WHEN primatologist Patricia Wright identified a rare species of
lemur in Madagascar, she also found a threat to their future:
slash-and-burn agriculture. So the Duke University professor sought
She returned to the United States and took her case to a Duke
colleague in environmental policy at the Durham, N. C., campus. They
then turned to professors of soil science and forestry at nearby
North Carolina State University here. Soon the group grew to include
professors of population and public health from the University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Today this collaborative "seed" program among the three North
Carolina universities is not only aiding Madagascar, it is also
answering a worldwide trumpet call to help stop environmental
Duke, North Carolina State, and University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill together have launched The Center for World Environment
and Sustainable Development. Its mission is to combat global
environmental destruction: threatened species, deforestation,
malnourished populations, eroding land, polluted air and water, and
The faculty-founded center emerges at a time when environmental
consciousness has never been stronger: "It's the ripe time and the
right time because of the awareness of the problem," says Pedro
Sanchez, professor of soil science at North Carolina State and the
center's initial director, during an interview in his office.
More and more, people are realizing that environmental problems
need to be addressed not just by conservation scientists, but also
by political scientists, economists, sociologists, biologists,
agronomists, public health experts, and others.
With a healthy crop of such scientists, the center has mapped out
three areas of concentration:
* Tropical conservation and development.
* Environmental problems in industrializing countries.
* Worldwide environmental change.
Madagascar, where one of the center's initial projects is under
way, is an "extreme case of environmental degradation," Dr. Sanchez
says. University scientists are working with the Malagasy government
and people to preserve the Ranomafana National Park and help mend
the tattered environment. With funding from the US Agency for
International Development, research is being conducted in wildlife
protection and park management, agroforestry as an alternative to
slash-and-burn agriculture, and public health.
"The greatest source of plant and animal diversity is in tropical
forests, and also deforestation is contributing a good chunk to the
greenhouse warming," explains Sanchez. "But you can't tell that
farmer out there: 'Hey, don't slash and burn this forest because
that's going to mess up biodiversity and increase the greenhouse
effect, he says.
Instead of prohibiting people from doing something, you have to
consider the whole picture and give them "user friendly"
alternatives, Sanchez says.
"This is a nature-based development," says Isabel Valencia,
executive officer for the center, who recently returned from
Farmers are working with soil scientists to find ways to improve
agriculture while preserving the park's natural-resource base.
People who live around the park participate in its activities -
serving as guides or selling crafts. …