Va al Ejemplar actual
Print Edition
Inter Press Service
Search Archive
  Home Page
  Current Issue
  People of Tierramérica
Kyoto Protocol
  About us
  Inter Press Service
The world's leading provider of information on global issues
United Nations Development Programme
United Nations Environment Programme

Connect yourself

Bananas and Plantains

Bananas and plantains are fruits thousands of years old that have become an important food for humans. The banana trade is a dynamic market and has led to scientific delving into its genetics and its possibilities for ecological production.

The Internet is abundant with information on this -- at least for now -- abundant fruit. A good place to start is the banana page of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The sustainable increase in productivity of banana plantations is a key objective of the International Network for the Improvement of Banana and Plantain (INIBAP), which reports that these fruits provide an important part of the diet for 400 million people in a hundred countries each day.

The website Bananas: a musa species notes that the banana tree is currently grown in all tropical regions of the world and the fruits represent the fourth leading crop in the world, after rice, maize and wheat.

The banana and plantain are originally from the Indo-Malaya region, but the migration of these species has been occurring since prehistoric times. India and Brazil are the leading producers of these fruits.

FAO: Banana page
International Network for the Improvement of Banana and Plantain
INIBAP: banana links
Banana: Royal Botanic Gardens Kew
Banana: a musa species
BBC: Bananas could split for good
Bananas on the web


Forests and Deforestation

Forests cover 3.87 billion hectares of the earth’s surface, according to the latest report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on the State of the World’s Forests

The 2001 report underlines that 95 percent of that surface area corresponds to naturally occurring forests and 5.0 percent to plantation forests. It also points out that 14.2 million hectares are lost every year to deforestation, and 5.2 million hectares are planted, amounting to a net annual loss of 9.4 million hectares.

FAO’s forestry division states that progress was made towards conservation goals in the 1990s, but warns that in order to bring to life a vision based on sustainable management, a number of factors are necessary, such as the capacity to equitably finance the costs and benefits of strides made in conservation, as well as the materialisation of effective political commitments.

In September 2003 delegates from around the globe will take part in the XII World Forestry Congress to promote the conservation of forests, a habitat that is home to 80 percent of the planet’s biodiversity, as the conference web site notes.

Although the surface area covered by forests may appear extensive, the web site of the World Resources Institute shows an animated map that clearly demonstrates the enormous reduction of forest land over the past 8,000 years.

Deforestation is produced by the excessive use of forestry resources, in other words the cutting of trees by large logging interests as well as small farmers who clear land to make way for their crops. Other factors are natural catastrophes and forest fires.

Abundant information can be found on the Internet on the characteristics of deforestation, especially in tropical forests, which according to a web site are home to 70 percent of the world’s plant and animal species. There is also a large quantity of specialised reports on the issue and web sites that provide information useful to outlining plans for the management of forest ecosystems.

FAO Forestry
FAO: The State of the World’s Forests
XII World Forestry Congress
World Resources Institute
Global Forest Watch
Deforestation: Tropical Forests in Decline/Canadian International Development Agency
Tropical forests

The Sun's Rays

Solar radiation was essential for the emergence of life on Earth, but today doctors are issuing an alert: envrionmetnal and social changes have turned the Sun's rays into dangerous company when they shine too brightly.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that the greatest danger lies in ultraviolet (UV) rays, which are thought to be responsible for the increase in cancer and ailments related to the skin and eyes, the human organs most exposed to sunlight. The United Nations health agency warns that these rays are a threat to everyone.

The Intersun portal is a cyberspace offshoot of the WHO-sponsored Global UV Project that warns that these rays play a role in the two to three million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer and 132,000 cases of malignant melanoma reported each year. The harmful radiation could also contribute to the two million cases of blindness arising from cataracts that are recorded worldwide each year.

There has been an increase in these cases. Why? On the one hand, there is a greater tendency towards sun exposure, for aesthetic motives like suntanning. But all sources on the Internet consulted on this matter point out that the thinning of the ozone layer, known as the ozone hole, is a factor that affects a large portion of the Earth's surface.

The thinning of the ozone layer is caused by pollutants produced by human activities, such as the manufacture and use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and is a serious problem because this atmospheric shield is what protects us from the potentially harmful rays of the sun, like UV.

To combat the emissions of these contaminants, many nations of the world have signed the Montreal Protocol, which is seen as successfully curbing the production of CFCs and other ozone depleting substances. But experts warn that the effects of the ozone hole will continue for at least a half-century unless all production of such substances is halted immediately.

Meanwhile, to protect ourselves, information is helpful. Intersun posts a UV index to categorise the danger of the suns rays.

WHO: Intersun The Global UV Project
Intersun: UV index
Connect Yourself: Ozone Hole - A Threatening Void
UNEP: Ozone Secretariat
Connect Yourself: Montreal Protocol on Ozone

World Social Forum 2003

The World Social Forum, in its third annual meeting, January 23-28, will proclaim its central message with renewed energy: "another world is possible". And the host city is once again the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, which expects tens of thousands of people to converge on this "open meeting space".

The Internet is a good source for learning about the details of this global meeting in Brazil, with informative portals dedicated especially to the Forum, such as, sites that explain the origins and types of issues debated, or simply provide facts about the city serving as the venue for the meet, Porto Alegre.

The official World Social Forum web site states that 30,000 participants from 121 countries are expected to attend. These multitudes will represent approximately 5,000 organizations and will be able to choose from among 1,700 activities -- seminars, panel discussions, workshops -- scheduled for the six-day event.

The Forum is intended as an encounter of civil society organizations, networks and movements, such that people or entities linked to government or political parties are not allowed to participate, unless an individual wishes to on his or her own account. Nor are representatives of armed or military groups permitted to take part in the event.

This year's Forum, organized by a committee made up of numerous civil society groups, is based on five thematic pillars: democratic and sustainable development; principles and values, human rights, diversity and equality; media, culture and non-domination; political power, civil society and democracy; democratic world order, anti-militarization and promotion of peace.

Since 2001, the meeting has been held annually as a civil society response to the World Economic Forum, held at the same time in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos. The WSF's aim is to promote development based on human well being and a globalization process based on solidarity.

In 2004, the World Social Forum will be held in India.

World Social Forum 2003 - official web site
Porto Alegre 2003
Government of Rio Grande do Sul: World Social Forum
World Economic Forum
Porto Alegre: Internet links


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 2003 Tierramérica. All Rights Reserved



Photo credit: P. Cenini/FAO



















Tree-cutting in Honduras. Photo credit: G.Bizarri/FAO
























Image source: WHO/Intersun


















Porto Alegre. Source: Municipal government webcam























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