New Internationalist

Update

Issue 151

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[image, unknown] NUTRITION[image, unknown]

Cyanide food
Investigations into cassava

IF you were to choose the ideal staple crop for any country you would be unlikely to choose one which had very little by way of vitamins or minerals and was also liable to give you cyanide poisoning if you were not too careful.

But that’s cassava for you - a root vegetable which is a staple crop for some 500 million people in Africa, Asia and Latin America. It is also known as manioc, tapioca or yuca and is used so widely because it can grow well in soils too poor for other crops, with a penetrative root system that can search for nutrients more than a metre below the surface.

It also defies seasonal variations, producing a crop every five to six months, regardless of when it is planted, and is so undemanding of the farmer’s attention that he or she can produce a ton of the root using half the work time that it would require to produce an equivalent amount of maize.

It is certainly rich in carbohydrates. One ton will provide around 1.2 million calories. But it is so ill-endowed with proteins and vitamins that a high intake can result in deficiency diseases. This can be countered by eating protein-rich foods with the cassava. Such supplements are not always available, however, or may be too expensive.

But it can also be poisonous. Both the root and leaf of all 150-odd varieties of cassava contain cyanogenic glucosides as well as the enzymes which cause them to release hydrogen cyanide as soon as any rupture of the cell wall brings them together. High cyanide intake can lead to many debilitating illnesses mainly associated with the thyroid gland.

There are two precautions which have traditionally been taken to minimise this danger. The first is to consume it as soon as possible after harvest before the poisons have had the chance to build up. The second is to grate and ferment the cassava and then roast it in oil to make a flaky material which is storable and converts it into a porridge-like food. This does reduce the cyanide content but analysis of such products in the marketplace shows that the cyanide is rarely eliminated completely. And in addition the fermentation process further reduces cassava’s already negligible protein content.

Research into cassava has been neglected largely because it is a ‘poor people’s’ crop and its consumers have very little purchasing power. Now, however, a new research programme, initiated by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization in Vienna, is investigating how cassava can be made safer and more wholesome.

It is hoped that this can be done by upgrading the traditional fermentation processes. The aim is to identify the ‘adventitious’ micro-organisms which are responsible, discover which of them do the job best and under what conditions - and then work out how to cultivate and use them.

The task is double-sided. As well as eliminating cyanide, micro-organisms could also be used to add protein, possibly by converting some of the cassava itself.

The programme is also looking at the possibilities of processing cassava on a commercial scale, though there are dangers inherent in this. Commercialisation could turn cassava into a cash export crop, thus removing an important source of sustenance for millions of people and leaving them worse off than they were before.

Gamini Seneviratne, Gemini

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[image, unknown] WOMEN[image, unknown]

Female felons
Increase in crime by women

WOMEN are now becoming criminals at a faster rate than men, according to a study presented to the UN Congress on the Prevention of Crime held in August.

The growth of women’s liberation has, unsurprisingly perhaps, coincided with a growth in female criminality. While other women were becoming doctors, lawyers and prime ministers, a growing number were finding their way into political terrorism, drug peddling and smuggling,

In the US during the 1970s, says the FBI, women’s participation in almost every crime category increased at a much faster rate than that of men. And in West Germany in 1965, women accounted for 11 per cent of total convictions whereas by 1978 the figure had grown to 15 per cent. In England and Wales the ratio of male. to female offenders convicted or cautioned for indictable offences dropped from seven to one in 1963 to four to one in 1977.

Developing countries share the same pattern. India’s Bureau of Police Research and Development reports that more women are now being arrested, many for offences that include assault and robbery. And women in Nigeria are becoming increasingly involved in crimes such as drug peddling and illegal foreign exchange transactions.

In the past women’s crime was confined to ‘traditional’ areas - prostitution, shoplifting, petty theft and occasional child and husband killing. Women who were excluded from senior corporate positions could not embezzle corporate funds, just as women with limited participation in political groups could not play leading roles tn political terrorism. But all that has changed now.

Why this should be so is summed up by Freda Adler, Professor of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University in New Jersey. ‘It should come as no surprise that once criminal access routes opened up, women would show inclinations similar those of men to violate the law.

‘In the final analysis, the female offender is a human being who shares with men the stresses and strains of social living and universal need for status and security. She is first human, second female and third criminal.’

Monique Rubens, Gemini

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[image, unknown] TOURISM[image, unknown]

China by bus
Solo travellers on the loose

WORD has got round that a new policy allows visitors to travel alone in China. People are thronging to Hong Kong where they can obtain individual visas and then catch a plane or a train to one of the 128 cities open to foreigners.

Such adventurous spirits still face considerable difficulties, however. The first is that all hotel and transport bookings have traditionally been centralised through a government agency. The solo visitors using this service may find that they have been arbitrarily allocated rooms far from the city centre.

Then there are the problems of transport. While the tour groups are being shepherded by their couriers from the Forbidden City to the Great Wall of China the lone travellers may find themselves in an endless queue. Buses are efficient but the traveller must fight to get aboard clutching a piece of paper with the intended destination written in Chinese characters.

Most travellers now come armed with an Australian book which they call the ‘green bible’ - from the colour of its cover. China:

A Travel Survival Kit is one of the latest offerings of Lonely Planet publications in Melbourne. It has resulted in new patterns of travel behaviour which are puzzling tourist officials.

For one thing it advises readers to ignore the central hotel booking agency. Travellers are now popping into hotel lobbies throughout the country, smiling and overwhelmingly polite but refusing to accept the bureaucratic system and demanding that if hotel rooms are vacant they should be allocated directly. Generally they seem to get their way if they are persistent and patient.

To see how it is done, I travelled to Shanghaiguan, 300 kilometres east of Beijing where, as the green bible puts it: ‘the Great Wall meets the sea, or should we say, crumbles into it’ (it is indeed in rather bad shape here).

A train reservation in the ‘hard seat’ category cost the equivalent of six dollars, after much queuing. Many passengers on the train were making the full 50-hour journey to the north-east frontier, some with standing tickets only.

The town was as charming as the book suggested. And in keeping with the new economic policies of Deng Xiaoping the centre was enlivened by market stalls competing to sell goods of a better quality and range than are available in Beijing.

The best restaurant was, as the book suggested, just beyond the town’s north gate. Bicycles did cost 1.60 yuan (60 cents) a day to hire. And a two-kilometre journey does take you to where the Great Wall crumbles into the sea.

Jill Jolliffe, Gemini

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[image, unknown] ECONOMICS[image, unknown]

Making money
Barter in British Columbia

[image, unknown] THE message recorder blurted out the previous evening’s transactions: ‘John Smith, 237, acknowledge Eric Nelson,

415, $125 green for auto-repair. G’night.’ Several different voices follow in quick succession, each delivering a brief report of a transaction.

As the reports came in to the LET-System office in Courtenay, B.C. Ann Scott, seated before the computer, made her entries.

LETSystem stands for ‘Local Exchange Trading System’, a computerized derivative of barter developed by Michael Linton of Landsman Community Services. The computer at the LETS office is the nerve centre of a miniature self-contained economy complete with its own currency, green dollars’

A sprinkling of such economies now dot Vancouver Island in small centres like Courtenay with over 500 members and Hornby Island with about 110. Like many communities in Canada those on Vancouver Island have suffered from the declining world demand for forestry products. When recession strikes, so much money disappears from the scene that even very local transactions like selling firewood or hiring babysitters come to a grinding halt. The LETSystem, based entirely on the value of local labour, overcomes this economic blight by its circulation of the ‘green dollar’.

The green dollar, by mutual agreement roughly equivalent to the federal dollar, is created, not by chartered banks in the process of lending, but by individual members of the LETSystem. It is created in the act of spending it - in transactions conducted over the telephone to a 24-hour answering service.

Green dollars are in reality debits and credits in the LETS computer - just like entries in a bank ledger.

LETSystem members receive a monthly ‘offers and requests’ listing of goods and services available for green dollars, or for a combination of green and federal. An astonishing variety is available: including clothing, language lessons, firewood, plumbing - even dentistry.

Because green dollars are a local currency they are less useful to local responsible for the massive growth in population.

‘It is well known that a definite link exists between poverty and a high population growth rate. South Africa is a rich land and shopkeepers who have to buy their stock with federal. Thus ‘foreign exchange’ is still needed for many transactions. Nonetheless some local shopkeepers have co-operated by quoting a part of their mark-up in green. This has usually increased their turnover, as well as making the local currency more valuable.

But the benefits have been social and psychological as well as economic - a touch of ‘community therapy’. One member, a single mother, relates: ‘Without this system our Christmas would have been very bleak. The children were given handicrafted toys, and other family members received pottery, jewellery and candles. All of our clothing now comes through LETS. People have skills which they haven’t used or thought about in years. They have started to value themselves differently and come alive’.

The idea has attracted considerable interest abroad and enquiries are coming in daily from the USA and Europe. Meanwhile the system is geared for rapid proliferation. Within a month or so it will be possible to download into personal computers all the software Linton has developed thus far - virtually anywhere in the world. An information kit is also available from Landsman5 for $14 to any individual or community interested in the idea.

Dick Racev

*Landsman Community Services Ltd. 479 Fourth Street. Courtenav, B.C. V9N 1G9, Canada. Tel: (604) 338 0214.

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[image, unknown] SOUTH AFRICA[image, unknown]

Birth control as black control
Apartheid causes population boom

A CRITICAL issue in the current upheaval in South Africa has been the growing imbalance between black and white populations. The white rulers have been alarmed for some time at the growth of the black population. But the response so far, as with governments elsewhere, has been to try to reduce population growth rather than the poverty which causes it.

South Africa’s population is currently growing at an annual average of 2.3 per cent. This means that the present population of 28.4 million could grow to 48 million by the year 2000 and to 80 million by 2020.

The government-sponsored Population Development Programme (PDP) claims that the natural resources of South Africa could only already peaked at about 2.1 children per woman compared with a black rate of 5.2 per woman, and the Government sees this as a serious threat to white rule. It has thus increased its spending on family planning programmes among black people and is considering introducing tax penalties for big families and even free abortion

But black political leaders are not readily supporting these programmes, which they believe to be politically motivated. Ela Ramgobin. a social worker who is also wife of the United Democratic Front treason trialist Mewa Ramgobin. says that it is important that the government recognises poverty itself as if all its resources are made available to the whole population - and not expropriated by a few select whites - then there will be no need for the Government to spend large amounts of money on family planning campaigns nor encourage the migration of black people to the cities.

‘The Government should also try and spend a little less money on the country’s minority white population. It is a tragic fact that every white child born in South Africa will use at least ten times more of the financial and physical resources of the country than any black child.

‘Only when the Government decides to completely abolish apartheid and all its attendant evils will the population growth rate decline.’

Press Trust of South Africa

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Punchlines by C Christian


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