Skip to comments.LIFE IN THE TROPICS:A NEVER ENDING BATTLE WITH NATURE
Posted on 12/08/2002 8:40:36 PM PST by dennisw
LIFE IN THE TROPICS:
A NEVER ENDING BATTLE WITH NATURE
Look at a world map. The region between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn is usually referred to as the tropics. The rest of the world, excluding the polar regions, is referred to as the temperate region. Now, look at your map with the two regions.
Life in the Tropics is much more difficult than life in temperate regions because the tropical environment is not conducive to economic development. Compared to the temperate zone, the effects of tropical climates:
ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS HINDERING DEVELOPMENT
1. RAINFALL AND HEAT
Rainfall in the Tropics is usually too little, too much, or too late. Precipitation is not distributed uniformly throughout the year. There are usually distinct wet and dry seasons. Excessive precipitation and storms during the wet season often destroy crops. Even during the wet season, droughts are common.
Continuous heat and absence of frost mean that life and pest reproduction continues throughout the year. THE GREAT EXECUTIONER OF NATURE, WINTER IS ABSENT. Consequently, plant and animal pests and diseases reproduce throughout the year. There is intense ecological competition and only a few individuals of each species survive. Crops and animals developed for temperate region ecosystems do not do well for long. The intense ecological competition usually wipes non-indigious out after several generations.
The heat and humidity of the tropics are hard on machinery and well as humans. Machinery does not last nearly as long in the Tropics as in temperate regions due to rust and corrosion. The tropical sun (UV radiation) is rough on plastics, rubber, and synthetics. Multinational companies often leave their machinery behind after projects because they know that after a few years in the Tropics, it is probably not worth the cost of shipping it home. Consequently, tropical countries are littered with abandoned construction equipment.
Tropical soils are among the poorest in the world with very low nutrient (particularly nitrogen) and organic matter contents. Almost all the nutrients in tropical ecosystems are tied up in the living vegetation. If the vegetation is removed due to harvesting (crops, timber, etc.), the nutrients are lost and productivity drops drastically. In contrast, most nutrients are found in the soil in temperate climates and soil nutrient levels are orders of magnitude higher.
When exposed to tropical sun and air, tropical soils (laterites) tend to harden and solidify and become impermeable and impossible to till. Alluvial and volcanic soils and soils at higher elevations in the Tropics are exceptions and may be very rich and fertile. The low nitrogen content of tropical soils results in low protein content in crops.
Shifting cultivation is the traditional method of agriculture in the tropics. Clear an area of the bush or jungle, burn the cleared vegetation (releasing nutrients) and farm the land for two to three years or until crop yields begin to fall. Then abandon the area and move to another. After 10 to 15 years, natural processes revegetate the land and restore the original productivity of the soil and previously farmed areas may be farmed again. This cycle was used successfully for thousands of years in the Tropics until colonial powers introduced commodity crops (coffee, cotton, peanuts, cocoa, etc.) that tend to deplete soil nutrients rapidly. In the past 50 years as populations have increased exponentially, land has become scarce and soils have been farmed more frequently. This depletes their fertility until crop production and natural revegetation is difficult or impossible. This process is out of control in the tropics today and as a result, desertification is spreading rapidly in tropical countries.
3. AGRICULTURAL ENEMIES
Agricultural pests and diseases are rampant in the tropics. Unfortunately, most research on plant and animal pests and diseases is conducted by scientists in industrialized countries in the temperate regions. The results of this research are rarely directly applicable to the tropics. Also, since tropical countries are generally poor and cannot afford many imports, private industry in the temperate regions rarely invests in research or produces pesticides and herbicides specifically tailored for tropical pests.
Pests and disease grow uncontrolled all year long (no winter). Locusts are endemic in many regions. Trypanosomiasis (tsetses fly) has prevented the introduction of draft and domesticated animals to central Africa. Only native wild animals are immune and they have not been successfully domesticated. Therefore, it is difficult to use animals for plowing or transportation. On a more positive note however, the Tsetse fly did protect central Africa from exploitation by Europeans to some extent.
Tropical soils are highly weathered and often, hundreds to thousands of meters deep. The thick soil layer makes it difficult to explore for minerals and expensive or impractical to extract them if found. In addition, most exploration equipment has been developed for temperate regions, which have relatively shallow soils. Consequently, the exploration equipment does not work as well in deep tropical soils. Because of depletion of economically recoverable minerals in temperate regions, however, better exploration equipment is being developed for tropical regions.
5. HEALTH HAZARDS
Tropical diseases: malaria, river blindness, parasitic worms, leprosy, cholera, Guinea worm, and others affect a large portion of the population in many tropical countries. Productivity is consequently reduced and people have a difficult time accumulating enough capital to develop. Combined with high population growth rates, this means that per capita income in many tropical countries is decreasing.
a. Malaria: More easily controlled in temperate regions because winter kills mosquito vectors (same with filariasis). Mosquito borne diseases have been largely controlled in the developed world. Malaria is believed to have been a factor in the decline of the Mesopotamian civilization and the Roman Empire.
b. River blindness (onchocerciasis): Causes partial or total loss of sight. Caused by a fly found throughout the world, but the parasite, which causes the disease, can reproduce only in warm tropical areas.
c. Parasitic worms: infect more than 500 million people in developing countries causing anemia, apathy, and in children mental and physical retardation.
d. Leprosy: Fairly rare except in the Tropics where frequent skin abrasions caused by innumerable insect bites are thought to promote it. Eleven million are infected in the Tropics.
e. Yellow and Dengue Fever: Yellow fever is one of the few tropical diseases which has been controlled. It was conquered because it became an obstacle to the United State's development and expansion at the beginning of the century (construction of the Panama Canal and the American occupation of Cuba). The mosquito which transmits yellow fever stops breeding when temperatures drop below 15 to 20 deg C so it is restricted to tropical regions.
For more details on the effects of the tropical environment on development, see:
Kamarck, A.M. 1976. The Tropics and economic development - A provocative inquiry into the poverty of nations. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Md. (ISBN 0-8018-1891-5)
That's a good thing?
I think exactly the opposite is true. The better climate of tropical regions means that people can lounge around all day and pick fruit off of trees. Up in the temperate regions, people have to hustle to survive.
HELL ON EARTH
One freezy night each year to kill off the bugs, the rest of the time, Disney World.