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close this bookCERES No. 121 (FAO Ceres, 1988, 50 p.)
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View the documentA loan to a woman... a direct way to address poverty
View the documentAlpaca, a symbol and a source of hope in the andes
View the documentEquines pull their weight
View the documentWood gets the high-tech treatment

A loan to a woman... a direct way to address poverty

by Farhana Haque

Sharifa lives in a small hut at the edge of her elderly parents' courtyard. She is about 36 but looks much older and has been a widow for six years. Her father, who owns only the tiny plot of land which holds his hut and yard, makes baskets; her mother works in the home of rich peasants They are too poor to feed their daughter and her two children. And far too poor to afford a dowry which would enable her to remarry. At first, Sharifa supported herself by working, like her mother, in other homes, sweeping and clay-plastering courtyards and floors, fetching water, grinding spices, and helping with paddy husking. When she worked for a well-to-do family, she was paid a "seer" (less than a kilo) of rice a day worth around Tk 6 ($0.30); when she worked for a relative, she got half a seer. In the best of times, she could feed her family twice a day: rice, salt, and water for breakfast, rice and greens or lentils for dinner; to have meat was rare and usually the greens were gathered in the form of weeds from the edges of paths and paddy fields.

Three years ago, Sharifa considered borrowing a few hundred taka from the "mohajon", the local moneylender, to buy herself a sari and some clothes for her children, but when she discovered that he charged 10 per cent interest a month, she changed her mind. She then made an arrangement through her father with the local merchant to whom he sold his baskets: the merchant gave her credit in the form of materials from which she wove mats, mats she then had to sell back to him. Sharifa spends long hours every day squatting outside her hut weaving - and hoping that now she could earn enough to feed and clothe herself and her children decently. She soon found, however, that she was not much better off than before nor more independent, for not only did the merchant pay her very low prices for her mats, but he also charged 50 per cent interest on the value of the materials he gave her. She was surviving - just - but also facing a spiraling debt which threatened to trap her for the rest of her life.

The women's burden. Sharifa's situation, with variations, is shared by a vast majority of rural women in Bangladesh. Not all are functionally heads of households, though widowhood, divorce, desertion, and the migration of men to cities in search of work have left millions of women as the sole or chief breadwinners for their families - and the numbers are growing. Not all are landless, unable to grow some of their own food, although at least 30 million rural people in the nation are. Not all are in debt to local merchants, moneylenders, or relatives, but most either must borrow from the informal credit market at exorbitant rates of interest or go without. And only a small minority have tried to set themselves up in some kind of income generating business.

However, all women in rural Bangladesh live in a male-dominated, purdah society which severely restricts the opportunities and options open to them for gainful employment and some measure of self-reliance. They all face, to a greater or lesser extent, social pressures not to work at anything but accepted household tasks; to do any other work is to risk being shunned or mocked by one's neighbours. It is no accident that in 1984 only 7 per cent of the national rural labour force were women. Even when a woman, out of desire or desperation, seeks some form of income-producing employment, her choice is very limited, partly because the village economy may offer little scope but largely because of the demands of purdah. Under purdah, women rarely should have contact with men outside their family or with the society outside their bari, or household. If they must earn, they should work at home or, like Sharifa and her mother, in the homes of richer neighbours. Discouraged by training and custom from working in the fields or outside the bari, they have traditionally found employment in the tedious, time-consuming process of parboiling, drying, and husking rice in dhekis or wooden mortar and pestles operated by foot". And even this form of work is decreasing sharply through the introduction of mechanized rice mills. According to a 1983 World Bank report, "between 1.4 million and 2 million women have already been replaced by rural rice mills, [while] annually another 400,000 women are being displaced with the construction of 700 new rice mills each year."

The failure of credit. It is in this general context that institutional rural credit for women in Bangladesh has operated - or, more accurately, has largely failed to operate. The various loan schemes launched by several commercial banks and the Bangladesh Krishi Bank, for example, have been only marginally successful both from the point of view of

An women in rural Bangladesh live in a male-dominated society that limits their chances to work and earn financial viability in effectively reaching the most needy groups among the rural poor, particularly women. They have generally been plagued by the problems which so often hamper or undermine institutional rural credit programmes in developing countries. Management costs are high because regulations or habit may require as much paperwork for small loans as for large and because large staffs are needed to serve a widely dispersed clientele. When artificially low interest rates are charged as an inducement to borrow, they may fail to cover the cost of the loan. Default rates are also high.

Too often, better-off borrowers familiar with formal banking monopolize the loans; this is especially likely when the criteria established for credit require collateral and thus eliminate as poor risks those most in need. The very poor, and particularly women, normally lack banking experience; ignorant or suspicious of formal "outside" institutions and their complicated regulations, they are reluctant to become involved in what they do not understand. If the bank branch is operated, as it usually is, by men or if it is outside their para, or neighbourhood, women are doubly hesitant. The result is that few of the country's rural credit programmes have directly benefited women - with one notable exception.

A glimmer of hope. That exception is the Grameen Bank. A good deal has been written about this innovative project started in 1976 by Dr Muhammed Yunus, a professor of Economics at the University of Chittagong, as an experiment in a single village and with a handful of borrowers. From that modest beginning, the Grameen Bank has expanded, with the financial support of the government and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), so that it is new a fully fledged bank whose almost 300 branches cover over 5 000 villages and gives loans to more than 200 000 desperately poor, functionally landless people - and with plans to reach close to a million borrowers by the end of 1989. The participation of women has grown dramatically over the years - from 30 per cent in 1980 to 69 per cent in 1986. In one district, over 85 percent of the loan recipients are women.

The number of women getting credit from the Grameen Bank is no accident but the result of a deliberate and sustained effort on the part of Dr Yunus and the Bank staff to reach this hitherto neglected segment of the rural destitute. Women in poor families, says Yunus, "live at the mercy of their men. They have all the obligations in the world but no rights, no security, no access to any activity that brings economic reward. They are treated as liabilities. But once a woman becomes an earning member of her family, her status in the family undergoes a positive change. She is less dependent on her husband and she is able to invest more in her children. They get clothes to wear or they start going to school. While acknowledging the strength of the socal forces which have kept rural Bangladesh women out of the marketplace, cut off from meaningful credit and dependent on men, Yunus believes that "a loan to a woman is the most effective kind of loan because you know that it goes directly to the children and the household. And that's the most direct way to address this problem of poverty."

The loans disbursed through the Grameen Bank are for any income generating activity, for they are designed to help borrowers become more economically self-sufficient, to allow them to substitute for the traditional vicious circle of "low income, low savings, low investment, low income" an expanding cycle of ´´low income, credit, investment, more income, more investment, more income." Any enterprise that seems to have a reasonable chance of success is acceptable, and women have chosen dozens of different activities.

The most popular by far are ventures involving livestock - raising milk cows, goats, and poultry - which account for a full 60 per cent of all loans to women. Almost a quarter of the credit taken by women goes toward setting themselves up in the business of paddy or pulse husking through the purchase of husking machines or raw materials. A wide variety of manufactures and trade make up the rest: handloom weaving; training. Not surprisingly, since they are generally landless and by custom discouraged from working in the fields, very few women use their loans for agricultural activities.

The difference credit can make. Sharifa is a typical example. Two years ago she bought a cow with her first loan. By the end of the year, she had paid off the loan and also owned a cow and a calf. She took out a second loan and bought another cow which by the end of the year also produced a calf. And sometime next year, the first calf will probably have its own calf. From having nothing, Sharifa now has an asset of four (soon five) cattle as well as being able to provide milk for her family - an enormous change. She has also used some of her credit to buy materials for her mats and is now no longer dependent on the merchant or trapped by his high interest rates. She has begun to sell her mats to others at going market prices, thus significantly increasing her income.

Momena Bewa is another Grameen Bank client. She lost her husband in the 1974 famine that swept through northwestern Bangladesh and since then has wandered from village to village doing whatever jobs she can find to keep herself and her two children alive. In the village of Chilmari she and some of her friends heard a young woman explaining the Grameen Bank system to an informal tailoring; making mats, rice products, fish nets, and an assortment of cane and bamboo items; trading in paddy, rice or flour; setting up home grocery or stationery shops; peddling saris, housewares, bangles, and other goods. Any activity will do as long as it shows a reasonable chance of success and requires no long, specialized gathering of local women and decided to join. She used her first loan of Tk 875 ($35) to buy housewares and set herself up as a door-to-door peddler. With the profits, she not only paid off the loan in 31 weeks but also was able to make a down payment on a family hut. She then took out a second loan for twice the amount and used it to expand her inventory of housewares. She has now promised her daughter in marriage, without the customary, dowry, to the son of a respected local family and has been elected the leader of a group of enterprising women like herself.

The way it works. The young woman who introduced Momena and her friends to the Grameen Bank was one of hundreds of bank workers who go from village to village in areas where the Bank has established branches. Travel is often difficult, along muddy paths or through waterlogged fields passable only on foot or perhaps by bicycle. These workers are putting into practice one of the Bank's central mottoes: "Bring the bank to the people, not the people to the bank." These workers, bath men and women, are given an intensive six month training course and then sent out into the countryside to inform the people about the Bank and to form groups of five men or five women, unrelated but with similar interest and attitudes, which will become the core of the credit programme. The criterion for group membership, and thus eligibility for loans, is ownership of less than half an acre of cultivated land or assets less than the value of one acre. Since a family of six needs at least three acres to maintain itself at subsistence level, these criteria exclude all but the most destitute.

Once the bank worker was satisfied that all five members understood and accepted what the Bank expects of them and what they must expect of themselves, the women became eligible for their first loans. No collateral was required. The maximum allowed is Tk 5 000, with the average for women being about half of that. (The average for men is a bit higher.)

Repayment is by 52 weekly instalments at 16 per cent interest, the going market rate. Initially, Momena and one other woman received credit; after six weeks, since their repayments were on schedule, two more members became eligible and six weeks later the fifth. A person can borrow again only after at least three-quarters of the previous loan has been repaid - and if the repayment record of the group is satisfactory. Thus each group member has a personal stake in the success of all the others; peer pressure encourages prompt repayment and a careful watch on each others' ventures.

When a member receives credit, she must immediately pay five per cent of the loan amount into a Group Fund against which members can draw, in emergencies, on terms decided by the group. These contributions to the Group Fund are not refundable to anyone who leaves the group, a regulation which has caused some grumbling. Each member is also expected to pay at least one taka a week into the Fund, and this becomes a refundable personal savings account. Finally, a sum equal to 25 per cent of the interest on each loan must be paid into an Emergency Fund which is used to cover defaults caused by accidents, illness, or other unavoidable events. Thus while Sharifa, Momena and their fellows pay an 'official" interest rate of 16 per cent, the effective interest charged is closer to 25 per cent. This is still significantly lower than the going rates in the informal credit market, plus which it includes the creation of group and individual savings which local moneylenders never provide - and the repayment record is almost perfect. Even with the accelerating expansion in the numbers of the Hank's borrowers, the default rate on loans after one year is about three per cent and even less after two years, technically the term of the credit. And women, in general, have an even better repayment record than men.

The repayment system is clearly one of the major reasons why the Grameen Bank has been able to avoid the poor recovery rates which have hurt so many rural credit programmes in Bangladesh and other developing countries, for each weekly payment is small enough so that it does not create the hardship imposed by the more traditional six-month or annual payments. Other factors come into play as well: the initial screening and discussions with prospective group members, reinforced by ongoing peer pressure and support; the close, effective supervision by bank workers bath before and after the loans are made; and the nature of the activities for which the credit is used. Weekly repayments, along with the regular savings feature, train members in the habit of regular payment, while the two Funds given them a valuable sense of security, as well as an essential pride in the knowledge that they are themselves contributing to the financial success of the programme.

More than credit. Once groups like Sharifa's and Momena's are established, they join with several others in the village to form Centres. Each Centre then elects a Centre Chief who conducts the Centre's weekly meetings, makes recommendations on loans to the bank worker, and generally assists whenever needed. It is at these weekly meetings, attended by the bank worker and mandatory for all members, that loans are made and repayments and savings collected. It is also here that various potential credit ventures and the progress of ongoing enterprises are discussed; experiences are shared and suggestions for improvements (including Bank operations) are made. The women find these meetings extremely valuable, for they provide an opportunity to exchange ideas, to re-enforce and expand each other's efforts, and to become directly involved in planning their own futures. These discussions, too, play an essential role in keeping the Bank flexible and responsive to the expressed interests and needs of the people it serves.

The Centre meetings also serve a broader, more intangible but no less important purpose - that of encouraging an expanded individual and collective social consciousness. Over the years of the Bank's existence, this dimension has gradually taken a clearer, more structured form. Each group as it is being formed is introduced to a social programme called "Sixteen Decisions", 16 statements which stress, along with the importance of discipline, hard work and group solidarity, a code of conduct designed to improve their living conditions and those of their community. Members are urged to grow vegetables and fruit in home gardens, to use latrines and safe drinking water, to keep their houses clean and to invest in home improvements, to keep their families small and healthy, to refuse to give or receive marriage dowries for their children and to send their children - all of them, not just the boys -- to school. Although members are not technically required to follow this code to be eligible for loans, in practice most of the bank workers expect everyone to make a serious effort to observe them. It was with support of her group, and the influence they were beginning to exert on other villagers, for example, that made it possible to Momena to dispense with the dowry (which customarily runs between Tk 2 000 and 7 000) she would normally have had to pay to her future son-in-law's family.

Tangible results. But it is the credit which the women receive which has made the most direct and tangible change in their lives. Sometimes loans, wisely used, not only improve a family's standard of living but can also create an effective husband-and-wife partnership. For instance, Shankari and her husband Bharendra are both weavers, and together with a hired assistant they produce between 20 and 25 saris a week which Bharendra sells at the local market. They own a four-room hut and eat three meals a day. Their son and daughter are attending school. However, six years ago their lives were quite different. Each worked as a day labourer: Bharendra with a village blacksmith, Shankari helping weavers prepare their yarns. She earned from three to five taka a day, he not much more. They could afford only two slim meals a day, frequently only one. In 1980, the husband joined the Grameen Bank and took out a Tk 1 000 loan which he invested in tools to start up his own blacksmith shop. A year later, Shankari also joined and used her first loan of Tk 1 500 to buy equipment for preparing yarn in her own home. Even after paying her weekly loan instalments, she was earning more than twice what she had as a day labourer. Although Bharendra's blacksmith venture was earning him income, they decided to joint forces and with gradually larger and larger loans bought three looms costing Tk 3 500 each, built a separate room to house them and hired a helper to run the third loom.0

Nesatun Begum is another example. The mother of three children, her husband and son worked in the home of rich peasants until she joined the Bank in 1981. She started a business of buying and selling rice and flour with a Tk 2 000 loan. Now her husband and son buy the rice and flour from the market (and engage in casual day labour), while she sells the goods to neighbours from her home. Within a year, she had paid off the loan and made a Tk 5 000 net profit which she saved; she has invested subsequent loans in expanding her trade. The family now eats more regularly and better, and has visibly increased its assets: two rooms added to the one-room thatched hut, more hens and ducks, a cow, and a small but growing savings account.

The bulk of the Bank credit goes to such individual enterprises (96 per cent in 1986), but since 1982, when collective loans were first allowed, some loans have been given for joint ventures, most of them to men and over half to improve irrigation for crop production. But some women's groups - or even sometimes an entire Centre - have taken funds to start such activities as paddy husking, weaving, and pottery making. In 1985, just under 4 per cent of all loans to women were for collective efforts. Although some have been reasonably successful, a number have encountered problems of organization, fair sharing of work and profits, and timely loan repayment.

Much more is needed. A recent survey of the impact of the Grameen Bank indicates that by all measures - incidence of gainful employment, level of income, accumulation of working capital, level of indebtedness to local moneylenders and general standard of living - women who have taken out loans are, in general, significantly better off than those who have not.1 None have become wealthy or even, by most standards, comfortably secure, but the number living in absolute poverty has been notably reduced. In the villages surveyed, approximately a third of the Grameen Bank members had incomes which compelled them to live in extreme poverty, against almost twice that number among those who were not members.

The Grameen Bank has shown that rural credit can be effectively delivered to women and can help them make a meaningful improvement in their economic and social conditions. Although it is not a panacea for all the ills of poverty and despair, it can supply a means for women to become more self-reliant and self-confident, better able to provide for themselves and their families, better prepared to take an active hand in shaping their future. But it should be remembered that, for all its innovative approaches and rapid expansion, the Grameen Bank is able to serve only a tiny handful of all the country's women. Tens of millions still face the dark prospect of a life described with stark eloquence by one woman in the Rangpur district: "Today there is no food, no clothes. Because of the lack of things, women have lost their value. We have no worth left. What we need, we cannot have. What we want, we cannot get. There is nothing for us to live for."

Alpaca, a symbol and a source of hope in the andes

by Pino Cimo

According to an old legend handed down from generation to generation of shepherds on the Peruvian Altiplano, the alpaca came to the world from the streams, ponds, and springs of water, and will go back again if humans mistreat it. The day when the flocks of alpaca begin to diminish will be the beginning of the end of the world.

The legend's symbolism and beauty reveal the great importance that the people of the Andean countries - Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia - have always given to the existence and rearing of the alpaca, the most widely found members of the camel family found on the American continent.

For millennia the immense and desolate Altiplano which extends, at 3 000 to 5 000 metres above sea level, form the north of Ecuador past Lake Titicaca to the border of Peru with Bolivia in the south and has been the natural habitat of the alpaca. And today, as yesterday, the alpaca is the domestic animal without which the people of that hostile environment could not survive.

For Andean shepherds the alpaca is a source of milk, meat, leather, and bone for making shoes, musical instruments, and a variety of utensils, and - most important - it supplies a fine fibre from which they can manufacture clothing and blankets to protect themselves against the harsh temperatures (as low as 15 degrees below zero centigrade), frosts, hail, cruel winds, and drenching rains. They use even the dried dung as fuel for stoves and ovens in the particularly cold periods of the year, when it is more difficult to find firewood. The fleece of the alpaca has always been a valuable medium of exchange with which to procure foods and tools needed for everyday life.

The other three lamoids (see box), the llama, the vicuna, and the guanaco, which are relatives of the alpaca, have always been less important to the inhabitants of the Altiplano. The construction of roads and massive introduction of transport into the Altiplano have robbed the llama of its role as unique beast of burden, as it once was for the pre-Columbian civilizations, the Incas, and even the conquistadors. Unlike the llama and alpaca, the vicuna and guanaco are wild animals, and the utilization of their valuable hair and meat has never been particularly easy for the people of the Altiplano. In any case, the numbers of the two lamoids has been drastically reduced and today only a few tens of thousands of animals remain.

A source of income too. About the middle of the nineteenth century, the British, Italian, and Japanese textile industries discovered the softness, exceptional insulation value, resistance, and extraordinary richness of natural hues of the alpaca fibre and decided to cash in. Since then, the alpaca fleece sold on market days or at seasonal fairs has always been a precious, if modest, source of income for the Andean shepherds (see box).

Recently even the meat of the alpaca has acquired a commercial value in many parts of the Altiplano, an example being the region of Arequipa, in southern Peru, where the authorities now permit it to be butchered. Its sale used to be severely prohibited, as it was considered a carrier of disease, but now alpaca meat, especially the dried varieties, has assumed a place in the diet of the population of the Andean cities, to the benefit of shepherds forced to kill animals that are no longer good producers of fibre.

The alpaca rearers of the Andes are rediscovering that this funny animal with the thick coat, the typical long erect neck of the South American Camelidae, and the wary and frightened look is of irreplaceable value bath for the present and for the future of their children and of their communities. Today the alpaca offers more than just survival; it offers a first step out of poverty, under development, and extreme marginalization.

The Andean shepherds have not been the only ones to rediscover the alpaca. Over the last 20 years Ecuadoran, Peruvian, and Bolivian authorities, textile merchants and industrialists, and scholars and researchers have acquired new notions of the value and irreplaceability of the lamoid in bath economic and animal-breeding terms.

The alpaca was disparaged by both conquistadors and colonists, who did not eat the meat or value the fibre, and favoured the llama, which they needed for the transport of gold and silver. After independence the alpaca was neglected and given only token protection, and replacement of it by sheep and other European ovines was actually encouraged. Nevertheless, the alpaca has always been considered the domestic animal of greatest value and of most consistent economic potential of the Altiplano and the territory of the three countries - especially when the price of the fibre on the international markets rose spectacularly.

Censuses taken hastily and some what unreliably in the euphoria of the rediscovery, have shown a rise of the total of the alpaca population on the Andean Altiplano to over 4 million (of which 3 million in Peru, 800 000 in Bolivia, the remainder in Ecuador, Argentina, and Chile). Some breeders would hazard that the alpaca population could double or triple in only a few years, if sanitary conditions were improved; if the animal were assured a richer and more suitable diet; and if female alpaca received better assistance during the long gestation period (11.5 months) and during and after delivery to reduce the very high rate of neonatal mortality (50-60 per cent).

Peruvian merchants and textile industrialists have predicted that their country, uncontested top producer of alpaca fibre, could realize fabulous earnings on the order of tens and tens of millions of dollars. In order to reach these ambitious goals, it would be enough, they say, for the small and large rearers to increase the production (well beyond 2 000-2 500 tons a year) and improve the quality of the fibre offered for sale. To prevent the earnings of the textile industry from going abroad, the safest solution - according to Peruvian businessmen - was to take the working and marketing of the fibre away from the big European and US companies, which had formed a sort of monopoly, and give it to Peruvian managers, who would be more sensitive to the interests of the country and of the rearers of the Altiplano.

Some bitter surprises. But the rediscovery of the value and potential of the alpaca has held some bitter surprises both for the shepherds of the Altiplano and for governments, businessmen, technicians and university researchers who have placed great hopes on the future of mass rearing.

The shepherds realized very quickly that the compensation obtained for their fleeces from the fibre merchants - whether alcanzadores, who collected from house to house in individual communities; rescatistas, owners of warehouses in towns; or agentes, representatives of the big companies that buy raw materials - was, at $2-3 per kilo of unwashed fibre, much lower than it could and should have been if they had offered a higher-quality, more select product and if they had greater negotiating power. But the conditions were impossible. They were not technically able to produce a higherquality fibre; they had no idea of the price they could have obtained on the basis of the international market; and finally, very often the middleman was also their creditor.

The authorities, experts, and economists, for their part, have quickly grasped that the real situation - with respect to both the integrity of the alpaca wealth and its promised growth and the possibility of increasing and improving production of the alpaca fibre - was far less rosy than that which the quick censuses, guesstimates, and facile plans for massive interventions to change the techniques of selection and rearing had made them think.

According to a 1977 projection based on data then available, the total population of alpaca in Peru, which was then 3 020 240, should have risen in 1980 to 3 127 940. In actual fact, the statistics published at the time by the Ministry of Agriculture reported 2 385 350, with a decrease of 21 per cent. Production of fibre, which according to the same 1977 projection, should have been 3 348 tons, in reality in 1980 did not exceed 2 456.

The prospect of a more or less rigid increase in the alpaca wealth of the country, of an improvement in the animal's physical characteristics (size, strength, resistance) and of its productive capacity (quantity and quality of fibre) is reduced by the weakening of the breed, by the reduction and by the impoverishment of the pastures at its disposition, and by the crude and antiquated rearing techniques used by the greater part of the Altiplano shepherds.

Huscayo and sun. There are two alpaca subspecies. The huacayo, which is the sturdier and more robust, has a wavy or crimped fibre; the suri, which is more slender and delicate, has straight or widely waved hair. The suri seems to have suffered the more over recent centuries, for the lack of an adequate diet and for being forced to live in the highest and poorest sections of the Altiplano with their harsh temperatures and violent winds.

The suri's fragile constitution is one of the principal reasons for the very high mortality rate registered by the alpaca and against which, till now, top health experts have found no remedy. More than half of alpacas die before or during birth or, more often, a few days after.

The distribution of the flocks of alpaca in the various zones of the Altiplano seems capricious: that is, it corresponds neither to the exigencies of welfare or survival of the species nor to any sort of planned breeding. In Peru, for example, more than 1.1 million alpaca, or about 60 per cent of the total, are concentrated in the southern department of Puno, near the waters of Lake Titicaca and the Bolivian border. Here in the famous "Puna" region, largely flat and constantly whipped by freezing winds, the sun scorches during the day and frost falls at night. The cold, hard ground crunches like glass under foot, softening only where little streams of water form ponds and mini-swamps: the famous "bofedales" where the alpaca and other lamoids seek the short, sharp grass on which they like to feed.

The rest of Peru's alpaca population is distributed in the regions adjacent to the Puna - Arequipa, Cusco,Ayacucho, Huancavelica, and Apurimac or dispersed, in minimal numbers, in the north-central zones of the country, which, some think, would actually constitute an ideal habitat thanks to the abundance of natural pasture and milder climate.

Against all logic, then, a high presence of sheep, goats, horses, and bovines of European import is found in the same zones as a high concentration of alpaca. The consequence is all too obvious: overpopulation and scarcity of forage both for lamoids and for the imported species. In addition, the invasion by sheep and goats of the lamoids' traditional habitat causes deterioration of pasture: the ovines tend to uproot the tufts of grass when they are very hard and short, while the alpaca, llama, guanaco, and vicuna have specially developed canines that cut the grass practically to the soil level. The ovines' hooves cause damage to the alpacas' pasture. While the lamoids tread lightly on the Puna, the heavier footfall of sheep and goats leaves deep prints and erodes the ground where grass should grow.

Only a forced massive transfer-well-nigh impossible-of hundreds of thousands of alpaca, with their shepherds, to the north-central Peruvian Altiplano - might permit better distribution of the alpacas on the Altiplano for more abundant and suitable pasture. The less drastic, but slower, solution is already being tried in the northern department of Ancash - a gradual transplant of the animals in the new type of habitat to achieve a progressive and not traumatic acclimatization.

Within individual zones with high concentrations of alpaca, the alpaca is found on the small holdings of the Puna shepherd, a classic figure who owns a few dozen animals and usually some sheep or cattle as well; or on the farms of medium-scale rearers with a few hundred animals; or on one of the big cooperatives (SAIS or EPS) introduced with the agrarian reform of Valasco Alvarado at the end of the 1960s, with several thousand animals and hundreds of hectares of pasture land. Medium sized farms usually have sufficient land, but the small rearer can count only on very scarce pasture land which is almost always insufficient to feed the lamoid.

The non-functional, not to mention unjust, distribution of the land within individual zones with high concentrations of alpaca constitutes a severe handicap to the harmonious and balanced development of lamoid rearing in the Peruvian Altiplano, as well as on the highlands of Ecuador and Bolivia.

Antiquated techniques. An equally serious handicap for the future of the alpaca in the Andean Altiplano is the truly antiquated techniques used by the small rearers, the true Puna shepherds. Very poor, obliged to live almost always in mud huts perched on the top of a hill or on steep mountainsides from which they can watch the movements of the flocks in the valley below, the shepherds of the Puna have neither adequate means nor the knowledge to rear alpacas according to those criteria of selection - type, color of coat, and other characteristics - that guarantee a production of fibre and meat of superior quantity and quality. Their flocks live in conditions of practically non-existent hygiene and are thus exposed to all the possible diseases. The "sarna", an infection that brings fever, weakness, and fits of vomiting, periodically slaughters the flocks. Even shearing - the most important and delicate operation for obtaining an attractive fleece all in one piece - is done on the bare, dirty ground with primitive equipment, sometimes even with sharp pieces of glass instead of shears. The coexistence in the flock of alpaca and llama, in addition to ovines and bovines, results in continual bastardization of the species and renders impossible the production of pure fibre and meat.

The road to obtaining, in a short time, an increase in the number and quality of alpaca and a consequent jump in the amount and in the genuineness of the product - meat and fibre - appears all uphill. But it is possible, as demonstrated by the successes obtained by medium-sized rearers and cooperatives in the selection of animals and in the clear improvement of quality of fibre and meat obtained. Julio Barreda, a rearer of Macusani, in the department of Puno, owner of more than a thousand head of alpaca, has no difficulty selling at the price of $4 000-5 000 some magnificent specimens of "breeders" which he selected carefully and reared. The Cerro Grande cooperative, also in the department of Puno, has obtained for the fibre produced by his selected alpacas a price triple (nearly $10/kg) that normally paid by alcanzadores, rescatistas, and agentes of the big companies for shepherds' fleeces.

A positive sign in the same direction is supplied by the partial success achieved by the state agency Alpaca Peru which has been entrusted to be the buying agent (at fair prices, and in any case higher that those offered by local operators) of the fibre produced by the shepherds of the Altiplano and to offer technical and health assistance to all the small rearers. Spurred by the prospect of more consistent and guaranteed earnings, the shepherds have begun to stop soiling the fleeces with sand and urine to make them weigh more. Thus it has been possible to halt the systematic and absurd deterioration of the fibre by shepherds who were unable to give a fleece a value other than that of weight.

The stakes are too high for the problem to be shelved just because it is too difficult to deal with. A wealth of more than 3 million alpacas cannot be valued, especially since the Altiplano is the only part of the world where the animals are able to live and reproduce (attempts made so far to transplant the animal in Australia or the United States have been without result), and South America is the only producer of the precious fibre. In fact almost 100 per cent of the approximately 3 000 tons of fibre produced in the world come from the Peruvian factories of Arequipa, Lima, and Tana.

It is a question moreover of a genetic heritage with a theoretically unlimited potential for growth in quantity and quality. If the mortality rate is lowered and husbandry techniques are improved, the population of the lamoid in the whole Andean Altiplano could '´explode". There have already been moments - for example at the end of the 1940s - when production of fibre has been at the top of the list of foreign exchange earners for Peru.

Finally, we should not forget that alpaca rearing affects about a fifth of the population of Peru, or 4 million people, and large groups of people in the other Andean countries as well, and that the only way to make use of vast stretches of the Andean Altiplano is to use it as pasture land, especially for lamoids. Almost half the territory of Peru could usefully be invaded by flocks of alpaca: it would then no longer be an arid wasteland, a land cursed by God.

Equines pull their weight

by Denis Fielding

Most of the world's domestic equines - that is to say, horses, mules, and donkeys - are now to be found in developing countries, but equines are making a significant contribution to agricultural development in the majority of countries new regarded as developed as well. How many of them are there, and where? And is enough being done to exploit their potential in developing countries?

It can be assumed that the majority of mules and donkeys in the developing world are working animals involved in agriculture and/or rural transport. Many horses are used in military activities, racing, and other sports, so a lower proportion shows up in agricultural uses. The proportion of the different equines actually working effectively is not known, and equine statistics should be interpreted with caution, as, where numbers are low, present statistics are often based on estimates and extrapolations.

With this limitation in mind, let us look at Table 2, which shows the top 12 countries for horses, mules, and donkeys in the developing world and the entire world. The figures for mules and donkeys are the same for the developing and the entire world.

The countries that appear in all of the first three columns of Table 2 are China, Mexico, Brazil, Ethiopia, Turkey, and India. It is therefore in these countries that any investigation, extension, and promotion of equines for development purposes will have greatest impact.

The literature on equine development in developing countries is limited. For the most part it consists of breeding and veterinary work with horses. Donkeys have received virtually no attention despite the fact that in both Asia and Africa they are the most numerous species. Mules, which contributed so much to the development of American agriculture, have likewise received little or no attention in developing countries.

Any review of the data on equines shows that their numbers are rapidly decreasing. Does that mean that the introduction of mechanical power will be the end of the development of their use? In many areas and countries the answer to this question is presumably yes. But in remote rural areas equine power could have a continuing and perhaps even expanding role.

Equines in developed countries. It may be valuable to look briefly at the evolution of equine use in developed countries to see if there might be any lessons for developing countries. As in many developing countries at present, oxen were widely used in developed countries until they were replaced by horses.

The heavy horses that powered the European agricultural revolution had their origins in the war horses of the Middle Ages which were bred to carry heavily armoured soldiers into battle. This type of horse does not exist in developing countries although there is comparable widespread military use of horses for personnel transport in, for example, Mexico, Pakistan, and India.

In Europe, the ox had certain advantages over the horse. It was cheap and easy to feed. It was easy to train and its harness was cheap. It was less likely to be troubled by disease or physical problems, such as lameness. It had a steadier pull and was less likely to give up. Its meat is widely acceptable. The horse, for its part, offered the advantage that it was a faster and a more flexible source of power for the variety of transport and agricultural needs of the time.

Given the simultaneous development of lighter and more efficient equipment, the factors of speed and flexibility appear to have been sufficient in the then developing world to lead to the replacement of oxen by horses. Also at the same time there was growing interest in the specialization of cattle breeds for milk or beef and away from their traditional multipurpose role.

It could be argued that the same circumstances are increasingly found in many developing countries of today. Certainly specialized milk cattle breeds are increasing, and there is obviously a need for a low-cost flexible power source for both agricultural and transport purposes. In addition, equines have the general advantages of all draught animals they offer independence from foreign exchange requirements, they are self-perpetuating and employment-generating, unlike tractors. Perhaps of greater importance for the long term is that draught animals do not damage soil structure in the way that tractors do.

But there are some obvious reasons why equines are unlikely to have any great impact on the development of agriculture in many developing countries. These include their often very low numbers, susceptibility to disease and physical problems (in the case of horses), and the low socio-economic status associated with donkeys and mules.

However, there must be many situations in which equines could play a larger role, especially since donkeys and mules are so well suited to the tropical climate. Given these animals' past contribution to the development of agriculture in many countries, it would appear that there is a potentially valuable resource in many developing countries that is not getting the attention it deserves.

Wood gets the high-tech treatment

by Susan Riddle

Most people, unless manufacturers or carpenters by trade, could be forgiven for thinking that wood products have changed little over the years, or that, say, hardboard or plywood is made the same as it was twenty years ago. They would be surprised to discover that new uses for wood products are constantly being found even in an age abounding in steel, aluminium, and plastics. Wood-based panels can be produced in an almost unlimited variety of qualities, shapes, and sizes thanks to new processing improvements.

In fact, some solid wood products are becoming a thing of the past as science and technology continue to come up with new ways of fully exploiting wood as a means of extending the forest resource.

Many small-diameter logs of poor quality that used to be considered uneconomical to collect and were simply left to rot, can now be peeled for veneer thanks to sophisticated engineering designs and low-cost computerized systems. In the United States a newly developed spindleless lathe can peel these logs down to a core of just 50 mm. This means considerable savings and better utilization of wood for a country whose annual production of wood equals the total tonnage of plastics, cement, steel, and all other minerals combined.

Now that researchers are creating wood-based panels with improved durability, weatherability, increased mechanical properties, and reduction of creep under load, the construction industry can reduce its dependence on solid wood without reducing quality. John Youngquist of the Forest Products Laboratory of the US Department of Agriculture in Madison, Wisconsin, speaking about future potential uses for new products says, "We are likely to see more structural components made from wood composites: shaped structural sections; and thick composite products for windows and door components. New chemical treatments will make these products very resistant to decay, insect attack, and damage by fire. One great advantage of all these products is that they can be made in long, thick sections that have very uniform properties. The continuous production of many of these is now in the pilot stage and will soon be in full production."

It is not surprising therefore that world production of wood-based panels is expected to expand from a current 109 million m3 to more than 167 million m3 by the year 2 000 at an average growth of 3 per cent a year. Developing countries and centrally planned economies together will contribute half of that increase. From only 42 million m3 in 1965, total world production had already doubled by 1985, the developing market economies raising their output from 2.3 million m3 to 16.5 million m3. Indonesia alone expanded from less than 4 000 m3 to an incredible 4 million m3, becoming the country with the largest annual volume of exports of wood-based panels.

Veneer. The relationship of veneer to other raw materials composed of particle and fibre can be seen in the figure on page 45. Whereas fibres and particles are used to make wood composites, veneer is peeled directly from the log to a thickness of approximately 1.5 mm to be used for plywood or bonded sheets. New lathe systems allow logs to be stabilized during peeling to prevent "spin-out", and peeled to a lower diameter core of only 50 mm. First, however, the species to be used must be studied carefully to avoid peeling low-quality veneer from near the centre of the tree.

Laminated Veneer Lumber- a new technology. Rising costs and shortages of high-grade solid-sawn lumber for parallel-chord trusses and scaffolding planks inspired the development of Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL) in the early 1980s. The processes and uses of this relative newcomer are still evolving. Thanks to great savings in weight and material on fabricated components, LVL is opening up new markets. Its consistency of mechanical and dimensional properties and the absence of defects which reduce strength make it an ideal product for light trusses and I-section beams for joints and rafters in light-frame construction. Other uses for this versatile product are: truck-decking, box beams, and door rails. LVL's success in scaffolding is due to its uniformity of properties and resistance to splitting. The industry new uses veneers 3.2 mm-2.5 mm in thickness, which are hot-pressed with phenol-formaldehyde adhesive into lengths from 2.4 m to 18 m or more. Joints between individual veneers are staggered along the LVL to avoid gross strength-reducing defects.

Plywood. With 3000 years of history behind it, plywood still interests researchers. Plywood shows more resistance to splitting than solid wood where large sheet applications are required and veneer can be peeled thinner to utilize as much of the wood as possible. These features make plywood very attractive to an industry concerned with reducing both its costs and its dependency on solid wood.

Plywood is made of veneer sheets bonded together, in the direction of the grain, in alternate plies generally at right angles. For certain types of board, one or more pairs of veneers may be laid with the grain parallel; the veneer sheets are usually placed symmetrically on both sides of a central ply or core which may or may not be veneer. This is called veneer plywood. Core plywood (so called because it has a core or central layer thicker than other plies) is solid and consists of narrow planks, blocks, or strips of wood placed side by side and often glued together. Blackboard, laminboard, and battenboard are all variations of core plywood. Other types of plywood include cellular beard, with a core of cellular construction, and composite plywood, for which core materials other than solid wood or veneers are used. Plywood can be flatpressed or moulded.

For construction and industrial application, softwoods such as Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga mensiesii) or pine (Pinus radiata or Pinus taeda) provide the needed characteristics where strength is of principal importance. But where appearance is more important than strength (for furniture or wall panels) different species of hardwoods are used.

The ancient craft of plywood production has recently been updated to cope with the need for improved softwood plywood products destined for the construction industry. Ultrasonic veneer block scanning, computerized X-Y peeler block chargers, powered back-up rolls, powered nose bars, and linear-positioned lathe knife carriages are just a few new technological innovations which enhance the efficiency of lathe systems. A further breakthrough has been the development of phenolic glues to cope with veneers with a moisture content as high as 20 per cent (the result of steam applications to soften the veneer). These glues give a better panel yield which permits enormous savings in production costs. For hardwood plywood panels, it has been necessary to change the composition of the traditional urea-formaldehyde resin to reduce formaldehyde emission meet recent standards. Replacing 5-20 per cent of the resin with polyvinyl acetate has eliminated problems arising from the change of property of the resin.

Blockboard - an old technology. Statisticians rarely appreciate the virtues of blockboard at the macro-economic planning level and often even ignore its existence and simply lump it in with plywood. But it costs a lot less than all-veneer plywood. And it offers a way to utilize poor wood resources. Thus it could be very interesting for developing countries. Blockboard can be produced relatively simply without enormous investments in production technology using the existing machinery of the plywood mill.

Sawlog and peeler-log waste are ideal for making blockboard cores. Indeed, the absence of board splitting or warping, and its large continuous surface, make blockboard a keen competitor of particle board in some countries. Interestingly enough, because blockboard is smoother on tools than is particle board, many carpenters and craftsmen find it easier to work with, but, perhaps as the result of a growing interest in particle board, its popularity in the developed world declined and it was relegated to the status of a minor product where it has remained ever since.

Particle-based panel materials. Particle board was invented in the 1950s as a way to make use of wood-waste and mill-waste. Many other new composition materials followed, all tailor-made to suit a wide variety purposes according to the properties acquired during processing. Since then, the development of new particle-generating machines, has resulted in better edge-profiling using smaller particles.

Other subgroups in the wood-base particles class were also introduced on the market. These were waferboard, oriented waferboard, oriented strandboard, and cement board.

Particle board as core stock for furniture and cabinet application or as floor underlay in light-frame construction ensures a smooth hard surface to which a finish of veneer, highdensity plastic, or ultraviolet-cured vinyl (in applications of 0.038 mm ultraviolet-cured vinyl, fine particles are applied to the surface to reduce show-through) may be applied.

Developed to utilize small-diameter logs, the waferboard and oriented strandboard have these advantages: lower wood costs; the possibility of producing large-size panels for mobile homes and prefabricated housing; and savings on labour costs because of high-automation of production lines. Now, in Canada and the United States, formaldehyde-free isocyanate-bonded waferboard for waferboard siding (house side-walls) is available which can be overlayed with an embossed resin-impregnated paper and its edges coated to prevent water absorption from rain. One disadvantage of these products, however, is that they require half again as much wood by weight as plywood does to produce the same usable volume or surface area of panel.

Cement board products have shown to be particularly suitable for buildings exposed to tropical and subtropical climates because they are resistant to fire, decay, and insect attack. This will be a big boon for Mexico, which, according to Gilberto Rosas-Solarzano of the Guadiana Group that produces prefabricated housing, will need 11 million dwellings by the year 2000.

Fibre-based panels. While developing countries and centrally planned economies are increasing production of fibreboard, the developed economies are curtailing theirs. This has led to a stagnation in world production over the last ten years. Medium-density fibreboard (MDF) can cope with a wide variety of tree species and readily available raw materials such as pulp chips, planer shavings, plywood trim, and sawdust. MDF is in fact beginning to replace particle board, solid wood, and plywood in some furniture applications because of its smooth surface which facilitates overlaying, routing, and moulding, and because its tight edges need not be edge-banded. Because of its versatility, manufacture of MDF is expected to expand significantly during the next decade.

The familiar product hardboard is now produced by wet or dry process using different types of adhesives depending on the process and intended use. Moulded hardboard siding and an embossed tile board - where the tile lines are embossed rather than cut - are the latest developments in wet-process hardboard production. Because insulation board serves a relatively constant market, no significant production innovations have been introduced in the past few years apart from tile-type panels commonly called "lay-in ceiling panels" that are currently being produced to be used in suspended ceiling systems. Unfortunately, insulation board has seen keen competition from insulating foam plastics and mineral fibres with dire consequences to the market.

Wood waste. The introduction of standards to curb formaldehyde emissions in boards destined for furniture, mobile homes, and prefabricated housing forced some centrally developed and developing countries to restructure their adhesive systems or else lose valuable trade. To reduce their dependency on expensive chemicals and oil, they found that considerable savings could be made by making more efficient use of wood waste.

Of economic importance are the condensable tannin resins "polyphenols" extracted from the bark of pine and mimosa and from the wood of quebracho, as well as tannin formaldehyde (tf) resin extracted from wattle, chestnut, spruce, larch, and pine. These resins offer good blending, fast curing, low formaldehyde emission, and low cost. And they do not pollute water either.

Developing countries that wish to reduce their adhesive and energy costs must reduce their dependency on chemicals and oil. But for those industrialized countries such as Canada and the United States which are already using oil and natural gas for their production and energy needs, waste disposal has become a problem. Accumulation of waste may occur particularly when the amounts are not sufficient to make panel production profitable given that existing large-scale machinery costs a lot of money. Additionally, big-machine manufacturers may not be willing to produce smaller and economically viable machinery to suit small-scale production. Mr W. Caine, president of the Commonwealth Plywood Co. Ltd. of Quebec, says, "We are looking for a type of extruding machine that could take wood waste, such as sawdust, and glue it into narrow boards for moulding, which could then be wrapped with thin veneers, vinyls or other products. At present it means investing $50 million to make a 5 foot by 8 foot (1.52 cm x 2.43 cm) or larger panel that is then ripped into narrow strips and moulded."

But could it be possible to exploit waste without having to make enormous investments in expensive machinery? The question of waste disposal is a complex one and is influenced by economic constraints and problems related to transportation both in industrialized and developing countries. Some developing countries may find a small solution in attaching a local industry to an already existing plymill. John Youngquist says, "The allocation of raw materials within a given wood panel manufacturing facility is one of economics. Residues not used to produce composite wood products could, for example, be used to produce compressed fuelwood blocks. Poland already produces fuel briquettes from bark mixed with wax."

Perhaps science and technology will come up with some answers on how further to utilize wood waste as the search continues for new ways of fully exploiting wood as a means of extending the forest resource.