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Inducing the Rural and Semi-Urban Youth to Engage in Agriculture
In view of the aging agricultural work force, high unemployment rates even among high-school and university graduates, and critical urban congestion throughout the world, it is crucial not only to retain the non-urban populations in situ, but also to device some meaningful mode of employment to 15-17 year-olds that seem to constitute a major portion of those who leave their homes and migrate to cities.
Even a cursory glance at the developments in agriculture world-wide, is sufficient to show one the three main trends therein, viz., regardless of the type of their ownership, increasing physical size of agricultural production units, increased mechanisation, and the increasing separation of the producers and end-users both in distance and time.
These necessitate long-distance transport, storage and processing that leads to waste, loss of flavour and nutrients and to higher food prices. However, if rural and semi-urban youth can be helped to engage in agriculture at or near their homes, it would considerably ameliorate the ills of the present irrational trends in agriculture. Moreover, it would offer youth an important path to independence through meaningful employment.
True, youth migration has a greater quantitative impact on food production in less affluent countries, but it is important to note that it has a highly undesirable effect on food quality in the affluent ones, not to mention the social problems associated with unplanned urban expansion.
So, it would be reasonable to suggest that we ought to formulate some appropriate global action to resolve this problem in general terms, so that each nation may select the areas relevant for its specific needs. In other words, the proposal will be a action template from which one could pick and choose according to one’s needs.
I think the kind of rural and semi-urban change that would be most beneficial to everybody, would require a considerable change in current politico-economic notions. Provided that we could persuade the political and economic establishments to devolve their power, hence, their modes of operation, our present problem may be resolved in the following multi-layered manner.
Naturally, a really holistic approach would be the means of choice to enable the 15-17 year-olds to secure a sustainable and adequate livelihood by engaging in agriculture.
Unfortunately however, such an approach would run into a number of difficulties, which would render it too resource-intensive for the countries where it is needed most. I believe this difficulty can be overcome to a significant extent, if authorities are willing and able to undertake certain system changes.
The greatest hindrance to a holistic problem resolution is the policy incongruence prevalent in every administration. This stems from their inability and/or unwillingness to render consistent the categorically identical aims included in diverse policy areas. For instance, health policy may be directed at the prevention of the so-called NCDs, while the trade policy may allow import, production, advertising and the sale of unhealthy industrial food and drink. This is an ubiquitous example of policy incongruence, which not only increases the cost of health care, but allows the investment of resources into an area that does not enhance public health.
For a start therefore, I suggest that we strive towards policy congruence with reference to youth in the least controversial areas like environmental sustainability, employment, agriculture, education, health and justice, with a view to expanding it into trade as soon as possible. Within the framework of employment policy, we can then move to agriculture as an environmentally sustainable, equitable and health promoting area of youth employment.
Before we go any farther, it is necessary to recall that the policy formulation and implementation represent two recursive endeavours. This means that policy congruence must obtain at global, regional and national levels if we are to expect worthwhile results.
Furthermore, even at the national level, central authorities are all too often insensitive to what local people really value, especially as many a national agriculture expert believes that his function is to prescribe to rural people not only what crops and animals they ought to raise, but also how to do it. A misplaced belief in ‘international best practices’ in agriculture is often not only inappropriate, but often flouts the local food culture.
Before we proceed any farther, let us try to indentify what drives our target group from their location:
- Lack of opportunities to earn a decent living, including facilities/opportunities to engage in agriculture.
- Family poverty.
- Unjustified belief in a possible better life in a city.
- nrealistic personal expectations generated by political promises and/or ‘entertainment’/’media’.
- Under valuing the vital importance of agriculture owing to the world-wide belief in the prestige of ‘high-tech’ propagated by trivial ‘media’.
Any one or more of these five causes could drive a young person out of his locale and head for a city, where a life of incredible squalor awaits him in some slum. A sceptic would get a chance to convince himself easily, if he only took the trouble to visit any one of those habitations around any city in Southern Africa, India, etc., where material evidence awaits him, perhaps in vain.
Obviously, what we need to ameliorate the situation would be to design and undertake a plan of action that embodies policy congruence, which could address the five issues described above. It is clear from the list that even though its power of motivation is not easy to quantify, prevailing public attitude to agriculture (5 above) nevertheless represents an important obstacle to us. However, dealing with it seems to be the least controversial, and might easily get wide political support.
Put differently, this calls for re-educating the general public everywhere on the vital importance of agriculture, and integrating in school education systems a continued teaching of values. I think this is getting more and more important as most children have no idea about what is essential for living, and an incredible number of them tend to believe ICT is the staff of life!
A related area, where both policy and facilities require a radical revision is education. Here, what I find difficult to accept is the current belief on the purpose of education. It seems to embody two notions awkwardly bound together, viz., everybody should aim for a university education’ or one that qualifies one to get a job quickly and earn a lot. In order to achieve the latter, emphasis is mostly on ICT, economics, and trade-related professions. True, this is commonest in affluent countries, but, this attitude to education is spreading widely, especially as it is promoted by several organisations concerned with ‘development’.
The policy change required here involves the acceptance of two simple facts; equal opportunities for education is not equal level of education for all, and secondly, equal education opportunities means paying due attention to inchoate abilities and skills individual children possess. Modern education system is stifling children’s ability and skill to become excellent farmers, craftsmen, painters, etc., by forcing them to continue a formal education they find irksome, rather than letting them leave formal education and to concentrate on their inherent skills and abilities before they are 15 years old. I anticipate howls of protest here, let me point out, we are not talking about equal opportunities, rather about not smothering talent by forcing children to learn what they are ill suited to master.
It will be seen that ‘motivators of migration’ 3-5 can induce even the rural young who are not influenced by the motivators 1 or 2 to leave for urban centra, because of the glamour attributed to city life, etc. Perhaps, it would be salutary if the ‘media’ in every country could be induced to show the extent of slum populations around cities and their real living conditions to the rural audiences. I know this is a naïve idea, for honest and truly unbiased reporting is only an abstract notion.
While family poverty could drive our target group to the city, it is the lack of facilities/opportunities to engage in agriculture to earn a decent living that is at the heart of our problem. So, a reasonable solution ought to provide such opportunities, make available the requisite facilities, and encourage rural youth whose families are not involved in agriculture to take it up as a profession.
I have already touched upon the changes needed in education and social attitude to agriculture. As far as I know, these important motivators of human behaviour has received scant attention in development programmes. The irony is that even the poorest country could bring about those two changes at a very low cost.
Once the youth believes that the agricultural pursuits are desirable and are actually more important to us than the every aspect of ICT, it would become fruitful to design and implement the ways and means to enable the rural youth to engage in agriculture in its widest sense. Before we look at some possible means, let us identify some reasonable areas in agriculture one which we may concentrate, and then the general way forward.
Selection of our goal for a given area should take into account the following in order to ensure its appropriateness in every sense:
- Approximate number of vocational trainees/workers intended to benefit from the undertaking.
- Local climate and geography.
- Local flora and fauna.
- Traditional food crops and household animals of the area.
- Possibility of guaranteeing a sound land tenure/grazing/harvesting rights to participants.
- Possibility of establishing dependable local storage/low-tech processing units, eg., drying fruits or nuts, etc./tool maintenance units within a reasonable distance from producing sources.
- Establishment of a novel financing system described a little later on here.
- Ensuring real political support from every level, i.e., national, regional and local, and undertaking effective measures to prevent uninvited and/irrelevant interference.
Making sure that 1-4 above obtains will not only help to ensure an inclusive endeavour, but it enables us to adapt our actions to the environment rather than degrading it by resorting to artificial ecosystem services. Moreover, it benefits from the empirical knowledge and wisdom locals have gathered over centuries. Of course, one may introduce new species of animals or food plants to an area, but, this has to be done only after a careful assessment of its environmental implications have been made. Further, one ought to consider the local willingness to use such cultivars.
Points 5 and 6 are concerned with property ownership at one level, but sometimes, point 6 involves managing and harvesting nationally owned entities like forests, lakes and rivers and the economic exploitation zone of the sea. Inept responses relating these have cause enormous environmental damage and unemployment for considerable numbers.
Local people should be given the custody of their forest, and harvesting it should be done according to best available ecologically sound practice by the local people for their benefit. I think the time has come to stop every large-scale logging operation in the rain-forest, for it has exceeded the sustainable level long ago. It would be wise to impose the same strict controls on tropical hard woods
As on ivory export. Make sure the forest will continue to exist before it is exploited.
Rivers and lakes:
The possibility of harvesting food from these is becoming increasingly difficult for two reasons. Over-exploitation by big harvesting units and building of dams and/irrigation canals. It would be a rational action by a government to ban large fishing boats from these, so that smaller ‘family owned’ boats could return or earn a better living.
It is not so long ago that thriving fishing villages were strung out along many parts of the coast of S. America, Asia and Africa. There lot has become progressively worse for two reasons. First, local operators with trawlers can offer the customers fish at a slightly lower price pushing the fishermen out of business. Secondly, Fish stocks in tropical waters show a dramatic drop in fish stocks owing to unrestricted fishing by foreign factory ships, which is often illegal, and sometimes allowed by the government owning the right of economic exploitation due to corruption in it. The question we ought to ask here is, Is it right that a foreign seller should earn a profit by selling our fish cheap to foreign customers, while we loose our fish stocks and our fishermen flock to city slums? A fisherman may then say, it may be free trade, but it certainly frees us from our freedom from hunger.
I spent a little time over the above issues, because of their part in driving people into cities, which includes our target group. A holistic approach obviously calls for measures to deal with background factors that exacerbate our problem. I do not think it would be easy to undertake immediate and effective action to remedy the situation, but, if we could, more and more people would take up these activities rather than migrate from their homes.
Next, a brief note on what not to do and why. Never stop a project in X years, especially if it seems to be successful. Never let the local people give up any part of their authority or rights in return for large cash ‘compensations’ which may have drastic consequences for our environment.
Never forget the project is intended to benefit the local youth so that they may earn a decent income by agricultural pursuits, and it is not intended to support distant purveyors of high-tech stuff. Never forget the vocational training and support to the youth would be most effective if the youngsters could make use of what they already know, rather than learning everything from scratch. This is especially true of harvested produce, household animals, food crops, and implements used.
Never forget high-tech is synonymous with capital-intensive undertakings that uses less and less labour as it gets ‘higher and higher’! Never forget that it is in poorer countries where unemployment is very high and the numbers of the hungry run into millions, unskilled youth in the target group flock to the miseries of city slums looking for something better to do.
Never forget we need labour-intensive undertakings to stem this human tide. Never forget tools and implements that require high-tech competence to repair and maintain is inappropriate, because it cannot be done by those who are living within a reasonable distance at an affordable cost. Never introduce varieties which cannot be sustained by the available ecosystem services, rather select ecological variants.
Any one or more of the following activities may be chosen to enable rural youth to become satisfactorily self-employed either alone, or in a self-owned cooperatives:
- Market gardening using suitable species.
- Small scale floriculture, where non-local species could be used.
- Apiculture for supplementary income.
- Small units of aqua-culture using herbivores like carp, tilapia, etc.
- Free-ranging poultry both for high-priced eggs and meat.
- Mixed small scale agriculture growing fruit trees, nut trees, yams and other suitable tubers, as well as some vegetables.
- Keeping other household animals including rabbits, Cavia, goats, etc. This may be combined with any of the above activities.
- Growing herbs/spices as an income supplement.
- Harvesting forest products as a source of additional income.
- Fishing as a family or a cooperative enterprise.
Unlike most others, I have not emphasised the importance of infra-structure including irrigation. This is not to deprecate their importance, but I think we need to act quickly and those structural changes are expensive and time consuming. Therefore, I favour an approach where we can do most with what we already have and what resources are easiest to get.
I suggest simple underground cisterns for rain water storage and covered wells, both equipped with had-driven pumps (unless they are excessively deep) ought to be used as sources of water when necessary.
Before I sketch how one may store and transport one’s produce to end-users, let me outline how one may economically preserve it for storage.
- Some fruits may be turned into home made jam by a producer cooperative. It may also be possible to make some popular pickles.
- Drying some fruits, nuts, spices and herbs.
- Salting and drying the superfluous catch (fish and prawns).
- Smoked meats (it is more wide-spread than one would like to assume).
In addition to the necessary political changes, improved law enforcement, equitable laws to regulate and guarantee the types of ownership discussed earlier, local and/or international funds, the following will be needed:
- Vocational training units within easy distance from as many potential trainees as possible, where skills immediately relevant for them could be taught principally by practise. Age of admission has to conform to the local law.
- Local cooperative units for sharing hand tractors and perhaps a van to transport of perishable items quickly to the market. It may also employ a mechanic for maintenance of those, whom one may choose from village youth for special training.
- One or more suitably central locations where produce may be preserved in small bulk quantities. This too can be run on a cooperative basis. These will also contain secure and appropriate storage facilities.
- Ideally, country’s own agriculture extension service should provide seeds and livestock required here. Subject to the conditions outlined, these may be provided by other local sources.
- Government help to build rent-free and reserved stalls where village youth could freely sell their produce.
- Real tax benefits and legal protection from harmful vested interests.
Finally, we come to the question of money needed to finance such an undertaking. I do not know to the extent to which a host country and non-governmental entities there, may be able to contribute, but I think a considerable contribution from international sources may be required here.
The scheme can be divided into three parts:
1. Survey of resources available locally, determining the maximum number of participants, then planning the details in collaboration with the authorities and representatives of the beneficiaries, and reaching agreement on the extent of external financial assistance. Part of this agreement would be to establish a project fund to be administered independent of national or international contributors. While strict accounting procedures are to be in use, propriety of resource expenditure should be determined with reference to relevance and appropriateness by local professionals versed in local agriculture and ecology. Every expenditure should embody the dictum:
If one wants to succeed in development, money ear-marked for it should be spent as close to the place one intends to develop.
The project fund will grant an establishment loan to a trainee adjudged capable of working on one’s own, when a trainee sends in an application to the fond explaining the plan and its financial requirements, and specifying one or more relevant mentors from the training unit who will undertake to help and guide the applicant when necessary.
The fond, mentor and applicant (more than one person may apply as a group) will agree on when the repayment of the loan is to commence.
Skipping nuts and bolts to shorten this already long submission, I jump to the repayment. It would defeat the purpose of this endeavour if we should charge interest on the loan. My novel approach is to ask the youth to prove itself not by paying it back, but getting it written off each year by an amount equal to one’s annual profit. Until now, we have been using an economic system whose inherent properties makes poverty and economic exclusion its inevitable side-effects, so let us now do something to those who have fallen by the way side at such an early age. Let us do something that would help them, but that will also show them man could live comfortably without making somebody else miserable.
Implications of Urban Expansion and Rural Change for Food Security
Before we proceed to identify the implications of urban expansion and rural change for food security, it is necessary to see which aspects of them could have a significant impact on it.
Urban expansion has two main causes; urban birth rate and migration of people from outlying areas. The former leads to a gradual increase in the need for an adequate food supply to an urban centre, while the latter brings about an abrupt increase in it. So, other things being equal, urban expansion may result in a combination of those two increases in the need for food, which could threaten the food security of an urban centre.
At present, rural changes that need concern us represent emigration of people from the rural to urban centra. Most rural populations are engaged in agriculture related activities in a labour-intensive manner. A simple real-life observation is sufficient to convince anyone of this fact in many parts of Africa, Asia, South America, etc.
This would inevitably lead to a reduction in rural food production, which could have a significantly adverse effect on the food security of the outlying urban centra. Today, this can be easily observed around the big cities in Angola, South Africa, India, etc., etc.
At this point, it is essential to remember two things, viz., lack of food security entails hunger now, and its alleviation calls for urgent practical measures. Let us next look at the relevant aspects of the problem, with which we have to deal.
First, I will outline what we cannot do. We cannot wait for long term solutions while millions go hungry every day. It is unrealistic to talk about finding employment for the migrants for even if they are qualified and work exists, that does not entail an increase in food supplies to urban centra. Moreover, even if they found work, they will have to wait for their potential salaries to purchase food, which is highly uncertain for reasons described above.
Further, it is the rural poor who migrate to urban centra, and a considerable portion of them represent unskilled labour. It only requires a day’s observation tour to any of the immense camps/settlements/slums around the big cities I have noted earlier to see this stark fact of real life.
Even though urban expansion has become global, the extent of its adverse effect on food security, varies with the priority agriculture receives in a given country and people’s expectations. It is unfortunate that in many poor and unevenly affluent countries, political sources elicit in people rather unrealistic expectations, which motivate them to migrate from their villages in search of ’a better life’.
This has resulted in millions of people exchanging their rural poverty with abject urban poverty involving greater deprivation. One may take it as a rule that in most affected countries, authorities give priority to ‘industrial development’, ‘high technology’, and ‘ICT’ as though that entails a commensurable increase in food supply!
Food security remains an unknown entity to millions of living people who live under appalling conditions around many large urban centra in Southern Africa, Asia, etc. They all have left their rural homes leaving once cultivated fields lying fallow today. So, this change in rural and urban demography will inevitably threaten food security by increasing the need for food at urban centra while reducing food production.
I suggest a two-pronged approach to resolve this problem insofar as it can be resolved in isolation. Obviously, common humanity demands an appropriate action to deal with hunger now, i.e., achieving a temporary food security by carefully targeted food supply, whose details are area dependent.
It may range from free distributions of food rations to subsidised food supplies, both of which ought to conform to the local food culture. Extra precautions ought to be taken to ensure that such food supplies end in the bellies of the hungry.
Remembering that this problem is endemic to poor and to countries where wealth is highly sequestered in a few hands, it is imperative that labour-intensive agriculture and the infra-structure it requires are given the highest priority. At the same time, it is necessary that the governments emphasise to the public how vital is agriculture to human well-being, and that it has logical priority over ‘high technology’ and ‘ICT’, which in the final analysis are mere means of secondary support to actual food production.
Hence, agriculture ought to be given the prestige it has in real life, for it is the sole means of sustaining life most of us have at our disposal. Let us underline the obvious; without food, there will be no life for anything else. Food security is the goal whose achievement ensures that we all have access to an adequate food supply.
Comments on the Proposed Voluntary Guidelines on Soil Management.
The draft is refreshingly technical and is comprehensive with respect to the areas it has taken into consideration. I find it well-structured, nicely reasoned, and very useful to anyone who understands and cares about the vital role the soil plays in our lives.
I wonder whether its authors chose 'cultivated soil' with a dash of the soil in urban areas in order to keep within the scope of 'management', which is obviously unavoidable in this context. However, I would like to draw your attention to an aspect of soil conservation, which is very important but does not quite fit into the categories of soil guidelines are intended to cover.
They represent what we might call 'ruins of soil', i.e., abandoned strip mines (USA and Pacific), large tracts of forest destroyed by uncontrolled logging (Burma and Indonesia), unfilled abandoned mines (Cornwall, Eastern Europe, South Africa, etc), aftermath of forest clearance of thin top-soil to 'create' grazing grounds (Amazon basin) and forest fires (Indonesia), and advancing desert (Sub-Saharan Africa), etc.
These ruins of soil are often contiguous with arable lands or some kind of forest. Their interaction with less ruined soils, though not fully understood, can only have an adverse effect on the qualities of the soil the guidelines are intended to preserve.
I think it would be wise to describe in the guidelines some actions the authorities may take not only to mitigate the ill effects of ruine lands on its more fortunate counterpart, but also to reclaim it in order to increase the available ecosystem services.
Of course, how this may be achieved will vary according to climate, geography and the composition of the ruined soil involved. But, as we are not talking about agricultural cultivation here, a comparatively small investment in resources may enable us to harvest many a climatic and ecosystem service benefit.
Perhaps I may be stating the obvious, but I think it might be useful to ascertain precisely what is necessary to optimally harness the ecosystems services to ensure ecological and sustainable agriculture at an adequate level.
It is clear that the very possibility of the above mentioned state of affairs depends on the willingness and ability of those who are engaged in agriculture to ensure the following:
1. The ecosystem services involved are not over burdened at any time, and their optimal use is ensured.
2. Agricultural production shall not be increased neither by using chemical means nor through qualitative or quantitative changes in agro-species in an area, which could either overtax the ecosystem services there or lead to environmental degradation that will reduce their current level.
These then, are the two categories of “don’ts”, which are often ignored. Now, moving over to the “do’s”, the following conditions should obtain:
3. Active steps should be taken to ensure the continuance of the optimal level of ecosystem services involved. This may entail either sustaining the biodiversity or living populations of an area, or the regeneration of its environment.
4. An increase in agricultural production in an area should be accompanied by the environmental actions necessary to ensure the increase in the level of ecosystem services necessary to sustain such an increase.
Our problem then, is how we can induce those who are involved to be willing and able to observe the four conditions described above. In my view, here the question of willingness is more problematic than that of ability.
I used the phrase, “those who are involved” advisedly, for agriculture today represents an exchange with very few exceptions, i.e., it cannot exist as we know it, unless there are consumers who are able and willing to buy agricultural products. We shall not devote any time to discuss the role of middlemen in this exchange, for they may be considered to be a species of surrogate consumers.
Consider now smoking. Fewer and fewer are unaware of the medical implications of the habit and not all smokers are addicted to it. Still, a considerable number of people continue to smoke even though they know its possible harmful effects on health, and are able to quit if they would. What they lack here is a willingness to do so.
But here, we are talking about an issue whose ramifications are more immediate and affects billions. Hence, while one undertake reasonable measures to change people’s traditional value beliefs concerning the environment and agriculture in order to bring about a reasoned change in their behaviour, it is necessary to resort to legal means to hasten the requisite change in human attitude to ecosystem services and agriculture owing to its urgency. This aspect of the problem has been discussed by another contributor.
For what it is worth, let me now look at how may one inculcate in the public the factual belief that sustainability of an adequate and an appropriate agriculture depends on the commensurability between the ecosystem services it requires and the capacity of the environment to provide it. Moreover, it should be borne in mind that artificial provision of some such services for short-term gain may permanently impair the environments ability to provide them, leading to desertification, silting of rivers, loss of fertile top-soil, drastic reduction in rainfall, lowering of the water table, adverse weather, increase in temperature, etc., all of which could render agriculture impossible in previously arable areas.
I think the public belief in this may result from a suitable education campaign across the board. It should not be restricted to school education, which is a long-term means of achieving the same result. As the situation is critical, a more general approach seems to be indicated. A previous contributor has discussed this aspect of the main issue.
Next, we come to the question of one’s ability to make sure that agriculture and its adjuncts observe the four conditions we have talked about earlier. Let me begin with the consumer first, because if he is indifferent and ready to buy whatever is on sale (especially if it is cheaper), there will be no incentive for the producer to flout those conditions.
I suggest the following measures to render the purchaser able to support the observation of those four conditions, and the producer to observe them:
1. Very low tax on the agricultural income of farmers who observe those conditions.
2. Introduction of subsidised loans, seeds, training, and support services such farmers need. Here, we must distinguish between ‘free trade’ that does jeopardise the future of the whole world, and the ‘free trade’ that does not.
3. Great care should be exerted in providing ‘development aid’, particularly that ear-marked for industrialisation as it often leads to a drastic loss of ecosystem services. I have already talked about in a previous discussion, the socio-environmental disasters brought about by rogue development aid.
4. Products that meet our four conditions may legally carry a label indicating their conformity, enabling the customers to make an informed and responsible choice.
5. A deterrent tax comparable to that imposed on tobacco and alcohol may be imposed on the sale of agricultural products, whose production ignores those four conditions, and the money used to subsidise the conforming producers.
6. Stringently enforced controls on the use of agro-chemicals.
7. Establishment of strategically deployed sound food storage facilities and environmentally more benign means of food transport. Eg. Waterways and railways rather than by articulated lorries.
8. Enforcement of laws that prohibit the concealment of all potentially harmful non-dietary chemical compounds in foods. This is because the less one observes those four conditions in agricultural production, the more such chemicals in food, or their concentration.
At this point, I would like to suggest investment in agricultural innovations that would help those who are engaged in agriculture to avoid the “don’ts” above, and encourage them to embrace “the do’s”. I envisage the use of such innovations as requiring three logically linked set of ways and means.
I use this phrase in a limited sense, i.e., agriculture policy we need to achieve our present objective should not come in conflict with the current non-agricultural policies under implementation at national, regional or global level.
Secondly, those non-agricultural policies should positively support the agriculture policy we need in every possible way.
The innovation we need here is an actual adaptation of integrated policy development as a government practice. This of course, depends on our actual ability to acquire a holistic perspective on policy issues. Unfortunately, policy formulation today is all too often is area specific, for example, Military, health, agriculture, and each policy is shaped by the experts of one given area. This reductive approach is the greatest stumbling block to our progress.
The other important policy change I envision involves devolution of decision-making power to local people, especially when the decisions are concerned with changes in the biological and the geographical constituents of an area. Many people and organisations have emphasised the necessity of this.
Ways and means:
Other things being equal, an implementable integrated agriculture policy should be commensurable with the available ways and means one may set aside for its realisation.
Even when it is so, one often runs into skeins of impenetrable red-tape woven by previous agreements, treaties, national, regional or even international laws that could easily foil our endeavours to benignly utilise ecosystem services to increase agricultural yield. Please consider the ongoing controversy on Maipo hydro-electricity project in Chile, which seems to be permitted by the current law, but if completed will turn over 100,000 sq.km. of Andean wilderness into a dessert.
I think this type of anomaly embodied in nearly every governing body should be stamped out without delay if we want to save and preserve what little ecosystem services we still possess on earth. It is inane for a government to agree on the importance of our present goal while permitting unrestricted felling of tropical hardwood saying that it is ‘legal’, or ‘we are just responsibly exploiting our own natural resources for the benefit of our people’. And I am afraid some of the clauses in international trade agreements and ‘development agreements’ are equally nefarious with respect to their effect on ecosystem service capacity.
So, what I would like to suggest is an innovative evaluation mechanism that should be empowered to investigate, identify and make public recommendations on what changes in current policies, agreements, and laws, etc., are required in order to make our integrated policy implementable. I shall not comment on the obvious components of ways and means like finances, technology, etc.
Finally, I’d like to touch upon some essential fundamental changes in our perception of agriculture, because in reality that perception not only defines what is taught in the institutes of agriculture, but also how all of us think about it, and benefit from it.
It is not very flattering to ‘our progress’ when the fact remains that only the poor subsistence farmers and a few nearly self-sufficient small holders consciously or habitually value agriculture on rational and civilised grounds, viz., it is worthwhile because it’s the best means we have to meet our nutritional needs. Stating the obvious, unless we are fed, there would be none left to establish space colonies, engage in gene juggling, political hair splitting and such signs of progress.
So, it would be puerile to talk about ‘right to life’ unless we actively cherish and nurture agriculture, the best means we have to satisfy our cardinal need, i.e., nutrition.
If it is to be sustainable, the biological service requirements of agriculture should be commensurable with the ecosystem services our environment can provide without distress.
But our current economic thought is based on the primitive notion of acquisition of gain (material or power) by pandering to a real or advertisement generated demand. This simplistic idea of economy as a means of personal gain ad libitum has blinded most of us to the importance of agriculture and its dependence on our habitat, and made us think of it as just another industry, where profit is the spur.
I think if we thought and learned about agriculture as an endeavour not unlike medicine when doctors believed in Hippocratic Oath, and not just a trade that allowed some middlemen to get very rich by manipulating world’s hunger, I believe we can ameliorate the lot of billions without increasing the extent of current arable land provided that we are also willing to stop the population increase.
If agriculture education at all levels emphasises the need to balance the requirements of agriculture with the ecosystem services the habitat can offer, perhaps the future agriculturalists might resort to cooperation with their living habitat as an benign adjunct to their pursuit, rather than the mechano-chemical slash and burn method of the present.
Much work of course remains to be done. I doubt that the potential of ecosystem services in pest control, soil enrichment, yield enhancement via more complete pollination, water retention, etc., has been even partially realised. Let us hope interest in this area would increase, particularly where the environmental distress is increasing.
Complements of the season!
Integration of Nutrition into Agricultural Education
The purpose of this note is to ascertain whether it is necessary to integrate nutrition into agricultural education, and if so, to explore how may one achieve that objective. I shall use a holistic approach, but it will be within the framework imposed by the logic of relevance to the two areas the current discussion specifies.
Let me begin by asking the question, how may one justify agricultural education? Is it because agricultural education enables those who plan and administer agricultural activities perform their work more effectively? Or is it because it enables those who actually engage in agriculture to produce more, and hence earn more?
If one should answer ’yes’ to those two questions as one generally does, it inevitably entails that agricultural activities are undertaken for the sole purpose of earning a profit. Other things being equal, this in turn, entails that agricultural production is only governed by the demand for produce at local, regional or global levels.
This may look innocuous, and indeed in the opinion of many, praiseworthy. However, in real life where many a resounding theory is as tangible as a fata morgana, belief in it is directly responsible for malnutrition and/or inappropriate nutrition among the people.
In the 1980ies, increased peanut production for export in West Africa greatly diminshed its availability to the local people, for whom it had been a major source of protein for generations. This led to wide-spread protein defficiency especially among children, which is well-documented. Likewise, in many Asian and South American countries, undue emphasis on cash crops rather than on the food crops and livestock has led to a similar result, or to the rising cost of wholesome food. Eg. Tea, coffee, cocoa, etc, are some of such crops.
I use the term ’wholesome food’ advisedly. It may be true that growing cash-crops may enable a farmer to earn more, but the question is whether an appropriate diet would be available to one at an affordable cost when farmers will limit themselves to grow what will enable them to earn most?
Obviously, this is impossible. And if one wishes to eat appropriately, a considerable portion of a cash-crop grower’s profits would have to be spent on food. Moreover, it has the same insidious impact on the eating habits of everybody in a given locality.
Now the dietry stage is set for the entrance of Iago! It proclaims in colourful photos, catchy tunes, and sonorous monosyllables that it is ’cool’ and modern to consume some brand of industrial feed or drink just as the celebrity X or Y does. What’s more, the stuff is comparatively cheap not only with reference to price, but also nutritive content, and taste.
Everyewhere in the world, obesity and malnutrition has become a serious threat to public health, and human well-being. This is in part, due to current public ignorance of nutrition, and its failure to understand that one’s intake of food ought to be commensurable with one’s actual nutritional needs and never with current fashion.
I think now it becomes clear that unless agriculture of a community is guided by its actual nutritional needs, it would be impossible to avoid either malnutrition or its inappropriate counterpart. When this has been done, a community may employ its surplus agricultural capacity on suitable cash-crops, for it would be strange to give priority to the latter in order to import the former.
Thus, integration of nutrition into agriculture is fully justified, because it is the sole justifiable scientific frame of reference within which a community could engage in agriculture to its real benefit.
I shall next take up the question of integration. It is possible to distinguish between two aspects of nutrition one needs to integrate into agricultural education. Even though nutrition is one of our fundamental needs, what is justifiably constitutive of it and how it is satisfied, varies according to age, activity level, and climatic conditions.
For instance, growing children have a greater need for proteins and some minerals than an average grown-up. Those who dwell in colder climes may require more carbohydrates and fats than those who live in tropics. A hard-working lumber-jack in a Canadian forest needs many more Kilo Joules a day than say, a politician.
Meanwhile, agriculture has been with us for several millenia, and the agricultural communities have developed the art with reference to their peculiar climatic and geographic conditions so that they may meet their nutritional needs as well as possible. After many generations, the food culture of a community begins to instantiate how its members may best satisfy their nutritional needs.
Unfortunately, this very important aspect of a community’s food culture is often neglected by nutritionists and in agricultural education. I can quote some instances where communities gave up some parts of their food culture for invalid reasons, and their substitution by foreign eating habits necessitated growing inappropriate crops and/or raising inappropriate live stock. Not only were those more very expensive to produce, but were also sometimes the cause of obesity. Eg. Supplanting rice with wheat, depreciation of yams, taro and similar root crops, introduction of sheep and cattle as a source of protein to Andean hill farms.
Therefore, I think agricultural education ought to be revised so that it does emphasise the importance of the traditional crops and live stock of a given area, and strive to improve and enhance them. Of course, this does not rule out introduction of new crops or even live stock, but that must be done with a great deal of caution.
It is crucial that we change the current basic tenet of agricultural education, viz. Enabling those who are engaged in it to make the largest possible gain, into more reasonable one. That is, agricultural education should be concerned with enabling those who are engaged in it to make an reasonable gain by producing appropriate foods required to adequately meet the real nutritional needs of a community.
Improvement of crops and live stock through research etc., is one of the important means of ensuring that one may make a reasonable gain by engaging in agriculture.
Sound eating and drinking habits are not givens, and they have to be acquired by learning. Their soundness depends on whether those habits are adequate to meet one’s nutritional needs. Now, the producers of food and drink are only a convenient sub-set of consumers of those items.
Hence, nutrition should be an integral component of school education for all, and at a more comprehensive level in agricultural education, for it provides the sole justifiable frame of reference that could guide agriculture as an endeavour that benefits all.
Comments on the Draft on NFSMs
I shall begin with the obvious, viz., why do we need a forest monitoring system, which obviously requires a considerable amount of human and other resources to establish and maintain?
It would be reasonable to suggest that such a system is essential to nurture and sustain our forest resources, because it would enable us to ascertain to what extent we may utilise them without impairing their sustainability and to undertake appropriate actions whenever their sustainability is under threat.
Indeed, this is the sole context within which NFSM acquires its justification. Forest monitoring then, ought to be embeded not only in the institutional bundle the current draft outlines, but in a more holistic one that includes all institutions involved in national life.
This may seem a trivial point, but I think, unless we have an uncontroversial reason to ensure the continued existence of forests, and their monitoring as a necessary condition for it, one might easily loose one’s sense of proportion among technical details.
Nobody will dispute that we all are beneficiaries of forests in that they are vital components of Oxygen and Carbon dioxide cycles, enhance the water table, absorb excess of solar heat and improve the local climate, etc.
Now, the ability of the forest to give us those benefits, depends on the equilibrium between the living things in it and its mineral resources required for their continued existence. The latter includes soil nutrients and water.
The quantity of utilisable soil nutrients and water in a given forest area is finite. So, the sustainability of a forest depends on a continued cycle of death and biological degradation of its inhabitants, which would replenish its pool of soil nutrients. Here, death may be due to age, disease or predation.
This process of replenishment, depends on the equilibrium among the species living in a forest. This biological equilibrium has a qualitative and a quantatative component. Biodiversity represents this qualitative component, while population of the individual species reflects its quantitative aspect.
Thus, the sustainability of a forest depends on the adequacy of its soil nutrients and water supply for the living there. The adequacy of the former, depends on the equilibrium among them, i. E. Natural biodiversity, which is instrumental in dynamically keeping the populations of individual species at sustainable levels.
If the foregoing is reasonable, then forest monitoring as an adjunct to its sustainability, ought to extend its range and scope to include rivers, streams, lakes, etc., in a forest as well as its smaller plants, and at least some of its fauna. I know this is a tall order, but it can be very significant under some circumstances.
For instance, during drought in some parts of Africa, elephants resort to barking trees as their access to grass becomes limited. This leads to the destruction of many trees. Likewise, unlimited hunting of the carnivores in savanas results in over grazing by the buffalos, which has serious land and climatic implications. Perhaps, some mechanism may be developed so that forest monitoring could cooperate with Wild Life Services of a country to render its data as complete as possible.
After this somewhat critical start, I am delighted to see the two key aspects of an NFSM, foundation elements and their institutionalisation are very well put indeed. As for the exchange of students, researchers, etc., is an excellent idea in principle, but it would be useful only if areas of their work and the systems they represent are more or less commensurable.
Even within a given region, this commensurability may not always obtain. As it has been pointed out in the current draft, it is important to begin the work and continue to improve it as one goes along. But, such improvements have to be made gradually owing to the uneven distribution of human and other resources required for the purpose. So, exchanges between the most advanced countries in forest monitoring and new comers to the field could only lead to unrealistic expectations and abandoned projects.
The draft suggests, “linkages with other national, regional and global institutes partner…””, and there again, their relevance to the overall purpose of an NFSM is paramount to avoid inappropriate practices. I have already mentioned national wild life service as an important contributor to this endeavour.
The current draft states, ”here are other “sectors” like agriculture, environmental protection, biodiversity conservation, ecotourism development or other forest-related fields that are
interested in the results from national forest monitoring.” Unfortunately, this approach represents a case of putting the cart before the horse in a reductive fashion.
Taken individually, those secotors can hardly undertake steps to ensure the sustainability of forests using NFSM data, and if no forests exist, all of them would be adversely affected. So, it is important to incorporate an NFSM into a national conservation agency with linkages to social practices with environmental implications.
Finally, I think it would be prudent to give permanant employment to trainees in forest monitoring as a means of ensuring a continued supply of competent, and one hopes, dedicated people. In my view, it would be very useful if international resources can be made available to pay them if a country finds it difficult to do so owing to valid pragmatic reasons.
On Nutrition-Sensitive Social Protection
My point of departure is quite simple; social protection becomes a need when some members of a society are unjustifiably denied of the possibility of their satisfying one or more of man’s six fundamental needs with reference to their own cultural norms. While these needs are universal for all cultures, how they are satisfied is subject to cultural variation. One of these fundamental needs is nutrition.
Therefore, holistic social protection entails that when necessary, ensuring that the members of a social group are enabled adequately to meet their nutritional needs with reference to their own cultural norms in a way that does not harm anyone or our shared habitat.
A group specific mechanism to enable a social group to meet their nutritional needs that entails harm to some other group or to our habitat is unacceptable for obvious reasons. One may legitimately call them ethico-pragmatic reasons, respect of which in the long run, is essential for the continued existence of the human race.
Nutrition-Sensitive Social Protection then, represents undertaking an appropriate set of actions that would enable a social group adequately to meet its nutritional needs with reference to its own cultural norms in a manner that entails no harm to anyone or our environment.
The current failure to holistically address the question, what makes nutrition sensitivity a critical component of social protection intervention, has led to an unprecedented degree of urban and rural misery in Asia, Africa and in Americas. Indeed, this is a serious charge, and I shall try to justify my position with a few examples from real life that can be easily confirmed.
Let me begin by stating the obvious; unless an appropriate and adequate supply of affordable food is available to the people, neither their sound economic status nor their enjoyment of human rights can prevent them from either being malnourished or inappropriately nourished. The former results in retarded mental capacity, deficiency diseases and other developmental problems, while the latter additionally leads to obesity and its well-known consequences.
It is vital to understand that social protection endeavours that are not nutrition-sensitive do more harm than good in the long run not only to the already deprived social groups, but also those who are about to enter their midst. Leaving aside the obvious ethico-pragmatic requirements any suitable social protection effort should meet, I will concentrate on the what constitutes the appropriateness, adequacy, and the availability of the nutritional component of social protection.
A significant part of the current nutritional habits of a social group is a product of a long evolution with reference to the group’s geographic location, climate, local flora and fauna on the one side, and the people’s nutritional needs on the other which are dependent on their energy and growth needs. This is an undisputable physio-biological fact. Over a long period of time, how those nutritional needs are met under those conditions get embodied as the food culture of that group.
Naturally, food culture will change over time as the conditions change, but this is a slow natural process. It is reflected in the agricultural products of a group. These products are able to satisfy both the taste and the nutritional needs of its members, provided an adequate supply of those are at their disposal at reasonable prices.
Often indeed those products come from the traditional farmers who are distributed around larger population centres (eg. Former southern Angola). The political ploy of raising people’s expectations to an impossible level, military conflicts of every kind, climatic changes injurious to agriculture, usury, and over-population have drastically reduced the rural agricultural production in many areas of southern Africa and some areas of Asia. At the same time, any one or a combination of those factors have resulted in huge and continuous migration of the poor to the cities (eg. Consider the continuing growth of shanty towns around the former ‘townships of South Africa and around cities in Angola).
For the sake of balance, let me also note that a similar growth slums obtain within and around the Indian cities like Bombay supposed to be in the throes of an economic ‘miracle’. It seems that noone knew about the poverty stricken slums around New Orleans until they were submerged under water in the aftermath of a cyclone a few years ago and the slum dwellers emerged in their thousands. All these people have something in common, viz., they are ill-nourished and their ability to work and learn is considerably reduced owing to their inability to meet their nutritional needs adequately. Moreover, their susceptibility to diseases is significantly higher than their national average.
So, how to ensure appropriateness of social protection with reference to nutrition? First of all, it is essential to re-populate the already depopulated rural areas with agriculturalists trained to produce the foods of the country or the area concerned. This may require education and training, equipment, appropriate seed and livestock, and financial incentives as well as an adequate infra-structureincluding storage and cheap transport, not magnetic levitation and fancy air ports for tourists.
Now to the other side of the coin, i.e., those who are to be protected. Monetary help may enable them to buy food in the slum shops, but paradoxically enough, it is very expensive, its quality is poor to bad, and very often, it takes the form of some food foreign to the people. The solution seems to be the establishment of suitable outlets in deprived areas where the produce of their environs may be bought at reasonable prices. But, I do not know how this may be achieved for the law and order situation in some such areas would not allow it unless it is improved rapidly and effectively.
One of the greatest obstacles to real progress and a huge depopulator of rural areas leading to an ever growing need for social protection in under-developed countries is rogue aid provided by China, India, Russian Federation, etc. Evil effects of Chinese aid is brilliantly visible in southern Angola where Chinese capital and Chinese prisoners work to build tourist facilities and prestige projects. As a result, the Angolan capital has an immense population of poorest of the poor running into several millions. I think unless the caring nations intervene to halt rogue aid, it will become increasingly difficult to provide any social protection to many millions in the recipient countries.
My reason for this seemingly off-the-topic comment is quite simple. If the number of people who require social protection should continue to increase at the present rate, it is difficult to see how a country could produce enough appropriate food stuffs to meet their nutritional needs. It is often those who are engaged in agriculture who migrate into cities in search of a ‘better life’.
I have touched on food production and equally important, its equitable distribution. Apart from that, it is necessary that every development initiative does not entail a reduction in the number of agricultural workers, nor yet in the area of the arable land. Ideally, such an endeavour ought to provide either a direct or an indirect incentive to an increase in both, especially when it is not directly concerned with agriculture.
It would be wise to discourage capital intensive industrialized agriculture, particularly where the need for social protection is acute, for it renders many unemployed who add to the growing numbers of those who require social protection. Its opposite, viz., practical encouragement of small farming involving traditional crops could not only reduce the increase in the number of those who need social protection, but it could also increase our ability to take care of the nutritional aspect of that help as well as support the bio-diversity in food crops and livestock.
I shall now sum up some means of increasing the nutrition sensitivity of social protection interventions and what may be done to make sure that they will not lead to an increase in the numbers who require them.
1. Incorporate suitable agricultural education/training programmes and provision of start capital/material packages in social protection initiatives.
2. Include help to rural farmers and active expansion of small farming, and an equitable distribution of agricultural produce as an integral part of national development.
3. Help to establish and run agricultural cooperatives in rural and semi-rural areas, preferably via less formal but more transparent mechanisms.
4. Distributed and non-intrusive industrial development, which may provide employment without affecting the manpower needs of the vital agriculture sector.
5. Discourage ‘development schemes’ that uproots rural populations, loss of arable land, require cheap but often inappropriate food imports, and intrusive and mendacious food and drink advertising.
6. Some international mechanism to halt rogue development aid, possibly by giving world-wide publicity to its visible harmful effects.
7. The most difficult, viz., tolerably good governance and its actual use, especially with respect to agriculture, actively enforced labour laws, and holistic policy formulation and implementation.
Adequacy of an appropriate food supply is an individual issue, dependent on the the particular nutritional needs of a given individual, which in turn depends on one’s age, sex, specific energy and growth needs at a given time, etc. In generalising on food needs, it would be salutary to remember these variations rather than to engage in mechanical thinking and depend on caloric content of food items. At the same time, it would be wise to recall that what constitutes a balanced diet has to be determined with respect to the variations mentioned above for there can never be a universal balanced diet unless we are mass produced to a set of fixed specifications.
My final comments here are to underline the importance of ensuring an affordable supply of appropriate foods for those who require social protection. Monetary help can hardly ensure anything more than a starvation diet to the needy unless we ensure the availability of affordable food. It is therefore essential that guidelines 1-7 above are observed both by the general development activities, and the broader social protection endeavors.
Apiculture; its importance and future
There is a general agreement on the two most important reasons as to why apiculture is going to play a very significant part in our future. The first is concerned with pollination, which is an essential factor in the continued existence of both economically and environmentally essential plants. Secondly, bee products have constituted an important ingredient of human food, and a versatile industrial raw material from the ancient times.
It is possible to identify two main reasons why the bee populations are now under threat throughout the globe. Obviously, this reduction will in turn, threaten some food supplies, particularly fruits, edible seeds, and honey, and will reduce the seed production of many environmentally significant flora. The consequences of this is quite plain in a world burdened with hunger and malnutrition and incredible environmental degradation.
The first threat to bees comes from habitat degradation resulting from human over-population that requires the expansion of infra-structure, housing as well as industrial and agricultural installations.
This degradation entails a significant loss of wild flowers, flowering bushes and trees whose nectar and pollen constitutes an important part of bees' food supply. As the current notion of 'development' requires the undertaking of human activities resulting in this habitat degradation, bees may well face extinction due to starvation in some parts of the 'developed' and the 'developing' world. I know this is happening in many areas of urban Europe.
The second part of the threat stems from the use of insecticides and insect repellents used in agro-industry. Unlike the disappearence of roosting cranes from most parts of Europe due to the disappearence of their prey indirectly brought about by the use of insecticides, bees will simply succumb to those chemical agents.
It is imperative to recall that nobody really knows what genetic consequences bees may suffer owing to their exposure to agro-chemicals now in use. Nectar and pollen contaminated with them may trigger genetic changes in drones and queen bees, which in turn lead to serious dysfunctions in the generations of bees that spring from them. These may include loss of resistence to diseases and/or other acute congenital problems. Moreover, such ill effects may also result from a wide variety of toxic material we have already discharged into our environment, and remains undegraded for a long time.
So, these are the generic problems we need to address. Otherwise, we will face an environmental catastrophe due to a serious loss of bio-diversity, not to mention a significant reduction in global food production and turning what was once an affordable item of food into a luxury. I believe that once reasonably priced honey from Las Marismas in Spain are now beyond the 'common man' after large tracts there were drained for agriculture.
I think it is still possible to reverse this undesirable trend, but it requires the undertaking of several simultaneous programmes, which are intended to address the threats to bees mentioned above, and to increase the bee population, hence their products.
1. Habitat degradation:
I. Strict control of building and construction projects, and a legal requirement that a certain percentage of the affected area should retain its native flora or its equivalent.
II. Planting local flowering trees that blossom at different times along roads and highways.
III. Reforestation of the deforested areas with local flora. This may not be easy or cheap, but I think it is becoming more and more important.
IV. Educating and encouraging the people to use 'live fences' that flower, growing flowering plants in their gardens, especially those that blossom at different times.
2. Chemical threat:
I. Real basic research (not surveys) into the toxic effects of agro-chemicals and other common pollutants on bees, and their long- and short term effects on the genes of honey bee.
II. Research into development of adequate 'feed' for bees to cover short falls due to harvesting the hives or bad weather.
III. Design of hives for apiculture that afford better protection to bees.
3. Increasing the bee populations:
I. Educational and material support to actual and potential apiculturists.
II. Ensuring that the producers and the consumers get a 'fair deal' through legislation, financing possibilities and the establishment of cooperatives for apiculturists.
III. Bee products are too well-known to require any publicity. But their excellence may be emphasised by nutrition education in schools etc.
Of course, this is only an outline of an approach, which requires to be fleshed with many details. I have not touched on the problem of displacement of one bee strain by another as it has been happening in the US. Although it is a problem to the apiculturist, its environmental and economic consequences are not severe.
I hope that this would be of some help.
As it is a problem of universal occurance today, I would like to make a few general suggestions that may be of some use across the board. I think it is important for us to understand the two main causes of the problem, which seem to be logically linked.
I envisage public ignorance and indifference to what constitutes a given individual's nutritional needs as a significant cause of obesity and some deficiency diseases distributed throughout the world. Sometimes, aggresive and colourful advertising appears to affect the eating and drinking habits of even those who know what food and drinks may best serve those needs.
Therefore, it would be useful to make nutrition an integral part of education of everybody from the earliest possible age. Moreover, it should reinforce the individual's ability to resist harmful advertising, and it should help each person to understand that the traditional food and drink of a given area would best serve the nutritional needs of the people there. Of course, these may be improved, and new food items may be introduced, but its replacement for commercial or fashion reasons could be disastrous.
It is crucial for people to understand that one's nutritional needs are also influenced by the climatic conditions. For instance, in tropical countries, one requires less carbohydrates to sustain body heat for simple physical reasons, while in cooler climes, maintainance of body temperature requires a relatively greater intake of the same item.
At the same time, one must understand that when the use of 'labour saving' devices becomes prevalent, individual energy needs diminish in proportion. Then, if one does not adjust one's diet appropriately, obesity becomes inevitable unless one finds some other suitable outlet for the excess energy. I do not regard eating and drinking as simple fuel intake, but we should understand and pay attention to their fundamental purpose. I think this should be a part of one's general education.
Now, a word about the second major cause of malnutrition. I think agricultural production of an area should be subserviant to the nutritional needs of the inhabitants there. While the chemical ingredients of those needs such as proteins, carbohydrates, etc., are universal, their specific sources and required quantities are subject to an immense variation. Climatic and geographical conditions play a significant role in determining to what sources one may resort to obtain them, eg. variation in cereal types and sources of protein. Traditional eating habits have been fashioned by our awareness of this for a very long time, hence, should not be dismissed as some tend to do.
But unfortunately, in many countries, agricultural production is governed by economic considerations which are motivated by the desire to gain profit. I think most people have heard about instances where farmers were induced to switch over to growing 'cash crops' instead of food crops, which in turn increased the incidence of under nourishment in the area. A different variation of the same sad theme is getting the farmers to export a food crop for more cash leading to a shortage of a local food item. This happened in Senegal and the Cameroons when most of the annual peanut production was exported for cash, and as a result the local chidren began to suffer from protein deficiency as peanuts were an important source of their protein intake.
I think the local agricultural producers and consumers ought to get together to ensure that they first act for their mutual benefit, and then, if it does not entail any environmental degradation, producers may help out their neighbouring communities to make up their short falls. Under careful supervision, such help may be extended to national, regional, and even global levels. But in each case, the guiding principles are the nutritinal needs of the individual at a given place, and never the 'needs' of the abstract entity, the economy.
Social Protection to Enhance the Resilience of Forest-Dependent Peoples
I am happy to see that this very timely subject is up for discussion, for it is an attempt to preserve a rapidly vanishing element of human cultural diversity, and more importantly, an effort towards letting people live in the way they wish.
There is no doubt that a holistic mechanism of social protection is essential to enable the forest-dependent peoples to lead their lives in the most satisfactory way according to their own norms. This is because their ability to do so is undermined by two disruptive forces. First, owing to a variety of reasons, outside human influences are continuing to adversely affect their ability to satisfy their essential needs, and secondly, the general environmental degradation brought about by those imfluences are affecting the forests on which they depend.
Therefore, it would be reasonable to suggest that the social protection we envisage here, ought to counter the adverse effects of those two influences, and to ameliorate their consequences, which are already felt by the forest-dependent peoples. Now, I shall try to outline a possible way forward.
I shall first discuss the possible ways of countering the direct adverse influences. The crucial step here is to set up a sound legal and practicable mechanism to prevent any further reductions in the forest areas on which our target populations depend. Next, it is important to legally entitle the forest-dependent people the sole right of sustainable exploitation of the forest resources to which they ought to be entitled. This right is not to be exercised by an individual, but rather by a representative group chosen by a given population. At the same time, what constitutes sustainable forest harvesting in a given area should be ascertained by a group with reference to scientific and traditional knowledge.
For the sake of completeness, it is necessary to establish a sound and enforceable legal mechanism to control the exploitation of any surrounding forests, which may not be used by a given population of forest-dependent people. At the same time, exploitation of the water ways through forests, locating factories or other installations whose emissions are injurious to the well-being of such forests ought to be prevented.
And finally, two moot points; first, the sensitive issue of exploiting the mineral resources which may be found in forests, and secondly the nature of services like education, health care, etc., offered to forest-dependent peoples. I think it would be wise to place an embargo on mineral exploitation in such areas until we have evolved techniques of exploitation that are only minimally traumatic to sylvan environment. As for the services, I think the current brand of education which irrationally regards technology as an entity having an intrinsic value would be more destructive of the social fabric of forest-dependent peoples than anything else. However, if education offered everywhere is free of this 'purpose of education is to enable one to get the best paid job so that one could live a la mode d'holywood' bias, we would have no cause for concern.
Our next task is to see how to ameliorate the consequences of the adverse influences mentioned earlier. Their impact may affect nutrition, health, security (in its widest sense), etc., of those peoples. As which need is affected, and to what degree it has done so may vary widely, I shall only make some generic suggestions here.
1. Financial and appropriate technical help to establish and operate co-operative to harvest and market forest products by forest-dependent peoples without the mediation of brokers.
2. Restrictions on what is sold to those peoples by outsiders, particularly the sale of exorbitantly priced cheap flashy goods, unhealthy food and beverages.
3. Help to engage in re-forestation of their habitat whenever indicated.
4. Graded long-term food aid compatible with their traditional diet (as much as possible) until they can achieve self-sufficiency.
5. When necessary, housing and clothing help.
6. Establishment of appropriate medical units having the relevant competence.
7. Establishment of legal, administrative, technical and financial infrastructure required to carry out the proposals made here.
I hope this may be of some use.