|CERES No. 135 (FAO Ceres, 1992, 50 p.)|
Opponents of Quebec's James Bay hydroelectric project are fond of a cartoon, showing Noah leaning out of his ark, shouting to the animals filing on board, two-by-two (a sign in the background reads "James Bay"): "OK everybody, forget it! I'm calling the whole thing off! With God, we had a chance, but this time...!"
The cartoon's message probably sums up the issues more effectively than the cries of environmental activists campaigning against the project in the United States, who describe it as "the Amazon of the North" and refer to the film Dances with Wolves when talking about its potential impact on the native peoples of northwestern Quebec, the Cree Indians and the Inuit. Their emotive appeals for international support have alerted the world, not to mention a previously unconcerned Canadian public, to what is undoubtedly an environmental issue of almost biblical proportions.
The history of the James Bay hydroelectric project extends back to 1964, when the electric utility Hydro-Quebec began studying ways of developing the La Grande River. In 1971, Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa launched "the project of the century", a plan to develop the river systems draining into James Bay. The scope of the development was breathtaking, incorporating longterm plans to build 215 dams and dikes, 23 power stations and involving the diversion of 19 rivers, including the La Grande, the Eastmain, the Rupert, Broadback and St Lawrence and the Great Whale.
This massive development, if allowed to proceed, would eventually harness the energy of the rivers flowing through 350 000 square kilometers of northwestern Quebec, an area bigger than Germany.
The first stage, the La Grande, also known as James Bay One, was completed in 1985 (for Phase One) and La Grande Phase Two, which includes additional powerhouses, is due for completion in 1996. The total area flooded is 15 000 square kilometers and the combined cost of the La Grande project is about Can $23 billion to date (1 Can $= 0.85 US$). The Can $12.7 billion second stage, Great Whale, or James Bay Two, is now the subject of protest and debate. The total area to be flooded would be more than 3 000 square kilometres. The third stage is known as the NBR project, the initials representing three rivers, the Nottaway, Broadback and Rupert. A total of 5 500 kilometres of transmission lines would carry the power to markets in southern Quebec. The power would then be transmitted to customers in the United States. In 1989, its cost was estimated at Can $16. billion.
Cree Indian communities in the area affected by the development first heard of it through newspaper reports. They had not been consulted previously and their battle to stop the project going ahead was lost in 1973 when a Quebec appeals court ruled that the development had proceeded too far to stop and the needs of millions of the province's residents outweighed the concerns of "a few thousand natives".
In 1975, the Grand Council of the Cree agreed to let the project proceed and, together with the Northern Quebec Inuit Association, signed the landmark James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, in return for some recognition of their territorial rights to a total of 410 000 square miles of land and the instigation of an environmental review process. Cree communities received Can $225 million. The agreement covered Cree and Inuit self-government, administration of justice, health and social services, environment and future development, as well as hunting, fishing and trapping rights and income security for those participating in traditional activities.
A most extraordinary aspect of this issue is that, despite all the rhetoric, no one is able to answer two fundamental questions: what exactly will be the impact of the project on the environment and native peoples, and is the project really essential to the future energy requirements and the economy of the province?
A complex web of review processes has, as yet, not come up with a comprehensive picture of the potential environmental and social impact of the project and the answer to whether or not Quebec needs a hydroelectric development of this size lies in documents kept with jealous care. However, news that the project will put Quebec at least Can$60 billion in debt has raised considerable public concern and increased interest in the project.
David Cliche, president of the Great Whale Forum in Quebec, a coalition trying to encourage public debate and discussion of the issue, said that until one year ago there had been no public debate, involvement or review of the project. "In fact, there has been no opposition as such in Canada or Quebec".
"We have not had answers so far to simple questions, such as do we really need the electricity", Cliche told Ceres. "We are still struggling to get information out of the government and Hydro-Quebec which would provide the answers.
Critics have argued that the key role held by the James Bay project in Quebec's strategy for economic growth has meant that environmental concerns have not been allowed to impede its progress. While Hydro-Quebec has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on environmental impact studies and remedial measures and the Quebec government introduced most of its environmental laws after the James Bay project was started, critics maintain that the position of both the government and the utility that the project is essential and must proceed has influenced the quality of environmental reviews.
Cree Indians continue to maintain a traditional, semi-nomadic life-style in northern Quebec, based on hunting, fishing and trapping. They say the project will destroy their ability to live traditionally because it will have a catastrophic impact on their fishing and hunting grounds.
Phase One of the project, the La Grande, flooded 11 500 kilometres; of caribou calving grounds, fish-spawning areas, migratory bird habitats and destroyed food supplies for marine mammals. Environmental damage was especially severe along the edges of water bodies, the richest habitats for plants and wildlife. What were once wild rivers have been reduced to creeks.
Crees and environmentalists fear that the fragile and complex environment along the shores of James Bay and Hudson Bay will be destroyed by changes in water salinity, due to changes in the flow off rivers feeding into both bays.
Since Phase One was built without any environmental assessment, perhaps the most serious outcome was the release of mercury into waterways. The mercury normally lay dormant in rocks, however a bacteria associated with the decomposing vegetation in new reservoirs transforms it into methyl mercury, which then enters the food chain. Within months of the completion of Phase One, levels of mercury in fish caught in the La Grande downstream from dams, had climbed to six times their normal levels. A 1984 survey of Crees living in Chisasibi, at the river's mouth on James Bay, found that 64 per cent had unsafe levels of mercury in their bodies. Crees say it could take 50 years before mercury levels return to normal.
A committee appointed by Hydro-Quebec in 1987 and given a Can$18.5 million budget to research the problem has not yet found a solution, although it has suggested that Crees stop eating fish....a staple of their diet.
Environmentalists have also targeted Hydro-Quebec contracts to export power to New England and New York, arguing that the Quebec environment and the maintenance of native peoples' traditional lifestyles should come before the power needs of the United States and questioning just how much of the 28 000 megawatts of power that would be generated by a completed James Bay hydroelectric project is needed by Quebec itself.
A Canadian Federal Court decision in September 1991 put a stop to all work on the Great Whale project and ordered the federal government to launch a new environmental review. The decision was a major victory for the Cree and Inuit, who had instigated the court action seeking to force a comprehensive and binding federal review of the project under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, a complex land claims settlement established in 1975. The study is expected to delay the project for at least three and up to five years.
The Quebec government has appealed the court decision and remains adamant that the project is essential to the needs of Quebec and will proceed. The province's Deputy Premier, Lise Bacon, threatened in October 1991 that if James Bay was scrapped, Quebec would have no choice but to build nuclear power-generating plants.
As pointed out by Gerald Aubry, of Canada's Federal Environmental Assessment Review Office, there has been no shortage of environmental review processes being applied to the Great Whale project. Following the Federal Court decision, there are now five reviews being conducted by seven committees, with members representing the federal and provincial governments, the Crees and the Inuit.
Both governments announced in October 1991 that efforts were being made to coordinate and "harmonize" at least some of the reviews. The federal and provincial environment ministers said in a joint press release that there was a "firm intention to undertake a credible process of environmental assessment that will enable all interested parties to be heard on all aspects of the hydroelectric project".
Some years ago, Hydro-Quebec released a glossy brochure entitled: "La Grande Riviere: A Development in Accord with its Environment". At the time few apart from the Cree and Inuit doubted the message, but it now seems clear that all parties have recognized that work on the next stage of the project should not, in fact cannot, proceed before a thorough environmental review determines whether or not it should go ahead at all.
There is snow outside its windows half the year and a cold wind sweeps the campus, but the laboratory filled with cassava shoots at the University of Guelph (near Toronto), Canada, isn't trying to develop winter-hardy varieties of a staple tropical crop. The presence of cassava this far north is only another indication of the worldwide scope of an expanding research effort to enhance cassava's nutritional and economic value.
Increasingly, this effort is drawing upon the latest techniques in plant genetic engineering - including a device known as a particle gun designed to achieve genetic transformation of target plant species by literally bombarding selected cell tissue with DNA-coated particles. Since transformation and regeneration of transgenic cassava plants in large numbers has so far proven difficult, the initial goal of the Guelph project isn't to change specific genes, but only to develop viable transformation technology.
The helium-powered particle gun has been used in biotechnology laboratories for five or six years in the United States, most notably in private sector development of the world's first transgenic maize plants. "Cassava isn't like corn or coffee", points out Prof. Larry Erickson, a plant geneticist who heads the Guelph project. "No companies are making any money on it". Recruited recently from private industry, Erickson is carrying out the two-year project on a US$100 000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. He recognizes that any transformed cultivars developed from his or related projects will have to be channelled largely through the international research institute network and the national research and extension services of developing countries, in order to be available to the smallholders who have traditionally been cassava's principal producers.
Widely held misconceptions
Until recent years, funds allocated for cassava research and development have been scanty, owing, as Dr James H. Cock, former coordinator of cassava programs at the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) has remarked, "to widely held misconceptions about the crop". This despite the fact that an estimated 420 million people scattered through more than two dozen tropical countries depend on cassava for 50 per cent or more of their total dietary energy. While direct human consumption accounts for approximately two-thirds of the annual global production of about 130 million tons, livestock feed and industrial uses also offer significant markets to producers.
There are admittedly problems. On the nutritional side, the low protein content of the cassava tuber - normally less than one per cent - has adversely affected its rating as a desirable food staple. So too has the presence in raw cassava of a pair of glycoside compounds which convert to toxic hydrocyanic, or prussic acid when root cells are ruptured. Although traditional cassava processing - boiling, pressing, sieving, toasting - helps to reduce prussic acid content and to eliminate dangers of acute poisoning, chronic cyanide toxicity has been a problem in some regions, especially in Africa, where impact has been linked to low levels of both protein and iodine in the diet.
Another disadvantage is that the freshly-harvested tubers deteriorate rapidly, thus requiring prompt processing or a very limited range of marketing for the fresh produce. Finally, although cassava has a reputation for disease and pest tolerance, it is known that yields are often significantly reduced by a variety of enemies, such as mealybugs and spidermites (Ceres No. 130), bacterial blight and mosaic viruses.
However, compensating for these handicaps, the traditional domestic cassava, Manihot esculenta, exhibits some attractive characteristics. Even with scant attention, it yields more food calories per hectare than other tropical crops such as maize, rice or sweet potato. It possesses a high level of tolerance for infertile soils and extended periods of drought. In fact, in many regions it is planted as a famine reserve crop to provide an assured food supply should other crops succumb to drought or locust plagues. In this regard, it is a particular advantage that cassava tubers can be harvested as needed at any time from nine months to two or three years after planting.
While Manihot esculenta is the only cassava widely used as a crop, nearly 100 wild species have been identified. Most appear to cross readily with the domesticated variety and are consequently considered potentially useful in breeding programs. One, M. glaziovii, has already been used as a source of resistance to African mosaic disease, which attacks M. esculenta. Another, M. tristis, when crossed with M. esculenta, has produced a hybrid with a root protein content of 12 per cent. Wild manihot can also provide genes for low cyanide content.
Given this genetic base, the challenge facing plant scientists has been to devise methods for introducing desired traits into the domesticated species or hybrids derived from it. Enter biotechnology.
"Almost every other crop has yielded to genetic engineering", says Dr Gary Toenniessen, Rockefeller's associate director of agricultural sciences. "With the particle gun, almost all cereals are transformable now". As support for cassava research has finally gained momentum, a loose international network of projects has been able to focus on specific problems and to test different genetic engineering technologies.
The International Cassava Trans Project (ICTP), a joint venture of the French Institute of Scientific Research for Cooperative Development (ORSTOM) and the Research Institute of Scripps Clinic, in the United States, is concentrating on two viruses: the cassava common mosaic virus, which is a major problem in Latin America, and the African cassava mosaic virus. Through a method known as the "coat protein mediated resistance strategy" or, more conveniently, CP, viral genes are introduced into the genetic structure of the intended host plant in such a way that they interfere with, and reduce, the spread of the viral infection. Over the past three years, the project has indicated that the chosen strategy offers good prospects for control of several strains of mosaic viruses, but further research is required to make the transformation process more efficient.
At Washington State University, another Rockefeller-supported project is using genes isolated from potatoes to provide cassava both with greater insect resistance and improved nutritional quality. Other, alternative genetic transformation techniques are being tried in separate projects in China, Denmark and the United Kingdom.
"The prime feature of genetic engineering is that you can do things that are otherwise impossible or very slow", says Guelph's Prof. Erickson. "With normal plant breeding you can't make the kinds of major changes that you can with tissue culture".
At the University of Guelph, which has a long tradition of involvement in international projects, including earlier research on cassava, Prof. Erickson sees other spinoff benefits from this kind of undertaking. The transformation system being developed is attracting the interest of postdoctoral students and scientists from other countries. His research assistant, Basdeo Bhagwat, had previously worked as a tissue culture specialist on bananas at the University of Trinidad and developed a number of techniques now being used on the cassava project. Says Prof. Erickson: "We are learning things that we hope we can apply to other crops, tropical and nontropical".
When is a quagga an Equus quagga quagga and when is it a mere Equus quagga in quagga's clothing? Quite a question, say geneticists, who can't agree yet among themselves whether a foal born recently in South Africa's Vrolijkheid Breeding Centre is only a slightly off-colored plains zebra or the true resurrection of a supposedly extinct species.
The answer could have important implications for those interested in preserving both rare domestic animal breeds and endangered wild species.
The original quagga was a partially striped, cream-and-brown, horse-like animal that roamed the plateaus of southern Africa until roughly a century ago, when it was hunted to extinction. Ceasing to exist did little, however, to dampen controversy among zoologists over its proper classification. Some believed it a species in its own right - E. quagga quagga others thought it a cousin of the mountain zebra (E. zehra), and still others were convinced it was a sub-species, perhaps even a mere color-phase, of the plains zebra (E. quagga).
Zebras and horses, as well as quaggas, share certain similarities, due to the persistence of primitive characteristics inherited from a common ancestor that lived 3.3 million years ago. But each creature also has its own unique traits. Thus, quaggas sported their own colors and didn't live among zebras, keeping instead to their own territory south of the River Orange. The last living quagga, a mare, died on 12 August 1883 in Amsterdam's Zoo Artis. Today, only stuffed specimens, such as that kept in the Amsterdam Zoo Museum, are extant. Geneticists at the Vrolijkheid Breeding Centre, however, are unwilling to accept history's verdict of final doom. For several years they've carried out experiments aimed at "retrieving" the quagga via selective breeding of plains zebras for quagga-like traits. In 1988 eight foals were born more or less resembling E. quagga. The experiments continued until this year, when scientists announced that their latest foal was, externally at least, a genuine quagga look-alike.
Quest for a quagga
If the animal is a real quagga, it would confirm the results of work by American geneticist Russel Higuchi, of the University of California at Berkeley. Prof. Higuchi earlier cloned fragments of mitochondrial DNA from preserved samples of quagga tissue and found similarities with the DNA of the plains zebra. Other work based on the interpretation of skull and tooth characteristics has also established that the quagga and plains zebra were "sister" species. Differences between the quagga DNA sequences and mountain zebra DNA, however, indicate a diversity between those species.
Has the quagga been brought back from oblivion?
Some geneticists think not, and make no bones about it. Peter J.H. van Bree, curator of the Department of Mammals at the Zoological Museum of Amsterdam, is adamant: "It's as if we managed to reproduce a double of Napoleon, but we could never bring the emperor back.
"It's always possible to breed back the external aspect of a certain form which occurred within a species. For instance, between the two world wars the Heck brothers (one a former director of the Munich Zoo), by selective breeding of domesticated cows, managed to get animals which looked like aurochs, the extinct ancestor of modern cattle. We now know that these animals were not aurochs, but only look like aurochs.
"They are doing the same now in South Africa with plains zebras. They are creating animals which look like quaggas, but which never will be true quaggas. These experiments are interesting for the public, but scientifically speaking of little value. The sub-species E. quagga quagga has died out and cannot be replaced by plains zebras".
Obviously, the last word on the quagga has yet to be heard.
A new guar gum substitute derived from ipil-ipil (Leucaena leucocephala) seeds could cut paper-manufacturing costs by as much as 30 per cent in some developing countries, according to researchers in the Philippines.
The guar substitute, formulated by researchers at the Forest Products Research and Development Institute in Los Banos, has aroused the interest of paper manufacturers, who normally import the gums used in production. Use of Leucaena leucocephala, a well-known agroforestly tree species grown widely in the tropics, would provide a locally-grown, economical replacement for the expensive chemical imports. According to an institute spokesman, Philippine imports of gumbased additives for the paper industry, food products and cosmetics averaged 5 500 tons per year between 1985 and 1987, representing US$2.8 million.
Gum additives are mixed with paper pulp at various stages of the paper-making process, and are used as sizing agents, fillers, strengthening agents, pigments, defoamers, slimicides, surfactants, dispersants and pitch control agents.
Three varieties analysed
Workers at the institute have analysed the chemical composition of three varieties of ipil-ipil seed, including the K-28 variety of the El Salvador group and the K-6 and K-8 varieties from Peru and Mexico, respectively. The K-28 is one of the so-called "Hawaii giants", said to have been introduced in the Philippines some 12 years ago to provide shade for coffee plants.
The finely-ground seeds of the three varieties produced two forms of gum additive - extract and powder - for paper. Experiments showed that additive levels of 0.2 to 0.4 per cent of powder imparted considerable strength to unbleached kraft pulp, kraft cuttings and sugar cane bagasse hand-sheets (cellulose-rich sugar cane residues after crushing).
Based on the absolute dry weight of the pulp, the addition of 0.5 per cent aqueous crude gum extract obtained from giant K-28 seeds greatly increased the dry-tensile strength of the pure bagasse and lauan pulp hand-sheets. Ipil-ipil gum costs roughly US$1.00 per unit, compared to approximately US$1.50 for imported guar gum. It also saves on fibres and fillers and results in clearer waste water.
Researchers believe a paper mill that produces 100 tons per day of dry strengthened paper using 400 kilograms of ipil-ipil gum could save approximately 600 000 pesos (US$30 000) when operating on a 300-day working year.
L. Ieucocephala is known to agroforesters as an MPT (multi-purpose tree) species (Ceres No. 133). Its wood is used for construction, fuelwood and charcoal, its leaves as an animal fodder and its cooked fruit as a food for humans. Being a leguminous, or nitrogen-fixing species, the ipil-ipil also has a beneficial effect on soils.
For the first time in history the mayors of the Sumava region in southern Czechoslovakia have made a public appeal to protect the Bohemian forest, the largest unspoiled tract of woodland in Central Europe.
In a formal petition issued to the Czechoslovakian Prime Minister, 21 mayors representing the citizens of the entire Sumava biosphere reserve announced their support for a locally-produced management plan for their newly-created Sumava national park.
"We were delighted to take part in the discussion on the future of our region, a pleasure which has not been granted to us before", stated the mayors in their petition to the federal government. Formerly, emphasized the mayors, "we have always been bypassed and forgotten.... Access at last (to our forests) has been restored. Our question is, how can this be utilized to the economic advantage of our people? How can we economically advance without destroying our national endowment?"
The management plan, developed with support from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), is ground-breaking scheme that gives varying degrees of protection to the 70 000-hectare Sumava national park, an integral part of the 162 000-hectare biosphere reserve. The park, which straddles the eastern side of the former "iron curtain" between Czechoslovakia and Germany's Bavarian forest national park, was for decades a military-patrolled border zone. It was also a favored hunting ground of the elite.
When the "iron curtain" went up tens of thousands of people were removed from the zone, and the population in the region was reduced from around 150000 to 60000 people today. Four inhabited villages will remain in the park, and several abandoned enclaves of cultural value will become park centres.
Already the citizens of the Sumava have torn down miles of barbed wire fences and have left the region to the lynx, wild boar, roe and red deer that have made the forest their homes for centuries. Tourists are exploring the inner reaches of the park. Otters and freshwater pearl mussels are still found in the rivers, while the forest harbors around 10 pairs of eagle owls, black storks and black grouse as well as the capercaillie.
In former no-entry zones, these first tourists are discovering the park's primeval forest where trees thirty metres tall are over 400 years old. They also encounter glacial relics including the crowberry, dwarf arctic birch and dwarf pine, species which have survived since the Ice Age 10 000 years ago.
Unwelcome discoveries also occur: some of the trees have been affected by air pollution, although favorable winds have spared the Bohemian forest from serious damage in this country where leaf and needle damage was recently measured at 35.5 per cent, among the highest in all of Europe.
Large tracts of uncleared forests where war-games were played with Russian-made tanks and other weapons also mar the landscape. And the sound of petrol-powered chainsaws still breaks the stillness in the core zone, where the military is reluctantly giving up its right to log. Local villagers whose economy has been depressed for years and whose situation has worsened are still being hired to cut trees in the protected zone. Park authorities patrolling the territory and informing the Ministry of Defence that the cutting must stop.
"Until 1989, it was forbidden for anyone but the military to enter a 10-km zone from inside the forest up to the border itself", explained Jiri Kec, director of the Sumava national park. "Now 600 people will live inside the protected area in what we define in our management plan as a traditional use zone. The core area should be around 20 000 ha and the traditional use zone around 45 000 ha, representing nearly 70 per cent of the park".
Sumava national park's protected zones include the core area (full protection), the recuperation zone (removal of roads and electric power lines from the main areas of former military presence), the traditional use zone (agricultural use that does not diminish biological diversity) and public use zone (environmental education and eco-tourism).
WWF project leaders, Frantisek Krejci and Vaclav Franek point out their concept for this park is a departure from strictly traditional definitions. "This concept employs a new philosophy", Franek said. "We need people to continue living here in the Bohemian forest. We want to create conditions for people to live near the park in harmony with nature".
Compromise was the key to the success of the park. The Ministries of Defence, Agriculture and the Environment recently hammered out an agreement over the size of the core zone. As could be expected, the Ministry of Environment wanted the zone - where hunting, forestry and agriculture would be prohibited - to be as large as possible.
"Not one minister in Czechoslovakia would say no to environmental protection", said Pavel Trpak, Deputy Minister of the Environment of the Czech Republic and former WWF project leader for Sumava national park. "It is only a matter of what degree of protection each ministry believes is needed. Agricultural development is the biggest threat to the park, but two years is a short time for this new doctrine of nature protection and sustainable development to get into the blood".
Trpak, one of a handful of people who first conceived the idea of the Sumava national park 30 years ago, said: "I am happy that the dream of my youth has been realized and the vision of Ladislav Vodak, one of the founding fathers of the park who is now 70 years old, has also come true".
· A record amount of over £43 million (around US$78 million) was allocated In 1990-91 to Oxfam's overseas program, covering some 2 900 projects In more than 70 countries. Grants from this NGO to deprived populations In developing countries range from as little as £179, to cover the basic needs of cataract patients In Bangladesh, to as much as £269 140 to supply drinking water to 200 000 Somali refugees for four months. But Oxfam officials underline the fact that money alone cannot solve problems and greater emphasis must be given to providing training, advice and simply talking with communities about the factors that put a restraint on their initiatives
For further information, contact: Oxfam, 274 Banbury Road, Oxford OX2 7DZ, England Telephone: 44-865-5677. Fax: 44-865-312417.
· To save the world's aquatic resources - threatened by overexploitation and pollution - over 45 scientific and professional organizations have decided to Intensify their joint efforts by setting up a structure for continuing collaboration. This decision was taken during the World Fisheries Congress held early last May In Athens. World catches totalled 97.3 million tonnes In 1990 compared to 74.6 million tonnes In 1981. It is estimated that they will reach 120 million tonnes at the turn of the century.
For further information on the World Fisheries Congress, contact: American Fisheries Society, 5410 Grosvenor Lane, Bethesda, MD 20134, USA.
· According to the Club of Bologna, mechanized agriculture In East European countries requires small machine tools for family-run farms. These countries find themselves handicapped by the fact that entire sectors of production are not yet mechanized and their sales and technical assistance circuits leave much to be desired. The Club of Bologna Is an Italian association which pro. mobs development strategies for mechanized agriculture worldwide. Its 70-odd members meet yearly In Bologna, during the International farm machinery fair. Its secretariat is located in Rome at the headquarters of the National Union of Farm machinery Manufacturers: Unacoma, 22A Via Spalianzani, 00161 Rome, Italy. Telephone: 396-419441, Fax: 39-6-4402722