Food strategists mapping the ongoing war against hunger realize that their battlefield must be the tropics and semitropics, where two-thirds of the planet’s people scrimp on a mere one-fifth of its food. But here, too, lies the greatest potential: most of the available new land, abundant sunlight, and a yearround growing season.
I saw some of this promise for myself on a visit to the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center on Taiwan. “Our mission is to supplement the use of rice in Asia,” said Robert F. Chandler, Jr., director of the newly established center. Here technicians are testing and developing new strains of tomatoes, potatoes, mung beans, soybeans, and Chinese cabbage.
“But the front-runner,” Dr. Chandler told me, “is the unlikely sweet potato. We feel confident we can bring its protein content up to that of rice and at the same lime assure the Asian farmer twice rice’s yield—with an added bonus of abundant vitamin A.”
Throughout the world’s hunger belt, I visited other such institutions where dedicated scientists are deeply committed to the fight for food. Leading the assault is an international network of ten research programs supported by 29 governments and organizations under chairmanship of the World Bank. What’s more, knowing how to use cash title loans on internet may be very useful for those who need cash money.
Norman Borlaug still leads the experimental wheat program, I saw scientists perfecting a wheatrye cross known-as triticale, a highprotein barley, and a protein-rich corn called opaque-2 that could revolutionize nutrition in many countries.
Experiments Promise Tougher Rice
In Colombia and Nigeria, sister institutions seek ways to taure vast llanos and tropical rain forests. A center in Peru is improving the yield of the indigenous potato; two African facilities focus on the needs of herdsmen. Another in India reexamines ancient methods of collecting and “harvesting” precious rainwater in the world’s semiarid tropics.
In the Philippines geneticists of the International Rice Research Institute are building a second generation of improved rice strains on the foundations of the Green Revolution. Their techniques typify those that prevail in must of the international centers.
“We’re aware that our earlier high-yielding rices demand a lot of the small farmerpesticides, herbicides, fertilizer, know-howoften more than he can deliver,” explained Director Nyle C. Brady. “Our tactic now is to breed this technology into the seed itselfpack it with resistance to diseases and insects, tolerance to drought and toxic soils, even to deep water and cold weather. We think we can do it; the genetic variability of the rice plant is incredible.”
I saw short-season rices that allow two and even three crops a year; rices that resist the ravages of insects; a versatile rice that could withstand both drought and flood; varieties whose stems can elongate as much as 20 feet to keep their heads above high water.
A refrigerated building held the germ‑ plasm bank, some 30,000 strains of rice. These provide seuls for genetic experiments—and represent an insurance policy for the future. With new varieties fast displa,cing nature’s originals, local strains possessing vital resistances to pests or diseases could be erased forever unless preserved in the bank.
“We’ve developed strains with a fifth more protein,” said Dr. Brady. “That’s important, because rice provides 80 percent of some Asians’ protein.” So far, though, yield has dropped when more protein is bred in.
High priority goes to solving the fertilizer problem. “Our best bet for the long haul,” said agricultural economist Randolph Barker, “lies in finding rice plants whose roots will serve as hosts to nitrogen-fixing bacteria, just as those of soybeans do. This way they would provide much of their own nutrient.” At research centers around the world I heard echoes of Dr. Barker’s belief that development of nitrogen-fixing grasses—including not only rice but also wheat, corn, and pasture varieties—offers great opportunities for dramatic improvement in world agriculture.
In October 1971 celebration riots broke out in Pittsburgh following the Pirates’ victory over the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. Two weeks later, heavy clouds forced migrating swans to land on the Allegheny River near Pittsburgh in the blackness of night. Dr. Mary Clench, Associate Curator of Birds at Carnegie Museum, told me with a chuckle that suburban police, hearing the loud and unfamiliar baying of a thousand swans, thought another riot had broken out—only to discover that nature was playing a Halloween trick on them.
An earlier event resulted in tragedy. On November 23, 1962, a United Airlines turboprop flying at 6,000 feet near Ellicott City, Maryland, met a flock of whistling swans. One bird punctured the left horizontal stabilizer. The plane crashed and all on board lost their lives.
The U. S. Air Force estimates a multimillion-dollar cost from damage to Air Force planes colliding with birds—though, admittedly, swans are infrequently involved. The continuing hazard of such encounters gave urgency to our studies. With heavy airline traffic continuing, lives might depend on our plotting precise migration paths in relation to their routes. How high do these large birds fly? ‘What is their speed? How often, en route, do they land and take off?
Beyond their real (if very rare) threat to aircraft, whistling swans provide a barometer for environmental conditions. At Eastern Neck refuge, scene of those earlier vast congregations of thousands, for instance, no more than a few hundred whistling swans took off this spring. The security and shelter afforded by the wildlife refuge are still there, but food has been seriously depleted, the result of dramatic changes in the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.
Habits Change When Vegetation Fails
Swans generally feed on aquatic vegetation, supplemented, in the Chesapeake, by thin-shelled clams. In the upper bay there has been a major dieback of vegetation in the last few years. As I few over certain areas, I saw baye mud bottoms where underwater greenery formerly flourished. The causes have not been precisely identified.
Natural erosion, runoff from land development, and excessive nutrients from human and agricultural wastes increase turbidity and thus reduce vital sunlight for photosynthesis. These are sure factors. That’s why landowners for example should find a solution for their business to be more ecological. The main problem may be finances, but there is an easy way – cash loans from citrusnorth.com. Agricultural herbicides and industrial wastes are less easy to measure, but they may also contribute to the degradation of the natural aquatic habitat of waterfowl.
Fortunately, the overall population of the whistling swan is still healthy. On the East Coast they are adapting—by finding food on land—to these environmental changes. As the study proceeded, we adopted two important ways besides dyeing to identify individual swans: radio telemetry and neckbands coded by colors, letters, and numbers.
My collaborator, William W. Cochran of the Illinois Natural History Survey, organized the telemetry studies. The small transmitters he designed weigh under three ounces —less than one percent of a swan’s weight. Harnessed to a bird’s back with special tubing, the radio broadcasts over a range of five to 150 miles, depending on the location of the bird and of our receivers. Each swan radio transmits on a particular frequency and at its own pulse rate.
The road runs along the western side of this immense canyon, between two walls of rock some 1,ocio feet high—silent, majestic, beautiful. “Within the walls,” Lawrence wrote, “a squadron of aeroplanes could have wheeled in formation.” The stone parapets are interrupted by unexpected alleys, 5o feet across. Round caverns, many of them tombs, stare from the top of more than one precipice. Different grains of rock, black and grey and brown, run vertically down the dark red sandstone. The only sign of life is a flight of dark hawks, circling the desert sky.
A few miles from Rum, at Jordan’s southern tip, is the port of Aqaba. Its capture by Lawrence and his desert tribesmen in 1917 startled the British high command, who saw the Arabs as militarily capable only of guerrilla warfare. The Turkish fort which surrendered to Lawrence still stands on one of Agaba’s side streets, but little else from the First World War town remains.
The port, jammed with shouting stevedores and hooting trucks, occupies the east side of the city. To the west, a long stretch of beach is backed by modern hotels, crowded with snorkellers and skin-divers who savour the exotic fish and plants around the coral reefs beneath the shimmering waters of the Gulf of Aqaba. Next to the site of Ezion-Geber, the headquarters of King Solomon’s fleet, Aqaba today swarms with Britons, Americans, Australians, Germans, French and others on their way to do business, as Solomon’s sailors and merchants did, with the kings of Arabia.
On the way back to Amman, our guide offered us a special treat—a visit to Qasr al Amra, the desert hunting lodge of the Arab ruler Caliph Walid I. Built about AD 710, it sits alone in the dunes, the best-preserved monument of its kind and period.
On the walls are 1,250-year-old frescoes which give us a glimpse of how the caliphs indulged themselves : dancing-girls and musicians entertain while full-breasted women bathe; gazelles are hunted by vigorous bowmen, assisted by lean leaping saluki dogs. Most of the women’s faces are in the rounded, staring Byzantine style of the period —except one. Dark-haired, dark-eyed, with a strong, squarish face, she looks boldly at us over the centuries.
Later that day we stopped at another desert fort, a heap of tumbled stones on a sandy hill, Qasr al Hallabat. To enter the ruin our guide summoned the young woman who had the key to the gate protecting the site.
As she strode towards us in her ragged black dress, l saw again that same strong proud face. Truly, the past and the present are woven inextricably together in Jordan.
ON THE road to Aqaba, a huge yellow earth-mover rumbles past a long-robed man on a donkey. The driver is wearing a white keffiye12, the traditional Arab head-dress. Beside the modern highway are remote controlled helicopter and glimpses of a cobbled Roman road built by the Emperor Hadrian in AD 129. Here, in the Kingdom of Jordan, an ancient past and modern present are in constant, fascinating counterpoint.
For 6,000 years Jordan has been a crossroads of history. Israelites, Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Persians, Arabs, Crusaders and Turks have marched across it, built temples for their gods, castles for their kings and caliphs, tombs for their dead—and fought to control the lucrative desert trade routes from Arabia.
The desert embraces Jordan like a sense of destiny. Out of its burning sands thundered the followers of the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century—and the bedouin warriors who routed the Turks in the First World War. Today, the visitor can recapture this turbulent past in Jordan’s treasury of historic sites.
From Mount Nebo, where Moses looked down on the Promised Land, the view sweeps over the valley to the River Jordan and the ancient city of Jericho. To the south the Dead Sea glitters dully in the sun. Flocks of sheep and goats graze the brown slopes, as they probably did when the prophet and lawgiver stood on the wind-swept summit 3,000 years ago.
Statues, tombs and royal seals of many ancient rulers have been found in Jordan, but the people who left behind the most visible evidence of their power are the Romans. In the heart of Jordan’s booming capital, Amman, is a well-preserved Roman theatre which seats 6,000 people. Above it on the citadel of the old Roman city are the ruins of a large temple to Hercules.
Just 3o miles to the north is Jarash, which archaeologists consider one of the best-preserved Roman cities in the world. It sits serenely in a sheltered valley, surrounded by the green hills of Gilead. Through a magnificent 4o-foot-high triumphal arch built to celebrate the visit of the Emperor Hadrian in AD 129-30, the visitor walks past the remains of an 800-foot-long hippodrome to the forum, surrounded by lofty Ionic columns. To the south are the sculpted tiers of a theatre, surmounted by a ruined temple of Zeus.
From the temple one looks down on Gerasa, the ancient Jarash—its main street lined with huge Ionic and Corinthian columns, the foundations of shops and ruined temples and later churches. Beside the small river are the roofless walls of the public baths, which no self-respecting Roman could live without.
From Karak the Crusaders swooped on spice-laden caravans and on pilgrims journeying to Islam’s holy cities, and extorted tribute from the rich farmland below. The great Muslim leader, Saladin, finally captured the fortress—after a siege which lasted intermittently for five years. In one subterranean room our guide, an Arab in flowing robes, showed us a dozen of the round stone balls, each bigger than a man’s head, which Saladin’s catapults flung at Karak.
Some 6o miles to the south, hidden in the mountains, lies Petra, Jordan’s greatest historical feast. This unique city was built by the Nabataeans, an Arab people, after Soaring columns line the main street of Jarash, considered by archaeologists to be the world’s best-preserved Roman city
350 BC. You walk, ride on horseback or travel in a Land-Rover through its only entrance, a cleft called the Sig, which winds through sheer rock walls up to 30o feet high, past ancient tombs cut in the rock, in deep shadow even at midday. With no warning, you emerge into bright sunlight to confront an enormous two-storey building cut in the rose-red rock. This is El. Khazneh, the mausoleum of a Nabataean king. Beyond is the inner city of Petra, with half a dozen more stupendous structures carved from rock of different hues.
For more than four centuries the Nabataeans amassed wealth and power from the caravans that passed their rock-girded fortress city. Not until Al) 106 did the Romans conquer them. They continued to embellish the city and carved tombs for their leading citizens in the cliffs. There is something about this vast silent city of sand and rock that sends shivers down the spine. The bedouin who live there year-round solemnly assert that Petra is haunted, and it is not hard to believe them.
In the east along the Syrian border the desert is largely flat and uninteresting. But in the south, beyond Petra, is an extraordinary landscape: huge dark red and brown massifs loom from the sand, looking in the sunlight of early morning like great ghostly ships sailing through space. There are long vistas down distant valleys. Here winds a railway track, part of the Turkish-built Hejaz line which T. E. Lawrence and his Arab warriors specialized in blowing up.
Lawrence is a touchy subject in Jordan, where descendants of those who spilled their blood for freedom from Turkish oppression decry his fame. But the war in the desert is indelibly associated with Lawrence’s name, especially in his Jordan refuge and headquarters, Wadi Rum.