Helping the farmer around the world

As a Peace Corps volunteer coordinating the agriculture program for Foster Parents Plan, International in rural Sierra Leone, West Africa, I read with interest the series on Hunger in Africa [Nov. 27-30]. Mr. Willis alluded to but didn't develop a major point in his series: The need for training and the importance of a good agricultural extension service in increasing food production. Most experts agree that research isn't enough; you have to get the improved varieties and improved cultural methods out to the small farmers. Because of lack of funds, no mobility, and low pay and status for extension workers, the systems in most developing countries are very poor. Thus, while populations are doubling, the farmers aren't learning new methods or using new varieties and continue farming in the way they have for centuries.

Yet studies show that farmers are willing to try new methods and varieties. The United States Agency for International Development (AID) is funding an outstanding program in Sierra Leone called the ACRE Project (Adaptive Crop Research and Extension), which may be the only program of its kind in the world.

In addition to creating new, improved high-yielding and disease-resistant varieties of the most important food crops in Sierra Leone which are acceptable to the farmers, ACRE has agriculture extension agents working with thousands of small farmers throughout the country and transferring the new varieties and new cultural methods to them. In the five or so years the project has been operating, new varieties of cassava, sweet potatoes, rice, corn, and cowpeas acceptable to the farmers have been developed and distributed.

Also, I think people are tired of the need for band-aid emergency relief and want to support projects working on changing the causes of the problems. It would be helpful if Mr. Willis had mentioned private agencies like Foster Parents Plan, International; Oxfam, International; the United Methodist Church; the Christian Extension Service; and others which are supported by donations from caring people in the industrialized countries and which are working every day to increase food production and improve the lives of people in the third and fourth worlds. Individually what these groups are doing may not seem like much; but added together they probably have just as much -- if not more -- positive impact on the lives of people in the developing countries as the larger, more expensive World Bank-type projects.

Last, I think Americans would like to know that many other countries are doing their share to help the developing countries and what they are doing. In Sierra Leone, for example, the German government is funding an impressive Seed Multiplication Project which multiplies new varieties created by WARDA, the Rice Research Station, the ACRE project on a large scale for distribution, and a large fishing project. In addition to American Peace Corps volunteers, volunteers from France, Canada, and England are working here. Nancy Adams Hastings, Sierra Leone

The editorial ``Aid farmers'' (Feb. 4) shows the Monitor's heart is in the right place where agriculture policy is concerned. But while the Monitor is right to say that now is not a good time to make major changes in farm policy -- bad times never are -- the fact is that we have no choice.

I certainly don't agree with many of the administration's farm proposals, but the task of reforming our farm policy cannot wait. Sen. Robert W. Kasten Jr. Washington

Pictures of frozen garden vegetables in Florida in the Monitor recently reminded me of the way the Swiss protect their winter gardens. They get a hard freeze every so often, so to protect the greens they use plastic or vinyl covers made up like tunnels on hoops! I'm surprised the Floridians haven't thought of something similar! The ground is watered well before this plastic or vinyl ``tunnel'' is untied and pulled along a row, pulling out longer and longer until the end of the row is reached. In some way this tunnel is fastened to the ground so it will not get bent or blown away if a strong wind stirs up. The sun in winter in Switzerland is about as hard to come by as sun in winter in the British Isles! But what sun does shine on the yellow tunnels warms the tunnels and the plants in quiet seclusion love it -- they keep on growing!

When harvesttime comes the vinyl tunnels are pushed back, exposing the end of the row, and the picking goes on toward the middle of the row; in this way nothing is exposed to the cold as the picking goes on. Soon, another crop can be planted and the warming tunnel replaced. It's a great idea that fascinated me when I lived in Switzerland through one winter. Ella May Frazer Las Cruces, N.M.

US government officials should not be led to believe that Paraguay's General Stroessner and two other Paraguayan leaders will keep their promise to destroy the 49,000 gallons of chemicals which could be used in the production of cocaine. The Paraguayan government's arbitrary attentiveness to international pressure can be borne out with a few examples. Despite giving its consent in 1977 to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for an on-site investigation of its human rights situation, Paraguayan officials have not yet found a convenient date for the commission's visit. Only after 22 years of intense international pressure, Paraguayan authorities released the hemisphere's longest-held political prisoner, Escolastico Ovando. Mr. Ovando was released in May 1984 and had been detained seven years longer than his 15-year sentence. The US ambassador to Paraguay, Arthur Davis, has repeatedly requested that General Stroessner permit the opening of that country's only morning newspaper, ABC Color, which has been closed for 11 months.

In addition to snubbing pressure, Paraguayan officials have refused to see Ambassador Davis to discuss destroying the chemicals it seized in September 1984. The US should consider cutting off military training funds ($50,000 for 1985) and voting against multilateral development bank loans to Paraguay to prompt its leaders to keep their promise to destroy the chemicals. Gail Lehman Office on Latin America, Washington

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published and none individually acknowledged. All are subject to condensation. Please address letters to ``readers write.''

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