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Fantasy or fact

So much publicity is given at present to the terrifying and destructive aspects of atomic energy that the important work being done on its possible application uses is too easily overshadowed.

The great range of these possibilities will be discussed at a special international conference organized by the United Nations in Geneva next August. FAO will be participating in this investigation of the possibilities for applying these new forces in the struggle against world-wide problems of hunger, poverty and disease.

Until atomic power can be produced on a large scale for industrial purposes, the immediate importance of atomic energy to forestry will be in the field of research, in the use of radioactive materials for testing and processing forest products, and in tree and range plant breeding. In research, the so-called tracer studies have already given impressive results in elucidating many nutritional processes in plants that have hitherto required considerable expenditures of time and money. There is also already ample evidence that the use of new kinds of radiation in plant breeding can produce plants with new or greatly modified characteristics. such as greater disease-resistance or more efficient growth habits. The result could be a much wider range of improved types for the forester.

Unfortunately, the day when cheap atomic power will be available on a large scale for industry in those countries lacking traditional fuels for energy production is still far off. Its eventual use as a source of power may however, be of outstanding importance, not least to industries based on forest products.

The world-wide expansion in the use of atomic energy that will undoubtedly take place in the coming years makes it essential that the effects of radiation on plant growth and reproduction, the movement of radioactive products in the soil, their uptake and concentration by plants and their immediate and long-term effects on men and animals should be thoroughly understood.

Many countries are already conducting their own investigations into these specialized problems and it is highly desirable that the technical information relating to the various fields of agriculture should be widely disseminated and authoritatively interpreted. FAO is in a unique position to do this, in a way that can foster public confidence in the constructive uses of the power of the atom.

The exact nature of the Organization's activities in this field will be decided by the full Conference of FAO when it assembles at Rome in November of this year. The Conference will also at that time be examining a proposal of the Director-General to initiate a survey and appraisal of world agricultural, fishery and forest resources in relation to needs. More reliable knowledge of the relative production potentialities of the physical and biological resources in various parts of the world would be of the greatest value as a guide to longer-term programming. This is especially true for the technical assistance program where broader perspectives, going beyond national boundaries, are needed for the appraisal of alternative lines of work.

This map express the sum total of the data on average potential evapotranspiration, water deficiency and water surplus in Africa, as depicted on other maps in this series which have not been reproduced here.

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