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V. The role of the united nations university in a network of research and training for the arid zones of Latin America
Professor Mabbutt asked that Session VI should attempt to identify potential areas for co-operation with the UN University under the research and training components of its Arid Lands Sub-programme, and should incidentally attempt to crystallize the previous discussions. There would be brief regional reports on what were seen as fruitful areas for collaboration, but there would also be opportunities to discuss interrelationships between regions in particular subject areas.
In a joint report embodying experience from Chile and Argentina, Drs Gastó and Braun suggested that there was in those countries an adequate administrative structure to support research, training, and extension for the arid zones, linked with existing academic and research institutions in the area. Bearing in mind that the University is not a development agency but works for development through research and training programmes linked with existing institutions, and considering its limited funds and personnel, it would not appear justified to attempt to duplicate existing facilities. It was stressed that solutions to arid lands problems should be ecologically and socio-economically appropriate to the conditions in which they were applied, and in this respect local institutions might be able to offer alternatives to development, with a common objective of improving the quality of life in the arid zones.
They saw the following important areas in which the University could associate with local centres of research and education:
-centralizing, coordinating, and stimulating the exchange of information on arid lands within Latin America;
-improving communication with other areas, to add to the common fund of knowledge on the drylands;
-supporting local research projects that had a general significance;
-supporting graduate training programmes for the development of the Latin American drylands;
-stimulating the formation of multidisciplinary research teams, on a national and multinational scale.
In the discussion that followed, Professor Mabbutt asked that participants should try to identify problem areas that could be worked on in a framework such as had been proposed. Dr Smith suggested that the UN University might support a "model" project that could be applied in several countries of Latin America; for example, conflicts where resources are communally owned but subject to individual exploitation.
Dr Correia noted that Brazil differed in its ethnic composition from other Latin American countries, for it was composed of blacks, whites, and mulattos in the main, the indigenous population having been largely decimated. Consequently, whilst Brazil shared interests with other countries of Latin America, it also had common links with Africa, for example with Angola.
He asked that the UN University should support academic exchanges between Latin American specialists, and also with other countries which have interests in arid lands studies, to enable the more advanced in certain fields to share their experience with the more backward. A large number of graduate students in Brazil could benefit from such interchange. The University could also support workshops in which could participate not only scientists but a wide range of arid-zone inhabitants, from peasants to government officials and including representatives of private organizations involved in work in the drylands.
There were already many researchers in Brazil, both Brazilian and foreign, but he would like to see support for multidisciplinary research teams, involving members from different institutions, working on problems such as the transformation of the Sao Francisco River, its ecological impact and social consequences. His own university, Pernambuco State University, had a project under consideration for support from the Ford Foundation, on natural resources problems in the area.
In reply, Dr Medellín suggested that Dr Correia had raised topics in which the UN University might well be able to help, but, despite the interesting reports received so far, there was a lack of information on which the Workshop could come to firm conclusions. They had heard of these projects only since arriving at Saltillo.
Professor Mabbutt stressed that, although the University could support existing general arrangements for research and training-as through the award of Fellowships-its main activities tended to be related to problem areas defined within its programmes, and the theme of the Arid Lands Sub-programme was "The Assessment of Obstacles to the Application of Existing Knowledge in the Solution of Arid Lands Problems.'' To this end it could associate with and strengthen an existing institution; promote and support research; and assist the flow of information through holding workshops and supporting visits by senior scientists with a record of achievement. It could assist training in the interests of its sub-programme, viewed in the widest context, for graduate professionals engaged in the management and development of arid lands, and for younger staff at educational institutions who could benefit from study overseas. What was needed from the Workshop was suitable themes about which such reinforcing activities could be developed.
Speaking on the Mexican situation, Dr Nava stressed that, in his view, education and training for arid lands development did not have an adequate organizational basis. For this reason he considered it important to establish a study group on the application of technology in this area. The problem was one calling not so much for major scientific discoveries as for a knowledge of how to operate in creating a system for technology transfer at various levels. The system should have continuity and should be co-ordinated with social action within the existing social system.
The two areas in which he would like the UN University to support existing projects are:
-training in problems of technology transfer; and
-interdisciplinary research into ecosystem transformation, for example of natural vegetation, the organization of natural resources, and the application of existing knowledge to these ends.
This would allow a development of effective extension activities at the ejido level, since he saw the two areas as being fundamental to arid lands management and development in northern Mexico. Under organization of natural resources he included study of the optimal organization of the elements available to ejido members, such as fences, water points, and sheds, to bring maximum sustained production. Alternative types of management systems should be determined and their operation studied, both in the ejidos and independently.
Sr Trueba commented that Dr Nava's proposals tended to centre on natural resources problems, whereas the Workshop had emphasized social problems in development, and the role of the social sciences. In training, Nava had concentrated on the university level, whereas training of the peasant landusers should be incorporated into the programmes. Lastly, research in the universities was oriented more towards the technological aspects of productions than towards the social relationships involved.
Dr Zavaleta described a basic investigation being undertaken in Peru into one of the 54 catchments, that of the Cañete River, crossing the coastal desert to the Pacific. The project aimed to identify the problems of development and to define strategies to overcome them. He suggested that the University could support a multidisciplinary approach in this project, and use the results towards the definition of arid lands problems elsewhere in Latin America.
Dr Freeman Smith said that the Workshop had centred its discussion on the problem of how to design research that would assist technology transfer through an understanding of mechanisms and obstacles. It was a subject that called for a multidisciplinary approach, with integration of contributions from the social and natural sciences. It was unrealistic to expect the UN University to become involved in specific, long-term research projects, but in his view it could contribute to the development of a methodology on how to deal with problems of and responses to technology transfer. On the basis of the results obtained in such a study, one could group a number of contributors in each country to carry out specific studies which would further answers to the main questions of research design and technology transfer.
Dr Schechter drew attention to a point made earlier by Dr Gastó: in 30 years of arid-zone research we had made little impact on those regions. The UN University could encourage consideration of this key question, for it could be maintained that the majority of heads of research institutions did not know how to do relevant research, whilst the majority of heads of development agencies did not know how to apply the results of research. The problem was not specific to arid regions. By encouraging study of it, the University could possibly contribute information and experience to research directors and to those in charge of development.
Application of research had a number of socioeconomic and political aspects. We do not know enough about the interest of social scientists in this area; both in the social and in the natural sciences there is a need for better information and for better access to information for an attack on the common problem.
Concerning studies suitable for seminars and research projects, these could include the problem of management of communal lands in the different countries of Latin America, such as the ejidos in Mexico, on which a number of studies had been made. We need an integration of social and ecological research in the design of alternative technologies for such communities.
Dr Braun considered that there was scope for increased productivity and an improvement of living standards through ecosystem management in the systems of transhumance on the eastern slopes of the Andes between 30° and 38°S. He suggested that it would be worthwhile to study these systems, to carry out an analysis of the bases of production, and to consider alternatives.
Further discussion resulted in agreement on two fundamental questions which the UN University sub-programme might seek to answer through its sponsored activities in Latin America:
-How does one determine the relevance of current research and existing knowledge to the problem of arid lands development?
-How does one identify, with arid lands communities, those endemic mechanisms for social change with which science and technology must link in the interests of development and improved living standards?
The answers to both involved the social scientist centrally, working in collaboration with the ecologist and agricultural scientist, and were fundamental to the design and transfer of technology.
Summing up, Professor Mabbutt stated that the Workshop had stressed an approach that should begin with identification of the perceived needs and aspirations of the arid lands communities involved, and then consider the relevance of existing knowledge and proposed technology to these. Research should also identify the potential for change within the community and the endemic processes involved, with which science and technology must link for participatory development. Finally, there remained the obstacles to such linkage. These might rest in the irrelevance of knowledge and technology to the local circumstances of production or to community aims; in administrative breakdown; in the unavailability of the necessary inputs; in lack of training or communication, or in a host of other factors, some operating from outside the community concerned. Attention should be given to criteria of success or failure, which differed between institutions.
Discussion had endorsed a multidisciplinary approach, with an important role for the social scientist in collaboration with ecologists, agricultural scientists, and other colleagues. Given the theme of the sub-programme and the timing of its operations, it was likely that emphasis would be placed on case studies which could analyse experience in research, extension, and development in relation to existing conditions in the drylands, their management problems and development prospects. The objective might be the establishment of methodological guidelines for research and training in the service of development for improved living conditions and environmental rehabilitation.
It was, perhaps, premature to identify specific topics for investigation at this stage, although several possibilities had been mentioned at the Workshop. What seemed appropriate was the enlistment of regional groups which could be provided with terms of reference to assist them in identifying appropriate topics for investigation. These discussions should draw on experience from a wide field, including peasant organizations, development agencies, social workers, extension services, etc., as well as the universities.
On behalf of the United Nations University, the organizers, and the participants, Professor Mabbutt once again thanked Dr Nava and his colleagues for the excellent arrangements, the administrative support, and the kind hospitality which had helped to make the important personal contacts and which had contributed to the friendly atmosphere and co-operative spirit of the Workshop. He also thanked the chairmen and rapporteurs of the various sessions for their support in keeping the Workshop on course and maintaining the record of its discussions. Lastly, he thanked the participants for their contributions towards the objectives of the Workshop. With goodwill and much informal assistance, which he gratefully acknowledged, difficulties of language had been overcome. Thanks to a fine team spirit the Workshop had usefully pointed the way for extension in Latin America of the activities of the United Nations University under its Arid Lands Sub-programme.
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