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II. Programmes of training and research for management and development of drylands in Mexico
Session III received reports on research and training from universities and research institutes in Mexico.
Sr Jorge G. Medina spoke on behalf of his colleagues on the role of the "Antonio Narro" Autonomous Agricultural University at Saltillo, with emphasis on the work of the Department of Renewable Natural Resources. Dr Rodriguez had already given an account of the history and organization of the university in the introductory session of the Workshop. Sr Medina stated that the basic objective of the educational programmes and of research into natural resources was to bring benefit for man and his environment. The training programmes aimed at producing highly qualified professionals; training technical personnel for the field; and improving methodology and productivity in the agricultural, livestock, and forestry industries. There was need for a dynamic and flexible educational structure to adjust to the needs of a changing society. There was also a need to sustain criteria of ecological viability, economic rentability, and socio cultural awareness to guide decisions about the implementation of technology and the provision of technical assistance. An education system aimed at an integrated and objective perspective would be a major factor in improving management practices for the better development of the arid zone. Sr Medina then summarized the activities of UAAAN from the viewpoint of educational programmes directed at the improvement of the arid zone.
Dr Fernando Medellín discussed the operations of the Instituto de Investigación de Zonas Desérticas at the University of San Luis Potosí, which is situated about 400 km south of Saltillo. The institute was founded in 1954 and now has the following organization:
- Department of Biology (sections of Botany, Zoology, and Apiculture, and Herbarium)
- Department of Soils
- Department of Water (sections of Hydrogeochemistry and Microbiology )
- Department of Phytochemistry
- Department of Desertification Studies (under sponsorship of the Ministry of Public Education )
The herbarium has 15,000 plant specimens, not only from the State of San Luis Potosí but from the arid zone of Mexico generally, and from the deserts of the United States. The library has 4,000 volumes and subscribes to more than 450 periodicals. In 25 years the institute has produced about 230 research publications.
The institute provides a public service in undertaking analyses and assessment studies, and collaborates closely with other branches of the University of San Luis Potosí. It does not offer formal programmes of teaching, although in 1979 it organized a two-month course on The Ecology of Arid Zones, sponsored by the Ministry of Public Education, which was attended by students from nine Mexican universities. On the other hand, 42 of its publications consist of Honours theses carried out under the general research programme for students of the university, and representing all the branches of study listed above.
Sr F. Castro referred to research by the Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Agrícolas (INIA) in support of the generation of technology to increase agricultural production in regions receiving more than 350 mm annual precipitation.
Sr S. Olivieri of the instituto de Investigaciones sobre Recursos Bióticos (INIREB) described research being carried out at stations in Durango, Mapimi, Michila, and Puebla/Veracruz, mainly into tropical agriculture.
Dr G.M. Anaya of the Postgraduate College of the University of Chapingo gave details of recent decisions under the Mexican Plan to Combat Desertification. He stated that Mexico had been carrying out studies of desertification since the United Nations Conference on Desertification in Nairobi in 1977. The latest approach was based on a comprehensive review of the problem, and of possible solutions at the national level. The Plan would be carried out mainly through the ministries for Planning and Budgetary Affairs and of Agriculture and Water Resources, with support from the Postgraduate College at the University of Chapingo, the Mexican Arid Zone Commission, and others.
Seven experimental areas had been selected for research and demonstration, in the states of Sonora, Coahuila, Guanajuato, Zacatecas, Cuenca de Mexico, Oaxaca, and Tabasco, which include regions with differing degrees of desertification. Special emphasis was being given to central Mexico, however, where there was a combination of population concentration (60 per cent of the total) and serious degradation. Basic studies carried out in 1980 would lead to the formulation of plans for both long-term and short-term action. Proposals for expenditure are being drawn up, to be applied within pilot areas of 10,000 hectares, although concentrated in smaller cores within those areas.
The Plan aims to explore possibilities of alternative land uses, for example crops, improved pastures, or reforestation, supported by experimentation and demonstration projects. Its object is to achieve a degree of integrated regional development, halt deterioration of croplands and rangelands, and improve environmental and living conditions. One serious problem to be overcome was that of coordination of activities, since there are more than 60 organizations dealing with the problem in central Mexico alone.
In the discussion that followed Dr Nava reviewed attempts at UAAAN to improve the decision making processes, both at the level of the technology-generating institutions such as universities and at the level of the implementing agencies, by involving peasants and their organizations in the processes. There remained the question as to how far ejido members are real participants in decision-making. Other problems were how to close the economic gaps in rural society and how to determine priorities for inputs. An integrated strategy of development needed to be based on participation by the community involved, anticipation of the necessary inputs for improved management of natural resources, and an ability to assess the needs and the capacities of all the participants. One also needs to have information about the minimum size of holdings for economic viability, the ways in-which the various rural institutions can contribute to development, and on appropriate marketing policies for rural and urban needs. There is also a need for more socio-economic information relevant to the development process, and one needs to establish economic, social, and psychological indicators in order to monitor change.
An objective of research by the Department of Renewable Resources was the design and testing of a technology package suited to regions with less than 500 mm annual rainfall which would be acceptable to rural communities and compatible with prevailing principles of ecosystem management, and which would have the object of increasing production and raising peasant incomes. A second aim was the design of an organizational structure to implement this technology, extending to the level of the small farmer and with specific concern for inter-agency co-ordination. Lastly, there should be active participation of the peasants at all stages, from design to implementation. Important components would include research on rural institutions and on credit facilities for peasant communities. The approach would be multidisciplinary, and the study would be based on one or two communities, but hopefully the results would be applicable to other regions.
Experience in experimentation had shown the need to incorporate the three dependent variables: the participating peasants, the rural institutions, and the natural resources. Peasant knowledge of natural resources was particularly important where programmes for improved management of drylands were based on native species. Continuity and consistency are critical to experimental programmes, which should be institutionalized to preserve their overall structure even where components are changed.
Dr Lees asked how peasant participation was supposed to operate. One needs first to know something of their aspirations and expectations, and decisions about inputs for development should be guided by that knowledge. She suggested a project involving collaboration between academics, government employees, and peasants based on a local area such as San Tiburcio.
Sr Trueba commented on his experience of peasant participation in the Tierra Blanca district, saying that where peasant organizations had access to outsiders for consultation and support the results had been positive. However, the data on results of this kind are so uncertain as to render their assessment problematical.
Dr Nava mentioned that work at UAAAN had been criticized as too theoretical, on the grounds that recommendations for increased productivity had not taken sufficient account of social and economic factors. Increasing poverty among peasants, environmental deterioration, and diminishing natural resources ail have to be taken into account, together with the purely technical aspects. The main limiting factors in research to support the application of technology to arid lands problems appear to be lack of trained people and insufficient exchange of scientific information, and the present Workshop might attempt to identify ways in which research could be strengthened. The peasant sector remains the most important in a system which is not well understood, and, again, the Workshop could perhaps offer guidance on research directions.
Sr Flores discussed his experience with peasants employed in collecting candelilla (Euphorbia antisyphilitica) who were among the very poorest. He had been involved with them for more than 20 years and had heard much talk of development, but had seen few results. The main problems appeared to him to be illiteracy and lack of training; however, a few teachers who were living and working with the peasants were making progress, suggesting that we need to have greater contact and involvement with the peasant population in order to overcome arid lands problems.
Sr Laborde described his experience in a development project for rural communities in the San Tiburcio basin. The peasants had participated actively in their seminar, and this had helped to a better understanding of the rural situation. There was, in his view, a general lack of co-ordination between universities and government agencies in social work in rural areas. There was also a problem of insufficient data, but they had first to determine what type of data was needed.
Dr Odingo invited suggestions on interdisciplinary programmes centred on the problem ''Why does existing knowledge not reach the peasant sector?", with support from several institutions. He asked what contributions could be expected from the institutions represented at the Workshop if the UN University were to support a training programme, and what types of agricultural and livestock research should be supported.
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