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World wilderness conference
NGOs meet in Nairobi
Engineering nitrogen fixation

World wilderness conference

To emphasize a theme of worldwide conservation, more than 3 000 wilderness and wildlife conservationists are expected to convene in September 1987 for the fourth World Wilderness Congress.

The international meeting will draw leading ecologists, industrialists, environmentalists, sports enthusiasts, artists, writers, psychologists, political and tribal leaders and other conservationists to Denver and Estes Park, Colorado.

The purpose of the congress is to bring together people with widely divergent views on conservation issues to heighten awareness of wilderness needs and environmental protection concerns.

UNDISTURBED AREA NEAR KILIMANJARO a world conference on wilderness

The Colorado congress will address such issues as tropical rain-forest conservation and oceanic parks and help develop international standards to deal with acid rain and other atmospheric problems in the world.

Natural resources experts will offer several three- to four-week short courses in conservation technology. Topics will include the administration of wildlife resources, and integrated resource planning and management.

Other activities include technical sessions, discussions, field trips, cultural events, presentations by prominent political and environmental leaders, a film festival and an international poster exhibition.

"Broadly speaking, the congress seeks to stimulate conservation actions toward a balanced stewardship of natural and human resources," said Vance Martin, congress executive.

Martin is president of the nonprofit-making International Wilderness Leadership Foundation, an education and research group that sponsors the world event every three or four years.

Martin added that many of the delegates will come to learn about the United States' wilderness protection efforts. More than 400 million ha in 120 countries are national parks or other designated natural areas, yet few of those countries have wilderness protection laws per se.

NGOs meet in Nairobi

A higher profile and new contacts with the world's conservation and development NGOs were some of the results of the participation of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) in the Environment and Development Conference of Non-governmental Organizations, held from 4 to 8 February 1985 in Nairobi.

The conference, which was sponsored by the Environment Liaison Centre and funded by UNEP, brought together for the first time some 150 NGOs from 55 countries working in environment, development, or both.

Many top United Nations officials, including Dr Mostafa Tolba, the Executive Director of UNEP, and representatives from international aid agencies, attended the sessions, reflecting the international establishment's growing interest in closer ties with NGOs, because they are seen as working more closely with the people involved in conservation at a grass-roots level.

Dr Tolba told participants that despite a narrowing of differences between environment and development agencies, political conflict will continue to exist over the world's dwindling resources of oil, forests, fisheries, arable land and fresh water, unless there is more inter-agency cooperation.

He said NGOs could help by setting a good example: by working to combine food relief projects with tree-planting and soil and water conservation; and by designing and applying "alternative" development patterns, like pest management plans that lessen dependence on pesticides. He said they could work to bring about better understanding of the interrelationship between population, environment and development.

He encouraged NGOs to set specific date targets to reduce desertification in Africa, to stop tropical forest destruction in Southeast Asia, to find better ways to dispose of toxic chemicals, to define workable water-use strategies at the community level, anti to find ways to lessen the danger of environmental accidents, such as the disaster at Bhopal.

Many participants felt the greatest value of the conference lay in the opportunities it gave for establishing new contacts to extend the networking, information exchange, and joint action of many NGOs.

"There was less hard-core confrontation rhetoric in this meeting than most." the IUCN/World Wildlife Fund delegate said after the conference. "In general, there was an infectious spirit of enthusiasm, it search for practical steps to link up for greater strength and knowledge-sharing, and a willingness to listen to others."

IUCN Bulletin, 16 (1-3)

Engineering nitrogen fixation

According to a recent report on the state of the environment issued by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the cutting edge of the new miracle technologies is the work being done on biological nitrogen fixation.

Nitrogen - a key determinant in crop productivity - is the base of many fertilizers. Most plants are unable to draw nitrogen directly from the atmosphere but rely instead on fertilizers or on bacteria capable of fixing nitrogen from the air. If plants could tap that 70 percent of the atmosphere which is nitrogen, plant productivity could increase dramatically, and the need for energy-intensive fertilizers would fall away.

Just how great an impact on food production new "super" grains will have, few are willing to predict. Scientists are moving with caution in completely new fields like genetic engineering as the impacts of such technologies are evaluated. With some breakthroughs, such as biological nitrogen fixation, the side-effects appear to be unreserved beneficial.

In this technique, the most notable result would be the altered balance of nitrogen in the post-harvest soils. With most grains, the post-harvest soil is left depleted of its reserves of nitrogen, thus reducing fertility and forcing the rotation of crops or the abandonment of the land. The use of nitrogen-fixing strains, however, would reduce or eliminate such unproductive spells and leave the ground no less fertile than it was before sowing.

Other such promising technologies, however, might have less predictable or less beneficial side-effects. Doubts linger as to the possible adverse effects of releasing novel organisms into the environment. With hybridization, as with genetic engineering, drought-resistant cultivars could well lead to the cultivation of progressively drier regions where year-to-year rainfall variation can be enormous. In such areas, wind and water erosion could cause extensive crop damage and lead to irreversible soil degradation.

While the scientific community walks carefully on an unsteady tightrope, with the prospect of the drastic consequences of hasty commercialization, the UNEP report makes a case for urgent action.

Sustainable development occurs only when food supply not only matches population growth but leaves the productive capacity of the land free for continued growth and development. New technologies must be able to preserve the soils' life-giving fertility, while still giving the production yields needed in a world of burgeoning populations.

The challenge confronting development planners, the report claims, is not to have blind faith in the progress of science but to channel their resources into bringing the new technologies from the laboratories into the grain fields at the earliest possible moment.

UNEP has proposed a 19-point plan for national and international action. The plan - calling for a combination of environmentally sound planning, impact assessments and the development of tested technologies - draws a fine line between optimism and despair.

On the one hand, the report sees a new Agrarian Revolution as holding out hope of feeding a globe whose population is expected to pass 10 000 million by the middle of the next century. At the same time, however, the report cautions against complacency and calls on decision-makers to heed the ghost of Malthus pressing on their heels.

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