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Grains of rice have been feeding human beings since the dawn of civilization. Today this cereal originating in the wetland regions of Asia is the basic food of more than half the world's population.

According to one web site, at the global level, rice is ranked second -- after wheat -- in terms of the total area planted with the grain, but if one considers its importance as a food crop, rice provides more calories per hectare than any other cereal.

Total rice output worldwide reaches 590 million metric tons, most of it grown in Asia, though it is also an important agricultural product in other regions.

The scientific name for rice is Oryza sativa, a monocotyledon of the Poaceae family. The history of rice begins with references in China dating back 5,000 years, although it is suspected that the grain originated in India, where there are several endemic wild rice species.

There is a great deal of information to be found about rice on the Internet. Most of it involves rice as a culinary ingredient, the basis for a vast collection of recipes from all points of the compass, ranging from the famous Spanish paellas to Italian risottos to an infinite number of Asian dishes.

In doing a bit of web surfing, one can delve into data about how rice is grown, the ups and downs of the international rice market, and the challenges for the future, such as the need to boost yields, the debate on genetically modified rice, and the sustainability of rice cultivation.

One place to start is the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and its International Rice Commission.

FAO: International Rice Commission
Rice on the Web
History of Rice

Fly Fishing

Fly fishing is a sport that is quickly gaining followers around the world. But this approach to fishing is unique: although the objective is to catch salmon or trout, the sport is closely linked to nature conservation efforts.

Fly fishing requires some special skills, as well as knowledge about the habits of the species being sought, the conditions of the water, and particularly the techniques for snagging, netting and then releasing the fish.

One of the most important characteristics of fly fishing is precisely its "catch-and-release" approach, which means learning how to get the fish to bite the "fly", reel the fish in, and let it go without causing it any harm.

But not only does this sport seek to preserve the fish population, it also considers the ideal fishing sites to be those where human intervention is minimal, and of course those with uncontaminated water. Fly fishing is a sport based on technique and enjoyment of the outdoors. The objective does not involve putting a fish in a frying pan.

The boom in fly fishing is big in the 21st century, and anyone looking for information will realize just how big after browsing the Internet, and the Yahoo! directory on this sport in particular.

The sport is on the rise in Latin America as well, with Argentina and Chile attracting fishing enthusiasts from around the world. Mexico and Brazil also tout their own fly fishing locations.

Anglers Adventures in Argentina and Chile
Go Chile: Fly-fishing guide
Fly-fishing in Patagonia
How to release the fish
Fly fishing: FAQs
Yahoo! - Fly fishing


Quinua, also spelled quinoa, is often mentioned as the sacred food of ancient Andean cultures, as an element of the indigenous people's diet in the past, long forgotten. But more recent research into its unique qualities has turned this South American plant into a product with great future potential.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), quinua is one of the few plant-based foods that is nutritionally complete (pdf), that is, it holds the appropriate balance of proteins, carbohydrates and minerals necessary for human life.

This "perfect food" is produced by a highly resistant plant that easily adapts to different growing conditions at a wide range of altitudes. It can be cultivated at 4,000 meters above sea level and in arid or semi-arid zones.

The scientific name for quinua is Chenopodium quinoa Wild. It is also known as "the wheat of the Incas", although it is not really a cereal. One website notes that some studies show that this grain began to form part of the human diet in the Andean Mountains at least 5,000 years B.C.

There are several kinds of quinua, but the best known is quinua real. This variety is used in many ways, but mostly as food for humans and forage for livestock.

With such a long history, the utilization of this unique grain in cooking has given rise to a very interesting cuisine. Beyond being prepared and eaten in the humble homes of its home region, quinua is gradually being adopted in cooking in other latitudes, in healthy and sophisticated recipes.

For the peasant farmers of some parts of the Andean region, quinua is a fundamental part of daily life, which is why they immediately came to the defense of the grain when they heard that a variety of quinua had been patented in the United States.

"Our intellectual integrity has been violated," the farming families said in a statement, noting that quinua was genetically improved through traditional crossbreeding techniques by the residents of the Andes over the last several millennia.

FAO: Under-Utilized Andean Food Crops (pdf format)
Quinua: an introduction
Chenopodiace: directory of texts on quinua in English
Quinoa recipes


Chemical pesticides represent an age-old human desire to live free of the plagues that complicate daily life. But in contemporary times, we are aware of the other face of these substances: they are dangerous to human health and the environment.

In November 2002, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) approved a revised version of the International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides. According to the text, the governments are apprised of their responsibility to regulate these substances, to help countries with technical difficulties to mitigate the dangers in using pesticides, and to engage in good conduct in pesticide production and trade.

The use of pesticides in farming is widespread all around the world as many consider it essential for achieving the best crop yields. However, the list of substances applied on crops includes some that are dangerous, leading organizations like the FAO and the World Health Organization (WHO) to insist on precautions in handling and sales of these products.

One website on pesticides cites WHO figures indicating that two million people are poisoned each year by these chemicals and some 200,000 die as a result! Another website with basic information on pesticides warns of the harm that can come from contact with the eyes and skin or if the compounds are inhaled or swallowed.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Internet portal on the subject states that there are 17,000 pesticides registered in that country, with three-quarters used in farming and a quarter used in urban areas. Time is critical in any case of pesticide poisoning, warns the EPA.

In addition to the dangers posed by direct contact, there is another important pesticide-related problem: environmental contamination. This occurs with long-lived chemicals that remain in the soil, water and in the cells of plants and animals, which might ultimately be consumed by humans. The question remains: Can these poisons be useful?

IFAO: Int'l Code of Conduct on Distribution and Use of Pesticides
FAO: Pesticide Management Unit
FAO/WHO: Joint Meeting on Pesticide Residues
EPA: portal on pesticides
EPA: pesticide safety programs
What you should know about pesticides…
Pesticides, Human Health and the Environment
Environmental Health
Yahoo!: links on pesticides

Cod Caught on a Snag

The Antarctic cod, or icefish, is victim of its own popularity. The high demand for this fish in kitchens and restaurants around the world maintains intense fishing activity that could threaten the species very survival. But this argument has not been enough to win greater international legal protections for the cod.

At the 12th Conference of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), held in the Chilean capital this month, delegates rejected Australia's proposal to include the deep-sea cod in the Convention's Appendix II, which establishes strict regulations for international buying and selling of species that could become endangered.

The representatives voted unanimously, winning even the support of Australia, for a Chilean proposal that leaves the cod outside the CITES protections but under the vigilance of the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Living Marine Species (CCAMLR). This entails a documentation system that certifies the origin of the cod catches so authorities can distinguish between legal and illegal fishing operations.

Environmental organizations like the World Conservation Union (IUCN) had suggested that the protection measures afforded by the CCAMLR were not enough to halt the over-fishing of this much-sought-after species.

Greenpeace stated protests at the CITES meet in Santiago to demand the inclusion of the deep-sea cod in Appendix II. The international environmental group reports that illegal fishing of this cod species feeds a market of more than 500 million dollars annually.

The scientific name of the deep-sea cod is Dissostichus eleginoides, and is known in English as the Patagonian toothfish or the Chilean sea bass. In Spanish it is called the merluza negra, in French the légine australe, and in Russian the patagonsky klykach. The initial proposal to protect this species included another very similar fish, the Dissostichus mawsoni.

Deep-sea cod can weigh as much as 90 kilos, reach two meters in length and live 50 years. But the great size of these fish has its downside: their reproduction rate is slow and hatchlings take six to 10 years to reach maturity.

According to a document of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in 1999 Chile and Argentina were the two world leaders in catching the Antarctic cod.

The main problem for the species, however, is the practice of pirate fishing. A report by the U.S. government warns that the high price paid for the fish in markets and restaurants encourages illegal and unregulated fishing, which threatens the icefish population.

The Antarctic cod is fished in the seas surrounding Antarctica. But 90 percent of the catch is consumed in restaurants in Japan, United States and Europe.

IUCN: Antarctica Protected Marine Areas (pdf)
FAO: Patagonian toothfish - Identification sheet
Campaign against Patagonian Toothfish consumption in U.S.
U.S. FDA: Dissostischus eleginoides
Greenpeace: Patagonian Toothfish campaign

Volcanic Impacts

Volcanoes are sleeping giants that can wake up at any time, renewing millennium-old fears among human populations. Eruptions are accompanied by telluric movement -- earthquakes -- and by the massive production of gases, lava, steam, rocks and ash.

A cloud of ash covered the Ecuadorian capital earlier this month, reviving an episode that had already caused serious environmental, economic, social and health problems in 1999. Just days earlier, settlements near the slopes of Mount Aetna in Italy had to be evacuated due to an eruption, which collapsed a school, killing several children.

These volcanic events are a sharp reminder of the force of the seemingly innocuous mountains, and of the vulnerability of the populations living near the sleeping giants, which are beautiful formations -- until they become active and dangerous.

The Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) has issued a special warning on these dangers, reminding the public that 10 percent of the world's population lives near volcanoes. Even more shocking is that 76 percent of the deaths caused by volcanic eruptions in the 20th century occurred in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Internet is replete with information about volcanoes. There are websites with detailed explanations about their characteristics, the consequences of eruptions, and maps of their locations, whether on land or on the ocean floor.

Ecuador is home to more than 40 volcanoes, many of which are active. Since 1999, when Quito was covered by ash, the capital's residents have been informed about what to do in case of another eruption.

It may seem that eruptions occur only rarely, but some active volcanoes have more frequent activity, as evidenced on some websites that maintain ongoing records of volcanic events.

Such movements are generated for forces that are so great as to be incomprehensible, and which originate in the depths of our planet Earth.

PAHO: Volcanic eruptions in Ecuador 2002
U.S. Geological Survey: Ecuador Volcanoes and Volcanics
USGS: Preparing for Volcanic Emergencies
PAHO: Health Planning for Volcanic Crisis
National Geographic: Volcanoes a Sleeping Threat
Tierramérica - Connect Yourself: Mountains of Fire
Volcanic Eruptions



Copyright © 2001 Tierramérica. Todos los Derechos Reservados



Photo source: Ch.Errath/


















Credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service
















Photo credit: FAO/Compendium
Photo credit: FAO/Compendium















Photo credit: FAO/F.Mattioli
Photo credit: FAO/F.Mattioli















Dissostichus eleginoides. Fuente: FIGIS,
Dissostichus eleginoides. Source: FIGIS,
























Volcanic eruption in Ecuador. Photo source: PAHO
Volcanic eruption in Ecuador. Photo source: PAHO