months, but they were able to keep cereals for human use or to feed other animals, and reduced the pollution caused by traditional straw burning. FAO experts report the same feeding technique could be used for dairy cattle, sheep, goats, breeding animals and other livestock.


With help from FAO's Plant Production and Protection Division, Cd'Ivoire is working to become self-sufficient in onions and reduce its trade deficit. The biggest problem was seeds. In order to grow the estimated 35 000 tons of onions consumed annually, farmers would need 11 750 kilograms of seeds, but production was only 1 500 kg. Popularizing onion-growing and developing a storage system were also considerations. Under the FAO project (IVC/88/008/B/01/12), three district leaders and 20 recruits were trained in seed production and shed-huilding. The national coordinator of the project made study trips to Guinea, Niger, the Netherlands, France and FAO headquarters in Rome. Now the information is going to the farmers, and as of December 1995, Cd'Ivoire hopes to have 300 farmers ready to produce onion seeds along with seeds for the local legume Gombo, sweet peppers and the Ndrowa eggplant.


Need to know the latest on agriculture in general'? Or perhaps in the fields of geography and history, education, extension and information, administration and legislation, economics, development and rural sociology, plant and animal science, production and protection, post-harvest technology, fisheries and aquaculture, machinery and engineering, natural resources, processing of products, nutrition, pollution or methodology? Simple. Call on AGRIS, the International Information System for Agricultural Sciences and Technology. Produced by FAO and Silver-Platter International, AGRIS is a cooperative system in which participating countries provide references to all literature published within their boundaries-theses and reports as well as journal articles and books-and draw on information provided by other countries. A total of 135 national and 24 regional and international centrcs submit 11 000 items a month. Since it became operational in 1975, AGRIS has accumulated a computerized database of more than 1 920 000 bibliographic references with titles in English and the original language and descriptions in English, French and Spanish. For more information contact: A.I. Lebowitz AGRIS Coordinating Centre FAO Viale delle Terme di Caracalla 00100 Rome Italy. Tel.: (396) 5797-4993. Far: (396) 5797-3152.

Is This Trip Worth It?

Calculating the profit in carrying a load from A to B

By Peter Crossley

Why transport? The physical act of moving a commodity from one place to another adds nothing useful to it, often reduces quality, causes delay and costs money.

Imagine a transport contractor accepting a consignment from a farmer, loading it into a truck and driving it along a circular route that ends up back at its starting point, unloading it-then demanding a fee. The produce would have been subject to damage from loading and unloading, dust, heat, vibration, shock, pressure and impact, delay and biological deterioration-and the farmer's reaction would be unprintable.

Farmers are ready to pay to submit their crop to such abuse only because they need to carry it from point A. where it was produced, to point B, where they think they can sell it at the highest price. Calculating the profit to be made after the cost of shipping is the crux of the entire matter.

But most transport operations involve two parties, with different priorities in their financial transaction. The vehicle operator is concerned with the difference between what it costs to carry the goods and what he or she can charge for the service. A positive difference means a profit, but the real costs of providing the service may not always be known. As for the seller of the goods, he or she must calculate the load's increase in value and make sure it's high enough to justify the transport fee.

The real expenses

Every small child selling fruit and vegetables by the roadside has unconsciously concluded that while the produce might bring a higher price in the city, the time, effort and expense of getting it there are more than it's worth. A farmer, however, may not always think this through because calculating the increase in value of a load is not easy-and becomes still harder when the load's owner and transporter are the same person, group or company. Owner-transporters tend to lump transport vehicles in with other machinery and don't know how much shipping really costs.

The producer of a plantation crop like sugar cane assumes transport is a necessary evil, because the cane has to be brought to the factory for processing. If shifting sugar cane over 15 kilometres costs several dollars a ton, a typical estate will pay several million dollars to shift a million tons a year.

It would be worthwhile to save even a small percentage of that kind of money. But how can you
make a saving if you don't know the present cost, or whether a different vehicle, transport system or infrastructure would be cheaper?

The processed sugar may be sold on the world market to gain foreign exchange. But production of sugar cane also costs foreign exchange for machinery, spare parts, fuel road construction and maintenance. The question is whether more foreign exchange is generated than consumed. The sugar company may find the operation financially viable, but its economics still have to be calculated, using shadow pricing for the real cost of machinery, fuel and local labor. Only then can a government decide whether the spin-off in terms of area development, rural employment and upgrading of infrastructure are sufficient to make up for any deficit in foreign exchange.

Complicated calculation

What is needed is a single benchmark calculation that applies to all kinds of transport in all conditions and all developing countries. But that is a tall order, because it would have to cover transport of:

- agricultural produce from field to farmstead for subsistence;
- produce for marketing from field to local or city market;
- fuelwood and water from source to household, town or city;
- cash crops from farm or estate via processing plant to national or world markets;
- agricultural inputs from plant or port to farmstead and field;
- relief and/or development aid from store or port to project or household;
- rural project inputs from factory or port to project.

And the variables don't stop there. Transport in developing countries ranges from people carrying loads on their heads to pack animals, animal carts, bicycles, motorcycles, small motorized vehicles, small agricultural vehicles, large agricultural vehicles and commercial vehicles. Infrastructure, especially road conditions, also affects transport. An animal cart travels at roughly the same speed on a winding earth track as it does on a straight bitumen-surfaced road, but the speed and performance of a pickup truck can differ by a factor of five or more.

What about settlements reached only by footpaths, water crossings that are narrow, fragile and seasonal? And how do you compare transport by road or track with transport by rail, river or canal?

Even if a simple calculation could decide what vehicle or mode of transport is most efficient under given conditions, it might not be best because of technical, environmental, socio-economic or political factors. If a settlement is reached by a footpath, the mode of transport can be only about half a metre wide. This may or may not-change if the settlement provides a consistent output of a useful commodity and the benchmark calculation shows a wider vehicle would be cheaper to operate. A cost-benefit study may conclude the path should be widened for wider vehicles, but a social impact study may warn against opening the area to marginal land exploitation or deforestation.

Despite such complications, a benchmark calculation method is possible for field-to-farm or market-to-farm transport using the same cost per ton kilometre (tkm)-the cost of shifting one ton a distance of one kilometre-that is applied to higher level transport systems.

If a trailer-truck carries a payload of 22 tons on an 800-km trip, this is a performance of 17 600 tkm. An annual operation of 80 000 km would be 1.76 million tkm if fully laden coming and going, or half that if it always returns empty. The ton kilometre is not always meaningful. It can produce very large numbers when combined with realistic performance factors, or deceptively small ones when combined with units of expenditure. Nevertheless, it can be applied to nearly all transport vehicles and modes, is easy to calculate and allows comparison of different modes of transport in a given set of conditions.

This is how it works:

1) calculate the total operating expenditure of the vehicle or mode over a given period of time;
2) find its performance in ton kilometres over the same period;
3) divide the expenditure by the performance to find the cost per ton kilometre;
4) use the same procedure for other modes to produce the same units for easy, and often instructive, comparison.

An example

A 22-ton trailer-truck operates for 2 000 hours a year. Half the time it is running and the other half it is being loaded or unloaded or is idle, so that it is full half the time and empty the other half. The truck travels at an average speed of 50 kph, and the total operating expenditure per year is US$50 000, including interest on capital, depreciation, parts, repair, labor and insurance.

What is the cost per ton kilometre? Performance is I 000 hours at 50 kph totalling 50 000 km per year, of which 25 000 km are loaded with 22 tons-550 000 tkm per year. The cost per ton kilometre is 50 000/550 000 or nine US cents per ton kilometre.

Note that the term expenditure is used for operating outgoings to distinguish it from the final operating cost. This is important because a low expenditure is very different from a low operating cost.

Development experts often advise small farmers to choose small-scale transport, because that is all they can afford. But what does “afford” mean? The farmer or transporter is not spending money on a luxury, but an essential business operation. The benefits of making the trip must be greater than its costs, and that isn't always the case with a small, cheap vehicle.

Compare the cost per ton kilometre for a small vehicle with the trailer-truck cost. A small' single-axle tractor with trailer that incurs an operating expenditure of US$2 500 per year carries 500 kilograms at an average speed of 10 kph and runs for 1 000 hours per year, giving a total distance of 10000 km of which half is carrying 0.5 tons for 2 500 tkm per year. Operating cost is 2 500/2 500 or US$1 per tkm-11 times higher than for the trailer-truck.

Why don't all small farmers own 22-ton trailer-trucks? Because of the performance potential of the larger vehicle-550 000 tkm per year. If the average trip to market is 15 km, a fully utilized trailer-truck would transport 550 000/15 tons per year-36 667 tons a year or 100 tons every day of the year-far more than a small farm produces.

Clearly, load size is crucial. If the load is greater than the vehicle's performance potential, the vehicle will be fully utilized and more than one vehicle will be needed. If the load is less than the vehicle's potential performance, the vehicle will be underutilized. It will be more expensive to operate because some of the expenditure will be the same as before, but the performance per year will be lower and the cost per unit of performance ($/tkm) will be higher.

Expenditures that will remain the same include insurance, taxes, shelter, interest on borrowed capital and labor-unless the operator is paid only while working or is used on other jobs when not driving.

More significant are expenditures that are proportional to use and so do not affect the cost per ton kilometre. These include fuel, repairs, parts and sometimes maintenance. Depreciation is also proportional in developing countries, where vehicles often wear out before they become obsolescent. If simple straight-line depreciation is equal to purchase price divided by years of life, a vehicle used less has a longer life and the depreciation is proportionately lower. This means that even when not fully utilized, a larger vehicle may still be economical to operate. The operating cost of the trailer-truck can increase tenfold and still be cheaper in real terms than the small tractor.

Effects of infrastructure

Infrastructure also affects performance and operating expenditures. Poor road conditions cut speeds and raise expenditures on parts and repairs. As performance goes down, expenditure goes up and with it the cost per ton kilometre.

If road conditions reduce the trailer-truck's average speed from the original 50 kph to 10 kph, its annual performance would drop to 110 000 tkm. Some expenditure components would remain constant, while the cost of fuel would drop in proportion to uses. Maintenance costs per km would double or triple, and depreciation would rise due to the effects of the rough road. The expenditure might drop to 60 per cent because the vehicle is travelling only one-fifth of the original distance, but performance would also drop to 20 per cent-so the cost per ton kilometre would triple to 30 000/110 000, or 27.3 U.S. cents/tkm.

To what extent is it worth upgrading infrastructure ? Improving a road lowers the cost per ton kilometre for most vehicles, so the cost per ton shifted becomes lower over the improved kilometre. Multiplying by the number of tons shifted per year over that section of road gives the savings per year. Multiplying again by the estimated road life in years gives the total saving per kilometre. Discounted to present-day values real savings may be reduced to about 60 per cent. Comparing the cost of improving a kilometre of road with its benefits indicates whether the upgrading is feasible.

Who pays/who benefits?

But who should provide the infrastructure and who should get the benefits? Most governments upgrade public roads al public expense. The benefits accrue directly to vehicle operators through reduced operating costs which' presumably, will be passed down to load owners. Whether this happens depends on competition in the marketplace. Lower expenditures on parts and repair arising from better roads may benefit the national economy through a reduced need for foreign exchange. but upgrading an infrastructure costs foreign exchange for equipment, parts and fuel.

Unless an enterprise takes on the upgrading and maintenance of the infrastructure it uses, the relationship between who pays and who benefits can be tenuous. But maintenance of infrastructure is almost always cost-effective compared with allowing an expensive road or water crossing to deteriorate so badly it needs not only repair, but rebuilding.

Considering various kinds of infrastructure, if a river already exists in a suitable form in the right place. the operating cost of using it for transport is likely to be lower than for other modes. But if an expensive infrastructure like a canal or railway has to be provided, transport analysis should incorporate the cost. Road transport is convenient because it usually carries a load from door to door, and its form-highway, road, track, trail or path-can be tailored to needs and conditions. Nearly every rural enterprise, plantation or village has a link to a road or track. The link may be of low quality but is often fairly short. It would be bad economics to provide an equivalent rail link and impossible to use waterways. In addition, the gradient is much lower for railways than for roads while for waterways, the laws of physics dictate the permissible up-gradient.

Planning ahead

A dollar per ton kilometre value is useful when looking at existing transport systems where vehicle usage is known and operating costs are not, but when planning transport for an activity or a number of activities within a region, an alternative “trip-based” approach can be used. It is a simple system that can be revised and refined as needed:

1) estimate the average trip distance and likely road conditions of each transport activity. Calculate likely roundtrip time, including travel and time spent loading, unloading or idle for each vehicle or mode. Average speed will vary with conditions and the type of vehicle. Divide trip time into the operator working hours per year to get the number of trips, and multiply by the payload the vehicle can shift per year;

2) estimate the annual expenditure for each type of vehicle and divide the figure by the number of tons it can shift per year for the cost per ton shifted. If it is more convenient to use the cost per ton kilometre to compare different vehicles or modes, divide the cost per ton by the one-way trip distance;

3) estimate the total available load per year, and divide it by the amount each vehicle can shift per year to determine the number of vehicles of its type needed.

There is no reason why this procedure can't be used for almost any kind of transport, including head-loading and animal-drawn carts (where opportunity cost of labor is critical to results), and rail or waterways. A more sophisticated approach would also include shadow prices for labor and foreign exchange components and divide the year into quarters, which could be analysed separately to account for seasonal variations in conditions.

Once planners know the operating costs and calculate the benefits of providing or upgrading an infrastructure, they can take other factors into account. Even if they decide social or political issues should take short-term precedence, they'll better appreciate the economic and financial consequences of their decisions.

Keeping Up Can't Be Put Off

Road maintenance is one variable that can't he ignored in any transport formula

By A. Airey and G.A. Taylor

Anyone who'd admit to being a highway engineer at a social function in a Third World country should be ready for an onslaught of tall tales, horror stories and complaints about the state of the roads. Everybody has an opinion on what's wrong, and how to put things right along their particular stretch of pavement.

Yet, if all these tales are put together, the scale of the problem becomes enormous: a 1987 World Bank report estimated US$90 billion would be needed to repair the deteriorated highway networks in 85 countries that have received World Bank loans for roads.

How could this happen?

Good roads should sustain growth in rural areas which, in turn, should generate the revenue needed to maintain and improve road networks. In practice, unfortunately, this hoped-for scenario is rare.

Of course, building new roads is a popular policy in many developing countries. Rapidly expanding road networks, are, after all, a highly visible manifestation of development, of direct immediate benefit to political constituents. They attract donor support in the form of grants and loans' while providing engineers a chance to set consistent, sound design standards for roads that previously didn't exist. But maintenance tends to be ignored in the process, its low profile and poor professional image too often matched by restricted government funding. When budgets are squeezed, maintenance is an easy target for savings, made more inviting by the fact that road deterioration may not be immediately visible.

An inexorable process

Road maintenance however isn't really avoidable-only postponable. Sooner or later, the work will have to be done. at an even higher cost than the original, illusory “saving.'' each dry-season surface crack-overlooked to save money eventually becomes a pothole, and when the rains come it deepens and expands. The process is inexorable, whether we try to ignore it or not: it is estimated that for every kilometre of new road built in sub-Saharan Africa, three kilometres now fall into a state of total disrepair.

If greater financial resources were made available, would the problem be solved'? Sadly, in many developing nations the answer is likely no.

Often human factors-what some call “institutional problems”-stand in the way. Prominent among them is the time-honored political practice of overstaffing. When maintenance budgets are cut, the tendency is to prune operating funds, rather than staff. This leaves less cash for fuel, parts for machines and vehicles, bitumen for surface mending and cement for bridges and culverts. Meanwhile, staff numbers-and salaries-remain the same, and even increase. This despite the fact there may be no fuel to bring workers to repair sites. One road project searching for idle labor among government staff found some drivers had been without a vehicle so long their driving licences had expired!

Road repair is commonly carried out from camps scattered throughout the highway network. Too frequently, these camps have plenty of store-men, drivers and “turn-boys” (truck drivers´ assistants), but no stores, trucks or fuel. Attempts to get crews to use picks and shovels to repair those roads within walking distance of the camps fail, because doing manual work would mean a loss of status.

Laying off redundant staff is still less politically popular, especially where governments, faced with growing unemployment, want to be seen as creating jobs. Under structural adjustment, some governments are being forced to consider this option. But cutting staff, as an end in itself, isn't the ultimate solution. Strategies must change. and more appropriate organizations and techniques must be developed.

Nature of the network

The nature of the Third World's largely rural road networks must first be understood-including the fact that they are often the physical reverse of road networks in the industrialized countries. In Europe or North America, more than 90 per cent of gazetted road is paved with bitumen or concrete. In developing countries, the officially gazetted proportion of paved surface is usually less than 20 per cent. If the many foot tracks and other small roads in the countryside are included, the percentage is even smaller.

The reason for this reversed situation is basic economics: Paved roads are more expensive to build than earth or gravel ones, but cheaper to maintain. Dirt roads cost less to construct, but more to keep up.

Distribution of paved roads usually reflects the volume of traffic. Roads carrying more than 200 to 250 vehicles a day (both directions, 24 hours) are usually paved because the rate of surface wear and scale of vehicle operating cost savings justifies the higher construction costs. Below this traffic level, the lower cost of building dirt or gravel roads becomes practical. Vehicle traffic is high in industrial countries, and thus paving makes sense.

However, in much of the Third World, where lightly trafficked rural roads are the norm, earth and gravel surfaces predominate. Thus, construction costs will generally be low, but maintenance costs are proportionately much higher. It is the failure of both donors and national or local administrations to recognize this and budget for it that explains why so many developing country roads are in such poor repair.

At this stage, of course, wholesale rehabilitation of the entire developing world's deteriorated road network is neither possible nor economically justified. There has been a call to identify a so-called “core network” of the minimum road distance local areas need and can afford to keep up. One approach features a two-stage procedure, in which screening is first used to divide a network into suitable and unsuitable candidates for improvement. Then the suitable candidates are ranked in order of importance and priority, usually via a standard procedure designed to calculate the economic benefits of each road. Examples are Tanzania's Agricultural Feeder Road Study and Uganda's Southwest Region Agricultural Rehabilitation Project. Both selected only a limited number of roads for rehabilitation.

However, some consider these techniques too complex and time consuming. A simpler procedure, based on locally generated data' is preferable. In Uganda, IT Transport and the Ministry of Local Government are developing a technique using the population served by a road network as an indicator of its importance.

Labor-based maintenance

Planning for road systems in the Third World obviously must include provision for appropriate maintenance, which should draw on local skill and resources.

In practice, this means a shift to labor-based maintenance systems.

In the past, reliance on complex, heavy equipment has generally failed, due to shortages of fuel and spare parts, poor equipment management and a lack of qualified operators and mechanics. In contrast, unskilled labor is a plentiful resource in most developing countries and makes economic sense m many situations.

Of course, equipment haulage should not be ruled out entirely. For example, haulage of gravel by human labor is not economical for distances greater than 200 metres. Between 200 metres and two km, animal haulage is competitive. and for distances greater than two km, equipment haulage is most economical.

However, such equipment need not be large or sophisticated. The labor-based Rural Access Roads Program (RARP) in Kenya used tractors and locally built trailers-for which drivers, mechanics and spare parts were readily available in the program area-rather than more conventional tipper trucks. The RARP was succeeded in the mid-1980s by the Minor Roads Program (MRP), which shifted emphasis from building new access roads to improving and maintaining existing networks. The still-ongoing MRP employs 15 000 to 20 000 casual laborers nationwide and operates a fleet of 1 000 tractors, landrovers, motorcycles and trucks. It currently maintains some 11 000 km of rural gravel and earth roads, using labor-based methods. Over the next five years, labor-based maintenance will be extended to a total of 24 000 km of low-traffic roads, with simpler equipment being employed wherever possible. This will save foreign exchange while creating new jobs.

Effective labor-based methods should complete the work at the same or lower cost than other methods-”cost” here meaning economic cost (which takes account of the opportunity cost of labor and savings in foreign exchange), rather than financial cost.

For maximum efficiency with unskilled labor, an incentive scheme is necessary. The most flexible is a piecework system by which each item of work is paid at an agreed unit rate. Such pieces should be small, typically an average day's output for an individual or group. Such systems work particularly well in Asia. In Africa, where petty contracting is rare and direct government employment the norm, bureaucracies can seldom cope with piecework and a task work system is used. A set day's wage is paid for a specified amount of work or task. Workers have the incentive of finishing work early if the task is completed early. Although most laborers will finish in five hours or less, productivity is still generally higher than for labor employed eight hours a day at fixed daily rates with no incentives.

“Lengthman” systems

Regular attention to small defects is the key to maintenance. In Kenya “lengthman” systems are used for routine maintenance, with individuals assigned specific sections of road to keep up. Sections, usually averaging 1.5 km, may vary according to gradient, soil or number of structures present, as well as from one climatic or topographic zone to another. In dry, flat areas, sections may be two km long, compared to one km for wet, hilly areas.

In Kenya, lengthmen or women are paid a fixed monthly rate for three days' work per week, keeping their sections in good condition. But lack of supervision and subjective views of what constitutes “good condition” can cause problems, and a system was developed to include more direction. An overseer equipped with a motorcycle visits each section every two weeks. He is supported by headmen, recruited from the area near the road and equipped with bicycles, who continuously supervise 10 lengthmen each.

Thus every part of the road network receives constant attention, reducing the risk of deterioration-especially for drainage works where keeping drains and culverts clear road washouts can be avoided. Employment is also provided for men and women in regions where few other job opportunities exist. And the work's part-time nature permits pursuit of other tasks, such as farming.

The system's chief disadvantage is the difficulty of supervision. Each overseer may be in charge of 80 to 100 lengthmen covering 100 to 150 km of a scattered network. Overseers can spend little time on a section, even if there are no motorcycle breakdowns or fuel shortages. Also, while hand labor is good for maintaining side ditches or clearing culverts, it is less adapted to smoothing road surfaces. Thus labor-maintained roads grow rough over time. This is not a serious problem where traffic is 50 vehicles or less per day, but for heavily trafficked roads periodic surface grading may be needed.

Motor grader fleets can play a key role in maintaining earth or gravel roads. But the machines need good workshops, skilled mechanics and specialized spare parts which are often only available from the country of manufacture. Thus there is strong interest in alternative means, such as grading implements towed behind tractors or by draft animals. Even bundles or brushwood, or old tires chained together, have been used. A pilot study in Kenya is testing use of tractor-based units. These consist of 100 HP tractors, five-ton towed graders, a trailer for hauling gravel and scoop and rock ripping attachments for one tractor. It is hoped this arrangement can equal average motor grader output while providing greater flexibility and easier upkeep.

Even with such adaptations, some countries may be unable to keep up their entire road network, and some roads will have to be officially abandoned. If abandoned roads are still needed by local people, self help may be the only option they have for maintaining them. This can take the form of voluntary labor, raising of local financial contributions to hire labor, or so-called Food-for-Work schemes. A large road network in the mountains of Lesotho has been constructed by local women under Food-for-Work programs.

The motivation problem

Technical direction is needed to make such programs work, however, and this can become difficult and expensive if the workforce fluctuates too often. Motivation is also a problem. The classic situation for a self-help scheme is that of an access road serving a single village, for which the beneficiaries are obvious. In practice, roads serve groups of villages, which complicates the task of fair allocation of work or contributions. Self help seems to work best in “one-off” efforts, than with steady, routine maintenance. Self help based on some form of financial contribution probably offers the best solution for maintenance in such cases.

If recognizing such problems is a start, developing countries and their donors have unquestionably begun to tackle the maintenance problem. The scale of work to be done is so large, however, that it may be years before road networks reach acceptable levels. A major forward step has been increased donor willingness to help with maintenance, rather than construction only.

Road systems in many countries may shrink to core networks, but a shift to labor-based maintenance will likely continue and eventually become the norm. In the process, organization of maintenance will change considerably, with upkeep of paved roads being increasingly separated from that of minor, unpaved routes. Investment in road improvement may focus on spot improvement of key links as opposed to wholesale upgrading. Hopefully, this pragmatic approach will lead to more efficient transport networks.

The road to nowhere....

By Lada Alekseychuk

This is the Russian highway,” says Serghei, pointing at a muddy strip of land that winds between fields covered with grass of an almost unnaturally pure green color.

“Welcome to the wonderland.”

I poke my stick carefully at the mud, and it sinks easily to a depth of a good half metre. My nostalgia for the Russian countryside is cooling quickly. It was I who enticed my fellow painters, Serghei and Volodya, into bringing me to this remote village unspoiled by civilization. And it is I who feel suddenly spoiled by the lack of civilization. The prospect of wallowing in the mud for the next 10 kilometres does not seem all that inviting.

“Well,” says Serghei, “that's the only road in existence.” He smiles philosophically, though not without a hint of friendly malice, picks up his knapsack and moves confidently on.

Volodya seems to be enjoying my hesitation. He laughs and says encouragingly, “It's not as bad as it looks. Just walk on the edge where the earth is drier.”

Balancing like a team of tightrope walkers, we move ahead, one after the other, the village and its bus connection to the world dwindling into the distance behind us. Soon, we can see only the wet roofs of its grey wooden houses glistening through the morning mist.

Quickly gaining considerable skill in walking a country road, I immerse myself in the peaceful melancholy of the northern Russian landscape with its plowed pink earth, immense grassy fields and multicolored sparkles of birch groves.

But my poetic abandon is matched by another kind of abandon that is all around us-a combine lying on its side, a ripped-off truck without doors, a hay mower, a cart. Everywhere we look, agricultural machines are rotting peacefully in the peaceful landscape like skeletons of prehistoric animals.

“But what has caused such a mess?” I ask.

“That's easy,” Volodya explains. “There are no spare parts.” He keeps his gaze straight ahead as he speaks because to turn around would be to risk getting stuck knee-deep in the ever-present mud. “So the mess is only logical and typical, but this is something different,” he adds, pointing to a bent cement pole with metal rods sticking out of it like horns. “It must have taken quite a bit of time and effort to mutilate it like this, right?”

“Sure. And why do it?”

“Boredom, that's why.”

It is noon when we finally arrive at our destination, another village of about a dozen wooden houses, log cabins called izbas. They show no sign of life except for a ribbon of smoke issuing from the chimney of a shack down a hill. The shack is the banya, the village bathhouse.

An invasion of dachnikis

Like hundreds of other villages and hamlets scattered through the Russian countryside, this one was abandoned long ago. But then a group of artists bought a few shacks to use as dachas, country houses. Other dachnikis followed them, buying these cheap dachas. Most of them are retired people finding it difficult to survive on their pensions. They try to get the most out of the small plots of land that came with the houses by growing vegetables, not for sale but to have something to put on their own table and to take back to their children in the city.

All of this is explained to me by Volodya. “There is one couple who travel more than 100 km-and with only our public transportation-every weekend to take care of their few acres of potatoes, carrots and onions,” Volodya says. “That's common practice nowadays. Back to the future' so to speak.”

A sign at the entrance to the artists' shack echoes his irony. “The Russians: 20th century'“ it reads.

Inside and out, this izba is exactly the same as it was a century or two ago. A stone chimney occupies a good quarter of the only room, a huge bed beside it separated from the rest of the room by a brightly colored cotton curtain. An oil lamp burns quietly in front of an icon.

The long walk in the fresh air has made everybody hungry. My friends browse in their food stocks and come up with powders in paper packages labelled “A Special One”. This provokes a discussion between our hosts. One maintains that the powder is for soup, another that the manufacturers meant it as a porridge.

Old-age pioneers

As the discussion heats up, I notice a sign of life outside and go out to make the acquaintance of a neighbor and his goat on a rope. The man and his wife are old-age pioneers trying out of sheer necessity to re-colonize this godforsaken frontier territory. They used to live here only in warm weather but now make it their home year-round to care for the five pigs, four goats and two dozen hens they have acquired so they don't have to depend on unreliable state supplies of meat and poultry.

Back inside the izba the “Special One” is ready along with the luxurious offering of a piece of sausage, rarely available in the city and only with a rationing card. There is also a slice of stale bread procured in the city with the usual difficulties. For us, our dinner is a banquet. By the standards of the peasant families who sat down to eat under the same roof in centuries past, what we now enjoy would be a meal for beggars, but there are no peasants, no farmers here anymore. All of us in the izba are dachnikis. We do not work this land but come here to enjoy its wild beauty, to soak in its silence and then leave again, carrying away a handful of wild berries or a basket of mushrooms if we are lucky.

Serghei, a passionate mushroom hunter, takes us to the forest, a place of profound silence and clear but diffused and mysterious light. I enjoy being here, but Serghei grows more and more hopeless in his search. The hordes of city dwellers from Pskov have been here before us, it seems, and cleared it out.

A surreal sight

By contrast, stacks of flax lay untouched in a field nearby. It is a surreal sight, a crop carefully gathered and then abandoned to rot in the field where it grew, another absurdity of the Russian economy.

To escape the oppressing reality, we dive back into the fairy tale atmosphere of the forest, but another sight reminds us again of civilization, Russian style. Exposed to the rains and the snowstorms, a brand new excavator rests abandoned in the middle of a field. Obviously of foreign make, its yellow paint is untouched by a single spot of rust and the windows shine in the sun like the naive eyes of an expensive toy. The machine is in perfect shape except for the lower part of the scoop, grown over with weeds that must conceal some serious problem like...

I anticipate Volodya this time. “Lack of spare parts?” He nods gravely.

We bring back armfuls of fresh birch logs, make a fire and breath in its heady odor. We bask again in the profound silence and darkness surrounding our briefly inhabited, if not to say invaded, shack, which we'll leave before the morning when it is still dark so that we can make the train that will return us to civilization. Will the train begin to run the other way round one day, bringing civilization back to its cradle in the countryside? No one knows, but everyone hopes that some day it will happen.

An army of hacks

When we arrive at the village where the train stops, we find people standing in a long line in front of a shabby plywood barrack, waiting to buy bread. It is a twice-a-week event, an important one. The bread gets snapped up in an instant and late sleepers have hardly a chance.

A granite statue of a soldier with machine-gun stands guard over the scene of provincial Russian misery. The statue is one of the countless propaganda pieces that brought to life a real army of hacks in all the arts with their power, their quick fortunes based on bootlicking and their total lack of professionalism. Nowadays, these relics have unexpectedly acquired a certain, ironic market value.

“Somebody in Moscow must have made a tidy sum producing this masterpiece on the conveyor belt,” Volodya comments.

“No,” Serghei argues, “it must have been a provincial dilettante. The hacks from the capital at least know where the hands and feet grow from.”

The train whistle interrupts this learned discussion, and we rush to take our places. Across the track, a freight train passes in the opposite direction, loaded with fresh logs. They are piled in perfect order, with obvious care. Perhaps the loggers had a better road at their disposal.

Reading my thoughts, Volodya agrees. “Of course, this country can work,” he says. “The problem is to find the road.”

Shipping on the cheap

A brief look at some low -cost transport options

By Peter Steele

Transport is all about people, especially at the local level, where community traditions may date back as far as memory reaches and the ways goods are carried may be based as much on cultural as on practical imperatives. It's surprising how rarely equipment and modes of local transport manage to transfer from community to community-even in the same region or country.

Yet there is no physical reason why what works in one place can't work just as well in another. Take, for example, the shoulder pole, used virtually everywhere in Asia. Why not try it in Africa, where it might save wear and tear on the neck vertebrae of women who have traditionally carried loads-sometimes very heavy ones-on their heads? Why wouldn't it be useful in a country like Burundi, where people can't afford motorized vehicles and the hilly terrain has limited road-building'? Burundi's roads are few and far between, and commercial transport is almost unknown. People walk long distances along tracks too steep and narrow for wheeled vehicles.

Easing the burden

There are, of course, only so many ways to carry goods on foot. The human frame isn't well adapted to heavy loads, whether on the head, back or shoulder, but there are ways of easing the burden.

The modern backpack places the load firmly on the lower waist by means of a wide belt. It has semi-flexible or firm support against the walker's back and permits loads equal to 25 per cent of a walker's weight. But such recreational equipment is expensive and beyond the reach of the developing world.

When a 1 2-year-old Kenyan girl weighing 35 kilograms carries a load of firewood home on her back, she uses a length of bark to bundle the wood into a pack and strap it to her back with a cord across her forehead. Walking in a stoop, she carries half her body weight for a kilometre or more. Her mother did the same before her. For 20 years she carried loads well in excess of her strength to save time and travel, and at the age of 30 she has the back of an old woman and a permanent deep crease across her forehead.

The head-loading already mentioned is even more common, especially for carrying water but also for such things as a single jug or bundle, which could as easily be carried by hand. Both men and women carry loads on their backs, but it is usually only women and children who carry things on their heads. They look elegant as they walk with head and shoulders gracefully erect, but the weight of the load can cause serious neck and spinal health problems later in life.

The traditional Asian yoke and shoulder pole are made of wood, often bamboo, the pole is usually 1.5 to two metres long and 40 to 60 millimetres in diameter in the centre, where it is carried, tapering to 30 to 40 mm at the ends. The carrier hangs loads of equal weight at each end to knee level and balances the pole across the shoulder where it flexes with each stride. With padding, 50 kg and more can be hauled for several kilometres. The pole is ideal for compact loads like liquids, which don't impede walking. And the carrier needs no help in picking up and setting down a loaded pole.

Non-motorized wheelbarrows, trolleys and pushcarts aren't used as widely as they should be because of cost, tradition and a lack of distribution and maintenance systems. In competition with the bicycle, the wheeled cart usually comes second.

Single-wheel transporters like wheelbarrows come in many designs. The Chinese wheelbarrow has a large central wheel, separate carrying frames on either side supported by twin legs and a handle at one end while other designs have a high-level deck above the wheel. These kinds of wheelbarrow can be operated by more than one person and can haul loads of 150 kg or more for short distances.

The wood or steel wheelbarrow manufactured for urban users and the construction industry is excellent for short distances on level or slightly sloping ground. A rubber-tired wheel with a central bearing improves load carrying and is a great advantage on soft ground. Depending on the size of the container, the wheelbarrow can carry 100 to 125 kg, but pushing is hard on the arms and back so it is usually used only over a few hundred metres.

Handcarts come with two, three or four wheels, with a flat, built-up or trailer deck, with bogies and/ or push-pull handles, and can carry loads of more than a ton. They compete so well with powered vehicles over short distances in towns that it is remarkable they have not replaced the pickup truck. Six workers with a strong handcart could easily provide reliable and prompt citywide haulage.

But handcarts have their disadvantages. Like the wheelbarrow, they need a good set of wheels, axles and bearings and usually can't be built locally. Often, wheels and tires must be imported. Handcarts also need roads with a hard surface at least 1 500 mm wide. They are less successful over tracks and steep terrain, where it is too difficult to negotiate passage. Here draft animals take priority.

From dogs to elephants

Traditional societies around the world have domesticated animals-from dogs to elephants-to provide transport. Motorized vehicles may dominate commercial land links between cities, but in the countryside it is still animals that count. Motorized vehicles can travel difficult terrain, but few societies can afford to buy and operate such equipment. The animal cart is a better choice for carrying loads from country to town over distance to 20 km, as in Lilongwe, Malawi, where ox carts dominate local transport.

Over the centuries, saddles, harnesses? panniers and carrying frames have been developed to suit the single pack animal and the needs of its owner. They are fitted to the animal-usually a donkey, mule, horse or camel-at mid-back with a central girth strap. Evenly balanced loads hang on either side, with an additional load built up between the two side loads. The lower the load the better for the animal's centre of gravity, which is important when walking hill tracks. People also ride animals with or without additional loads fitted in side panniers or behind the rider.

Pack animals are the most versatile of transporters-docile when well-trained, hard-working when well-fed and healthy and capable of carrying loads for almost unlimited distances. Mules can accommodate 50 to 60 kg and a camel two to three times that. Before trucks came on the scene, it was traditional for nomadic families in Mongolia to shift their entire households five or six times a year with a few pack horses, sledges and riders.

Like other forms of transport, animals need maintenance and inputs-traditional medicines and sometimes imported veterinary drugs, supplementary feed during the dry season or winter and leather, timber, fabrics and buckles for their fittings. But animals give special compensation. They become part of the family, capable of carrying a rider and load and finding their own way when the route is familiar and the rider tired. Try napping on a motorcycle!

Before the advent of the motorized truck, heavy goods wagons drawn by a team of oxen or horses dominated road haulage. Given firm, load-bearing pavements, the wagons moved much as truckers do today-and just as fast as a truck tied up in city traffic. Heavy duty animal transport on paved surfaces has all but disappeared, but lightweight transport is growing where animal carts are available and people can find the money to buy them. It is a question of credit and commercial development.

Lightweight animal carts are usually used with a single animal or a team of two. Donkey and ox carts are used throughout the world, horse-drawn carts less frequently, but the basic cart is much the same whatever the animal. A typical cart is made of timber with a flat deck fitted to a wooden sub-frame over the single axle. The animal is backed into a set of shafts and hauls the cart by means of a collar or yoke.

Design variations are almost limitless. A cart can be constructed completely of steel sheet on a steel frame. It can have a sprung axle with pneumatic tires and a hand brake. It can come covered to protect rider and goods. It can have a tip deck or slatted sides. It can have twin axles with the front axle connected to a draw-bar complete with central pivot steering. The design of axles and wheels ranges from the stub axle/motor car/pneumatic tire to oil-impregnated wooden blocks and split wood wheel. Researchers in institutes and artisans in workshops have combined to produce a multitude of novel ideas and designs. but most are available only locally because the financial returns from marketing them are limited.

A single-axle cart that weighs 200 kg unladen can carry up to one ton on a deck measuring 2.5 by 1.5 sq.m, exactly how much depends on the animals' power and the road surface. Clearly, a 500-kg ox can haul a heavier cart than a donkey with one quarter the body weight, and a bitumen road surface and pneumatic tires have a lower rolling resistance than steel wheels on packed earth. Wheels large in diameter can negotiate ruts and holes better than smaller ones and haul a heavier load. Animal carts usually need a track two metres wide, with a reasonably smooth surface cleared of rocks and trees. It helps if the width of the cart's axle is more or less the same as the axles of other vehicles using the track, especially if the road has deep ruts. Hills will be hard going for the loaded cart.

Pumping the pedal

Of all the simple transport machines in use throughout the developing world it is the bicycle to which most poor people aspire. And it is more or less within their reach. Two wheels provide a great deal of personal mobility at a proportionately low cost and can carry loads as well. Bicycles also have a good image. They are seen as advanced technology, post-traditional and status enhancing. Unlike the animal cart or wheeled hand cart, the bicycle provides speed and manoeuvrability and can travel on walking tracks in relatively open and flat country.

Of all the bicycle designs available, it is the traditional high frame, large wheel machine that sells best for serious transporting. Constructed around a heavy gauge steel diamond-shaped frame with steel wheels made of spokes and hub, fitted with pneumatic tires and brakes front and back, a bicycle can comfortably carry a rider and an additional 100 kg. A rear carrier attached to the subframe is a must. Front carriers or loading into the centre of the diamond-shaped frame are also practical but less common. If the bicycle is being pushed and access to the pedals is not essential, a sack of grain, a large quantity of wood or any other awkwardly shaped load can be wedged into the frame. As with a pack animal, the lower the centre of gravity of the load, the easier it is to balance.

Bicycle maintenance is available in small towns throughout the developing world. Most markets have a repair shop where artisans fabricate parts with a minimum of tooling, repair ancient and outdated parts when replacements are no longer available and fit new parts, often imported from India or China. Complete factories are shipped across the world and erected in isolated regions like the factory at Chipata in Zambia's Eastern Region, which is at the end of a long supply network and provides both employment and bicycles.

Fit another wheel to the bicycle, and it becomes a versatile load carrier-but is no longer a bicycle and loses much of the manoeuvrability of the two wheeled machine. Tricycles are essentially urban or industrial transporters and do the same work as hand and animal carte

Tricycles come in several forms with two distinct designs-single steering wheel/twin rear wheels or single rear wheel/twin steering wheels. The second version usually has a tray, box or platform out front and is steered by means of a bar, which pivots the entire axle, instead of a conventional bicycle handlebar and wheel. Because the load is over the steering wheels, this tricycle usually carries lighter loads than the tricycle with load-carrying platforms at the rear.

Tricycle people-carriers, better known as rickshaws, usually have a single rider in front to provide power and a covered seat across the back of the rear axle where two passengers can sit side by side. Whether people or freight, loads of up to 200 kg are commonplace. Tricycles need a smooth road surface and level terrain and do not mix well with motorized vehicles, which is why they are in a separate flow of traffic on main roads in the centre of Beijing. Tricycles are also expensive when compared to the conventional bicycle' often two to three times their cost, and conventional bicycle components are not always compatible.

Motorized vehicles are relatively new in the developing world. In most towns and villages people still remember the first car, truck or bus in the district and when the road was built. But commercial pressure, especially during the past 20 years, has made road vehicles appear synonymous with development and given road-building high priority despite the drain on limited national resources.

This is a mistake. Motorized vehicles don't make economic sense in many communities-and where is the foreign exchange to maintain roads and vehicles and buy fuel'? Tanzania's main highways, once adequate, are now appalling. In Cuba and Guyana, it is only the skill and ingenuity of the artisans in local repair shops that keep the aging fleet of cars and trucks on the road long past their expected life span. Georgetown probably has the world's best operational fleet of British cars, vintage 1960.

With conventional motor cars or trucks beyond their reach, many rural people have motorized with the motorcycle. Since the 1960s, Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha have become international symbols of speed and utility. The motorcycle and its two- or three-wheeled derivatives based on a chain-driven wheel and a small gasoline engine can go everywhere people want, whatever the terrain and climate, but it has its limitations.

Motorcycles are sophisticated machines and neither cheap nor simple to operate. To keep them running well, the motorcyclist needs access to a network of suppliers, including the manufacturer, national agents and fuel and oil companies. A rider can learn the rudiments of a motorcycle in a few hours, but it takes years to develop real driving and maintenance skills-and misuse and misunderstanding can quickly destroy a machine.

Motorcycles are ideal people-carriers. Most have two scats' one behind the other, and room for one or two more passengers balanced astride the fuel tank or squeezed in between the twin seat. As load carriers, however, they are less effective. Road machines don't function well at slow speed over unpaved ground, because air-cooled engines need a flow of air to maintain working temperatures. Higher speed brings its own problems if the ground is rough or a load is poorly positioned. Falls are common, damaging machines as well as riders.

Purpose-built panniers and rear load carriers resembling those used with bicycles are sometimes available, but most motorcyclists use only the small carrier supplied by the manufacturer. Loads are sometimes tied insecurely to the top of the tank or strapped perilously to the rider's back. A purpose-built load carrier, like a sidecar, works much better. A sidecar can accommodate two or three more people, or the same weight in freight. How much weight depends on how powerful the engine is and its design, but sidecars can work even with lightweight motorcycles or scooters.

There are other useful forms of transport, but major commercial vehicle manufacturers don't market most of them. Vehicles with three, four, six or more wheels or with tracks have evolved at local level. but because they rarely enter international markets, people who might find them useful in other parts of the world don't know they exist and can't demand their manufacture. It's a case of which comes first, the market or the product.

Exceptions include the tricycle, manufactured for farm and leisure use. A range of lightweight farm equipment has been developed to suit the power output and rear axle of the farm trike, and its wide, low-pressure tires cause little damage to the ground. The trike can go where the tractor cannot. With a tray at the rear, it can carry a bale or two of hay, fencing wire, a couple of dogs or an injured ewe. No wonder the machine is popular with New Zealand sheep farmers.

The four-wheel motorbike/tractor has a minor place on the farm, and three- and four-wheeled motorcycles have made their way to the atolls of Kiribati and other Pacific islands because they are relatively easy to unload and manhandle ashore. Two-wheeled motorcycles can pull trailers, but the larger three- and four-wheeled machines are better for pulling trailers. Usually constructed of aluminum on a box chassis to take full advantage of the limited power available, light trailers may weigh 175 kg and carry 350 kg.

Motorized platforms and containers have been developed for the construction industry and other specialized uses. These include the dump truck, which is a sort of motorized wheelbarrow. One design has a tipping container in front, a motor to one side of the rear alongside the driver, who should wear ear protection, and twin axles with steering wheels at the rear. The truck can be gas, electric, petrol or diesel-powered. A model with a petrol engine rated at 12 kW has a payload of 1.25 tons.

The dump truck may be too specialized to interest farmers in the developing world, but they should still know that it exists and have the option of buying it, just as they should know about and consider making use of the shoulder pole, wheeled carts, bicycles and tricycles. But spreading the word is the easy part. The problem is convincing people to try something new, even when the benefits would appear to be obvious. Experience shows you can shift ideas or equipment, but you can't always persuade people to give them a try. When it comes to transport, logic is often second-best to tradition. Commercial motivation and timing are important for the planning process, but so too are human foibles.

Glut or glory?

Matching on-farm production to market demand

By Andrew W. Shepherd

Piles of rotting produce clogging wholesale markets, mouldy fruit getting mouldier by the day in cool stores, inadequately covered maize stored outside in the rainy season, distraught farmers dumping mountains of tomatoes-such sights are all too familiar in the developing world.

The technical reasons for losses are well known, and since 197X have been the focus of FAO's program on Prevention of Food Losses (PFL): waste can be avoided by improving handling and packaging to minimize damage to produce, designing shops to lengthen shelf life and storing foodgrains to reduce pest damage.

But all this is pointless if people don't want-or more likely can't afford-to buy the food that's being so well handled, skillfully packaged and correctly stored. Governments, civil servants and even donors too often overlook the fact that food losses result not so much from poor handling or storage, as from the fact that too much is produced at one time for the actual demands of the market

Why does this happen?

The simplest answer is that surpluses occur because farmers-whether sophisticated, mechanized farmers in the wealthy countries or poor smallholders in developing nations-tend to do what other farmers are doing. This “terd instinct” is often a response to market price fluctuations. High prices in one year encourage farmers to plant the crop in the next. With over-abundance prices collapse and few farmers plant the crop in the following year causing prices to rise again.

The cycle begins anew. Eastern European farmers freed from the restrictions of central planning are already discovering that private enterprise farming can be frustrating. In Bulgaria, it was zucchini. High prices for the popular vegetable encouraged lots of farmers to plant it-with disastrous financial consequences.

A glut of limes

Poorly planned crop development-especially failing to relate development targets to effective market demand-can also cause surpluses. In Sri Lanka some years ago a horticulture project distributed lime tree seedlings to farmers. Unfortunately, these farmers lived in areas that already produced seasonal gluts of limes, so much of the fruit was left to rot on the tree or remained unsold in the market. Farmers in areas that produced limes outside the main, glut season were not receiving any seedlings, yet they could have harvested limes when there was a shortage. The visit of a marketing specialist talking about production planning for the market was resented. The attitude seemed to be, “It's our job to grow the stuff and your job to sell it.”

A market opportunity may encourage several development activities in one country or region when only one program is needed to meet demand. Where schemes are large, the potential impact of project area output on total market supply may not be considered until it's too late. That happened in the Middle East with projects to plant fruit trees in several countries. The agency involved only began to be concerned about possible market saturation more than half-way through the planting program.

A related problem is that development projects frequently target particular areas of a country to promote crop production. This is often for the best of reasons. Perhaps the farmers are poor and could benefit from income-generation activities, and the soils and environment are suitable for a particular crop. But the farmers may be poor because inadequate communications restrict their market outlets, and under these circumstances it makes little sense to promote increased production unless roads are also improved and a functioning marketing system is in place. A project in a West African country encouraged potato production in a remote inland area, but most of the potatoes were left to rot because of poor roads and no transport. Meanwhile, the Central Bank was reportedly granting foreign exchange to importers to supply the capital with potatoes.

The problem with onions

While mistakes at the project level can cause waste and dishearten farmers, mistakes in government policy, particularly pricing policy, can create significant food and financial losses. Faced with a glut of onions, the former South Yemen asked for advice on storage. An FAO consultant concluded that the problem wasn’t storage but the practice of offering farmers the same price for onions throughout the year. This provided no incentive for off-season production. The pricing policy was reviewed, and farmers started to produce year-round, significantly reducing the need for storage.

Some years ago, a West African country had a disastrous experience with onions. A scheme to promote production both for the local market and for export foundered when the Marketing Board was left with large quantities on its hands. It had undertaken to buy all onions produced, with no stated quality requirements. Farmers responded enthusiastically to over-generous buying prices, but there was no outlet for the onions because they were the wrong varieties for the world market. Meanwhile importers continued to import onions because no one had told them of the plans to expand production. Cd'Ivoire take heed (see FAO in Action, p. 15).

Onions seem particularly vulnerable to overproduction. Alfred Scherer, a former chief of FAO's Marketing and Credit Service. recalls that when he was working in Uganda in the 1960s an FAO irrigation project promoted yellow and white onion varieties because they produced the best yields in field trials. Production results were just as impressive, but most of the crop was left to rot because consumers had always used red onions and were not prepared to change their taste.

Businesses can be ruined when enthusiasm for production is so great that marketing aspects are ignored. In the FAO publication “Marketing Improvement in the Developing World,” John Abbott, former chief of FAO's Marketing and Credit Service, writes about “Uncooperative Melons.” In Chad, a successful melon exporting business was ruined in the early 1970s by a politician, who set up a cooperative to take over from a private trader. The cooperative attracted foreign aid and technical assistance to promote production but paid no attention to marketing. The business collapsed, leaving farmers with tons of unsold melons.

Too many melons

A South Pacific island also had a not very positive experience with melons, this time watermelons grown for export to New Zealand. So great was the enthusiasm among farmers that production and exports increased without any regard to market demand. The produce did not go to waste because consumers in Auckland and elsewhere snapped up the melons at bargain prices, but the farmers suffered. The returns from exporting were so low growers could not cover transport costs, let alone the costs of production.

Governments often offer technical solutions to market surpluses instead of trying to relate production more closely to demand. One favorite-and usually mistaken “solution” is to set up a processing factory to absorb the surplus. Frequently factories are planned without fully considering demand for the processed product they will turn out. Surpluses of raw material can be vulnerable to price changes and often last for just a few weeks. These are just two reasons why there are so many white elephant factories in the developing world.

To be successful, a factory needs a market that will pay enough so it can pay farmers good prices to provide raw material on a regular basis. If these conditions are not met from the outset, the factory will almost certainly fail.

Storage is another often mistaken solution to surpluses. The idea is that in times of oversupply, produce can be held in store and marketed when prices rise. Yet only a relative few crops are suitable for long-term storage-potatoes, carrots, onions, citrus and apples. Much horticultural produce can be stored only for short periods, which are rarely long enough for prices to rise. And, when produce is brought out of store, it may have lost freshness and quality and suffer from competition with fresh produce. As a result, produce stored so that it will not be sold at a loss sometimes ends up being sold at an even greater loss.

What can be done?

But the situation is not hopeless. Much can be done to try to bring production more into line with market demand and so help reduce postharvest losses.

· Farmers extension workers, development experts and research scientists all need to know! market requirements. They need to understand not only the quantities that can be sold but also the varieties consumers prefer and the ranges of quality for which various classes of consumer can pay. Production specialists need to base their recommendations more on what is most profitable for the farmer than on what grows best in a particular area. To be profitable, farmers have to supply consumers with what they want, and consumers don't necessarily want the variety that gives the best results on a research station.

· Small investments of time and money to research market requirements and the capacity of the marketing system to handle increased quantities help to avoid expensive mistakes. That such research is rarely undertaken may be because of the production orientation of government officials and development specialists, who are responsible for promoting new crops or expanding production of existing crops. This suggests a need for a more multidisciplinary approach when planning development projects. Marketing specialists should be brought in at the beginning to advise on what crops to grow, not at the end to try to sell what has been produced.

· Governments can promote awareness of market needs. Some countries operate market information services, which report on price movements in the major markets of their country. These help farmers decide when to harvest and to which markets they should send their produce. Gluts are minimized and farmers are paid higher prices. Traders can also use the information to divert produce from markets where there is a surplus and prices are low to those where higher prices indicate a shortage.

· Long-term price information can help extension workers advise farmers which crops to plant and when. Using this information, farmers can experiment with early and late varieties to extend the harvesting and marketing seasons. More sophisticated farmers can use plastic tunnels and greenhouses to stagger planting and harvesting dates. Out-of-season production can bring in very high returns and is often more economical than long-term storage, and farmers in developing countries are becoming increasingly aware of these opportunities.

· Governments can encourage production of important crops in areas with the right microclimates. Extending the harvest period is usually more effective than constructing cool stores. In one of Asia's centrally planned economies, the government wanted to reduce storage losses of the country's staple vegetable. Each province was required to be self-sufficient in this staple and interprovincial movement of the crop was not permitted. Although the crop would only grow for a few months of the year in each province, it was growing in one part of the country at any time of year. FAO recommended lifting restrictions on produce movement and placing less emphasis on expensive Improvements to long-term storage.

· Government policy should not encourage overproduction. This applies to grains such as rice and maize in particular. Because these crops can be stored, excess production is not as important a problem as it is with horticultural crops. But long-term storage will cause physical loss as well as quality loss, especially where storage facilities are inadequate. This happened in several African countries in the 1970s and 1980s when government-controlled marketing parastatals subsidized farmers. The result was annual surpluses, which could not be marketed and for which there were no storage facilities. Many governments impose controls on grain movements within their countries. The controls are meant to safeguard regional food security but can often have the opposite effect. If traders cannot legally move produce from one area to another, grain will lose quality in storage where there is a glut, while people go hungry where there is a shortage.

Marketing extension

Extension workers ought to be able to advise farmers not only on how to plant and harvest, but also on what and when to plant and when to harvest. To do this, they need an appreciation of the market for produce. FAO's Marketing Group promotes the concept of “marketing extension,” encouraging extension services to train extension workers in marketing and to appoint a core group of so-called subject-matter marketing specialists within the extension service.

Advice on how to match production to market needs will be extremely important for farmers in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union as their countries move from command economies to economies based on free market principles. Where huge state farms produced to pre-set targets, the transition to a market economy will be far from easy.

The challenge will he to develop a clear understanding, at the outset. among farmers and their governments of what is really meant by producing for the market.

Biting the hand that feeds

By Todd Shields

The horrors of war and famine in Somalia have been paraded on every television screen in the world-but few reports have noted an ominous fact:

The worst of the country's clan violence was visited upon two mainly agricultural groups, the Cushitic Rahanwein and non-Cushitic Bantu, who between them provided Somalia with much of the pre-war food security it enjoyed. No matter how much food aid is delivered or how thoroughly American Marines and French Legionnaires enforce calm, the Somalis' selective decimation of these two groups may have helped doom the nation to chronic food shortages for years to come.

As far back as October, the discrimination was evident.

Beyond reach

Inside an abandoned walled compound in the port city of Kismayu, some 200 to 300 people huddle under rude twig-and-plastic shelters.

Visitors appear. Elders display matchstick-thin children, and for lack of a common language appeal mutely for food. At pains to demonstrate their need, they gesture at a boy, perhaps eight years old, who lies weakened on the ground. An ulcerated sore mars his upper thigh; flies graze upon the wound.

There is food in the port, and the group's need is clear. But because they are Bantu, members of Somalia's most disadvantaged minority, they will remain temporarily beyond reach of help.

“I can't bring them food,” says a relief worker. “If I do, it'll just disappear over the wall tonight” as armed Somali groups loot the Bantu's food.

What is needed first, he explains, is explicit permission from the town's relief committee, which doesn't meet for several more days. Until then, the Bantu will remain foodless. Judging from their condition, it seems likely one or several children will die in the meantime.

The forlorn group's difficulties have been replicated thousands of times during Somalia's long months of hunger. An agricultural people in a nation of pastoralists, the Bantu have faced special hardship in the country's crisis. They are often the first to suffer pillage, and the last to receive relief, as other Somalis who consider themselves ethnically superior deny their compatriots.

The problem of discrimination-in a country that long considered itself ethnically homogeneous-ranges further than the problems suffered by the Bantu. In a real sense, Somalia's famine has been abetted, perhaps even caused, by the system of clan lineages. In a militarized and atomized society, the Bantu and other farming people considered lacking in prestige suffer heavily at the hands of the “purer” clans who traditionally dominate society.

Somali society is built on lineage, with some groups able to trace their ancestry back to a single founder. Asked their identity, Somalis recite their forbears the way Europeans recite their street addresses. The system is an adaptation to the harsh conditions of semidesert grazing lands, where the family is the social safety net of last resort. Loyalty to family is the bedrock of identity, while loyalty to larger groups, sub-clans and clans, is less ingrained.

In bad times, it's harder to trust those who are, genealogically, farther away. The circle of trust retracts; those who are not of your group become adversaries, as in the proverb: “I and my clan against the world; I and my brother against the clan; I against my brother.”

This tendency to schism stands against the cultural picture of a Somalia with one language, one religion and one culture. And it goes far to explain the nearly incomprehensible array of armies and militias that have fought across the land, reducing it to penury much as medieval armies once sacked towns and farming districts in their campaigns across Europe.

Unhappy circumstance

Especially hard-hit has been the rough triangle that holds most of Somalia's arable land. The area comprises the valleys of two rivers, the Jubba and Shebelli, and the territory between. In unhappy historical circumstance, it sits between two implacable opponents.

To its west is the traditional home of ousted President Mohamed Siad Barre's Marehan people, a sub-grouping of the large Darod clan. To the triangle's east and north are the Hawiye people, who in early 1991 ejected Barre from the capital, Mogadishu. Much of the continual fighting since then has ranged back and forth across the agricultural triangle, as Hawiye and Darod armies pursue one another over what, to them, is foreign territory.

Caught in the crossfire are the Rahanwein. Like other Somali clans, they are of Cushitic stock. But unlike the others they have adopted agriculture. In their centuries upon the land, they've developed a separate dialect, as different from mainstream Somali as Spanish is from Portuguese. Throughout Somalia's history as a modern state, the Rahanwein have held inferior status, putting forward few important politicians and enjoying little in the way of patronage and position. Their powerlessness has left them with few guns and little organization in the face of the country's disintegration.

“They still lack self-confidence,” says Murray Watson, an ecologist who has lived and worked in Somalia for 13 years. Other clans, he adds, hold the pastoralists' common disdain for those who till, much as cattlemen disdained “sodbusters” in the American Old West. “If these guys are cultivators, and their fathers are cultivators, they'll look down on them.”

With the collapse of the state, old prejudices took on deadly consequences. Barre retreated across Rahanwein land, with the Hawiye in pursuit. Three times in the next 15 months Barre's Darods counter-attacked, striking deep into Rahanwein territory and twice reaching Afgoi, a town just west of Mogadishu. Each time they were driven back.

With each advance or retreat, marauding armies and their thousands of armed camp followers looted and pillaged without restraint. This was partly because the armies received no rations and had to loot to survive. But, say relief workers, the scale of the disaster has a deeper explanation. The supposedly inferior Rahanwein were owed neither respect nor protection.

Destruction was systematic, with wells, ponds, grain stores, seed and livestock consumed, carried off, killed or destroyed. In an especially cruel stroke, two of Barre's offensives took place in April, the most important planting month of the year. “It was almost a burnt earth policy,” says Rhodri Wynn-Pope, a Mogadishu-based worker for CARE International who has travelled the region.

John Rogge, a University of Manitoba consultant who surveyed the region for the United Nations in August, found virtually no cultivation had taken place for more than a year. “Seed and food stocks, as well as almost all other means of production, were systematically looted by both opposing militias as they crossed the area,” he writes “Livestock herds, once numerous, are now totally depleted from looting, disease and distress selling....the area has rapidly degenerated into the most acute famine belt in the country.”

Dark notoriety

Most of this year's photographs of emaciated, dying children have come from this region. Its capital, Baidoa, has achieved dark notoriety, with 300 or more people dying there each day despite the presence of relief groups and emergency food. Help came too late. The international effort could reach Baidoa only after fighting had subsided.

In April 1992, the Hawiye pushed the Darod to the western side of the agricultural triangle. In the ensuing relative calm, relief groups penetrated the area and distributed seeds and emergency rations, hoping farmers could plant in October for the lesser of southern Somalia's two rainfall seasons. But a fresh Darod offensive in October raised fears that warfare would again engulf the region, making planting impossible.

The cycle-fighting causing famine, which leaves the gun as the only means of obtaining food, leading in turn to more looting-struck other areas of the country before it laid low the Rahanwein. The Bantu, whose status is even lower than the Rahanwein, were among the earliest victims. Descendants of slaves who once worked plantations along the southern Somali coast, they've suffered pervasive discrimination and marginalization-so much so that one Westerner with long experience among them was moved to say, “racism is a real factor in Somali society.”

The Bantu were underrepresented in government, including local government and in education. While 90 per cent of the Bantu are farmers, they've managed to place few students in Somalia's agricultural schools. A common Somali word says much of attitudes toward these people. They are called addoon, which means “slave.”

The Bantu were brought to Somalia from territories ranging from present-day Mozambique to Tanzania, as part of the slave trade organized by the sultans of Zanzibar. Many escaped from coastal plantations in the 19th century and established small villages along the forested riverbanks-thus another name by which they are often known: gosha, or people of the forest.

For a time, the Bantu established an independent, and in some respects flourishing, smallholder farm economy. But relations with surrounding Somalis were always fraught with danger, characterized by one scholar as an endless round of raid and reprisal, with the risk of re-enslavement always present.

Colonial rule obviated this risk. But as the modern state expanded government plantations were created. The Bantu increasingly saw their best land expropriated-either for state plantations or for land-grabbers who manipulated new land tenure laws-and saw their area invested by ethnic Somalis. Many became even further marginalized, forced into unremunerative wage labor on the new state farms and reduced to routine dependence on what were once considered famine foods.

Pervasive domination

“You just had this pervasive domination of society,” says a Western commentator who, in hopes of one day returning to the Jubba Valley, requested anonymity. “Militarily, these people were nothing, and politically they were nothing.”

As with the Rahanwein, the Bantu's powerlessness produced dire consequences once Somalia fractured into competing militias. Unable to resist outside force, they at first maintained a precarious neutrality as armies swept through their territory. Soon, they became targets.

The lower Jubba Valley, home to the so-called “free” Bantu who have never entered a client relationship with a Somali clan, has been closely studied. “The Gosha have been hit harder by looting than any other social group in the area,” writes Kenneth Menkhaus, a University of South Carolina scholar who lived in the lower Jubba in 1988 and returned to assess its misfortunes. “Few villages have been spared repeated attacks by armed men....Food reserved and livestock have been taken away, as have money, appliances, pumps, cloth and anything else of value.”

By the time of Menkhaus's return visit-July 1991-the war front between the Hawiye and Darod had passed through the lower Jubba four times. Since then, the region has seen continual military activity, with its principal city, Kismayu, changing hands at least twice.

Each wave of conflict further impoverished the Bantu. But even more damaging were the periods of occupation by either army, both of which view the local farmers as non-Somali. “In every case (these periods) have been accompanied by widespread looting and structural damage, assault and, increasingly, massacres,” writes Menkhaus.

Bantu in other areas suffered similar fates. Workers for the International Committee for the

Red Cross (ICRC) estimated that 90 per cent of the Bantu on the middle Shebelli-roughly the area upstream from Mogadishu to the border town of Beled-Weyn-have been dislocated. The Bantu of the lower Jubba began moving from their homes in large numbers in July 1992, after their reserves were finally exhausted.

Once the Bantu move, there are special problems in trying to assist them. Relief workers often face blithe denials from local Somalis that any Bantu are in their area, and say they must apply pressure to ensure that Bantu are included in food distributions.

“If you are not there to make sure the food gets to them, they may receive only a small, small share,” says Erwin Koenig, a technical adviser with the ICRC.

Rogge, who surveyed many stricken areas in August, found the Bantu's plight particularly bad. They were, for instance, in the worst condition of those seeking food in Beled-Weyn, a fact that indicated a more profound disaster.

“Most of the Bantu villages south of Beled-Weyn are almost totally deserted and in others the remaining population is in desperately poor condition,” Rogge writes. “The displaced Bantu are unwelcome and receive low or no priority for food distribution....Likewise, lists of villages provided last season by local authorities to the ICRC for seed distribution contained only a few token Bantu villages.”

Such discrimination, to be expected when viewed through the distorting lens of the clan system, is nonetheless profoundly counter-productive. By destroying these supposedly “inferior” people, Somalis are destroying their own future food supply.

Victims of the Green Revolution

The violence of the Green Revolution: Third World agriculture, ecology, and politics, by Vandana Shiva, Zed Books Ltd., London, Atlantic Highlands and Penang, 264 pp. ISBN 0-86232-964-7 hb. ISBN 0-86232-965-5 pb.

Scientist/philosopher Vandana Shiva might have called this book Violence of the Green Revolution: the Indian tragedy, because it deals mainly with the experience of India-particularly Punjab. Shiva's thesis is that the violence that has erupted in Punjab in recent years is not just “an outcome of ethnic and communal conflict between two religious groups,” as commonly supposed, but also a direct result of “the ecological and political demands of the Green Revolution.”

“The Green Revolution has been heralded as a political and technological achievement, unprecedented in human history,” she writes. “It was designed as a techno-political strategy for peace, through the creation of abundance by breaking out of nature's limits and variabilities.

Paradoxically, two decades of the Green Revolution have left Punjab ravaged by violence and ecological scarcity. Instead of abundance, Punjab has been left with diseased soils, pest-infested crops, waterlogged deserts, and indebted and discontented farmers. Instead of peace, Punjab has inherited conflict and violence.”

Despite its concern with Punjab, however, the book is anything but parochial. In marshalling her arguments and offering evidence, Shiva makes India and Punjab a microcosm of the crucial international debates in which she is so vigorous a participant. The Indian experience takes on global significance, and the primitive seeds of Indian and other Third World peasants become “the symbols of the struggle for freedom and the protection of life in the emerging context of recolonization of the Third World and its living resources.” She believes farmers' intimate knowledge of indigenous systems is more sustainable and efficient than the chemical intensification strategy of the Green Revolution, and rightly insists that the concept of intellectual property rights (IPR) should give them ownership of their seeds and cropping systems.

Shiva's tale amplifies the testimony of indigenous people at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro last summer-which is no coincidence, as she influenced the writing of the summit agenda. She argued that the Biodiversity Convention drafted for Rio failed to protect the rights of local communities. During negotiations on the convention in Nairobi last May, she contended that if the Southern nations' contribution of biodiversity was valued appropriately, the United States could owe the South US$2.7 billion in payments to farmers and forest communities for seeds and plant-derived pharmaceutical products. Proof that her argument is being heard is a recent proposal that gene banks be established for medicinal and aromatic plants and herbs in developing countries.

To support her claim that the Green Revolution has generated social and political insecurity, Shiva gives a historical perspective on the Punjab conflict and spells out the effects the switch to high-yielding varieties (HYVs) had on farmers and their land. She cites the expansion and intensification of irrigation from surface as well as ground water, a shift to monocultures and multicropping. She agrees with a study carried out for the UN Research Institute for Social Development, which suggests the term high response varieties (HRVs) should replace HYVs because of the inputs of irrigation and fertilizers they require. Many of the HYVs also require additional labor, usually by women.

Asserting that HYVs of wheat need about three times as much irrigation as traditional varieties, Shiva gives a detailed account of how the replacement of old varieties of wheat with new varieties of wheat and rice made it necessary to increase the intensity of irrigation from 20-30 per cent to 200-300 per cent. The result was water-logging and salinity, which are problems linked to the over-use of water in regions where the nature of the topography and soils rules out intensive irrigation. A centralization of dams and management, she suggests, raised the ecological vulnerability of the ancient five rivers system of Punjab-Punjab means the land of five rivers-and destroyed the old canals that were aligned along natural drainage features.

She cites comparative studies of 22 rice-growing systems, which show that indigenous systems were more efficient in terms of yields, labor and energy uses. The grainstraw ratio of rice breeding is a case in point. She reports that the increase in marketable output of grain was not only highly dependent upon fertilizer and water but was achieved at the cost of a decrease in biomass for animals and soils and lowering of ecosystem productivity because of the over-use of resources. Shiva contends that researchers concentrated on the higher yielding dwarf rice and failed to breed for the multi-uses of the crop, including feed and fodder for work animals, straw to serve as fuel for cooking food and to help fertilize the field for the next year's crops and straw and husk for use as construction material.

Surprisingly, the author makes no gender assessment in her myriad of examples. In the article “Women and biological diversity: lessons from the Indian Himalaya,” (Growing Diversity, edited by David Cooper, RenVellve and Henk Hobbelink, Intermediate Technology Publications) Shiva and co-author Irene Dandkelman reported that women in the Indian Himalaya knew 145 species of indigenous trees and forest plants whereas forestry experts could name only 25. They also concluded that current agricultural research concentrates heavily on increasing the yield in only certain parts of the crop, often those which can be commercially marketed. For example, traditional potato and mustard varieties provide fresh leaf vegetables in the mountain diets but the HYVs of those crops do not.

Shiva is critical of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). She presents a comparison of the Green Revolution with the gene revolution, which concludes that the CGIAR system has been “subverted to corporate interests.» But her critique is flawed in parts by outdated financial information from the early 1980s. To put the record straight, the total annual core budget of all CGIAR centres was approximately US$235 million in 1991 while total expenditures by all agencies, public and private, on agricultural research in developing countries alone was about US$2.3 billion. The global expenditure on agricultural research amounts to more than US$10 billion. For the period 198689, 24 governments and international organizations financed the bulk of the core CGIAR activities. The Ford Foundation, which provided 19 per cent of the CGIAR budget from 1961 to 1980, was not a major donor in 1989.

Shiva argues that production research in the past has been driven into the “direction of destruction of diversity which swallows all biodiversity into its domain of colonization.” Her analyses and predictions are all the more impressive considering that there is an alarming concentration on fewer and fewer crops, and more than 20 000 species are in need of protection. Judging by the blossoming of research and the number of books on the subject published in the past year, an increasing number of international research scientists appear to share Shiva's concern. Like Shiva, these scientists and development workers are looking for another approach, which will conserve and protect indigenous crops. There is reason to hope for the emergence of a new global research agenda that will place the farmer-wife as well as husband-first and will explore their “miracle crops” with them and for their own benefit and control.

Natalie N. Hahn

A people-friendly boycott?

The Trade Trap: Poverty and the Global Commodity Markets, by Belinda Coote, Oxfam UK and Ireland, 214 pp. ISBN 0 85598-134-2ASBN 0-85598-135-0 pb.

Few harrassed shoppers in the North, as they speed their trolleys through the supermarket, plucking packages of tea or bunches of bananas from the shelves, spare much thought for the small farmers and laborers in the South whose sweat and tears have produced many of the items they're buying. Wage earners in the industrialized countries have little time for such contemplation, while the increasing number of unemployed- hard put to stretch their dole to cover basic food needs-can't afford to worry about those worse off than themselves.

But most producers in developing countries live and work in rural areas or shanty towns so precarious they can barely be imagined by people in the North. And current trends in the international commodity markets are worsening those conditions.

It is the great merit of The Trade Trap that it brings together a wealth of information on both micro and macro levels to make a valuable and readable presentation of how the present terms of trade between North and South put small producers of coffee, sugar, coconuts and other agricultural products at an impossible disadvantage.

Basing her case histories on Oxfam's long experience in development work in more than 70 countries, the author gives a graphic picture of the lives of these people, showing how the dice are loaded against them from the start however hard they work, whatever sacrifices they make. Whether it is Kabula growing cotton in Tanzania or Jun fishing off Mindanao Island in the Philippines or Rufino producing coffee in the Dominican Republic, the apparently inexorable decline of prices for their products has meant lower incomes and greater exploitation.

For the trap consists precisely in this: the more the countries of the South produce, the lower the prices they can command on the world markets. Any attempt to raise the value of their products through increased processing meets with higher tariff barriers and other obstacles imposed by the industrialized countries.

Damaging consequences

Some countries have moved out of their dependency on one or two primary commodities for which there is a declining or unstable demand. The author's examples include Bangladesh's venture into the international shrimp market, the Chilean drive to boost fruit, fishery and forestry exports and, more ominously, the shift in Bolivia from tin to coca production for export. But invariably these policies, even if they benefit a few, have damaging social and environmental consequences for the population as a whole.

We read that the development of the fruit export trade in Chile ousted hundreds of thousands of people from land that formerly produced food for local consumption. The new commercial ventures, because they are seasonal, can employ only a fraction of those displaced. Indiscriminate use of pesticides has caused serious pollution problems. Mercury from cellulose plants is contaminating the rivers. And the replacement of natural forestry by pine monoculture plantations is having negative effects on the hydrological cycle, leaching water and nutrients from the soil and contributing to erosion.

In Bangladesh, the development of shrimp farms on land previously given over to rice cultivation is causing serious soil salinity and reducing rice yields on the land that remains. The destruction of mangrove swamps to build shrimp facilities has, ironically enough, helped to deplete shrimp resources. From the social aspect, shrimp farmers are adding to already-serious problems of landlessness and lawlessness.

Bolivia's tin mines have been hard-hit by the collapse of tin prices on the world market, throwing tens of thousands of miners out of work. The few who remain suffer from unbelievably dangerous working conditions. Small farmers, because of the uncertainty of markets for alternative crops such as coffee, grow coca. The sale of coca is organized by cartels tightly controlled by the drug barons, who make vast fortunes while the growers, with a going rate of US$15 for 50 kilograms of leaf, can hardly keep themselves and their families alive.

Hard conditions

An informative chapter on the tea trade traces the commodity from the tea picket to the tea drinker. Unlike some other commodities, which are being squeezed out by technological changes, the demand for tea is growing. By the end of the 1980s, some 2.2 million tons of tea were being consumed. The tea trade is dominated by a few giant companies. In the United Kingdom, 80 per cent of tea drunk is blended and packed by four companies, including Unilever, the world's largest tea company.

Tea is grown on large plantations because it requires expensive machinery close to the place of production. And whether the estates are privately or state-run, the conditions of the workers, mostly women, are almost always hard. They've been likened to slave labor because workers depend completely on the company, not only for wages but for shelter, food, water and what health and education facilities are offered.

Sevanthamma, who works on a tea estate in Sri Lanka, starts her day at 4 a.m. She fetches water, feeds her children and takes them to primary school before reporting for work at 7 a.m. Often she does not return home-one small room in a row of huts without electricity or running water-until 6 p.m. when she has to start washing, cooking, cleaning and caring for her children. For long, back-breaking hours of tea-picking, she will be lucky to earn 70 pence a day-and in some seasons there is no work and no money. A kilogram of tea costs 97 pence when it leaves Sri Lanka and £4.50 in shops in the United Kingdom. Even allowing for the costs of transport, packaging and advertising, it is difficult to justify the conditions in which people like Sevanthamma live and work. When tea companies are charged with exploiting their workers, they plead the low price of tea on world markets.

A small return

Domingo and Christita Belleza Sendini, who hold one of the 500 000 coconut tenancies in the Philippines, make only P.800 (£23.73) a year. In this case, it is not a large international corporation that is enjoying the profits but the local landlord, who takes two-thirds the value of the crop. He does not allow them to grow vegetables on his land, although inter-cropping benefits coconut trees, because he fears they might be able to claim ownership if there should be an effective land reform. The Sendinis supplement their income by weaving baskets, gathering firewood and working occasionally on a neighbor's rice fields, but it is a constant struggle to survive.

The author stresses the courage and ingenuity of these small farmers to make ends meet. Her cool style and lack of sentimentality emphasize the drama of their lives.

No less valuable are the sections of the book dealing with macro trends, the general movements of international commodity markets, the reasons why supply and demand go up and down and the international and regional bodies and agreements that have attempted to regulate them-usually with no great success. Particularly useful is the brief presentation of the drawn-out discussions of the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and its TRIPs, TRIMs and FOGs (for the uninitiated: trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights, trade-related investment measures and functioning of GATT). As Coote points out, all this seems remote from the dispossessed people of sub-Saharan Africa or the destitute fishing communities of Asia. Yet their plight underlies the complexities of the issues.

Given these complexities, the current economic recession in the world and the crippling debt problems of the countries of the South, it is hardly the fault of the author if her concluding recommendations are the least convincing part of the book.

The recommendations

Of course, governments of the South ought to respond to the needs of their peoples, reduce poverty, tackle massive inequalities in the distribution of wealth, encourage the payment of reasonable wages and prices for the agricultural population, support the cultivation of basic food crops and encourage marketing of local products. Of course, governments in the North should help those of the South achieve food security and sustainable development by recognizing their right to protect and stimulate agricultural production within the framework of GATT and by ensuring environmental costs are included in the pricing of products based on natural resources. They should help the South to secure and improve the markets for their products by progressively removing tariff and non-tariff barriers, ceasing to dump subsidized agricultural exports, improving and stabilizing international commodity prices through financing buffer stocks and substantially reducing the debt burden of developing countries. Of course, it would be advisable for the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to look critically at their policies to increase commodity exports as part of structural adjustment programs.

Unfortunately, all this presupposes a lot more common sense and disinterestedness than there actually is-especially in these troubled times when the law of the jungle seems to dominate.

Coote pins considerable hope on the alternative trade movement. There are now alternative trade organizations (ATOs) in almost all countries of the North, promoting agricultural and artisanal goods that bring a fairer share to those who produce them. The Max Havelaar Quality Mark sells coffee produced by small farmers in more than 6 000 supermarkets in the Netherlands and the Fairtrade Mark is trying to influence “changes in mainstream commercial practices and in consumer attitudes.»

A new consumer wave?

Is there on the horizon a new consumer wave that, having promoted environmentally friendly products, is about to do the same for people-friendly products? After concern about the ozone layer, water pollution, the killing of dolphins and destruction of rain forests, may shoppers not come to care about the people whose work has produced their tea, sugar, coffee, or bananas?

Although growing, the alternative trade movement still represents an insignificant proportion of world trade. But recent surveys indicate its potential. A National Opinion Poll in the United Kingdom found that 84 per cent of those questioned would welcome products sold under the Fairtrade Mark (91 per cent among young people) and 74 per cent were prepared to pay more for them. In the Netherlands, market research shows that 73 per cent of the general public is aware of the Max Havelaar scheme and what it is trying to achieve. The next question is: how much pressure can a fair trade consumer movement create at the international level for policies that could eat into the profits of the great economic enterprises whose interests often determine international trade agreements-or explain the lack of them?

Julia Rossetti