Best of our wild blogs: 14 Oct 11

Sunset trip to Cyrene
from wild shores of singapore

Gardening for birds: 1. The garden
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Reviving the Lost Legacy of Rice Biodiversity: The Story of Ghani Khan
from EcoWalkthetalk

Five ways to feed billions without trashing the planet
from news by Jeremy Hance

Read more!

11 recommendations to tackle climate change

Esther Ng Today Online 14 Oct 11;

Singapore - Free public transport during certain hours, quarterly food, electricity and water rationing, and farmers' markets in housing estates are some recommendations the Singapore Environment Council (SEC) has made to NCCS 2012, the National Climate Change Secretariat's public consultation exercise.

Top on the list of its 11 recommendations is a call for a more holistic transport strategy which encourages "behavioural change as a longer-term solution".

For instance, schools could increase "bicycle parking areas" and get students living nearby to ride to school instead of having their parents drop them off.

Bicycle racks can be installed on public buses, so that people who wish to cycle to work, but live too far from their workplace, can split their commute between bicycle and bus routes.

The Greater Richmond Transit in the United States and bike-sharing schemes in London and Dublin are some successful examples, the council noted.

Free public rides on public transport during peak hours on weekdays or one weekend a month could encourage more people to take public transport.

Said the SEC's executive director Jose Raymond: "Singapore needs a strategy to balance the needs of a growing population with cost effectiveness and environmental sustainability. This balance cannot be achieved simply by growing public transport infrastructure or by continuing to tax vehicle owners heavily."

The SEC said air-conditioning bus interchanges and hawker centres was "unnecessary" and "contributes to avoidable energy wastage" and called on the Government to consider "alternative measures" to cool down public spaces.

With climate change affecting food, energy and water security, the council recommended quarterly food, electricity and water rationing for schools, offices and households. The intent is to "encourage a greater understanding of the energy-intensive and expensive processes that bring food, water and energy ... and that these scarce resources should not be taken for granted".

Additionally, farmers' markets and produce from rooftop gardens in public housing estates will enhance Singapore's food security and reduce the Republic's carbon footprint from food imports. ESTHER NG

Read more!

Sea barriers in Singapore: Police Coast Guard was 'grossly overcharged'

Ong Dai Lin Today Online 14 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE - The latest audit by the Auditor-General's Office (AGO) has found "pervasive" lapses in two projects undertaken by the Police Coast Guard (PCG), resulting in the department "being grossly overcharged and making large payments for materials before delivery".

The AGO, which audits all government ministries, organs of state, 10 statutory boards and four government funds, focuses on internal controls over the management of public funds, such as payments and refund.

The PCG had engaged a project management company to manage the two projects - the supply of floating sea barriers and repair work on a coastal barrier.

"AGO's audit revealed irregularities at every stage of the projects," it said its latest report released yesterday.

In the supply of floating sea barriers, the PCG was overcharged by S$885,000 and exceeded the approved project budget of S$4.76 million, to S$5.73 million. During the project, at least S$1.65 million worth of materials were paid for before delivery. During AGO's audit last November - seven months after the payment - some of the materials were still not delivered. All the materials paid for were later accounted for in April. The AGO also observed "tell-tale signs of falsification in documents" provided to it by the project manager to support payments of S$2.64 million to a term contractor.

Irregularities of the same nature were also found in another S$1.13 million project by the PCG to repair a coastal barrier and it was likely to have been overcharged, said the AGO.

In response to Today's queries, a police spokesperson said the PCG has recovered S$1.81 million from both project contractors. The Commercial Affairs Department has also commenced investigations against the project manager from the project management company for possible falsification of survey reports and other documents. "Police has also commenced internal investigations into possible lapses by its staff," said a police spokesperson.

While the two projects deterred illegal landings, the Coast Guard commander, Senior Assistant Commissioner Teo Kian Teck, said: "There is no excuse for such lapses. Upon receiving the report, we set up a high-level team to look into various issues and have since taken corrective measures to prevent future occurrences."

The Ministry of Home Affairs has also issued a directive to guide all Home Team departments on the proper use of term contracts and to exercise greater vigilance in their dealings with contractors and project managers.

Auditor-General Lim Soo Ping felt "public agencies must not over-rely on external parties" to comply with government control procedures on procurement and payment. "They may not share the same values and instincts expected of public officers, with regard to financial prudence," he said. "Financial prudence cannot be outsourced."

Mr Lim noted that many lapses found in the audits of government ministries and statutory boards were in procurement. For example, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) was taken to task for not ensuring that the construction work done on the Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway by its contractors is fully in compliance with contract specifications. It was also found to have awarded a S$2.16 million contract for a road camera system although the offer did not meet technical requirements specified.

Mr Lim observed that the lapses found were "largely due to administrative expediency taking precedence over financial prudence".

"The agencies concerned can do more to ensure adequate financial vigilance in their procurement and payment practices," he said.

Read more!

Malaysia Seizes 5,000 Sea Turtle Eggs

Bernama 13 Oct 11;

SANDAKAN, Oct 13 (Bernama) -- The Marine Operations Force (MOF) thwarted an attempt to smuggle in 5,000 turtle eggs into Sabah after detaining a boat in waters off Kampung Forest near here Wednesday.

Sandakan deputy police chief Supt Fadzil Mohd Ali said the eggs worth some RM8,000.

"However, the boat's skipper escaped during the operation," he told in a statement here today.

Possesing or selling turtle eggs in Sabah is an offence under the state's Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997.


Read more!

Thai floods damage rice, threaten exports

Naveen Thukral and Ho Binh Minh
Reuters 13 Oct 11;

(Reuters) - Thailand's worst floods in half a century have inundated farms and mills, squeezing rice supplies from the world's top exporter, while rival Vietnam is expected to default on half a million tonnes as prices of the staple climb.

Flood-damage to Thai rice comes as the nation's new government implemented a scheme that gives farmers a big increase in farmgate prices, raising concerns over food inflation among buyers in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

Swollen rivers were hampering the movement of barges, while ships at the ports were unable to load cargoes in the face of heavy rains, traders said on Wednesday, adding that at least 300,000 tonnes of rice exports would get delayed, forcing buyers to seek alternatives such as from India and Pakistan.

"The situation is really bad as it is raining non-stop, a lot of mills have been affected and a lot paddy which was lying around in the open or under tarpaulin has got submerged," said a trading manager with an international rice exporter in Bangkok.

"We see it as a serious problem."

The floods have already prompted the government to reduce its estimate of the main rice crop to 21 million tonnes from 25 million for which the harvesting was due to start this month.

"Even loading for vessels which are waiting for cargo will get delayed," said another trader from Bangkok. "It is raining heavily, so loadings have fallen and it is difficult to get cargoes alongside the vessel."

Thailand's prime minister warned businesses not to take advantage of flooding around the country to push up prices as residents of Bangkok cleared supermarket shelves, worried that the capital could be swamped in coming days.

At least 281 people have been killed by heavy monsoon rain, floods and mudslides since late July and 26 of Thailand's 77 provinces are inundated, said the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation.

The north, northeast and central plains have been badly affected and Bangkok, which is only two metres (6.5 ft) above sea level, is in danger as water overflows from reservoirs in the north, swelling the Chao Phraya river.

But the floods have limited impact on sugar output, Thailand's other major export, with about 200,000 rai of cane plantation hit, said the Office of the Cane and Sugar Board, accounting for 2-3 percent of the 8.7 million rai (1.4 hectares) of plantation estimate for 2011/12 production.

For PDF on surging grain prices fuelling Asian inflation: click

For graphic on top importers and exporters: click

The export price of Thai benchmark 100 percent B grade white rice rose to $670-$680 a tonne last week from $650, while Vietnamese rice climbed to its highest in more than three years on thin stocks and expectations of higher demand.

On Wednesday Vietnam's 5 percent broken rice stood at $575-$590 a tonne, FOB, against $575-$580 a week ago. It touched $580-$590 on Monday.


Vietnam, the world's second-largest rice exporter, could default on deliveries of 520,000 tonnes of the grain this year as exporters failed to buy on domestic markets for loading due to a price surge, a state-run newspaper reported.

The projected defaults would account for 7 percent of Vietnam's annual export volume forecast at 7.5 million tonnes this year, breaking the record of 6.83 million tonnes in 2010.

The market is expecting higher rice demand in 2012 from the Philippines, where the volume of unmilled rice damaged by two recent typhoons has climbed to about 1 million tonnes, a senior agriculture official said.

"The price is rising to intercept the Philippines' demand," a Vietnamese trader in Ho Chi Minh City said. "The Philippines will buy for next year, following the impact of storms and floods and a decline in stocks."

President Benigno Aquino said the Philippines did not need to import more rice for this year's supply despite crop losses from typhoons because it had ample stocks. However, officials have said it was reviewing import plans for 2012.

Before the strong typhoons hit major rice-growing provinces in northern Philippines, the government had said it could limit rice imports for 2012 to not more than 500,000 tonnes on anticipation of a record paddy output of 17.3 million tonnes.

The Southeast Asian country bought 860,000 tonnes of rice this year, after importing 2.45 million tonnes for 2010, making it the world's biggest rice buyer.

India, which eased curbs on rice exports in September, is likely to make the most of the situation in Southeast Asia with plentiful stocks.

"We estimate about 1.0-1.5 million tonnes of Indian rice have been contracted for exports after the government freed overseas sale," said Vijay Setia, president of the All India Rice Exporters Association.

Traders said about 700,000 tonnes would be shipped by December from ports on India's east coast to destinations such as Bangladesh, Nigeria and South Africa. The export deals are happening in the range of $420-$480 a tonne, free on board (FOB) basis, for common rice.

On Sept. 1, India's rice stocks at government warehouses stood at 22.7 million tonnes against a target of 9.8 million tonnes.

India's summer rice production is expected to be 87.1 million tonnes in the crop year 2011/12, compared to 80.65 million tonnes a year ago, according to the farm ministry's first of the four forecasts released on Sept. 13.

(Additional reporting by Jutarat Skulpichetrat in BANGKOK, Ratnajyoti Dutta in NEW DELHI and Erik Dela Cruz in MANILA; Editing by Ramthan Hussain)

Indochina floods may force Malaysia to seek rice from elsewhere
Sira Habibu The Star 14 Oct 11;

PETALING JAYA: As flood waters rise to threaten parts of Indochina, there is growing concern over public safety and food supply, including rice.

Some 1.5 million hectares of the region's famous padi fields including Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos with their rich, low-laying lands along the rivers have already been affected.

This has prompted Malaysia, which depends on these countries for 30% of its rice supply, to look towards other nations for the precious commodity.

With one-third of the country's overseas rice supply coming from Thailand, Malaysia has already received half of its consignment but the other half is still in Bangkok that even now is seeing rising water levels.

Deputy Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Johari Baharum said the country would look into sourcing rice from Pakistan, India or other countries.

“We have a stockpile of close to a million metric tonnes of rice lasting more than five months. Our padi fields, from which we are getting 70% of our supply, are not affected,” he said, adding that Malaysia's move towards self-sustainable rice production would eventually reduce dependence on imports.

Malaysians consume 180,000 tonnes of rice each month.

UN disaster reduction chief Margareta Wahlstrom said the entire region would suffer from rising cost of food prices as potential harvests had now been devastated.

“The damage is very serious this year and it will be some time before people can resume normal lives,” she said in a statement.

As the Thai capital braces for the worst floods in decades, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra had warned that many provinces could remain submerged for the next two months, including the country's rice fields.

Workers hurriedly dredged canals and cut new waterways yesterday in an attempt to protect the city.

At least 283 people have been killed in Thailand since late July by floods and mudslides that have devastated rice crops and shut dozens of factories.

American computer hard drive manufacturer Western Digital Corp and Japan's Toyota Motor Corp became the latest to suspend production in Thailand yesterday.

The Malaysian Meteorological Department confirmed that the Haitang tropical storm and the Nesat and Nalgae typhoons had caused downpours and strong winds in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.

“Continuous rain has aggravated the situation and the floods are said to be the worst in 50 years.

“Furthermore, the May to September period is the rainy season in the northern and western coasts of Thailand, brought about by the southwest monsoon,” it said in a statement.

However, the department said there was no indication that the northern part of Malaysia, where the country's rice bowl is located in Kedah, would be affected by the storms.

Bangkok Strengthens Defenses As Floods Close In
Panarat Thepgumpanat PlanetArk 14 Oct 11;

Workers and soldiers raced to finish defensive walls around inner Bangkok on Thursday as floodwater that has covered about a third of Thailand threatened the capital.

At least 283 people have been killed around the country by heavy monsoon rain, floods and mudslides since late July and in the past week industrial zones north of Bangkok have been inundated, adding to the damage to the economy.

After a meeting with ministers, army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters that flood barriers in three vulnerable locations in Bangkok had almost been completed.

"We talked about evacuation plans to help people living near the Chao Phraya river. If there's an emergency, we're ready to act," he said.

"The worry now is that from today until October 19 there will be a high tide and the important thing is to push water out to the sea as fast as possible."

Bangkok accounts for about 41 percent of Thailand's economy and any serious disruption to life in the capital could cause growth forecasts to be slashed further.

Kittirat Na Ranong, deputy prime minister in charge of the economy, told reporters that the flood damage was estimated at more than 100 billion baht ($3.2 billion), over 1 percent of GDP, and could get worse.

Consumer confidence fell in September because of the floods and could plunge in October, according to economists at the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce.

Last week, the university cut its forecast for GDP growth this year to 3.6 percent from 4.4 percent and then cut it again on Thursday to 3.0-3.5 percent.

The Finance Ministry has cut its growth forecast to 3.7 percent from 4.0 percent.

The province of Ayutthaya to the north of Bangkok has been badly hit and at least three big industrial estates there have closed temporarily. A Nikon Corp digital SLR factory and a Honda Motor Co Ltd assembly plant have closed.

The north, northeast and central plains of Thailand have been worst hit and Bangkok -- which is only two meters (6.5 ft) above sea level -- is in danger as water overflows from reservoirs in the north, swelling the Chao Phraya river.

Some outer areas of greater Bangkok have already flooded but authorities hope the center will be saved by existing defensive structures plus three new walls, which will help channel water to the east and west of the city into the sea.


Run-off water from the north will arrive in the Bangkok area at the weekend at the same time as high tides. This may also coincide with storms and heavy rain.

Sanya Cheenimit, director of Bangkok's drainage and sewerage department, reported flooding in three eastern districts of Bangkok that were mainly farm areas.

"I want to reassure you that the flood situation in Bangkok is still under control," he told Reuters. "All the 50 districts of Bangkok have readied evacuation plans ... But for now, there's still no sign that we need to move people out."

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was also optimistic.

"Bangkok we can say is safe, especially inner Bangkok, behind the embankments there won't be a problem. Outer Bangkok might have problems but the water won't be very high," she said after surveying the area by helicopter.

Despite the reassurances, residents have stocked up on bottled water and foodstuffs such as instant noodles.

More than 2 million people are estimated to have been affected by floods around the country and essential goods are in short supply in some areas because of disruption to road and rail traffic, with some main roads to the north cut off.

Hundreds of volunteers gathered on Thursday at the government's flood crisis center at Bangkok's old Don Muang airport, loading donated water, food and medicines on to trucks to be distributed to the worst-hit areas outside the capital.

In Bangkok, authorities are most concerned about 27 communities with 1,200 households along the river.

"We are worried about all the areas near the Chao Phraya river," army chief Prayuth said.

"We've asked people not to break the flood barriers because it may cause water to overflow into Bangkok," he added.

Some residents of flooded outer areas have vented their anger at the temporary walls put up to protect the capital.

The governor of the neighboring province of Pathum Thani called on Wednesday for a state of emergency to be declared to give the security forces power to stop such acts, but Yingluck ruled that was not necessary.

(Editing by Sugita Katyal and Yoko Nishikawa)

Read more!

Starbucks concerned world coffee supply is threatened by climate change

Starbucks sustainability chief Jim Hanna says the coffee giant has been pushing the Obama administration to little result
Suzanne Goldenberg 13 Oct 11;

Forget about super-sizing into the trenta a few years from now: Starbucks is warning of a threat to world coffee supply because of climate change.

In a telephone interview with the Guardian, Jim Hanna, the company's sustainability director, said its farmers were already seeing the effects of a changing climate, with severe hurricanes and more resistant bugs reducing crop yields.

The company is now preparing for the possibility of a serious threat to global supplies. "What we are really seeing as a company as we look 10, 20, 30 years down the road – if conditions continue as they are – is a potentially significant risk to our supply chain, which is the Arabica coffee bean," Hanna said.

It was the second warning in less than a month of a threat to a food item many people can't live without.

New research from the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture warned it would be too hot to grow chocolate in much of the Ivory Coast and Ghana, the world's main producers, by 2050.

Hanna is to travel to Washington on Friday to brief members of Congress on climate change and coffee at an event sponsored by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The coffee giant is part of a business coalition that has been trying to push Congress and the Obama administration to act on climate change – without success, as Hanna acknowledged.

The coalition, including companies like Gap, are next month launching a new campaign – showcasing their own action against climate change – ahead of the release of a landmark science report from the UN's IPCC.

Hanna told the Guardian the company's suppliers, who are mainly in Central America, were already experiencing changing rainfall patterns and more severe pest infestations.

Even well-established farms were seeing a drop in crop yield, and that could well discourage growers from cultivating coffee in the future, further constricting supply, he said. "Even in very well established coffee plantations and farms, we are hearing more and more stories of impacts."

These include: more severe hurricanes, mudslides and erosion, variation in dry and rainy seasons.

Hanna said the company was working with local producers to try to cushion them from future changes.

"If we sit by and wait until the impacts of climate change are so severe that is impacting our supply chain then that puts us at a greater risk," he said. "From a business perspective we really need to address this now, and to look five, 10, and 20 years down the road."

Read more!

World prone to food-borne disease outbreaks: WHO

(AFP) Google News 13 Oct 11;

SINGAPORE — The world has become more vulnerable to outbreaks of disease caused by contaminated food because of growing global trade, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Thursday.

Investigating these outbreaks has also become more difficult because food can contain ingredients from around the world and is transported through a complex global supply chain, top WHO officials said.

"Outbreaks of food-borne disease have become an especially large menace in a world bound together by huge volumes of international trade and travel," said WHO director-general Margaret Chan at a conference in Singapore on improving preparedness against global health threats.

"They are large in their potential in terms of geographical spread often involving multiple countries."

One challenge faced by governments worldwide is how to "reduce the health and economic consequences of food-borne diseases", Chan said.

She cited an outbreak this year of a new killer E.coli strain, which infected almost 4,000 people and left 51 dead across Europe and caused massive losses to vegetable farmers.

European farm products such as tomatoes, lettuces, courgettes and sweet peppers were withdrawn from the market between late May and the end of June as a result of the disease, while Russia briefly banned EU vegetable imports.

The European Union had blamed the outbreak on fenugreek seeds imported from Egypt, although Cairo denied any responsibility.

"Problems nowadays can arise from any link or kink in a convoluted food chain," Chan said.

WHO assistant director-general Keiji Fukuda said food-borne outbreaks have occurred in the past.

"But what is different now is that food goes all around the world, so if you have something which gets contaminated or infected in one country it can be in 50 countries or 100 countries or 200 countries," Fukuda told reporters on the sidelines of the Singapore conference.

"So the scope of these outbreaks could be much larger and more complex and affect many more people."

Fukuda said however that while the risks have become higher, the WHO is also working to make sure that authorities are able to deal with the problem.

"It's a kind of a race," he said.

Read more!