issue 208 - June 1990
Rainforest plan backfires
The worldwide plan to halt rainforest destruction will accelerate forest loss, according to a new report by the World Rainforest Movement (WRM), an international coalition of non-governmental organizations.
It has called for a moratorium on funding for the plan, which is endorsed by the World Bank, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and some 67 national governments.
Launched in 1985, the eight-billion-dollar plan was supposed to provide international finance for preservation projects by backing national 'forestry master-plans' in developing countries. These would identify the causes of forest loss and try to reverse the process while securing citizens' welfare.
But the WRM says these goals are not being achieved. Rather than preserving the forest, the national plans have promoted massive investment in the logging industry. In Peru, for instance, the plan will increase logging dramatically. The result will be yet more destruction as landless settlers from the highlands pour down the new logging roads into the heart of the jungle. The same effects are likely in Guyana, Cameroon, the Philippines, Colombia, Papua New Guinea and Ghana.
The WRM review says there has been little consultation with local communities, interest groups and indigenous forest dwellers. Issues such as land tenure, ownership and planning in have been inadequately considered.
Dr Marcus Colchester, who carried out the review with Larry Lohmann of The Ecologist magazine, says the invasion of forest areas by settlers was identified in the plans as the largest single cause of forest destruction, but no action was taken. Planning teams were dominated by foresters and economists.
Tropical forests are now disappearing worldwide at the rate of 142,000 square kilometres a year through commercial logging, cattle ranching, and conversion to agriculture. A further 200,000 square kilometres are seriously degraded.
The result is not only that forest people are dispossessed. Plants and animals are made extinct, floods and droughts follow, soil erosion becomes widespread and the associated industries add to global warming.
Dr Colchester says government policies must change. The lead should come from local peoples: 'The need is to replace the present technocratic approach with a bottom-up approach.' At root, he says, the debate is between profit and common sense, rich and poor.
Teresa Apin / Third World Network
Alternatives to chemicals in Nicaragua
Hundreds of newspaper cones hang upside down in a cotton field in Nicaragua. Close by, a moth flutters over a cotton bush. In the distance rise the volcanoes which are the backbone of this fertile land.
The newspaper cones are part of a Nicaraguan experiment in alternative biological pest control. Inside the paper cones are tiny wasps, trichogranima pretiosum, which will feed on the eggs of the moth whose larvae infest the cotton plants.
Professor Louise De Lugo leads a research team at Léon University. She wants Nicaragua to reduce its dependence on costly imported chemical pesticides, which she says are a health hazard.
There are more than 200 reported cases of pesticide poisoning a year in this country of less than four million people. ICI, which has 55 per cent of the pesticide market here, say farmers spray chemicals more than 20 times in a season.
Single-seater aeroplanes hedge-hop across the cotton fields spraying to keep pests at bay. You can smell the pesticide in the air as you drive through the countryside. There are advertisements for ICI chemicals everywhere.
It takes about 50,000 female wasps, the size of tiny flies, to rid one manzana (0.7 hectares) of moth larvae. Field trials on maize, tomatoes and cotton have produced success rates of between 60 and 100 per cent.
'We like to demonstrate that biological control is a practical means of controlling insects, said Dr Charles Acre, a US citizen working at Léon University. Only lack of funds is preventing production on a commercial scale.
But already Professor De Lugo is experimenting with an even more remarkable means of natural pest control. In the small laboratory in the centre of the old city of Léon researchers are growing viruses that will attack local pests.
Inside plastic margarine tubs lie the dead bodies of host larvae that have been infected by viruses. They will be placed in the refrigerator before being released in the field. The skill of Professor De Lugo's team has been in isolating wasps and viruses in the field and breeding them in the laboratory.
Señor Jose Dolores Estrada, the director of ICI's subsidiary in Nicaragua says his products are not dangerous. 'There has been a shift in the last 15 years to high-tech products that don't hurt people', he insisted.
Few at the Léon laboratory argue that local farmers will be able to dispense with chemical pesticides altogether. But their newspaper cones in the fields are a sign that the pest control of the future can be cheaper, safer - and home-grown.
Brief bid for freedom on Mexican savannahs
Mexican gangsters often have nicknames. But 'El Peregrino' (The Pilgrim) is a two-and-a-half ton, four-year-old African hippopotamus. He escaped from the private ranch of one of Mexico's top political bosses and for months cut a swathe through two states before the authorities could work out how to capture him.
In September, the hippo broke down a cyclone fence and burst out of El Jovero ranch 200 miles north of Mexico City.
The Secretariat of Ecology and Urban Development (SEDUE) says that El Peregrino began 'to wander without fixed route. Maria Elena Hoyo, director of Mexico City's Chapultepec Zoo, thinks the animal was obeying its African instincts and looking for good grazing ground near a slow-moving body of water.
Travelling by night, El Peregrino's odyssey took him 25 miles north-east across a state border and on to the cactus-studded savannahs of Queretero, where he found his paradise in the form of a big irrigation pool on a communal farm ('ejido') near Santa Rosa Jauregui. He then ensconced himself in the San Jose reservoir of 'Chicken Foot' ejido, hiding out under water by day and marauding through the cornfields by night.
'It looked like someone had driven a bus through the corn when El Peregrino was done with us,' said Pedro Licea, an ejido official. Some thought the Devil had taken up residence in the pool. The hippo was said to be trying to seduce local cows.
Maria Elena Hoyo began to have doubts about returning him to captivity. 'One of the best moments in my life was to see the animal free under a shower of stars. The thought of sending him to the zoo wounds the soul,' she wrote. 'El Peregrino had become accustomed to the place by then and the people there were no longer afraid of him. In fact they were very, very happy with their hippo.'
The local council took to leaving large quantities of carrots and alfalfa by the pool. Local citizens sabotaged SEDUE technicians by using firecrackers to scare the hippo away from traps that had been set for him. For a week he was reported 'disappeared'.
He was finally discovered in the Santa Rosa Jauregui raw sewage outflow. Next day, after obtaining the appropriate permits, 39 technicians, inspectors and police moved in, cut off all exits and lured El Peregrino into a cage with fresh onions. He was taken 400 kilometres south to a small zoo in Chilpancingo, where he is known as Pipo and shares quarters with Papus, a circus dropout.
The El Peregrino affair has highlighted a thriving Mexican trade in exotic animals. Private zoos are popular with some of Mexico's super-rich. A big-time drug trafficker captured in early December in Mexico City kept a priceless New Guinea cockatoo, a Bengal tiger, a panther, a puma and a jaguar in his apartment. Ownership of the last two animals - endangered Mexican species - is illegal. No-one is entirely sure how the owner of El Peregrino came to acquire him in the first place.
John Ross / Gemini
State schools in Bangladesh cannot compete with mullahs
The drive towards the 'Islamization' of Bangladesh by President Ershad is having a visible effect on the country's education system.
Some Bangladeshi children go to state primary schools, while others attend madrassaks, traditional religious schools which offer a parallel education to that of the state. In both schools the method of teaching is formal. Children buy their own notebooks and pens while the school provides the books.
But there the similarities end. The madrassahs are attractive, well-maintained buildings with plenty of funds behind them, some channelled indirectly from the Middle East. The government primary schools are usually in run-down buildings with a pervasive air of neglect about them.
The village of Dashpaika near Bishwanath in Sylhet is typical. The madrassah is a beautifully kept whitewashed building with an attractive garden and imposing gateway. The new building was completed in 1986 from funds provided by the community. The only building that belongs to the government primary school is a dilapidated hut with a mud floor and walls of bamboo. The school rents another concrete building where several classes are taught together in one very crowded room.
The madrassah has 210 pupils taught by 13 teachers. Attendance is good. The Principal, sipping tea in his spacious office, pronounces himself very satisfied with his job and his school. The 308 children of the primary school have just four teachers, of whom one is away for a year's training. A two-shift system operates.
The reason for the difference seems to lie in the degree of local involvement. Before 1973, primary schools were locally managed, but central government then took over responsibility. Most people in the villages feel that the schools are no longer their business. If a window breaks or a blackboard is damaged then it is the government that should repair it. Teacher absenteeism is a real problem.
But the mosque with its makeab and madrassab are central to the community, which supports them accordingly. People are keen to be involved in their upkeep. In Dashpaika 30 per cent of the running costs and teachers' salaries are paid from local funds. One wealthy local family gave 26,000 taka (about $750) for a public-address system for the madrassah to use at public functions.
Madrassahs seem certain to go from strength to strength, while primary schools struggle to maintain the morale of teachers and pupils in very difficult circumstances.