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IV. Programmes of research and training for the management of arid zones in Latin America

Session V consisted of a number of presentations on the situation in the main dryland countries of Latin America.

Dr Braun reported that the situation in Argentina did not appear very encouraging, despite there being a number of centres for arid zone research. The main centre, IADIZA in Mendoza, was supported by CONICET, by the regional University of Cuyo, by the Government of Mendoza Province, and, for specific activities, by Centro de Investigación y Formación en Ciencias Ambientales (CIFCA) and the Organization of American States (OAS). It had a staff of 30 scientists working on the arid and semi-arid regions of west-central Argentina, and its programmes embraced botanical studies, forest fauna, geomorphology and soils, meteorology and climate. watershed management, range improvement, the human and built environment, and economics and sociology. Other centres for arid zone research were La Rioja and Tucumán, and, for natural resources engineering, Cuyo and Río Cuarto. Patagonia's problems, which are different and peculiar to the region, are studied at Puerto Madryl. The National Institute for Agriculture and Livestock (INTA) was also involved, with 15 experimental stations in the arid and semi-arid regions, by funding crop studies and offering scholarships.

The main problem was the link between research and management practices, and training was needed in extension and the transfer of technology. Extension was the responsibility of the central government or provincial authorities, and training in this field was mainly in the hands of INTA, through its research and extension service.

Overall, Dr Braun did not consider that a sufficient share of resources was being devoted to research for management of the arid and semi-arid lands of Argentina, and felt that there was a lack of continuity in the support given, in terms both of staffing and of funds.

Dr Lailhacar reported that arid lands research in Chile was shared between universities and research institutes, but that it received relatively minor emphasis. Among the universities only the Universidad del Norte, with its Instituto de Desarrollo del Desierto, and the University of Chile, with its Programa de Zonas Aridas y Semiaridas (PRIZAS), were strongly involved. In the University of Chile support was being received from OAS and regional authorities. Research here was focused on the Norte Chico (Region IV, Coquimbo), where excessive population pressure, poorly managed shifting cultivation, overgrazing, and deforestation, aggravated by cutting for firewood, had led to serious desertification. Under a harsh climate, people subsist under conditions of great poverty, particularly the communities on former marginal hacienda lands. Regional research carried out under PRIZAS is centred on the development of improved grazing systems, using Atriplex spp., for sheep and goats, with supporting studies in such areas as plant-energy-water relationships, soils, climate, plant and animal ecology, and systems analysis.

The main weaknesses had been in the areas of economics and social studies, and in particular housing, health, and education. In earlier years the programmes of research had been determined by individual scientists, but from 1980 a more coordinated, problem-oriented approach was intended. Other institutions collaborating in PRIZAS included the La Serena campus of the University of Chile, and some departments from Valparaiso-about 80 scientists in all. A major International Congress was held at La Serena in January 1980 on Studies of Arid and Semi-arid Zones, and 50 papers had been published in summary.

In the application of the results of research, much work on planting Atriplex had been carried out by Corporación Nacional de Recursos Forestales (CONARF), and other support had come from national institutes such as INIA and Instituto Nacional de Desarrollo Agropecuario (INDAP). Assistance had been given to the University of Chile in the establishment of a rangeland research farm at Las Cardas, near La Serena.

Two main problems remained the choice of effective research projects, and the application of the results of research in practice. Although there was a long history of concern with research into arid zone problems in Chile, many of the scientists involved were trained in developed countries, and their work was not well adapted and relevant to Chilean conditions and to regional problems. There was need for some reference-frame for determining research priorities, and the strengthening of a multidisciplinary approach oriented towards problem-solving. One problem was the absence of graduate programmes in arid lands studies in Chilean universities, and another was lack of experience in the implementation of research results. The existing agricultural extension services were in bad shape, and mainly concerned with livestock and crop control.

Dr Correia reported similar problems from Brazil, where fundamental research tends to be carried out by the universities and applied research by research and planning institutions. University research tends to be strongly departmentalized, as in agronomy, biology, ecology, economics, and sociology, and there is little interdisciplinary work and no strong focus on regional problems. The agricultural engineering programmes at his own university, the University of Pernambuco, give emphasis to crops such as sugar cane and cacao, because these are linked with opportunities for employment in government service, and the same happens in other areas of professional study. Generally, there is greater interest in the more humid coastal region than in the arid interior, and the relative importance of the former is reflected in the distribution of population, for 17 million out of a population of 30 million in the Nordeste live there, in 10 per cent of the area. Only a few graduates may end up working in the semi-arid region and get some experience of its problems.

Organizations such as SUDENE, the Drought Control Board, and the Bank of the Nordeste are concerned with problems of the semi-arid region, but generally from a sectoral point of view, focusing on selected crops such as cotton, rather than from an integrated viewpoint, although SUDENE has worked on the areas of urban growth and migration.

In the past, graduate programmes in geography have been restricted to MA programmes at the Universities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo, but two regional universities have recently become concerned with graduate training related to the problems of the Nordeste. Since 1976 an MA programme has been running at the University of Pernambuco in the Faculty of Geographical Sciences, which includes geography, ecology, pedology, and cartography. This programme is organized with a view to the study of regional problems, and is supported by SUDENE and by offers of employment for its graduates from State planning agencies. There has been a good response to the course, which combines physical and social components, and admission has had to be restricted. Other universities had become interested and had begun to re-orientate their programmes along similar lines. In 1981 a new course will begin in the Universidade do Rio Grande do Norte, in a region which is 90 per cent arid, and the University of Pernambuco is assisting with this initiative because of insufficient staff with higher degrees at Rio Grande do Norte. It is expected that in five to six years the course there will be similar to that at the University of Pernambuco.

These are steps in the right direction. The Nordeste is not the region where important political and economic decisions are made, but there are 30 million people living there who can claim resources from the federal government. One problem in the development of training facilities is the strong control of the Ministry of Education over graduate courses, for Brazilian universities are not autonomous and the opportunities for course development tend to be concentrated where the resources are.

Dr Zavaleta stated that Peru had a long experience of problems of survival under arid conditions. The main areas of agricultural production in the arid zone were the alluvial valleys, where irrigated croplands had in the last decades decreased from 64,000 to 54,000 ha, evidence of lack of development of the zone.

Before 1960 there was only one agricultural university in Peru, the National Agricultural University at La Molina, near Lima, but now there are a number of institutions in the arid zone, at Lambayeque, Trujillo, Tarma, Piura, Huasco, Huancayo, Huamanga, Cuzco, and Puno, with several programmes investigating arid lands problems.

Nevertheless, development of the arid zone has been stagnant, notably due to problems related to land tenure, with changes under agrarian reform from latifundia based on sugar cane, cotton, and fruticulture to communally owneu lands. Problems also exist of lack of agricultural extension services, research development and publications, due to financial problems in the universities. The transfer of research results from the laboratory to the field was also unsatisfactory.

Speaking from the Mexican experience, Dr Nava expressed a view that training and research for arid lands management were generally not in accord with environmental needs, and he attributed this largely to overspecialization and to a lack of clear objectives in the institutions charged with higher agricultural education in Mexico. Training was not oriented towards problem-solving. This implied a need to ask what the real problems and needs of the arid zones were, for only then could one formulate appropriate strategies for the development and management of natural resources.

Dr Nava stressed that education is a social subsystem, operating within a space-time framework, which needs to consider regional and national policies, now and in the future. The changing modern world required a scientific training directed at understanding relationships between man and his resources. Given current concern about degradation of the rural and urban environment resulting from the application of transplanted and inadequate technology, it was necessary to analyse the effectiveness of the decision-making processes related to such transfer. There was a disturbing passiveness or fragmented attitude in the scientific or technological community when faced with such decisions.

What was needed from the universities was an ecologically appropriate training in education, research, and extension. The relationships between the university and society were not simply demagogic, but must be based on an analytical ability for the preparation of professionals for decision-making. Problems of natural resources are problems of society itself, and do not fail into distinct fields of science. The many factors involved mean that they must be dealt with as whole systems on an interdisciplinary basis, otherwise one may arrive at solutions which add to existing confusion. Education has the double role of providing a necessary scientific basis, ideally in more than one discipline, and giving a global view of the problem which must eventually be solved.

Technology is a powerful instrument for change in society, but technology transfer will be successful only insofar as it meets the challenge of restructuring the complete systems which form part of society and technology, such as education, public health, and agricultural production in its various forms. The outcome would depend on the capacity and imagination of people in key institutions responsible for science and technology, and Dr Nava saw the self-critical and self-renewing role of the universities as vital.

Optimization of research was a difficult concept, given the multiple approaches possible in most research problems, but a mix of strategies, as in a multidisciplinary approach, often seemed effective. But solutions were never complete, since diversity always exists in ecosystems. He considered that education in natural resource use should be dynamic, systematic, interdisciplinary, linked with social factors, and integrated in general planning for society.

In the brief discussion that followed it was agreed that the reviews had revealed an inadequacy in training for dealing with arid lands problems in Latin America, and also that research in general was insufficiently closely related to the producers and their needs.

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