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close this bookCERES No. 135 (FAO Ceres, 1992, 50 p.)
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View the documentFire in the mother lung: Indonesia's forests plan is imperfect, but at least it's a plan
View the documentTroubles of transmigration
View the documentTreating toxic ground
View the documentUnexpected harvest

Fire in the mother lung: Indonesia's forests plan is imperfect, but at least it's a plan

From the eighteenth floor of one of Kuala Lumpur's high-rise hotels on a muggy winter's morning last year, the entire city was covered in a smoky haze. Except for the tops of the taller buildings, you could see almost nothing own below. Asked if this was some local weather oddity caused by the city's location between the central hills and the flat, humid western Malaysian coastal plain, a reception clerk replied:
"Not at all. This haze comes from Indonesia, not Malaysia".
"From where?"
"From the great forest fires in eastern Kalimantan. When these great fires break out, we get this haze".
"Must be bad news for the Indonesians".
"Bad news for everybody, for us Malaysians, for the whole of the East, for the world".

Though no forester, the reception clerk had a point. For foresters and environmenalists everywhere have long maintained that the world has two great, green mother lungs, one in the West and another in the East. Should either be destroyed, globe ecology will be badly, perhaps irreparably damaged. Should both go, scientists insist, our already wounded planet might suffer environmental hurt beyond healing.

The great Western lung lies within the rainy heart of the vast Amazon Basin, an area larger than China. Amazonia covers about two-thirds of Brazil, the world's fifth largest nation, and pushes leafy and riverine fingers deep into another nine of South America's 13 countries. Though perhaps not yet beyond hope, Amazonia is an ecologically wounded land, its delicate life systems mercilessly raped by the avarice, ignorance and indifference to the future of both greedy and needy men.

Eastern lung

But, aside from the massive fires, how goes it with the second, or Eastern, area mother lung that runs like a broad belt of green through the major islands of Indonesia (at 6 000 kilometres east to west, with its 13 670 islands, the world's longest-largest archipelago)? l If far from perfect, things look somewhat more hopeful in this second great green lung. Of course, problems abound. Greed and shortsightedness are in plentiful supply. Yet there is a marked difference between the Indonesian and Amazonian situations: the Indonesian government is at least starting to make an effort to do something before it is too late. Though many critics disagree - the country's two main non-government environmental coalitions, Walhi and Skephi, charge that the government's development philosophy is biased, in favor of industry l and against the interests of local people - Indonesia ' may now have the most professional long-term forestry plan in Southeast Asia. Of course, having any plan at all would be a significant achievement, for the importance to Indonesia of its forests can hardly be exaggerated. Sales of timber and other forest products are, after oil, the country's biggest earner of needed foreign exchange, bringing in ; more than US$3 billion a year, a figure sure to go up l as the rest of the tropical world continues to destroy its natural tree cover. Rational forestry planning, in fact, tends to be the exception for members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), most of whose policies are hardly models of far-sighted thinking. l Thirty years ago, for instance, the Philippines had 17 million hectares of standing tropical forest. Today it has only 6.1 million and even this inadequate remainder is going down as fast as fire, axe and chainsaw allow. In Thailand the once vast forests of teak, rosewood and other highly-valuable tropical hardwoods are now mostly memory. In Malaysia the situation, thanks to a more active conservation policy, seems better. But even there controversy rages both inside and outside government circles over serious forestry and environmental abuses, making it difficult to define how healthy, or unhealthy, Malaysian forestry really is.

A killer fire Malaysia, through its two huge, timber-rich states of Sabah and Sarawak, shares the island of Borneo with Indonesia, and thus is also menaced by the killer fires of Kalimantan. The memory of the gigantic Kalimantan fire of 19B3 haunts both countries. In that fire, Indonesia lost three million hectares, an area of prime tropical forests as large as Holland. A conservative estimate of the monetary loss, figured at only US$10 000 per hectare, comes to US$10 billion, minimum. No nation, East or West, North or South, rich or poor, can afford that kind of forest catastrophe, to say nothing of the local, Asian and world environment. The blame for the periodic Kalimantan fires lies as much with nature as with man. Kalimantan is a vast place, sparsely inhabited except along the coasts, and its primeval woods and jungles are among the last of the world's great tropical rain forests. Yet, like parts of Amazonia, it often suffers from dust-dry drought. With drought comes danger.

A single spark from a farmer's field, from the briefest bolt of summer lightning, from the itinerant migratory bands of slash-and burn agriculture practitioners, whether primitive local tribespeople or economic refugees from jammed-to-bursting Java - any of these can set off a calamity. In an area as huge and as little developed as Kalimantan, the whole of the Indonesian army could not adequately patrol the entirety of its deep and brooding forests.

The government's own drive to take more people from acutely overcrowded Java and place them on virgin stretches of the "outer islands" (see "Troubles of transmigration", p. 38) itself contributes to the periodicity of the killer fires. "The world's farmers past and present have always used fire as a l tool, both for opening up agricultural areas and for enriching them", said an environment specialist from the Ministry of Forestry.

"Where bulldozers and other forest-clearing equipment are not available, fire is the easiest and fastest way to open an area for cultivation. It is easy to say, 'well, why not evict these forest destroying farmers?” But they too are citizens and they too must eat.

"Their periodic and repeated burning-off of stubble, stumps, weeds, grasses and other unwanted inhibiting material allows the farmer to plow the phosphorus-rich ashes into the soil, thus fertilizing it. Yet, as Prometheus discovered, fire, though indispensable to man, is difficult - sometimes utterly impossible - to control. Fire of whatever nature, even a matchstick, is potentially both a liberator and a destroyer. Mankind has never completely mastered fire. Perhaps we never will". Change in thinking Until the great fire of 1983, Indonesia had more or less the same sort of "chop now, worry later" attitude as the Philippines and Thailand. Aside from the blaze, what made Indonesia change its thinking? "We finally woke up and got ourselves an intelligent forestry plan", Minister of Forestry Hasjrul Harahap, an energetic and candid Sumatran, said at a meeting in Jakarta. Harahap, with State Minister for Population and Environment Dr Emil Salim, has been among the major influences in giving forestry and the environment greater priority on the national agenda. "Our forests are simply too important to take for granted any more", Harahap said. "They do not, after all, manage themselves. Men must see to that". He admitted that Indonesia had made "too many mistakes in the management, or mismanagement, of our forestry sector", and needed a long-term "master plan". But where to get it? Among its many problems, Indonesia is woefully short of trained forestry personnel at practically all levels. Though the Ministry of Forestry employs some 41 000 people, only 4 225 hold university degrees, just 2 575 of them in forestry proper, and most of these are young men and women with little experience, especially field experience.

After much discussion and sometimes heated debate, the government decided to call on the World Bank for help. The bank agreed to loan US$34 million to finance five badly-needed projects: (1) a forest inventory, the country's first since colonial times; (2) forestry research, until recently all but non-existent in Indonesia; (3) conservation of the Wonogiri Watershed; (4) a project for existing and planned national parks and, (5) a "forestry studies" 8 project to, among other things, draw up the all-important master $ plan. The latter project was assigned to the FAO. "The first thing we had to do was find out just how much of Indonesia is still truly forest", said the FAO's Dr C. Chandrasekharan, appointed team leader of the multinational project staff. "The figures everyone inside and outside Indonesia had been quoting for the country's forest cover dated from the last years of the old Dutch regime. It seemed pretty obvious things would have changed since then". Changed indeed. After two years of study, the FAO team revised downward the standard figure of 144 million hectares of forest lands to 107 479 000 for the entire country, with only 39 275 300 ha of true production forests. Other forests with production "potential" came to 18 115 200 ha, tidal forests to 2 149 400, nature reserves and conservation areas to 14 421 800, and all other wooded areas, including protected forests, totalling 33517300ha.

Jolted by figures Initial publication of these figures jolted the Indonesians. No one had expected a drop of anything like that magnitude. Eyebrows went up. Some officials got angry. Yet the team's conclusions are hard to dispute. The foresters carrying out the project, employing the latest computer technology, surveyed all of the available forestry literature, in several languages, as well as the cutting and loss estimates from every region of the country. More than 3 000 books old and new on Indonesian forests were fed into the computers, plus that many again studies and local surveys. Nothing like it had ever been done before in Indonesia. In fact, it has been done in few countries, rich or poor. Since beginning its work in 1988, the FAO team has turned up quite a few forestry facts, some pleasing, others less so, (but all hard to debate on other than emotional grounds) that were "news" to the Indonesians. For example:

during the early 1960s, Indonesian timber production was confined mostly to teak on Java and a limited number of valuable species in the more accessible natural forests of the outer islands. Since then forestry activities have moved out of Java almost entirely, to the outer islands;
annual log production has increased during the same period from below two million cubic metres to 36 million m³, probably the biggest increase registered in any tropical nation. Fully 97 to 98 per cent of the logs come from the natural forests of the outer islands;
there has been an enormous increase in the number of wood-processing units, especially sawmills and plywood mills, and in the volume of manufactured wood products;
as the national population swelled from 97 million in 1961 to 165 million in 1985 and an estimated 185 million in 1991, this along with the rise in income has led to an enormous increase of wood product sales and production within Indonesia itself. Seventy per cent of the sawn wood and 14.5 per cent of wood-based panels are now consumed domestically;
between 1961 and 1987, domestic sawn timber consumption per 100 inhabitants increased from 18 m³ a year to 38.2; panel products from 0.1 metres to 7.3; paper and paperboard from 0.6 kilograms to 4.6. Total consumption of fuelwood for cooking and heating in 1987 stood at l l 5 m³, a figure bound to grow as the population inexorably zooms upward;
trade in forest products during the years 1961 to 1988 increased several fold. Exports for 1988 amounted to 5.25 million m³ Of plywood and 2.8 million of sawn wood. In 1988, export earnings from forest products for the first time topped US$ 3 billion;
overall employment in the forestry sector in 1988 was 300 000 people and growing. This does not include those employed in collecting and processing non-wood forest products such as rattan;
thanks to the vastness of its immense, if diminishing, natural forests in Kalimantan, Irian Jaya, Sumatra and Sulawesi, the great green mother lung now enjoys a "clear comparative advantage in tropical hardwood production and trade in tropical hardwood products".

Commenting on the latter point, Chandrasekharan added: "Indonesia now has no real competitors. It has captured the number one spot in the world market for tropical forest products". Of the team's findings, only one has been seriously contested. Its report estimates annual forest losses at 900 000 ha - easily the highest in Asia, or anywhere outside Amazonia - and potentially ruinous to Indonesia's "green gold mine". The Ministry of Forestry maintains, with some heat, that this is a major exaggeration. National annual loss of forests is closer to 600 000 ha, its spokesmen insist. But they concede that even this figure is higher than anybody else's and is menacingly wasteful. The FAO team's rebuttal is simple: if you accept all of the report's other conclusions and the evidence on which they rest, how can you deny this single conclusion - unflattering though it may be - that derives from the same body of evidence? Though a clear difference of opinion, it is treated as a "gentleman's disagreement" and has not hampered cooperation. The basic plan stands and is being carried out with minimal friction between national government and international body.

For whose benefit? That is precisely the problem, charge many conservationists and non governmental organizations (NGOs), both inside and outside the country. The plan, they insist, is a cosy agreement between government and international experts, who are not attuned to the interests of ordinary people. The NGOs especially, powerful because they represent nationwide groups with considerable political clout, challenge the plan at its most basic level, asking "for whose benefit is it designed?" Is it for the forest industry in particular, most of which is controlled by a handful of multi-millionaires? Or is it for some vague and loosely defined goal of national development whose abstract beneficiaries are all but impossible to identify? Or is it, as the NGOs demand it should be, for the people - especially the people of the areas from which the timber is being extracted? "So far we have gotten no real answers, just governmental gobbledygook", said an NGO official from Jakarta, on a trip to northern Sumatra with other NGO leaders. They had come there to protest the establishment of the country's newest, largest and most modern pulp and paper mill.

To say that such persistent protests, increasingly vociferous and ever-more public, irritate the Ministry of Forestry is an understatement. More than one ranking ministry official has lost his temper trying to "dialogue" with aggressive and insistent NGO representatives. Among other criticisms, the NGOs maintain that the national plan still allows too much cutting and does not make sufficient replanting mandatory. They'd like the plan to concentrate more on upgrading the living standards and welfare of Indonesia's rural millions in general, and its forest dwellers in particular. They further complain that the plan is weak in forest fire protection, as damaging to the nation's agriculture as to its forests, and that not enough is being done to train local populations in how best to protect and benefit from their own community forest resources. Yet another generalized complaint, one that strikes an emotional nerve from Sumatra to Kalimantan to Sulawesi to Irian Jaya and all the myriad islands in between, is the allegation that the national forest industries are mainly engaged "in further draining the resources of the outer islands into Java". "Java produces the bulk of our politicians", a disgruntled NGO local chief said. "Java comes in first, second and third place in all our so-called national endeavors, and the rest of us do well to make fourth, fifth or sixth place. It is not fair". Some of the plan's critics go so far as to call it just another example of the "internal colonialism" they claim is now one of the major menaces facing a majority of the peoples of the Third World. In fairness, however, it should be pointed out that despite its relatively small size, well below 10 per cent of the national territory, Java houses about 110 million of Indonesia's approximately 185 million people. Java is still the country's bread-basket, and without its crops the inhabitants of the outer islands might be hard-pressed to find themselves a meal. Finally, the more internationally-minded and sophisticated of the plan's critics question the whole theory of development as expounded by the World Bank, the United Nations specialized agencies, and the increasingly interlocked interests of global business. "This is a Western banker's view of development", said one especially articulate, if irate, critic, "and a nine teenth-century view at that. The bankers and their short sighted supporters believe that money is the measure of all things. They believe that big bucks alone, if thrown around enough, will put everything right. This is the old, discredited 'trickle-down' theory, thinly disguised under an afterthought of half-baked 'green' rhetoric. Our governments, or the handful of families that run them, blindly follow the bankers' lead, partly because they have no ideas of their own and partly out of personal greed. However you cut it, under this development strategy, the people lose".

A healthy sign Despite such harsh, perhaps overly extreme criticism, the mere fact that a plan has been put in place and national debate over it is ongoing is a healthy sign. Since 1967, when the government began encouraging private investment in developing the nation's forests, the number of forest concessions has gone up every year. There are now 562 private forest concessions, a few of them covering from half a million to a million hectares, totalling 60 million ha and distributed over 18 of Indonesia's 27 provinces. State enterprises, or the "public sector", hold only 2.3 million ha of forest lands, less than four per cent of the national total. "Some of these concessions are extremely well-run", Chandrasekharan said. "But too many are also poorly managed and cause a lot of unnecessary waste. And too few do enough replanting in either quantity or quality. "There are still many problems to be settled between the government and the concessionaires. How long a lease should they be given? How does performance compare with monetary gain? And perhaps above all, how does the economic health, or lack of it, mesh with the overall economic performance of the country? Like the debates over the plan itself, these are important questions not yet fully answered. "But at least Indonesia has made a good start. Few tropical nations, in Asia or elsewhere, can make that boast". The assessment is unquestionably a hopeful one. Yet, no matter how much more professional or realistic the thinking of Indonesian forestry policy has become, one has only to experience the haze over neighboring Kuala Lumpur to wonder about the future. Until the fires in the Eastern mother lung can be contained with some degree of certainty, environmentalists and foresters throughout the East, indeed the world, must continue to tremble.

Troubles of transmigration

It's been nearly a century since Indonesia embarked on what may be one of the most ambitious experiments in organized human migration the world has ever known, an undertaking whose historical importance puts it on the same level - in terms of both opportunities for growth and potential for disaster - as the Homestead Movement that opened the American West, or Brazil's attempts to settle the Amazon.

Transmigration - the relocation of thousands of families to planned settlements in the sparsely populated outer islands of the archipelago - has been a prominent feature of Indonesia's development since 1905, when the country was still under colonial rule. Conceived by the Dutch as a way of creating a labor pool for plantations in Sumatra, the program has served succeeding governments in many different ways.

But in the past 10 years it has run afoul of powerful environmental and human rights lobbies. Major international development agencies like the World Bank, chastened by criticism of their involvement, have frozen financing for new projects. Development workers are left asking what will happen to the thousands of people struggling to carve out an existence in remote settlements.

Fifth largest population

Indonesia's population of close to 185 million makes it the fifth largest nation on earth. Yet roughly 100 million of its people live on only seven per cent of the archipelago's land, resulting in a population density of 800 per sq km in Java.

Since independence, transmigration has been a key instrument of nation-building. In the 1950s, President Sukarno called for the resettlement of 1.5 million people a year, saying it was "a matter of life and death for the Indonesian nation". Although the program never came close to realizing such targets, it served other purposes just as important to the new nation's security. In the 1960s, under the slogan "One Unity of Security and Defence", settlements were strategically located close to the frontiers of neighboring countries in west and north Sumatra, north Kalimantan, north Sulawesi and east Irian Jaya. Most of the settlers were Javanese, and in some remote provinces they outnumbered natives. This so-called "Javanization" of local populations was seen by some as an attempt by the central government to suppress opposition in outlying areas.

Nowadays, however, most transmigrants are young families from the large population of poor, landless farm laborers in the countryside. They see the program as a chance to improve their lives, the possibility of owning their own land being a powerful enticement. For many years the number of applicants has far exceeded program quotas.

Once they make the decision to join, families have no control over where they will be sent. Each is given transportation to a homestead site, three hectares of land to farm, a small house and a 12-month supply of food, tools, seed and fertilizer. Support is withdrawn gradually, and at the end of five years settlements are supposed to be self-sustaining. They are then handed over to the provincial government as local villages.

Until the late 1970s the program's impact on the vast outer islands of the archipelago remained relatively light, involving a total of fewer than 1.3 million transmigrants. This changed dramatically with the appearance of the World Bank on the scene in 1976. The bank became the major source of international assistance, supplying both technical expertise and loans. In addition to providing more than US$ 635 million since 1976, the bank has even managed a number of settlements, intended as models, from the planning stages through to the housing of settlers.

In the eight years between 1979 and 1986 an estimated 4.5 million people were resettled. At its peak in the mid-1980s, transmigration was responsible for moving three-quarters of a million people a year from the overcrowded islands of Java, Bali, Madura and Lombok to new settlements in the sparsely inhabited outer islands of Sumatra, Sulawesi, Kalimantan and Irian Jaya.

A bete noire

But the exodus soon outpaced the government's ability to effectively manage it. In the mid-1980s, transmigration became the bete noire of powerful international human rights and environmental lobbies such as Friends of the Earth and Survival International, which charged that settlers were responsible for widespread deforestation, soil erosion, the displacement of native people and destruction of their indigenous cultures. Critics argued that the program went against the bank's own stated policy of endeavoring "to ensure that each project affecting renewable natural resources does not exceed the regenerative capacities of the environment" and not financing "projects that cause severe or irreversible environmental deterioration including species without mitigatory measures acceptable to the bank".

Soon embarrassing questions were being asked in the legislative assemblies of those Western countries which are the principal backers of the World Bank. Was the bank "financing ecological disaster" as the 1988 Friends of the Earth report claimed? Quietly Western governments began withdrawing support for further settlements. Routine applications for project loans became bogged down in technical discussions and endless consultants' reports.

In fact, some of the criticisms were either exaggerated or simply untrue. For example, it was claimed that transmigration was a principal agent of tropical forest degradation in the outer islands. But detailed mapping of the archipelago and its resources has shown that in almost all provinces land allocated to sponsored transmigration amounts to less than one per cent of the total forest area.

International condemnation has tended to focus on Irian Jaya at the extreme east end of the archipelago. Critics have focused on the Javanization of the territory, whose local people have strong ethnic links with neighboring Papua New Guinea. But, while Irian Jaya possesses the largest tract of undeveloped flat land in all of Indonesia, transmigration sites occupy only two per cent of cleared land and have received less than 125 000 settlers.

The facts were wrong

"While some of the criticisms had an element of truth in them, the majority were exaggerated. The facts as reported were wrong", said one consultant. But "it made the World Bank very nervous, and I think we're still feeling the reverberations of that attack. It's harder to get money for transmigration out of most agencies now. The Asian Development Bank, European Economic Community, even the British government, who have been part of the program since 1980, even they have got cold feet and cut back their program. They won't admit it - that it's because of transmigration's bad international press - but unofficially they would agree. It's a bit like a courtroom where an objection is sustained but the damage is done".

Badgered by critics, the government of Indonesia did a poor job of defending its program. Part of the problem, officials admit, is that the government itself did not have a very clear picture of what was going on during the peak period of resettlement. Many of the sites are located in remote areas, reachable only by boat, plane or helicopter. When settlers were being sent out at a rate of 100 000 a month, there were simply not the human resources to monitor all the activity.

Spontaneous transmigrants

To make matters worse, many of the settlers during this period were not even part of the official program. Many so-called spontaneous transmigrants, or "spontans", received little or no state support. They could choose their own destination and, because they migrated and established homesteads without help or guidance, the planning of settlements was thrown into chaos.

About 30 per cent of settlers between 1969 and 1974 were spontans. By the mid- 1980s, two out of three families were moving under their own initiative. It had been one of the objectives of the organizers to encourage people to make the move without state support, but having started the ball rolling, the question became: "How do we get it stopped?"

Nowhere are the problems of spontaneous transmigration more apparent than in Lampung Province of south Sumatra, where more than two million spontans have settled since 1971. There the Pandang-Sugihan Wildlife Reserve was designated a protected area in 1983 to save a herd of 200 elephants. The management plan called for the canal entrances to the reserve to be closed off to stop illegal logging by spontans. But the plan was never implemented. Boats full of spontans are still entering to systematically remove all the usable timber. In the process they are damaging the habitat to the extent that elephants are increasingly invading the neighboring Air Sugihan transmigration settlement.

The budget slashed

Another blow came when world oil prices plummeted from US$28 a barrel in 1983 to US$9.83 in 1986, cutting deeply into government revenues. The Ministry of Transmigration saw its budget slashed 44 per cent in 1986 and another 54 per cent in 1987, further crippling its ability to monitor new sites and provide adequate extension support.

Meanwhile, there was mounting evidence of problems within existing settlements. Some were completely cut off because roads built to dry season standards had washed out in the first rains. Settlers were unable to get their produce to markets or to obtain new supplies. Other sites had not had proper soil testing done. Settlers arrived to find the land sterile or the water unfit to drink. In some areas local people had not been fairly compensated for land taken to build settlements. Quarrels erupted along ethnic lines as locals rejected the Javanization of their provinces.

In 1987, the government, under pressure from all sides including its major ally the World Bank, brought a virtual halt to new settlement and undertook a survey of some 183 sites which were known to be experiencing difficulties. The team of international consultants found some 40 settlements in a state of crisis and recommended urgent attention. Their 1989 report is a frank account of the settlers' problems.

"Isolation and hopelessness"

" management and agricultural extension service generally lack the necessary skills and experience to perform their tasks satisfactorily. This initial problem seems to be compounded by a lack of financial and technical support. Low salaries, lack of adequate transport, equipment, operating budgets, demonstration and training material, etc. seem to instil a feeling of isolation and hopelessness....

"The availability of farm inputs constitutes a serious problem in most sites. The quality and quantity of the required inputs as well as the timing of their availability are far from optimum.

"...many transmigrants arrive on site with an incorrect impression regarding entitlements and prospects, e.g. that they are to receive one hectare of sawah land (irrigated rice field). This erroneous expectation results from a mixture of misinformation and misunderstanding which started and/or was reinforced during recruitment in the home village. The combined effect of negative influence and unbounded hopes in part reflects the relatively high rates of desertion and offfarm employment".

Other problems included poor roads, inadequate health and education services, insufficient bank credit and overly abundant crop pests ranging from wild pigs and rats to monkeys and elephants. But the most explosive finding was that soil fertility was too low in most areas to support anything but subsistence agriculture, calling into doubt the basic viability of the crop-based farming model upon which the entire transmigration edifice had been built.

Settlements stagnate

The survey discovered that only about half of a site's development potential was being harnessed. Settlers were having such a hard time growing subsistence crops on the hectare of land around their houses that they had been unable to tackle their other two hectares. Settlements stagnated as time after time the food crop model broke down.

Until this century, vast areas of the archipelago had very small native populations. The steep volcanic hillsides and swampy lowlands make agriculture difficult. In the late 1980s the British government funded a major study of the country's resources. The study showed there was good reason why these areas did not support large human populations in the past - that vast areas of the archipelago are simply not suitable for cultivation.

The food crop model rested on the flawed assumption that soils in these outer islands were suitable for crop-raising.

In their recent study "Towards a New Home", Karl Fasbender and Susanne Ese predict that many transmigrants whose settlements are located in areas of poor soils will be forced to resort to shifting cultivation, a form of agriculture that damages the environment when practised intensively.

Consultants had concluded as early as 1986 that "...the cleared one hectare allocation may just provide basic subsistence but will never provide the capital needed to develop further". Over at the World Bank, officials were beginning to doubt the expert advice they were getting. "One of the basic problems of the old projects", one official confided, "was that there was some dream that you could get people to go in, and they would raise food crops and be self-sufficient farmers and happy peasants. Frankly, none of us in the world want to be happy peasants except those of us in the West who have enough money to retire to the country and be a happy peasant".

A fundamental shift

The consultants have now proposed a fundamental shift away from food crop farming and toward a nucleus estate model based on tree crops such as coconut, rubber and oil palm. The settlement would become a large plantation, and individual farmers would produce a cash crop which would be marketed by a centralized management authority. Three years ago, the Ministry of Transmigration asked the World Bank for US$150 million to implement the new plan' celled Second Stage Development, in settlements where crop farming has failed. Funding has yet to be approved.

When asked about the Second Stage Development Plan, one World Bank official said it is still just a proposal. "We did a partial appraisal two years ago. We did a follow-up appraisal one-and-a-half years ago. And there's talk now that maybe we'll do another appraisal this spring".

Since 1987, new transmigration has virtually come to a halt as planners try to grapple with past mistakes and convince international donor agencies that new methods such as tree farming can work. What seems certain is that, with or without a state-sponsored program and regardless of world opinion, the flow of people toward the rural regions of the outer islands will continue and even increase.

Treating toxic ground

Where heavy metals are concerned the best cure is prevention
by Winfried E.H. Blum

Our civilization's excessive use of fossil fuels and other raw materials mined from deep within the earth has broken a natural equilibrium that lasted for millions of years, and raised the threat of global pollution of soils and even entire ecosystems by heavy metals. The danger the world now faces cannot be overemphasized. Once contaminated, many soils will not be usable to produce food or fodder for generations to come.

The problem is so enormous that it can only be tackled through international cooperation. The present state of soil pollution must be assessed worldwide and its causes and impacts analysed. Ongoing pollution must be supervised and monitored. Heavy metal emissions must be reduced or prevented - and contaminated soils treated to the limited extent possible with present technology.

We are faced with a true emergency.

Genetically adapted

It is important to understand how this situation arose.

For millions of years, rocks at the earth's surface were the only source from which heavy metals were released into the soil. This happened largely through weathering by rain, wind and other processes. Organisms and plant roots transferred the metals from the soil to the above-ground biomass of terrestrial and partially aquatic ecosystems. From there, the elements were recycled back to the soil through the food chain or other turnover processes. Having evolved in this setting, organisms living on the base of the biomass, including people, were genetically adapted to the natural heavy metal concentrations through the steady state equilibriums between uptake and recycling.

This natural cycle was severely disturbed in the last half of the 19th century when heavy metals bound in fossil energy, such as coal, and non-renewable raw materials, such as mining ores, were extracted in increasing amounts from deep and inert positions of the inner earth and distributed on the land surface directly or following processing. The situation worsened dramatically when consumption of raw materials and fossil energy, including oil and gas, began skyrocketing in the 20th century, especially since the 1950s. If this continues, the inevitable result will be global pollution of most terrestrial ecosystems and soils by heavy metals - deposited from the atmosphere, through local contamination of the water cycle, from the dumping of waste and sewage sludge, from contaminated manure and from the use of fertilizers, phytosanitary and other products in agriculture and forestry.

Because soils act as a final repository for heavy metals - and this is a non-reversible process - it seems only a matter of time until protective soil functions, such as filter and buffer capacities, are overcharged and heavy metals are released into the soil solution. From there, they will be taken up by soil organisms and plant roots and leached into the groundwater. The result will be poisoning of soil organisms, pollution of the food chain and deterioration of groundwater quality.

Defining heavy metals

Heavy metals are usually defined as metals with densities larger than five grams per cubic centimetre. This group comprises about 70 elements, including the familiar lead, silver and mercury, but only some 20 species are important to ecology. They are essential micronutrients for animals and plants but can also be toxic, and both toxicity and necessity vary greatly from metal to metal and from organism to organism. (For example, Figure page 44 shows the wide range of effects between predominant growth promotion or growth inhibition of plants by four different heavy metals.)

Moreover, positive or negative (toxic) effects depend not only on the type of element and its reactive concentration but also on the genetically based physiological behavior of different organisms. This has to be taken into account when considering problems caused by heavy metals in soils and terrestrial ecosystems.

The content of heavy metals in soils derives from natural sources as well as from anthropogenic (man-made) pollution.

The natural contents vary widely and can be very high in soils that developed on special rock forms. Other natural sources are forest fires, soil transport and deposition by wind, water and volcanic eruptions.

Anthropogenic heavy metal pollution of soils happens along three general pathways: the air, the water cycle and mechanical transport.

Global and regional atmospheric pollution is caused by emissions from industry, traffic, power stations, waste and refuse incineration and is more difficult to monitor and control than pollution in the water cycle and through mechanical transport. The amount of heavy metals deposited in the soil, both locally and regionally, depends on how far the soil is from the emission source and the type of its vegetation cover. Wooded areas receive two to five times larger depositions than agricultural ones, because forests filter solid and gaseous emissions and aerosols. Man-made acidification of forest soils also leads to increased mobility of heavy metals, through leaching into the soil solution. This is not as serious in agricultural soils, which have generally higher pH values and benefit from liming, as well as applications of fertilizer and manure.

Industry and agriculture

Specific and locally controlled depositions of heavy metals are caused by industrial and other contaminated effluents as well as by dumping or recycling of refuse and sewage sludge from industry, urban utilities and other sources. The high quantity of heavy metals used in industrial processes is the most important source of heavy metal contamination of soils. In agricultural land use, the worst offenders are sewage sludge, phosphate fertilizers and contaminated manure, but plant protection products may also contribute. Because the most severe pollution by heavy metals is usually caused by contaminated refuse material, especially sewage sludge, many countries now ban their spreading on agricultural land.

Fertilizers produced from rock phosphates contain on average five to 40 parts per million of cadmium. Therefore, the average annual input of cadmium in agricultural soils amounts to two to six grams per hectare. Special P-fertilizers like Thomas phosphate contain nearly no cadmium, but large amounts of vanadium and chromium.

Pig manure is usually contaminated by copper and zinc from copper supplements to improve food conversion. Application of liquid pig manure can cause severe soil pollution in 20 to 30 years, especially in areas with high livestock densities.

Heavy metal pollution by plant protection products is decreasing because organic products are replacing most of the inorganic pesticides like cadmium-containing bordeaux mixtures (a fungicide made by reaction of copper, sulphate, lime and water) and Pb-arsenides.

Reactions in soils

The binding capacity of soils for heavy metals in general is very high. The heavy metal reactions in soils include mechanical, biological and physicochemical processes between pollutants and the solid and liquid phases of the soil. These processes are extremely complex because soils consist of heterogeneous mixtures of solid organic and inorganic constituents, such as humic substances, clay minerals, oxides of aluminum, iron and manganese as well as soluble components. Soils also vary considerably in pH and redox (oxidation reduction) conditions, which have a major effect on the reaction process. Therefore, a metal may form different species with specific soil components, depending on the type of bonds and the bonding energy.

Within the main functional parameters and reaction processes of heavy metals in soils, the three processes work this way:

mechanical filtration of liquid and solid heavy metal compounds in the porous space of the soil;
uptake of heavy metals by soil organisms, especially plant roots and microorganisms, as a process of biological binding. Uptake occurs from the liquid phase and depends on the quantity and quality of the soil biomass as well as on soil pH, redox and other parameters;
most importantly, the physico-chemical processes of: adsorption and desorption by ion-exchange at the surface of humic substances, clay minerals or oxides of iron, aluminum, manganese and others;
complexation by humic substances (strong complex bonds);
occlusion in oxides of iron, aluminum, manganese and others, mainly through co-precipitation;
structural binding in clay minerals and oxides through diffusion of heavy metals into the crystal structure;
precipitation and dissolution of defined compounds, such as carbonates, phosphates and sulphites.

A program of action

Action to save the soil has to start with an assessment of the actual state of pollution and an analysis of its causes and impacts. The assessment should systematically cover the total surface of entire states or regions, using methods that will later allow data to be compared. The need to standardize methods is urgent because, even where efforts have been made to assess the situation at regional, national and international levels, generally accepted, comprehensive concepts are lacking.

There are both direct and indirect approaches to the analysis of soil pollution. The direct approach is the chemical analysis of heavy metals in the soil. Indirect approaches are input-output analyses or analyses of the impacts of soil contamination on soil organisms, plants or groundwater. These give indications but no data on the exact concentration of heavy metals in the soil at a given time.

The causes of soil pollution can be determined, or at least assessed, by spatial evaluation (vertical and horizontal) of pollution data and sources of pollution. By establishing a network of permanent sampling plots, pollution could be monitored continuously by repeated soil analysis and comparison of results.

Additional data are needed to assess contamination risks, especially physical data on the texture, structure, water absorption capacity of the soil and biological and climatic information. Time series of chemical analyses from permanent sampling networks will make it possible to assess future impacts.

The analytical data, especially when based on time series, allow the supervision, monitoring and prediction of pollution and impacts.

Supervision and monitoring, the second part of a program of action, are urgently needed to convince public officials, decision-makers and politicians to enact laws and regulations to reduce heavy metal emissions. It will take international cooperation to harmonize methods, exchange data and define common threshold values.

Preventive action, the third part of the program, should focus on reducing or preventing heavy metal emissions, especially from sources of widespread, diffuse contamination on an international scale. National measures should be enforced to reduce or ban specific and locally controlled pollution in the water cycle or spread through mechanical transport. Because heavy metal pollution is not reversible by present methods, the only way to prevent it is to reduce or eliminate heavy metals at the source. An outstanding example is given by Sweden, which has prohibited the use of cadmium, replacing the element by other less polluting products.

Treatment options limited

Possibilities for treating contaminated soils, the fourth and final part of the program, are still very limited, and the treatments are extremely expensive. Large-scale decontamination is not presently feasible because of the intensive binding of heavy metals in soils and expense involved. Only two practical alternatives exist:

dilution of heavily contaminated soils by mixing them with non-contaminated matter that has high sorption capacity, such as oxides and clays. Mixing with organic matter is less efficient because of its biodegradability; adjustment of the soil pH and of the redox conditions. This can be done by liming or aeration in the case of low redox potentials. The heavy metal concentration remains the same, but the binding capacity is increased and the mobility of the heavy metals in the soil is reduced.

Such newly developed methods as extracting heavy metals through plant species with high root uptake capacity are not yet sufficiently cleared or are not applicable under all conditions.

Prevention remains the best cure - and the sooner the better if we want to preserve the capacity to feed the burgeoning population of the 21 st century.

Unexpected harvest

Non-traditional crops have yielded an unlooked-for bonus in Belize
by Frank Long

For decades, developing countries trying to spark economic expansion have pinned their hopes and aspirations on industrial development, especially manufacturing. The "bad old days" of being tied to the bouncing ball of the world market for a single agricultural commodity, like sugar or coffee, were a nightmare. Continuing to depend on farming seemed backward, pan of an economic past that the developing world wanted to escape.

But Belize has turned this conventional wisdom on its head. In the five years from 1984 to 1989, when falling sugar prices threatened to weaken what had been the backbone of the economy, the tiny Central American country's growth was unprecedented - averaging seven per cent per year. It wasn't due to humming factories or production lines, but in large pan to sales of two non-traditional agricultural crops: bananas and citrus fruit.

Others, struggling to escape single-crop dependency, should consider Belize's experience.

Neglect of agriculture

The farm sector's role in development is a favorite focus of debate. While agriculture is admittedly a source not only of food, but also of employment, earned income, foreign exchange and savings for capital accumulation, the emphasis since the Second World War has increasingly been on manufacturing as the engine of growth. Initial efforts at industrialization for import substitution in Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa reflected the trend. The current thrust in export-led growth repeats this bias, since Export Processing Zones in developing countries tend to engage mainly in assembly-oriented manufacturing for world trade.

In both cases, special incentives have been offered to firms to stimulate manufacturing investment and speed the pace of economic growth. As pan of the export processing effort, a number of countries have recently begun to emphasize the importance of services. Agriculture has generally been neglected.

Except in Belize. The former British colony, with a population of less than 200 000, became independent in the early 1980s. Its economy had traditionally been dominated by sugar, but was faced with a setback not long after independence when growth began to lag in the face of worldwide recession. The slowdown accentuated in 1982-83, abated slightly in 1984, but still remained substantially below 1980's economic performance. Not only was the world in recession, but the Mexican debt crisis caused a partial collapse of Belize's exeports - near-neighbor Mexico is an important buyer of Belize's goods.

Simultaneously, beginning in 1981, sugar prices started a downward slide. The sugar export price index dropped from 96 in 1981 to 64 in 1983. A decline in the US sugar quota also forced Belize to sell its sugar on the world market, where prices are substantially lower than the guaranteed prices offered in the United States and Europe. This led to a subsequent drop in sugar output, with the main sugar companies cutting back on production. In 1980, sugar had accounted for nearly 60 per cent of the total value of domestic exports - US$48 million. By 1984, it accounted for only US$33 million, or 45 per cent of total exports.

Where overall exports had grown by nearly 50 per cent in 1980, they plunged to minus 8.7 per cent in 1981, minus 19 per cent in 1982 and rose only to nine per cent in 1983. Re-exports were at minus 30 per cent in 1981, and minus 59 per cent by 1983.

This had negative consequences in terms of growth, as well as jobs. Unemployment averaged 14 per cent, running as high as 24 per cent in some districts (Stann Creek). Average female unemployment was estimated at 20 per cent.

Contrasting record

In contrast with this disappointing record, the period between 1985-89 saw economic growth in Belize reach the respectable average of seven per cent per year. A significant part of the credit can be traced to the 1985-89 Development Plan's advocacy of increasing the output of non-traditional crops. With sugar's importance declining, other commodities offered better income prospects. Citrus and bananas were singled out because of what looked like favorable market conditions.

In a small, open economy like that of Belize, world trade must be the engine of growth, since the limited domestic market is unable on its own to provide enough stimulus to make development self-sustaining.

Between 1984-89, sugar exports at constant prices stood at US$33 million. At the same time, however, citrus exports rose from US$9.8 million to US$14 million, and bananas from US$3.1 million to an extraordinary US$ 13 million.

The agricultural production index shows sugar output actually declined from one million long tons in 1984 to 777 000 long tons in 1988. The volume index dropped from 100 to 76. The opposite was true of oranges, whose output in the same period rose from 1.1 to 1.3 million boxes. The volume index jumped from 100 to 265. As for bananas, output rose from 555 000 to 1.4 million boxes, and the volume index from 100 to 251.

An indication that the future of citrus and bananas may continue to be an optimistic one was contained in official projections to 1997. These showed sugar exports barely rising above their 1984 level, with citrus rising to US$51 million and bananas to US$73 million. Clearly sugar will remain an important factor, but non-traditional crops are growing in importance.

It would be a mistake, of course, to attribute Belize's recent success solely to these two crops. Manufactured exports, chiefly garments and tourism were also driving forces behind the economic expansion. Tourist receipts, for instance, rose from US$11 million in 1984 to US$26 million in 1988, while garments accounted for nearly US$30 million in 1988. Further fish exports also rose.

Nevertheless, the most spectacular increase for agriculture was that of citrus and bananas.

Key factors

The key factors affecting the growth of Belize's non-traditional agriculture can be summarized:

Investment concessions - Between 1985-89, 47 investment concessions were granted to agriculture, most for bananas and citrus. Of the total investment under concessions of B$ 82 million, B$41.8 million went to agriculture. Concessions granted to both local and foreign companies for farm investment included tax relief, duty-free concessions of machinery and equipment and the like. More than half of the 2 100 new jobs created by concessions went to agriculture, and most of these to non-traditional agriculture.

Such concessions are offered largely to private business, and the emphasis on non-traditional crops stemmed from the simple fact that most applicants wanted to raise bananas or citrus. Their preference resulted from their anticipation of a guaranteed world market for these crops, as compared to others, by the mid-1980s. The two commodities commanded higher prices in both the US Caribbean Bassin Initiative (CBI) and UK (Lommarkets.

Belize's 1985-89 Development Plan recognized agro-industrial growth as a priority, noting that industrialization was interpreted as "a method of organization of production applicable to all sectors of the economy and particularly for the viability of export industries". It also recognized the importance of a diversified agricultural base in view of the vulnerability associated with undue reliance on one export crop. A developed marketing infrastructure for exports was already in place for citrus and bananas, but not for other non-traditional crops.

Increased acreage - More land was brought into production by private operators. The planted area for bananas, for example, increased from less than 900 acres in 1984 to 2500 acres by 1987. During this period, land under citrus cultivation increased from 12000 to 16 000 acres. At the same time, yields rose from 150 boxes per acre in 1983 to 275 boxes per acre in 1988. Significant jumps in yield were also recorded for bananas.
These yield increases stemmed from improved husbandry practices, especially in the area of pest control. Private farmers tilled more land because the fruits they were raising offered substantial assured market returns. Since Belize is relatively sparsely populated, bringing idle land under cultivation is a relatively cheap and easy matter, provided adequate infrastructure exists.

Privatization initiatives - The nontraditional sector saw several privatization initiatives in the mid-1980s. The Banana Control Board was divested of its commercial holdings. These were taken over by private enterprise, whose heavy investment in planted area included irrigation. Crop losses were thus reduced. The main UK international buying agent, through the board, also offered local producers higher prices. These resulted from a new pricing formula, partly reflecting buoyancy in the UK market, and helped boost domestic supply.

Duty-free access - CBI provisions allowing for duty-free access of Belize's exports to the United States benefited citrus products. The CBI came into effect in the mid-1980s. However, a major crop failure in Florida opened up the US market, which absorbs most of Belize's citrus exports. This was perhaps the chief reason for the rise in citrus exports during the period.

Compared to other non-traditional products - such as vegetables, other fruits and fish - citrus and bananas offered the greatest attraction to private investors. Apart from attractive prices, most exported citrus is processed by two factories into citrus concentrate. Hence there was a ready and organized market for farmers. Bananas also find a ready market once product quality reaches an acceptable standard. This is probably less true of fruits and vegetables. Fishing may also have ready markets, but requires high initial capital outlays, especially for deepwater activity. Trawlers and freezers are more costly than land, which in Belize is abundant.

Some drawbacks

The export success of non-traditional agriculture has essentially been a case of independent producers reacting intelligently to new market signals. But every success has its downside, and Belize's story is no exception. Several drawbacks should be noted.

First, citrus and banana production has been concentrated among a few large farms. Nearly 70 per cent of the land under citrus cultivation in Belize is located on 26 farms with total acreages of more than 50 acres. Smaller farmers, who are in the majority in Belize, own only 30 per cent of the land, usually the less fertile areas. This uneven distribution of ownership means that, in fact, agricultural growth has brought only limited gains to most farmers, raising fundamental questions of equity.

Working conditions on some large citrus and banana farms also leave much to be desired, especially in respect to migrant workers from neighboring countries. Poor pay, inadequate housing, poor sanitary and health conditions reportedly characterize conditions for many non-unionized migrant workers, and a shortage of local manpower is leading to their increasing use.

Finally, few links have been promoted between non-traditional agriculture and manufacturing - which suggests that great scope exists for increasing domestic value added from local agriculture. This in turn could boost national wealth and employment, while strengthening the country's overall economic structure.

Such lacunae in the 1985-89 experience indicate that agriculture in Belize would have been better served if equity, basic needs and structural issues were boldly incorporated into programs of agricultural change. That they weren't is attributable to the fact that the programs relied largely on market mechanisms for their momentum. The state took a basically "hands off" stance.

Both bananas and citrus have in the past benefited from preferential access to the European and US markets. If continued growth is to be assured, however, building on preferential market access in future will require non-traditional agriculture to increase its international price competitiveness. A recent review of the sector by this author suggests that considerable opportunity exists for increasing farm efficiency for citrus and bananas, particularly in terms of husbandry practices.

Yet another market opening may result from the recent spectacular growth in tourism. Local food production has barely begun to capitalize on this opportunity.

The full potential of non-traditional crops is yet to be tapped.