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issue 130

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[image, unknown] POPULATION[image, unknown]

Stopping the sperm
The search for the male pill

Techniques for regulating human fertility have concentrated predominately on the female of the species. Perhaps the only defensible reason for this is that in terms of interfering with fertility the male is a vastly more difficult sex to deal with.

Only one egg is ovulated in the female every 28 days or so, but male spermatozoa are produced non-stop. And the time lag form start of production to final release in semen takes some three months.

Against the female’s single egg, the males ceaseless conveyor belt provides between 200 and 400 million sperm in each ejaculation. And only one is needed to fertilise that egg.

Not surprisingly, success with a pull for women came relatively early and nearly 90 million women take the pill today making it easily the most popular contraceptive ever.

The research for a male pill, despite a great deal of talk, been haphazard and tardy. But this is changing. The World Health Organization has now set up a vast research network and late last year, agreements for collaboration were sent out to ten centres, one each in Bulgaria, China, Denmark, Hungary, India, Mexico, Poland, South Korea, Thailand and Yugoslavia.

All of these centre will in effect go to China for their inspiration or, to ne more precise, to the pioneering research which Chinese scientists have been conducting for the past 25 years on a substance called ‘gossypol’.

This is largely because gossypol has come tantalisingly close to becoming the elusive male pill. This is an acidic compound found in the seed of the glandular variety of a cotton plant.

Its antifertility action appears to be through damaging the lining of cells and cavities of the testes which are involved in producing and conveying semen. The degree of action and reversibility has been studied in humans only in China and Brazil.

The essence of the Chinese and Brazilian finding was the ‘sperm counts’ went down to below four million per millilitre of ejaculation within three month; and production of sperm was arrested on the ‘maintenance’ schedule in each course. But there are problems.

The first might be reversibility. Will the men return to sexual normality when they come off the treatment? In the Brazilian study the maintenance dose of 20mg every other day, was reduced to 40mg weekly, in two men. They returned to normal spermatogenesis.

But the Chinese studies , of much longer duration, indicate that the longer the substance is under treatment and the lover the sperm count achieved the more difficult it seems for him to return to normal sperm production

Gamini Seneveratni, CSE

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[image, unknown] APARTHEID[image, unknown]

Trouble brewing
Government - inspired drunkenness

WHILE the brewing of beer has always been an intrinsic part of the African way of life, the South African Government has prostituted the traditional custom into a multi-million rand industry.

Almost any kind of fruit can be convened into African beer but among the most popular ones are those made with paw-paws brewed with flour and sugar and ubuganu - made in the month of February with the ripening of the marula berries. But the most prized beer is the traditional Zulu beer or iJuba which is made of amabele (a type of wheat). sorghum and malt. This beer takes about three days to ferment and in the rural areas the amount of time and energy spent on its making and consumption gives it a central role in daily life.

But while brewing of beer remains a joyful activity in the rural areas, the story is very different in the industrialised centres. The Government has used the African’s propensity for beer to advantage and has turned it into a multi-million rand industry. All the Pretoria-appointed ‘administration boards’, which control the day-today lives of the African people, own beerhalls from where they sell iJuba to the locals at huge profits. Its sale is in fact the chief source of revenue for the administration boards. The Port Natal Administration Board in Durban, for instance, makes an annual estimated profit of seven million dollars from the sale of iJuba.

To keep the profits high, the authorities constantly dream up new ideas to boost the sales. Recently, for example. they called on employers to allow their African workers to consume two litres of iJuba before starting because the beer would increase productivity.

In spite of protests, the white government continues to invest heavily in beer-halls and has even spent vast sums in building riot-proof beerhalls in the city of Port Elizabeth. It wants to avoid a repetition of June 1976, when demonstrating students went on the rampage and first razed to the ground beerhalls which they regarded as symbols of oppression.

Press Trust of South Africa

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[image, unknown] MULTINATIONALS[image, unknown]

India’s giants
Marwari control of industry

[image, unknown] ABOUT 200 years ago a small business community living in villages around Shekhawat, in the desert fastness of India’s poorest state, Rajasthan, began to settle in other parts of the country. They took with them their inborn fiscal skills, family ties and communal spirit and they began to prosper in a quite remarkable way.

They never looked back. Today it is believed that half the financial assets of India are in Marwari hands.

The most extraordinary figure of them all was the head of the giant Birla group, Ghanshyam Das Birla. Earlier this year, almost unnoticed outside India, he died on a visit to London at the age of 89. He was one of the greatest industrial tycoons of the twentieth century.

G.D. Birla was the third son of a small cotton trader living in Bombay. Soon after World War One he left for booming Calcutta, the heart of British investment in India. Carrying his suitcase wherever he went, GD the cotton broker became a familiar figure in many a British commercial institution in Calcutta. When ajute mill fell sick, GD borrowed the money and defied the British commercial monopoly.

Despite their attitude to money-making, and much of it is ruthless, the Marwaris remain devoutly religious and puritanical in their social standards. Workaholics all, they have, until recently, been little inclined to participate in any activity outside business.

Marwari industrial groups, staunch proponents of the joint family system, nevertheless tend to divide up the companies they own among the various members of the families, making each one responsible for his unit or units. The individual can always rest assured of family advice and financial assistance when needed for investment. But each man must learn to develop on his own and stand on his own feet. The family and community are there only as a cushion. That’s the Marwari way.

S. Muthiah, Gemini

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[image, unknown] DEVELOPMENT[image, unknown]

Water decade dries up
UN campaign failing

Are the United Nations, the international aid agencies and the national governments trying to quietly shelve the ‘World Water and Sanitation Decade, 1981-90’ after only two years?

In 1980 the then UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim said the official goal of ‘Clean water and adequate sanitation for all by 1990’ was ‘eminently achievable’. He promised: ‘The United Nations system will provide the overall framework, the technical support, the momentum and the promotional activities necessary for the programme’ s success’.

Yet, less than three years later, senior World Health Organization (WHO) officials were saying ‘we knew all the time’ that achievement of the Decade’s goal ‘was not possible’.

By the end of 1982 only 26 countries had set firm targets for 1990. Lack of money is the key obstacle. In 1980 the World Bank estimated that a global annual investment of $60 billion would be needed throughout the 1980s to provide every rural home with a latrine and a standpipe or hardpump, and every urban home with a tap and sewerage connection. A cheaper option was to aim at only 80 per cent coverage using cheaper technologies, cutting the investment by half to $30 billion.

As global spending on water and sanitation projects in 1978 had only been seven billion dollars, the second option was considered more realistic. So the 100 per cent aim of the Decade was virtually abandoned even before it had begun.

Since then the Decade has not attracted much more money for new projects. In 1981 only $10 billion went into new projects, which, allowing for inflation, meant that about the same number of additional water and sanitation services were provided as in 1978.

The developing countries invested eight billion dollars of that $10 billion. Given their suffering economies, they are unlikely to increase that amount. At the same time, international aid has been lower than expected. Even the UN Development Pro~ gramme (UNDP). coordinator of Decade activities, has reduced its funds for water and sanitation projects from $14 million in 1980 - before the Decade began to $6.5 million in 1982.

In many countries the institutions which are supposed to be implementing the Decade’s work are weak and lack trained staff WHO, which says that technological problems are a major difficulty, has not itself done very much about this lack of training. It has not devoted any more money for training, and it has not recruited a single additional water engineer since the Decade began.

If more resources are not forthcoming, the Decade’s aim of providing safe drinking water and adequate sanitation for all by 1990, and WHO’s more ambitious goal of ‘Health for All’ by the year 2000 will become little more than cruel jokes.

John Madely Earthscan

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[image, unknown] MEDIA[image, unknown]

Transplanting tips
Radio links poor farmers

How do you put a struggling pig into a crate all by yourself’? What’s a good way of protecting your chili plants from ground frost? When’s the right day to start irrigating your half acre of crops?*

There’s nothing very new about exchanging household hints and tips to farmers. It’s been done down the centuries as men met in the market-place and women gathered round the well. Children learnt from their parents, almost without noticing it.

But good. simple ideas still take time to travel and there are new ones being thought up in different parts of the world all the time. It was that thought that led a Canadian farmer and radio producer, George Atkins to start a service that would speed the process of telling your neighbour: ‘Have you heard of this idea?’

In four years the Developing Countries Farm Radio Network (DCFRN), operating out of Ontario, has had phenomenal success. Its radio tapes, with supporting material, go to more than 500 farm broadcasters in some 100 developing countries. The total audience may be as many as 100 million farmers. Nowadays Atkins himself tours developing countries. He talks to agricultural extension officers, missionaries, farm broadcasters and people at international research centres. He treks round farms and backyards.

In searching for good ideas he works by some strict rules. They have to have been tested and proved in a developing country. They have to cost little or no money. And they must not involve the use of chemicals or new species. (He doesn’t believe poor farmers can risk any such leap).

Atkins is something of a disciplinarian. He requires that every broadcaster who receives a package fills in a questionnaire each time, saying what was useful. Many of them send back new ideas and stories of how they use the tapes.

A woman in Ecuador who understands Spanish (but is illiterate) memorises the facts on the tapes and gives a free translation into the Quechua language for an audience of 100,000 Indians. In Nepal a young actress dramatises the tapes, acting the part of an old village woman quizzing the extension officer.

Illustrations are sent with the tapes; and an art teacher in the Sudan has turned these into posters, to display in villages. In India a friend he met at that Zambian workshop long ago. Pradip Dey, turns the farming hints into song jingles and plays them over All India Radio. It is all done on a budget of $150,000 a year. His three sponsors - Massey-Ferguson, the farm implement firm, the University of Guelph and the Canadian International Development Agency say they get value for money.

*The answers to the riddles in this article’s first paragraph are: you put a bucket of straw over the pig’s head; you train the chili plant up a bamboo stick to a platform, at least in Nepal; and you dig a small hole in the middle of your half-acre, mix the soil with sand and watch the plants here until they start withering from drought a few days before the rest.

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[image, unknown] TAKING ISSUE

Ashok Mitra

Ashok Mitra looks at the role of movies and movie-makers in the underdeveloped world.

Preying on the poor

What a curious expression: the Third World. Nobody asked the populace concerned whether they would agree to be described in this manner. It is very much part of a pre-emptive arrangement: we have arrived earlier than you, therefore we are the First and the Second Worlders, you are only a poor Third.

As in all such things, usage decides. So the poor, under-developed nations are lumped together and have to suffer the dubious glory of being the Third World. A consequence is the increasing interest in other shores concerning happenings within these nations. Suddenly, squalor and poverty have become respectable themes. New academic journals come up almost every month focusing on the issues of malnutrition, illiteracy and retarded social opportunities. Not unnaturally, with so many international agencies around, conferences, seminars and congresses too proliferate.

Something else has, pari passu, taken off. Films on the problems of poverty have multiplied in numbers. There is no dearth of talent in the so-called Third World, nor any dearth of imagination either And these days it is not so altogether difficult even in a poor country, to lay your hands on an assortment of movie cameras and produce a film which presents, attractively, a story of social deprivation. In quite a few poor countries government agencies are willing to finance the production ofsuchfilms. Itisa goodwayof quietening radical revolt; in case young people were not busy shooting films, they might have got themselves engaged in a different kind of artillery practice.

Therefore films taut with social content get produced in country after underdeveloped country. They are rarely seen within these countries though. The majority of the poor over there cannot afford the means to go to the pictures, even occasionally. Those who can have their own cultural preferences. They visit the movie houses with a specific object in mind: to escape from the reality of squalor and poverty. They hate films made about themselves. Given the choice, they would go for the wildest Hollywood-type of extravaganza where rich boy meets poor girl or poor boy meets rich girl, there is much dancing and romping, much acrobatics and villainy and swashbuckling. There are few takers in the poor countries for supposedly socially relevant pictures which narrate, with fervour and precision, the problems of exploitation and retardation. Such pictures may be brilliantly conceived, brilliantly shot brilliantly directed; but, thank you, the vast army of the socially deprived would rather drop in on the neighbourhood cinema hall which is showing a jaded print of Marilyn Monroe’s Some Like It Hot.

The private capitalists, who mostly own the cinema houses and monopolise the distribution chains, cannot be blamed. They know on which side their bread is buttered. Therefore weeks pass, years pass, the brilliant films, shot by brilliant young directors, full of the evocation of life as it really is, remain unexhibited within the country.

Perhaps not in all cases. Some of these films find a receptive clientele in the Western market. The directors are invited to international film festivals and showered with praise and prizes. The luckier ones succeed in breaking into the commercial circuit in the West Sometimes the television rights of their films are purchased back home.

When you add up the sums, it cannot be said that the bright young directors are having a raw deal. They do all right by their nation’s poverty. The cultural chasm however persists and, along with it the latent irony. The poor in the poor countries detest the films which depict their poverty. The affluent in the rich countries lap them up, whatever the reason, even if it be the crass one of salvaging their sense of guilt over the imperfections of the world.

Ashok Mitra is Finance Minister in the stare government of West Bengal, India.


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