In Africa's parched Mauritania, a new seed center is producing improved corn seed to help reverse a decline in that crop. In Tanzania, where many areas are too dry for good farming, crop irrigation projects are under way. In Thailand, some 55,000 students are supplementing their teacher training and 23,000 other adults are taking out-of-school courses - all under new educational radio programs.
These are current examples of the kind of efforts the UN Development Program helps finance. And although the United States has been cutting back its contributions to the UNDP, other key donors have been increasing their share.
``Despite the US cut, 1987 will be a record year for us,'' said William Draper III, the UNDP administrator, in a recent interview.
Based on pledges made at a recent conference of UNDP donors, Mr. Draper expects contributions next year to exceed $800 million. A number of West European nations are increasing their shares, and Japan is expected to do the same. Norway is donating the equivalent of $13.50 for every person in Norway. The US is donating 50 cents a person, he notes.
The US remains the largest contributor to UNDP, but its funding has dropped from $163 million in 1985 to $107 million this year under an administration that has stated it is not enthusiastic about international agencies. A further cut to less than $100 million is expected for 1987.
``The US is out of step,'' he adds, arguing that money spent on UNDP projects benefits the US in several ways. Much of the total UNDP spending goes to hire US experts to offer technical advice in poor nations. As Draper sees it, ``UNDP is good for business.''
He also points to the benefits of a link between, in his words, ``economic growth and social stability.'' When land is well used, when farmers and others in rural areas can make a living and do not have to move to the cities, there is less urban unrest due to overcrowding, fewer food shortages, and more stability in the countryside. Under these conditions, emergency relief for a nation is less likely to be needed, and other nations are not as tempted to intervene - economically and militarily - in its affairs.
But Draper points out that despite increasing contributions from key donors, UNDP resources have been ``virtually flat'' for 16 years when measured by the dollar's shrinking purchasing power.
Even so, the UNDP, operating in 151 nations, plays an important role in helping poor nations obtain greater funding from other international agencies. Staff members survey the needs of many nation, and then help prepare loan requests to the World Bank.
But UNDP has its critics.
Some of the UNDP surveys are ``quick and dirty,'' involving only a few weeks' time, says Canadian David Runnals, director of the North American office of the International Institute for Environment & Development. Although he praises UNDP forestry efforts, Mr. Runnals questions the UNDP's commitment to the environmental aspects of development is anything more than ``appropriate noises.''
In private remarks, another expert on international development questioned how closely the UNDP analyzes its expenditures, and whether recipient governments have too great a voice in its affairs.
Draper says he is ``not sure'' at this time what specific steps he may take to increase environmental considerations in UNDP operations.
As to his agency's oversight of funding, he candidly stated that some requests for help are the ``pet projects'' of particular officials in the developing nations. But he contends ``shoddy projects'' are weeded out by the agency during the approval process. Draper says that he has become more involved in the project approval process than his predecessor.
Since taking the UNDP leadership in May, he has traveled to nine West African nations, several Asian countries, and 12 donor nations. And, he notes, ``I don't just go to the capitals.'' He also says ``I'd like to prune some projects that go on and on.''
Asked what new directions he wants the UNDP to pursue, he says more programs involving women and more designed to strengthen the private sector in poor nations.
Despite President Reagan's opposition to government funding for population control programs, Draper says: ``I feel very strongly about family planning being an essential part of that development process.'' Population and food supply are directly related, he notes.
Most of the projects the UNDP funds are run by other UN agencies, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization. The UNDP financies studies and technical assistance with grants but seldom pays for major construction projects.
Draper founded and for 20 years ran Sutter Hill Ventures, a venture capital company in Palo Alto, Calif. From 1981 to 1986, he was president and chairman of the US Export-Import Bank.