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I. Problems of management and development of Latin American drylands
In the working sessions of the first two days, management and development were listed separately, but in fact treatment of these two closely related topics was inevitably overlapping. For this reason the proceedings have been reviewed under a single heading.
In Session I, Commission A discussed environmental factors affecting the present management of Latin American drylands. Papers were presented by Harold E. Dregne on Environmental factors in the Agriculture of Arid Zones of Latin America, and by Juan Gastó on Environmental Factors in the Management of Arid Rangelands in South America.
Dregne noted that significant soil degradation had occurred in all agricultural regions of Latin America, in the form of accelerated wind and water erosion, excessive leaching of nutrients, salinization and waterlogging of irrigated lands, soil crusting, and soil compaction by heavy machinery.
Winds are strong at some times of the year throughout the arid regions, particularly in the extreme south of South America, and wind erosion is a natural consequence of overgrazing or unwise cultivation of sandy soils. Fortunately these are extensive only in central Argentina, but wind erosion is locally important in other parts of Argentina and in northern Mexico. Water erosion is severe on steep slopes, as in the Andean altiplano of South America and in the Mexican highlands, but is also significant on moderately sloping lands. An environmental factor is the high intensity of summer rainfalls, as in northeastern Brazil (where the tropical soils are also highly erodible) and in Mexico. Another general factor is the sparsity of protective vegetation at the end of the dry season. Drought is a recurring feature of all arid regions, but its impact on the livelihood systems of Latin America is probably greatest in northeastern Brazil, where a quite appreciable rainfall may be concentrated in a few summer months and where droughts frequently continue for three or more years.
One example of soil-nutrient loss is the Guajira region of northern Columbia, where overgrazing and soil impoverishment have led to the replacement of the climax vegetation by thorny species of more xeric character. The porous soils of low water-holding capacity have contributed to loss of fertility. Generally, however, reduction in soil fertility is due to erosion rather than to leaching.
Problems of drainage and salinity generally occur together. They affect all irrigated lands in Latin America to some degree, but are major concerns in the Mexicali Valley of Mexico, in Santiago del Estero in Argentina, and in the many alluvial valleys that cross the coastal plain of Peru. Most of the damage is the result of poor management, but salinity of irrigation water contributes significantly in northern Mexico and Argentina, where saline geological strata provide a salt source. Cyclic salts affect coastal soils of western South America, but are economically unimportant. Large saline depressions (salinas, salares) occur with enclosed drainage and impermeable sediments in Argentina and on the Andean altiplano.
Gastó agreed with Dregne that the environmental problems of the dry rangelands of South America were not unique to that continent, save for the dominance of the N-S Andean chain, which restricted the latitudinal transfer of water, sediment, and nutrients. Most of the rangelands were shrublands rather than grasslands, and common environmental problems were infertile soils, seasonal aridity, and highly variable rainfall. A combination of edaphic and climatic stress and human pressure -overgrazing, clearing of watersheds, and removal of vegetation for fuel-had generally given rise to a more xeric vegetation sub-climax than was warranted by the climate. This was the result of deterioration of soil structure and soil-water relations, with consequent hydrological deterioration. Reduction in phytomass had generally led to the opening up of the biogeochemical cycles, and loss of fertility. There had commonly been a reduction in the cover of useful perennial pasture plants and an increase in less durable annuals, or invasion by shrubs of little value. Dr Gastó illustrated these points in a broad survey of the main rangeland types.
So far little study had been made of the rangelands and of plant successions under grazing in the interests of management, but experience in the Chihuahua Desert, where rangelands had been enclosed for three years, had indicated that improvements could be achieved comparable with those in the United States. The fact that most of the grazing systems had been in operation little more than 150 years in South America meant that the situation was generally not irremediable.
In discussion it was stated that there was evidence that the deterioration or desertification described in these two papers was the result not of climatic change but rather of a combination of land-use pressure and environmental stress. Dr X.E. Hernández claimed that in Mexico the interaction of man with vegetation went back much longer than claimed by Gastó, probably for several thousands of years. This was suggested by survival patterns of grasses in the arid zone. These remained important resources which we should learn to develop; there should perhaps be less emphasis on the problems of the arid zones and more on their endemic resources. This potential called for regional studies in support of development.
One notable feature of the Latin American environment was marked seasonal aridity, such that regions with more than 800 mm annual rainfall, as on the southern margins of the Amazon Basin, could suffer marked deficit. These regimes were not well-suited by existing climatic classifications and called for a new conceptualization of drought.
In Commission B social and economic problems were represented in papers by Manuel Correia on Economic and Social Problems in the Irrigated Areas of the San Francisco Valley, Northeast Brazil, and D.J. Trueba on Economic and Social Problems in the Mexican Arid Zones.
The San Francisco basin is the major catchment of northeast Brazil and the only permanent water course. A large number of seasonal tributaries account for an extremely variable discharge, from a low-season 900 cumecs to over 13,000 cumecs during the wet season. The seasonally inundated floodplains have traditionally been used by peasants for crops after the waters receded. However, the damming of large reservoirs for electricity-generation and irrigation schemes has put these fields permanently under water. In the face of these problems the government set up an agency for the planning of modern irrigation schemes, but these have been oriented towards commercial agriculture, with capital-intensive, labour-saving enterprises such as sugar plantations, distilleries, vineyards, and improved pastures. An attempt at co-operative farming based on family-size properties appears to have failed.
These measures not only have failed to resolve socioeconomic problems within the region but are creating even more serious problems of interregional imbalance. They are resulting in the expulsion of the poorer sector of the rural population, mainly the peasants and fishermen who used to live on the river margins. These people are being forced to migrate to the cities, where, because of lack of education and training, they tend to swell the ranks of urban unemployed. In destroying the family-size holdings, development policies have increased the landless, wage-earning component of the rural population, which is able to find work on the large estates only during planting and harvesting times, and on the hydroelectricity and irrigation projects only during construction.
Dr Trueba stated that serious desertification of the Mexican drylands had in the past resulted from neglect or misuse of the land, and from conditions of land tenure. Mining, forestry, and the operations of large estates had all contributed. In more recent times, population growth, urbanization, and industrialization had been responsible. In formerly densely wooded areas of southeastern Mexico, forests had been destroyed for the establishment of pastures for beef cattle. The peasants had been forced out of this system of commercial livestock farming because of their lack of capital and know-how, and had ended up by having to lease out their land to entrepreneurs who exploited their labour. Because they cannot obtain their living from the cattle, the peasants are being reduced to depending on government assistance, and finally to being driven from their lands.
Trueba went on to discuss recent problems for arid lands management. First, there had been inadequate analysis of the production systems and of the role played by different groups of producers under changing conditions of Mexican agriculture. Second, there had been a failure, by government and by private institutions, to identify the real problems of the rural population, and to study them. These failings become important when it is considered that, in the new international division of labour, Mexico has been assigned the role of producer of raw materials, and that the new technology introduced to increase the production of export crops often causes additional and greater damage to the environment than did traditional subsistence farming. He stressed the need for the education and organization of the peasants in order to obtain their support and involvement in the campaign against desertification.
Commission C received presentations from G.M. Anaya on Technology and the Present Management of the Arid Zones of Latin America, and from Freeman M. Smith on Management of Natural Resources in the Arid North of Mexico.
Anaya stressed the great extent of arid and semiarid lands in Latin America, covering 60 per cent of Mexico and Argentina and 25 per cent of Peru. Whilst this represents a great potential for food production, these areas are undergoing accelerating degradation, or desertification, relative to their natural powers of recovery. Hence the important need to generate and apply technology that is in harmony with the essential production systems of agriculture, livestock, and forestry, with the object of sustained and increased productivity and the raising of living standards in the areas.
But technology must be seen as part of a complete system which embraces economic and social conditions as well as ecological considerations, for technology is the essential link between the natural and social system. Whilst technology is the essential instrument of development, its misapplication can have harmful environmental consequences, as are evident in deforestation, overgrazing, over withdrawal from aquifers, and defective drainage of irrigated lands. Whilst we have a large store of technology, it needs to be evaluated in order that we may select what is appropriate for a particular region. This places considerable responsibility on institutions that are developing technologies, namely to consider their relationship with the wise management and conservation of natural resources.
Anaya stressed the need to evaluate the current desertification of Latin America in order to assist the diffusion of technology suited to combating it. Interchange of experience in training, research, and development was essential. This would help in establishing pilot areas for training, research, and local production that were ecologically representative, with the aims of diffusing this experience into adjacent regions. Plans to combat desertification were being drawn up by national committees in several Latin American countries, and these organizations could assist the exchange of experience with the object of establishing integrated systems of production for the better use of natural resources in the various dryland environments.
Freeman Smith approached the problem of resource management as exemplified in arid northern Mexico through an analysis of ecosystem characteristics. He noted the basic problem of rainfall variation from year to year. He stressed the importance of conservational management to improve the physical and chemical properties of the soil, which he considered to be the fundamental manageable resource. On the other hand, vegetation resources were capable of more flexible management, for direct use in cropping systems or indirect use in the case of livestock-based production. He introduced the concept of time and space as resources which underlie alternatives for management. The first is evident in the choice between management for sustained production and opportunistic management which attempts to harvest the surplus of occasional good climatic years; the second is fundamental to the choice between smaller-scale and larger-scale production systems.
Plenary discussions following the presentation of commission proceedings centred on relations between management or development programmes and the resource-user. It was claimed that these programmes are generally formulated from the cities, and that they tend to reinforce the interests of capitalist rural and urban groups to the disadvantage of the peasant sector. There was need for the design of programmes to work with the people, and one consequence of this was a study of the question of migration; to find out why people stay, or leave, or return to the land. The development of conservational systems of resource use required linkages between researchers and land-users. Indeed, there was a need for integration of all the sectors involved, in research, training, and development, and for programmes to be designed to remove the time-constraints imposed by bureaucracy so that development could be redefined in appropriate time-frames.
Concerning the many concurrent programmes dealing with desertification, it was considered important that support should be given to activities with different perspectives of desertification, in order to answer the question "How do aims between these groups conflict or agree?" It was necessary to analyse the ways in which different agencies focus on action in arid lands, and to look at illustrative case studies.
In Session II, Dr Rolando Braun spoke to Commission A on Technological Obstacles to Development in West-Central Argentina.
Dr Braun, Director of the Instituto Argentino de Investigaciones de las Zonas Aridas (IADIZA) at Mendoza, summarized briefly some of the major technical problems which faced the development of natural resources in his region. These included:
- export of natural wealth from the region, such as timber and firewood;
- inefficient use of surface and underground water resources, leading locally to secondary salinization of soils;
- bad management of livestock, and particularly overstocking;
- the need for improvement of local livestock breeds;
- problems of animal health;
- misuse or non-use of pasture resources;
- the problem of maintaining a balance in the local fauna in combination with its economic harvesting;
- improvement in the availability of energy, particularly non-conventional energy.
Dr Braun stressed that this enumeration of technical problems opposing regional development did not mean that it was not recognized that many important obstacles were linked with economic and social conditions in the region.
Two papers on social and economic obstacles to development were presented to Commission B, namely Social and Economic Problems in the Management of Arid Lands on the Altiplano of Peru and Bolivia by David L. Browman and Sociocultural Obstacles to Agricultural Innovation by Susan H. Lees.
Dr Browman used his case study from the altiplano of Bolivia and Peru to illustrate the principle that development programmes must consider the social relationships of production. In this area an ecologically successful agro-pastoral economy had developed by 3000 B.P., combining cropping of tubers, grains, and legumes such as native beans at lower levels with the nomadic herding of camelids at higher elevations. The system was well adjusted to the two main environmental problems of seasonal aridity and salinization of soils. With European impact, wheat and barley replaced native grains, whilst sheep replaced the camelids, on the basis of the hacienda system, but on the Indian lands the social relationships of production remained little changed.
Agricultural reform movements in Bolivia from 1953 and in Peru from 1969 attempted to change these relationships, with the breakdown and transfer of haciendas to syndicates or co-operatives, and pressure was brought to bring subsistence agriculture into the wider national economy. These moves have not succeeded, partly because they failed to appreciate the strength of tradition of individual land-ownership and partly because they emphasized capital-intensive rather than labour-intensive production in areas of high rural unemployment. Political policies of low prices for farm commodities were another problem.
Browman proposed some lines of agricultural development which he considered might be socio economic ally and ecologically appropriate. These included the re-introduction of camelid herding, as being ecologically more efficient than that of sheep, supported by improved animal and range management; development of aquaculture in natural and artificial ponds, which would include some saline lands, for production of fish, water plants, and algae dried for sale as a foodstuff; and the resuscitation of old, appropriately labor-intensive, field-cropping methods such as ridge and-furrow to control salinization.
In her review, Dr Lees commented that concurrent evaluations of development schemes were few, but on the evidence she doubted the reality of ''cultural opposition ''to agricultural innovation among traditional societies in Latin America. Rejection or misuse seem to have resulted from such factors as risk aversion, lack of correct information, lack of access to essential resources, or inappropriateness of the innovations to local conditions. Other quoted obstacles, such as the gap between educated and uneducated or the reluctance of administrators and technical advisers to stay in the "hinterland," were neither peculiar to nor universal in Latin America.
Dr Lees claimed that the fundamental obstacles to development were the natural hazards such as drought, and noted that development schemes tend to increase the vulnerability of communities to such hazards, either through the increased specialization involved in the new technology or through increased poverty and dependence among the weaker sectors of the communities affected. This was demonstrated in studies of the effects of irrigation schemes in northeastern Brazil.
Such experience suggested that planning for development should first involve study of traditional strategies for coping with environmental hazard, and then design its measures and staff-training on the basis of that understanding. These measures should foster existing adjustments to hazard and if possible increase their effectiveness, as through extension services, and complement the adjustments with new inputs, for example with drought-resistant crop varieties. The next step should be to consider the impact of modernization on the ability of the local population to cope with the severe impact of environmental hazard and to design appropriate options. Lastly, technicians and social workers should be prepared to detect and report on changes which affected the ability of the community to respond to natural and economic pressures. Since that response diminishes with dependence, there is a paramount need for participation by the local community in the development process, suggesting that the gap between farmer and technician is the most important of the many communication gaps that have been identified as obstacles to development.
In the ensuing discussions in Commission B it was pointed out that models of exploitation from without commonly stand opposed to indigenous models of subsistence production. Where active resistance is repressed, indigenous groups may use passive resistance in the form of rejection of aid. Sometimes there is an initial acceptance of innovation as a means of obtaining access to land, but deeper or continuing integration is refused, either because of ingrained cultural problems, such as those between Indian and white-mestizo elements in some parts of Latin America, or because the advantages of cooperation are seen as having been exhausted. Research itself may suffer from its "external" character, tending to respond to the interests of the researchers rather than of the land-users.
Dr Lees reaffirmed that social and cultural obstacles are often related to vulnerability to natural hazards, which increases with poverty and social backwardness. This suggests target areas for research and planning: studying the risks involved in human activities; learning how people confront these problems; and planning operations and remedial measures in light of the findings.
In his paper to Commission C on Economic Obstacles to Development of the Arid Zones of Latin America, Victor M. Piña noted that, despite the long involvement of international organizations in strategies for development, there remained basic problems in the agricultural economy. In 1978 agricultural production in Latin America increased by only 1.8 per cent, when the overall growth rate was 4.8 per cent, and had remained below the rate of population increase. Whilst agricultural labour comprised 40 per cent of the work force, its share of total income was 15 per cent. Rural poverty was associated with lack of education and unsatisfactory nutrition, housing, and health. At the same time agricultural lands were not being fully utilized, and were being abandoned in many arid regions.
There was inadequate expenditure on agricultural research to maintain the necessary inflow of technology, despite the activities of the United Nations International Development Organization (UNIDO), etc. Whilst all countries in Latin America were seeking investment finance, the level of technological and financial assistance from the developed world had fallen, such that further growth in Latin America was seriously threatened.
At the regional level, development of natural resources was needed to maintain the balance between regions and between the city and the country. Rural migration to the cities creates unemployment and overcrowding there, whilst it depletes the rural areas-particularly the arid zones-of people with the will and knowledge for the application of technology. There was a need for integrated and democratic planning to provide technical and marketing assistance and for an evaluation of projects in terms of their social as well as their purely economic benefits. It will not help to consolidate existing agrarian structures which thereby add to inequality and social injustice.
Among the needs Dr Piño listed were:
- increased public expenditure on basic rural needs;
- more equitable distribution of the benefits of development;
- rehabilitation of arid lands, including reforestation, to combat the combined impact of man and nature;
- settlement policies which restored the balance between rural and urban sectors;
- extension of the area of productive land and promotion of new commercial crops ( jojoba, etc. );
- increased flow of international capital;
- incorporation of the inflation factor in development programmes.
Two contributions to Session II dealt with organizational problems of development and technology transfer. Donald J. Percious presented a paper on behalf of Michael E. Norvelle and himself on University Technical Assistance and Drylands Development, and in Commission A Joel Schechter spoke on Organizational Problems in Management of Latin American Drylands.
Dr Percious described the experience of the Laboratory of Native Development, System Analysis and Applied Technology (NADSAT) at the University of Arizona, and suggested that principles and methods used to assist the economic development of tribal American Indians in the arid southwestern United States might be applicable elsewhere. NADSAT was established in 1976, with support from the US Department of Commerce, with two primary objectives:
- to provide technical assistance to American Indian tribes for the more effective use and economic development of natural resources on their reservations;
- to transfer current technology to the tribes to assist them towards their expressed goal of self determination.
The programme has since been broadened to include assistance with administrative management.
NADSAT has a small core of staff, experienced in natural resources development, which knows how to tap the wide range of skills within the university community, or which may sub-contract with outside help. Temporary staff are employed for specific projects. NADSAT operates only in response to expressed community needs, and on the principle that it will continue to serve in helping to solve problems that inevitably crop up in any undertaking after the formal conclusion of the project.
The bases of technology transfer during project operations are:
- direct involvement of tribal personnel throughout;
- attention to appropriate methods of presentation of information;
- specific technical training as required by the project.
A university is well placed to fill the gap between science and technology and the user in developing communities, for its knowledge of the regional environment will guide it in the application of systems best suited to local conditions, and in the necessary adaptation of imported technology.
Schechter stressed that organizational schemes for development and management should be complete packages of interactive, mutually reinforcing components, which contain the incentives to achieve their goals. They should include extension services, marketing support, etc. Lack of reinforcing elements can lead to failure of the entire scheme, for example where credit incentives to farmers are not associated with risk-sharing components.
Agrarian reform measures tend towards land fragmentation unless linked with forms of cooperative enterprise. Schemes for new land settlement which do not include sufficient possibilities for non-agricultural employment will result in wastage of manpower and social instability. Planning and management are commonly scattered among separate and uncoordinated agencies, rather than forming part of an integrated whole.
Adaptation of technology to local conditions calls for locally based research and experimentation centres linked with extension systems. This allows the stations to act as centres of diffusion of management techniques.
To overcome problems of social and cultural acceptability, schemes should have long-term objectives supported by suitable educational programmes.
In the concluding plenary session Dr Schechter affirmed that commonly little was known about available technology and that the processes of diffusion and adaptation tended to be ineffectual, with the result that there were few examples of the successful adaptation and application of new technologies. For this reason there was need to examine the relationships between research, technology, and development, for example the role of research and experiment stations in relation to development.
It was agreed that action programmes should be initiated in regions with potential for rehabilitation, and that they should be sufficiently integrated to provide incentives for all sectors of the community, including the administering authorities as well as different strata of producers.
It was suggested that the UN University might sponsor case studies of areas where development had occurred or had been attempted, to evaluate that experience and to establish guidelines for overcoming obstacles in the future. Because of the importance of maintaining flexibility in strategies for development of the drylands, comparative studies should be encouraged, for instance between smallscale, labour-intensive farming systems and largescale exploitation of the hacienda type, to determine their applicability. It was important to discover development alternatives, not only for different ecosystems but for contrasting economic, social, and political systems.
Other topics recommended for study were:
- traditional strategies for confronting major hazards of arid lands, such as drought;
- the problem of migration in its broadest context, including why some people resist outmigration and others leave; why some return; and the impact of migration on the rural source areas and on receiving areas in the cities;
- problems of integration of the poorest social elements into society, in the framework of the development process;
- the creation of systems of education which reflect the aspirations of rural communities and their perceptions of priorities.
In all this work, preference should be given to regionally oriented, multidisciplinary teams based on local universities.
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