Best of our wild blogs: 25 Nov 14

Sun 30 Nov’14: Introduction Tour to Bukit Brown
from a.t.Bukit Brown. Heritage. Habitat. History.

Pollination of Citrus x microcarpa flowers
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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More caught camping illegally

Lim Yi Han The Straits Times AsiaOne 24 Nov 14;

More people have been caught camping without a permit at East Coast Park in recent years.

The National Parks Board (NParks) has issued more notices of offence for illegal camping there. It has handed out 1,122 notices as of Nov 4, nearly double the 671 doled out for the whole of last year. In 2012, the number was 410.

Most of these were issued to people who did not apply for a permit or were camping in non-designated camping sites, said NParks director of parks Chia Seng Jiang.

He attributed the increase to NParks stepping up its patrolling and enforcement efforts.

The Straits Times understands that the increased effort is a result of media reports late last year on illegal campers.

A permit is required for both day and overnight camping, so that the authorities can cap the number of tents to prevent overcrowding.

The only exception is at Pulau Ubin, where tents can be pitched at designated areas without a permit.

The public can apply for permits at any AXS station or online, and each applicant can camp for only four days a month.

Camping is also allowed at designated areas at Pasir Ris Park and West Coast Park, besides East Coast Park and Pulau Ubin.

Said Mr Chia: "This is to allow our park spaces to be enjoyed by the various segments of users, and to ensure that our parks continue to offer a pleasant environment for recreation and leisure."

While there are notices of offences issued at other parks, The Straits Times understands most people are caught at East Coast Park. It is the most popular destination because of the array of facilities and long stretch of beach, campers said.

IT manager Linus Loo, 41, camps overnight with his family and friends once every three months at East Coast Park.

He welcomed greater enforcement because "it discourages undesirable activities such as people committing indecent acts in the tents or even outside", which he said is not ideal for the family-friendly park.

"But too much checking may annoy people, so there has to be a balance," he added.

Plumber Ahmad Said, 60, said: "It's good that they come and check, there could be illegal immigrants living in the parks."

But some insisted that it was troublesome to apply for the permits.

A 26-year-old, who declined to be named and camps with his girlfriend once every two weeks, said: "I'm lazy to do it. Anyway, I only stay for five to six hours here. Even though I don't apply, no one has caught me yet."

Those who fail to apply for a permit or camp outside designated areas may be fined up to $2,000.

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Urban farmers: Growing own greens fast becoming food trend in Singapore

Tay Suan Chiang The Business Times AsiaOne 24 Nov 14;

SINGAPORE - Vegetable farms in Singapore? Lim Chu Kang isn't the only area in the country where edible greens are grown.

From private balconies, to office premises, and neighbourhood plots, a growing number of folks are digging their fingers into dirt and planting crops.

Spa Esprit's CEO Cynthia Chua recently invested in Edible Gardens, an urban farming consultancy firm that helps design and build vegetable gardens for restaurants, schools and homes.

Together, they have set up a rooftop garden at Wheelock Place which is used for planting vegetables and herbs. The harvest will be for use in Spa Esprit's Tippling Club restaurant.

"I've always like the idea of farming, and was inspired by the rose farms in France. Those roses go into the making of Chanel perfume," says Ms Chua.

"Farming and connecting to nature is very on-trend now." She has not started growing vegetables in her own backyard, but has friends who have done so.

"My friends have grown sweet potato leaves, basil and chillies to much success," she says excitedly.

Ms Chua adds that homegrown vegetables are often more tender, and setting up a garden need not cost an arm and a leg.

"We should all try to practise sustainable living," she says.

BT Weekend meets a group of urban farmers.

Balcony gardener

When Shi Xiaowei, a partner in a marketing communications agency, recently posted on Facebook photos of the kale and peppers she grows on her balcony, amazed friends bombarded her with comments.

Ms Shi began gardening about four years ago, when she moved into an apartment with a spacious balcony and plenty of sun.

"Since the family didn't want to fill the balcony with furniture, I thought I would beautify it with ornamental plants," says Ms Shi.

"The idea of growing edible plants came about because I wanted my kids to cultivate a love for nature and gardening, and I wanted to eat healthily and save money on buying herbs."

She started with rosemary, basil, thyme, and sage to moderate success, but the plant she was most proud of was a pumpkin plant that stretched across her balcony.
"The fruit was puny but I was a proud parent nonetheless," she says.

The list of greens now sprouting on her balcony include sweet basil, Thai basil, aloe vera, edible cactus, peppers, round chillies, mint, marjoram, rosemary, kale, salad leaves - an assortment of lettuce, chives and pumpkin - and "if we are lucky, an interbred short papaya tree whose seeds we hauled from an organic farm in Kluang," she says.

"My daughter, Ashley, sowed it last week, so we await the seedlings with bated breath."

The vegetables are grown for the family's consumption, but "I give away most of the herbs as you can only consume so much rosemary".

Some of the vegetables that she grows are bigger than commercially grown produce found in supermarkets.

"The cai xin had leaves bigger than my palms, and the stems were thick and strong," she says.

"Mine definitely tasted better because they were cooked immediately after harvesting."

The Western herbs are mostly used for seasoning and marinades.

Occasionally, she uses them to make pesto, herb butter, and infused oil for cooking and beauty purposes, such as rosemary oil for her hair.

She cannot recall the last time she paid for herbs, but still buys leafy vegetables because what she grows isn't enough for her family of five.

She prefers growing leafy vegetables from seeds, which she buys from the nurseries, as "they tend to grow stronger".

She finds it challenging to grow herbs from seeds, so she purchases herb plants from supermarkets and grows them herself.

Apart from making sure that her vegetables and herbs get sufficient water and sun, Ms Shi says placements of the plants is also important.

"The balcony can get scorching hot, and I have to move some plants in and out of the balcony every day, which can be hard work when there are five pots to move everyday."

Leafy plants like kale and lettuce need a wide pot.

"I am big on recycling so I plant them in used styrofoam boxes and whatever wide containers I can find," she says. "Tin cans are also good holders for seedlings."
She also spends time checking the condition of her plants and researching help and advice online.

"Next to harvesting, reviving a wilting plant and seeing it flourish is the most gratifying part about gardening," says Ms Shi.

Neighbourhood watch

Product consultant Gina Ong was an urban farmer even before the term became hip.

Back in 2002, she started a community garden near her home in Marine Crescent, with the help of its Residents' Committee. Five years after that, she did the same in the Laguna Park condominium, where she still lives.

Ms Ong manages both gardens together with about 20 residents from Marine Crescent and 10 neighbours at Laguna Park.

In the latter, crops include pandan, lemon grass, Chinese herbs like Sabah snake plant, sweet potatoes, basil, rosemary, tarragon, and wolfberry leaves.

"We've grown vegetables from Day One, when one of our long-time residents planted wolfberry leaves, chives and sweet potatoes," says Ms Ong.

At Marine Crescent, herbs were initially planted, but as more residents preferred vegetables, the residents now grow edible greens.

They now have a wide range including cai xin, xiao bai cai, spinach, okra, kang kong, lettuce, brinjal, bitter gourd and pennywort leaves.

The vegetables are growing so well, that the residents harvest some for an elderly lodge nearby.

With over a decade of experience, Ms Ong has plenty of stories to share.

"When we first started, our seed germination always failed as we just threw the seeds into the soil. Then we used seedling trays, which turned out to be a better method," she says.

"As the seedlings grew, they were eaten up by grasshoppers and snails."

The residents sought help from the National Parks Board and AVA, who taught them to use nets to cover our plots.

"We also have a SWAT team to catch snails and slugs at night," quips Ms Ong. She says the vegetables from the two plots are much sweeter and fresher compared to those bought from the markets.

Ms Ong is only too happy to dish out advice to those who want to grow their own vegetables too.

"For beginners, try cai xin, as it is easy to grow. It is best to grow the seeds in seed trays until they are about three inches high, before transplanting them into the soil," she says.

Her other tips include using neem oil to fend off insects and bugs, and using organic fertiliser such as chicken dung to keep plants growing fast and healthy and reduce the chance of disease.

Office planters

At Singapore Technologies Kinetics, staff come to the office early, take shorter lunches, stay back after work and even come in on Saturdays. Not to show off to their bosses, but to tend the office garden.

They are part of the 20-strong gardening club at the land systems and speciality vehicles arm of Singapore Technologies Engineering.

Its industrial-looking premises at Jalan Boon Lay has three gardens - Garden in Bloom, which has flowers, fruit trees and vegetables, Evergreen, which has only fruit trees, and Sonata, which has flowers and fruit trees.

Yeap Khek Teong, vice-president of management systems and processes, and chairman of the gardening committee says, that while the gardens were started in 2009, it was only in 2012, that they started growing vegetables.

"Planting vegetables started off as an experiment as we are all urban dwellers with little or no experience in growing vegetables," says Mr Yeap.

"Our motivation is to see if we are successful in growing edibles and making it sustainable."

Mindful of the harmful effects of consuming pesticides in their greens, the staff at ST Kinetics grow vegetables without them.

Mr Yeap adds that growing vegetables has also intangible benefits, as it provides staff with a platform for exercise and stress relief.

"There is a sense of satisfaction in harvesting what is sown," he says.

The well laid and maintained garden is also a visual treat, and has also created interest among non-gardening staff who wanted to know how they can grow vegetables on their own.

Vegetables such as kai lan, lettuce, long beans and okra are just some of the greens planted in the Garden in Bloom plot.

Apart from edible greens, there's also mint, bananas, longan, dragon fruit and passion fruit.

When Mr Yeap and his colleagues first started their vegetable experiment, they grew kai lan in a large recycled semi-circular drum.

When more people showed interest, Mr Yeap added more variety.

"As we have limited space within the garden, I introduced 'high-rise' vegetable planting," he says.

He designed two vertical structures to allow large containers to be placed above each other. The two structures can accommodate 12 large containers.

"We later expanded to an unused strip behind the garden wall to house more styrofoam boxes for planting vegetables," says Mr Yeap.

Depending on the crop, most leafy vegetables can be harvested with a month or so.

Long beans will take close to two months.

After harvesting, the greens are distributed to staff involved in gardening.

"On special occasions, we grow the vegetables for cooking class demonstrations for staff," says Mr Yeap.

What he and his colleagues have learnt is that vegetables need not be planted in the ground, and deep containers can be used for planting.

"By planting in containers, you can choose the best quality soil for the vegetables," he says.

"If you have space constraints, why not try planting in vertical tiers like ours?"

Steady harvest

When the chefs at Fairmont Singapore or Swissotel The Stamford give you the usual spiel about using only fresh herbs, vegetables and fruits, they're not exaggerating.

Most of their greens come from the hotel's private herb and vegetable garden located on the fifth floor of the hotel complex.

The hotels started their herb and vegetable garden in 2008, and were one of the pioneers of urban farming in Singapore.

Measuring 600 sq ft, the garden is now three times the size of the original and was moved to its current location in June last year, before receiving its new harvest last November.

Executive chef Robert Stirrup says the garden was first created to provide the various F&B establishments managed by the hotels, with a steady harvest of organically grown herbs and vegetables such as rosemary, thyme, six varieties of mint and basil, dill, lemongrass, oregano and tarragon.

Since the revamp and the re-launch of the new herb and vegetable garden, "we now grow a more extensive collection of herbs, micro-greens, vegetables, fruits and edible flowers that are produced organically and follow the principles of organic production," says Mr Stirrup.

The garden has an impressive list of over 50 varieties of herbs and vegetables; some of the essential crops include arugula, basil, bulls blood beets, zucchini flowers, celery, cilantro, cress, onions, kolrani, dill, bergamot, lavender and sage.

Mr Stirrup says: "The new homegrown greens, fruits and edible flowers are freshly picked for our restaurants and bars, such as Jaan and Equinox at Swissotel The Stamford, as well as Mikuni and Prego at Fairmont Singapore.

"In-house guests can also enjoy the fresh produce in the comfort of their own rooms when they order a selection of dishes from the in-room dining menus. Grains and fruits, either whole or as juices, are also part of the breakfast spread at both hotels."

The latest addition, cocktail bar Anti: dote at Fairmont Singapore, uses a variety of fragrant herbs and flowers from the garden in its signature cocktails and modern tapas.

The hotels' service staff often share useful insights on these crops with hotel guests they interact with.

"We can also further arrange for our hotel guests to visit and learn more about our herb garden should they be interested," says Mr Stirrup.

Pockets of growth

Hedrick Kwan, founder of Plant Visionz believes that "everyone should be producers of something".

He runs a gardening business which he started in 2012, which also teaches people how to grow their own vegetables.

"Even if what is grown makes up only 10 per cent of your diet, you can save money and get better health. The key is sustainable life," says Mr Kwan.

Similarly, James Lam, founder of UGrowGardens Australia, which has a branch in Singapore, adds that when people grow their own vegetables, "it is economical, fresh and clean in addition to helping reduce carbon footprints. The vegetables are more nutritious too."

This trend is growing in Singapore.

Both Mr Kwan and Mr Lam say that 50 per cent of their business comes from private home owners who want to try their hand at vegetable growing.

And the good thing is, you do not need a lot of space to be able to grow your own edible greens.

"Any space is possible, so long as there is some ambient light," says Mr Kwan.

"You can grow food on the kitchen table, on walls, on window grilles, on the balcony fence. It is about getting creative."

Plant Visionz offers table sprouters that retail at S$40 that come with an assortment of vegetable seeds.

There's also the Wolly Pocket at S$150 per pocket, that can be hung on the wall. Seedlings are placed in these pockets to grow.

Alternatively, Mr Kwan can also advise and help homeowners set up a vegetable garden.

"Soil foundation is important and putting the right plant for the area is another key factor," says Mr Kwan, on his hands-on approach.

Some vegetables that his clients have had success with include kai lan, cai xin, bayam and kang kong.

Mr Lam, who started UGrowGardens, aims to provide innovation solutions for urban dwellers to produce low cost, high yielding, fresh and clean vegetables.

"The vision is to grow the equivalent of a 9 sq ft garden patch using only 1.5 sq feet of space," says Mr Lam.

To do this, Mr Lam created the Ugrow Vertical growing system, which can easily fit into any balcony or corridor.

Mr Lam also helps clients choose the right vegetables to grow, and provides a watering system that ensures even moisture throughout the UGrow Vegetable System so that clients are able to grow plants all over its surface.

It costs S$120 to set up the system which includes fertilisers, seedlings, irrigation pipe and other necessary components.

Meanwhile, Edible Garden City which designs, builds and maintains food gardens for clients that include restaurants, hotels, schools and residences, will run an urban farming school at Rowell Road next year.

"The school will cater to all urbanites wanting to learn how to grow their own food from apartment balconies to full fledged soil gardens," says co-founder Bjorn Low.

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Rats' boom town

Ng Jun Sen The New Paper AsiaOne 25 Nov 14;

The rat scourge is growing in Singapore. Authorities have received more complaints, and pest control companies are reporting more rodent infestations this year.

He combs the ground for rat droppings, tracks and gnaw marks.

"Norway rat droppings have curved ends, roof rat droppings have pointed ends," he says clinically.

These scatological clues are what leads pest controller Nur Muhammad, 32, to the mother lode - a rat burrow. The process can take almost two hours.

One burrow can house up to 30 rats. His team of pest controllers found 16 such burrows in a single hawker centre in the south of Singapore some time this year.

As a project manager from The Pestman, he is trained to eradicate all kinds of creepy pests.

But lately, cases of rodent infestations and sightings have been popping up often on his roster.

"For some reason, I'm getting sent to more jobs about rats. Feels like there's more rats around," he says.

A check with pest control companies here reveals that rodent-related reports have spiked.

Three of them - The Pestman, PestBusters and Alliance Pest Management - say the number of reports has risen between 20 and 30 per cent this year.


Last month, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said it received 2,490 rodent-related feedback in the first nine months of this year, compared with 2,496 for all of last year.

It is a worrying trend.

One can be infected with various rat-transmitted diseases by breathing in dust or eating food that has been contaminated with rodent urine or droppings, he said.

If left unchecked, a pair of male and female rats can be responsible for producing at least 1,300 rats in a year.

In 2012, a foreign worker died from leptospirosis, a bacterial infection spread by rats.

Mr Eugene Surendra, technical director of PestBusters, says: "This year, we are doing more 'flush outs' than before. These are meant for buildings that have established rat populations."

The rodent species here are also difficult to eliminate because of their survivability and resilience.

"I have seen a rat jump over a glue trap... Rats are known for their excellent memory and survival skills. It is not easy for a layman to know how to effectively eradicate them," he says.

For one Toa Payoh resident, Mr K. H. Tan, 44, rats are "an absolute nightmare".

Says the taxi driver in Mandarin: "I have seen so many of them at my void deck recently. I can hear them in the drains and bushes. Very scary, especially when they suddenly run across (the path in front of) you."

His home is spared the infestation as he lives on a high floor. But returning home can be terrifying, says the father of two.

"We have to brisk walk from the car to the lift. I don't want my kids to get bitten."


Entomologist Dr Foo Foong Kuan from Alliance Pest Management, believes it's because of the increase in construction projects here.

"(Construction activity) disturbs the rodents' habitats, causing them to seek shelter in housing estates," she explains.

Another reason could be because our neighbourhood cats are too well fed, says Mr Surendra.

Other reasons given by the pest control companies include poor housekeeping practices and structural defects, which allow rodents to enter homes through the sewers or rubbish chutes.

In 2011 the NEA started an island-wide surveillance programme to monitor the rodent population. Last July, it awarded a $4.2 million contract to reduce the rat population in public areas for up to two years.

As part of its "Rat Attack" programme, the NEA also called for new public tenders to be awarded to 13 areas prone to rodent infestation late last year. This includes areas like Joo Chiat, Jalan Besar and Arab Street.

But Mr Surendra is uncertain that these programmes can completely remove the problem.

"You need total eradication. You can't just kill off eight out of 10 rats because you'll return back to square one after a few months.

"We are probably on the cusp of a population outbreak of rats."

When a rat problem hits home

Drats, I've got a rat in my pad.

Three rats, to be exact. I think.

I've lived in Pasir Ris for nearly two decades and I have never had a rat problem.

I would like to believe it's because my parents, two siblings and I know how to keep the place neat.

But for some reason, we've had three home invasions by roof rats in this year alone. The construction site nearby might have something to do with it.

No matter what the reasons are, these dastardly rats have destroyed my peace.

Like any family, we tie up the trash, we don't leave unwashed dishes in the sink overnight and we keep the kitchen door closed so that no creatures can come in.

We even say "hello" to the garbage collectors every day.

Imagine my shock when on one lovely sunny day earlier this year, I heard my mother shriek.

She had found a dead rat in our covered Ikea dustbin in the kitchen, where we throw our foodstuff. She has always been terrified of rats.

No one knows how it ended up there or how it died, but my parents were quick to chide me because they saw that the food in the bin belonged to yours truly.

"Why didn't you close the bin lid?" they asked.

That was our first ratty encounter. No big deal, it's just one rat after all.

Little did I know that the seeds of turmoil had been planted.

Our second brush with a rat happened in August. I was at work and I found out about it through a WhatsApp group message that my mother sent.

"Thanks for not closing the kitchen door at night, we have welcomed a new pet into the house and it has made a home in the storeroom.

"Your next bowl of soup shall be rat soup if Dad catches it," the message said.

Dad predictably caught it, thanks to his ingenious method of emptying a can of insecticide into the storeroom.

He waited hours for the "gas chamber" to take effect, then spent more time moving everything out of the storeroom to find the rat carcass.

The third encounter happened two weeks ago.

My father noticed another rat scampering around the kitchen. He caught it by baiting it onto a glue trap.

By then, social disorder had set into my once peaceful household.

My parents blamed my siblings and me for attracting the rats into the house. We were embroiled in our own heated debate over who left the kitchen door open.

At no point did we think to hire a pest controller to deal with the issue. Why pay when I've caught every rat so far, boasts my father.

Pest-busting experts recently told me that one rat can produce up to 84 babies in a year.

Since the last encounter, we have not seen any rats in our home.

But who knows how many more lurk in the shadows.

I don't think I can take having a fourth encounter, and I doubt I can go through another round of the blame game. Every night is marked with nagging reminders and accusations about who was responsible for the rodent incursions.

All I know is that the next time I hear so much as a rat squeak, I'm calling in the experts.

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PM Lee outlines the Smart Nation vision: Meaningful lives, enabled by technology

Leong Wai Kit, Channel NewsAsia 24 Nov 14;

SINGAPORE: The Republic needs to take full advantage of technology, particularly information technology (IT), in order to be one of the outstanding cities in the world to live in, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. This means fostering a Smart Nation, where people live meaningful and fulfilled lives enabled by technology.

Mr Lee, speaking at the Smart Nation launch event on Monday (Nov 24), said taking full advantage of technology cannot be "piecemeal" - something that is already being done - but must be approached systematically, to integrate all the different technologies together "in a coherent and comprehensive way", and create a platform where everyone can contribute.

Mr Lee said: "One way in which we are going to do this is to open up our maps, our databases of places and information about that so that the public can share their geospatial information.

"Imagine if we can tap everyone's local knowledge and anyone can contribute data - animal sightings, traffic incidents, potential hazards for cyclists, even the best mee pok or nasi lemak."

Singapore has already embarked on its Smart Nation journey, he said. Nine out of 10 households in the country have broadband access, while every home will soon have access to higher-speed fibre broadband.

Some other initiatives introduced include e-Government services such as IRAS e-filing, National Library Board (NLB) book borrowing services, and an integrated electronic medical records system that allows doctors to access patient information regardless of which hospital they visit.

"We need to build on these valuable elements to make a national effort and set ourselves the goal of becoming a Smart Nation," Mr Lee said.

With the Smart Nation initiative, one concern is cyber security. Mr Lee said that the Government will find ways to protect systems against cyber attacks, and these include banking and energy networks, as well as Smart Nation sensors.


Mr Lee also said that integrating the online with the offline world would create more opportunities for the community to interact and help one another. One example is in the care for the country's senior citizens.

"Many of us have elderly parents to take care of - we worry for their health and safety. But many seniors also want to be independent and live their lives fully, rather than be completely reliant on others," the Prime Minister said.

To this end, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) is piloting the Smart Elderly Monitoring and Alert System sensors in HDB flats, which use a combination of sensors, so that if the system detects something out of the ordinary, it can raise the alarm and alert family members or neighbours.

"We will have more than 900,000 seniors over 65 in Singapore by 2030, and our Smart Nation vision can radically change how we approach the challenge of active ageing, to give our seniors more to look forward to in their golden years," Mr Lee said.

Mr Lee also emphasised that no one will be left behind in the journey of becoming a Smart Nation - help will be provided in the form of Citizen Connect Centres, where officers can help those unfamiliar with IT to access Government services. Seniors can also sign up for affordable and customised IT training programmes.

There will also be "Silver Infocomm Junctions" that provide affordable and customised IT training for seniors.

Looking after the elderly with IT is just one idea out of the "endless possibilities" that the Smart Nation vision enables, Mr Lee said. The Government will lay the foundation - building the infrastructure, facilitating innovation and creating the framework for contribution - but ultimately, everyone needs to contribute to make the Smart Nation vision a reality, he said.

Mr Lee said: "Smart Nation is not just a slogan. It is a rallying idea for us all to work together, to transform our future together."

"I have described a few ideas. These are just scratching the surface because there are endless possibilities waiting to be dreamed of. We will only make this a Smart Nation if we get everybody active, engaged, excited, wanting to make this happen."

- CNA/kk/ac

Smart Nation's the way to go, says PM Lee
Rachel Au-yong My Paper AsiaOne 25 Nov 14;

Becoming a "smart nation" will not only improve lives, but make the country more competitive, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

He was spelling out his vision for the Smart Nation initiative, which calls on the Government, companies and industries to develop technology to improve people's lives, from urban planning to credit card-less payments.

If it does not, Singapore might lose its position among leading cities, as peers like Shanghai and Sydney "attract capital, talent, ideas... (and are) pulling ahead of the pack".

"We have to move ahead with them and stay up there among the leading cities of the world. We owe it to our people," he said at the biennial national infocomm awards and launch of the Smart Nation initiative, held at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre.

To that end, he has set up the Smart Nation Programme Office, which coordinates the tech efforts of research bodies and government agencies. It comes under the Prime Minister's Office and will be headed by Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan. More details will be released next month.

Such a "whole-of-nation" approach helps ensure a systematic way to "make the most of our potential", he said.

At one point during his 35-minute speech, Mr Lee demonstrated how to use a new app to plan bus journeys, to illustrate how technology can make things more convenient for people. "If we can automate the things that are routine, then we can concentrate on the things that really matter," he said.

But beyond personal convenience, technology can also help strengthen the community, and look after the elderly. For example, the Housing Board is piloting a system, which uses motion sensors to detect if an elderly resident's routine has changed suddenly, and send an alert to family members or neighbours if so.

The country is well-placed to become a smart nation, as most own smartphones and have broadband access, said Mr Lee. Many are also tech-savvy, while students' math and science scores are consistently ranked highest in the world.

It is heartening that some government e-services are among the best in the world, he said. Pointing to the Health Ministry's central database, which helps doctors keep track of health records regardless of which hospital the patient is at, he said: "Some countries have spent tens of billions of dollars trying to build a system like this, and sometimes give up.

"We're not completely there but we're making progress and getting it to work."

But even as Singapore ramps up its technology drive, he assured that those less technologically-savvy - especially senior citizens - will not be left behind.

This includes providing those without computers with access to government online services in community clubs. "We have to prevent a digital divide from happening, (between) people who know IT and can afford it, and those who don't have IT and don't know how to use IT," he said.

The local court system, which files documents electronically, has done so, by providing booths and assistance to those who need help filing paperwork. "So you may be rich, you may be poor, if you have to go to the courts, if you need to have access to justice, you get access to justice."

He also promised to beef up security measures, to make sure sensitive information like medical data is not stolen, and protect against malicious attacks like hacking. Several government websites were defaced late last year.

"We already have cyber-security duties residing in the Ministry of Home Affairs, in the IDA, but I don't think that they are as strong as we would like them to be," he said, adding that the Government was also studying how to protect other critical sectors like telecommunications and banking.

But even as the Government works out these obstacles, it must also invest in the next generation of programmers, by encouraging students to learn to code and reviewing the career paths of the Government's engineers. "We need to strengthen our own capabilities. We cannot just be outsourcing everything," he said.

Concluding, Mr Lee said: "We have what it takes to achieve this vision - the capabilities and daring to pull it all together and to make a quantum leap forward."

Teach students computer coding, urges PM Lee
Lim Yan Liang My Paper AsiaOne 25 Nov 14;
Singapore schools should teach students tech skills such as computer programming, so they can learn to create the technology of the future, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Fleshing out the social and cultural aspects of how Singapore can become a technology-enhanced "smart nation", PM Lee noted that this transformation requires the right education as well as a "can-do spirit of experimenting and risk-taking".

Such creative energy is what sets apart tech hubs like Silicon Valley and the headquarters of Chinese Internet giant Tencent in Shenzhen, he said in a speech at at the launch of the Smart Nation vision yesterday.

Singapore needs the same passion and excitement towards innovation, even in government agencies like the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), he added.

While the infocomm regulator "can't quite be like a Silicon Valley company", it must "push the envelope" in using technology to find new approaches to existing problems.

The Government is also keen on building up its in-house tech capabilities and is conducting an ongoing review of how the public sector manages the careers of its engineers and technology workers, PM Lee said.

He also noted the "lively" start-up scene here, with more young people writing apps and building high-tech products, and an increasing number of top students choosing to study computer science and information systems.

"We must get our children in schools exposed to IT, exposed to programming," Mr Lee said, adding that in some countries, all children are required to learn the basics of coding.

Talented students should also be able to pursue their tech interests through various paths, whether by forming a start-up, joining a tech company or working with the Government to make Singapore a smart nation, he added.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan, who heads the Government's new Smart Nation Programme Office, echoed PM Lee's comments that education and attitudes here have to change for Singapore to capitalise on the tech revolution.

From learning the three "R"s - reading, writing and arithmetic - people must now learn the "ABCs: an Aesthetic sense of beauty and design, the ability to Build, and the ability to Communicate effectively", he said on Facebook last evening.

Singaporeans also need to overcome their fear of failure and be prepared to experiment, while the country will have to place more emphasis on online security and privacy, he added.

Tech bosses here welcomed PM Lee's remarks, saying workers with a foundation of programming literacy can be more productive at the workplace.

"Even if you don't use programming in your everyday work, if you can write a simple programme to automate tasks or organise information, that's useful in a lot of ways," said Tan Sian Yue, 40, founder of home-grown game developer Ratloop Asia.

New coordinating unit set up to drive Smart Nation initiatives
Leong Wai Kit Channel NewsAsia 24 Nov 14;

SINGAPORE: The Smart Nation Programme Office, which will help drive initiatives to make Singapore a Smart Nation, was announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday (Nov 24).

The new unit will come under the Prime Minister's Office, with Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan in charge. It will perform a coordinating role, with the aim of bringing citizens, Government and industry together to identify issues, co-develop solutions, prototype ideas and deploy them effectively.

This office will make sure "we take a whole-of-Government, whole-of-nation approach to build the Smart Nation", Mr Lee said, speaking at the Smart Nation launch event on Monday morning.

One example of this approach is the Virtual Singapore project, which the Prime Minister launched at the event. The project aims to develop an integrated, three-dimension map of Singapore, enriched with layers of data about buildings, land and the environment.


Mr Lee also congratulated the winners of the National Infocomm Awards on Monday. The biennial event recognises organisations' effort in using innovation to develop new products or services.

The award was given to 12 private and public organisations, such as the Land Transport Authority (LTA). In 2008, LTA set up a data squad of engineers tasked to improve commuters' travel experience. The team studied data based on commuters' travel patterns.

Then, in 2010, it used the data collected to decide which areas needed more buses, and to determine the frequency of the services. For that effort, LTA won the Most Innovative Use of Infocomm Technology Award in the public sector category.

Another winner was DBS, which uses technology to study the volume of transactions of ATMs across the island. This helps DBS predict which machines need cash top-ups even before they run out of money.

Nimish Panchmatia, head of consumer banking operations at DBS, said: "The programme that we embarked on was largely around customer experience and customer experience improvement. Naturally, if we do see some trends in withdrawal or anything like that which require us to work together with the authorities, we do."

DBS won the Most Innovative Use of Infocomm Technology in the private sector category.

This year's award ceremony also featured projects by students. One student from the Singapore University of Technology and Design, Lee Jia Wen, came up with a device to control drones using just hands alone - known as gesture control technology. It also has potential for use in other applications.

He elaborated: "You could turn your lights on in your home with a clap, for example. What happens is that the sensor on your wrist can actually read translational movement, and map the movement on to another form of signal that will activate the light and turn it on."

- CNA/kk/ac

Smart Nation initiative 'about people, not machines': Vivian Balakrishnan
Channel NewsAsia 24 Nov 14;

SINGAPORE: The man tasked with overseeing Singapore's push to become the world's first Smart Nation said the initiative is "all about people, not machines". Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, touched on priorities for the new Smart Nation Programme Office, announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday (Nov 24).

In a Facebook post, Dr Balakrishan said there are some important questions to be answered for the Smart Nation drive to be a success. For instance - how can Singapore foster an "open source" society, where data, insights and solutions are shared openly to create maximum impact and value? Where does Singapore look for best ideas? Also, will those involved be above to overcome their "fear of failure" and be prepared to experiment?

He also raised the issue of security. "We certainly need world-leading digital infrastructure. Also, we need security, privacy and protection of identity, as the volume of online transactions and data increases. Our systems must be secure by design, not a reactive afterthought; and we all as individuals will need to be aware of the risks and know how best to protect ourselves," Dr Balakrishan said.

The minister noted that the world is seeing a "once-in-a-lifetime revolution" with advances in cloud computing, ubiquitous communications and sensors and big data analytics, and more. If Singapore helms these developments properly, he said, it can secure the country's future, enhance quality of life, expand opportunities for all, and build stronger communities.

He said his team will engage stakeholders in the coming months. "Smart Nation is not just another Government plan or committee. We can only succeed if the public, private and people sectors co-create the vision and work together to make it happen," he wrote.

"Join us for the ride of our lifetime. Success is not guaranteed, but it will be exhilarating as we create a working model of the future together - Empowering Everyone Everything Everywhere."

- CNA/dl

Singapore must exploit IT advantage to stay ahead: PM
JOY FANG Today Online 25 Nov 14;

SINGAPORE — To compete against other leading cities such as New York, London and Shanghai, the Republic has to fully exploit its advantage in information technology and become a “Smart Nation”, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday as he laid out the vision for Singapore to become a nation “whose people live meaningful and fulfilled lives, enabled seamlessly by technology, offering exciting opportunities for all”.

But to make the quantum leap and realise the vision within the next decade, efforts are needed in areas such as beefing up cybersecurity and teaching students how to create the technology of the future, said Mr Lee, who first announced the Smart Nation initiative during the National Day Rally in August.

Singapore must also systematically “integrate all of the technology and the possibilities into a coherent and comprehensive whole”, as opposed to using technology in a piecemeal fashion — which it is already doing. To that end, a new Smart Nation Programme Office will be set up under the Prime Minister’s Office to coordinate the Government agencies, citizens and industries to ensure a “whole-of-government, whole-of-nation” approach.

It will aim to bring citizens, the Government and industry together to identify issues, prototype ideas and deploy them effectively. The office will report to Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan, said Mr Lee, adding that he would take a “personal interest”.

Speaking at the National Infocomm Awards and the launch of the Smart Nation initiative yesterday, Mr Lee said the Government will lay the foundation by building infrastructure and facilitating innovation.

On their part, companies should seize opportunities to provide a service or a product that enhances the people’s lives. Citizens can also chip in by participating in the national effort and providing local knowledge and data.

He noted that with the tonnes of information and data put into computer networks and even smartphones, cybersecurity is crucial. “We take it seriously, we already have cybersecurity duties presiding in the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), but I don’t think that they are as strong as we would like them to be and we need to reorganise that to strengthen our systems and our institutions. We are studying how best to do that,” he said.

He added that Government systems as well as other critical systems such as in telecoms, banking and energy need to be protected. “You will never be completely impregnable, but I think we need to be as secure and safe as we can be.”

In terms of education, he said that students should be taught to “code, prototype and build things, to fail fast and learn quickly”.

He added: “We must get our children exposed to IT (and) exposed to programming. It’s a long way for us, but in some countries, all kids are required to learn to code.” People also need to have a “can-do” spirit of experimentation and risk-taking, akin to that found in Silicon Valley in the United States, he said.

Mr Lee also urged the IDA to be bolder and push the envelope in using technology to seek new applications and find new approaches to existing problems.

Mr Lee noted that Singapore has already embarked on the Smart Nation journey, with e-Government services in place, high smartphone penetration and a lively start-up scene as well as a tech-savvy people.

Several initiatives are already under way: Driverless buggies are being piloted at the Jurong Lake District and other driverless vehicles will be tested on some routes in One North next year. Near Field Communications (NFC) payments for retail and transport have also been on trial here, while the HDB is studying how to improve parking allocation in its carparks and design flats to plug and play smart devices.

In a Facebook post, Dr Balakrishnan stressed the importance of people and not machines in this “once-in-a-lifetime revolution”.

The skills of reading, writing and arithmetic are no longer enough, he said, pointing out that people need “an Aesthetic sense of beauty & design, the ability to Build, and the ability to Communicate effectively: the ‘ABCs’ of our education system”.

He added that societies left behind in the revolution will be in deep trouble as they are unable to cope with technological disruptions on jobs, environment and culture. “On the other hand, if we do it right we can secure our future, enhance our quality of life, expand opportunities for all and build stronger communities.”

Making payments with a watch, 3D map among Smart Nation projects
KELLY NG Today Online 24 Nov 14;

SINGAPORE — As efforts to turn the Republic into a Smart Nation get further underway, Singaporeans can look forward to using a watch to make payments or turn to a 3D map to find the best nasi lemak in town, among other things, in the near future.

Under the blueprint laid out by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong today (Nov 24), the Government will focus on enhancing citizens’ lives in four key areas: Mobility, homes, lifelong needs, and daily transactions.

For example, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) is looking into streamlining different modes of payment into a single instrument — which may take the form of a watch, ring, or even an identity card, fitted with a chip. Consumers will thus be spared from having to carry too many cards around.

Over time, Singaporeans will be able to use the same payment device to settle transactions made while they are abroad, as the Government works towards promoting interoperable e-payment solutions in the Association of South-east Asian Nations and other countries around the world.

Then, there is Virtual Singapore, a project that will culminate in an integrated 3D map with layers of data about local buildings, land and the environment. It was launched today by the National Research Foundation, Singapore Land Authority and Infocomm Development Authority.

Virtual Singapore will be an upgrade of the current OneMap (, an online map that includes more than 8,000 data sets — such as traffic information, census data and unemployment rates — from over 60 Government agencies.

The 3D upgrade will not only allow users to access the Government’s wealth of geo-spatial data, but also to contribute information, such as animal sightings, potential cycling hazards and even where one can find the best nasi lemak.

Virtual Singapore creates a platform that “brings the Government, citizens, industry and research institutions together to solve problems”, said Mr Lee. It will also be a framework “for all of us to contribute (towards the Smart Nation vision)”, he added.

The Housing and Development Board (HDB) is also working with industry players and other Government agencies to study digital infrastructure needed to support smart devices in HDB flats. Trials will start next year.

To enhance eldercare, the HDB is piloting the Smart Elderly Monitoring and Alert System sensors in 12 flats. The sensors monitor the movements of the elderly folks in the flats, and alert family members when they detect anything unusual.

Researchers from the National University of Singapore are also evaluating a tele-rehabilitation system with community hospitals, which allows therapists to monitor their patients’ progress remotely.

Read more!

Sustainability must feature in business decisions: Grace Fu

Monica Kotwani, Channel NewsAsia 25 Nov 14;

SINGAPORE: Businesses must include sustainability considerations in their decisions and boardroom discussions, and be aware of their environmental responsibilities, said Second Minister for Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu on Tuesday (Nov 25).

Ms Fu said Singapore faces numerous resource constraints, but has recognised this early and found ways of overcoming them through long-term planning. Its constant search for innovative solutions has enabled Singapore to balance a "vibrant" economy with a livable environment, added Ms Fu, who was speaking at the Responsible Business Forum on Sustainable Development.

That said, Ms Fu noted the Government needs the support of businesses and people to bring about positive changes. Businesses, for one, have to adopt sustainable and responsible practices, and sustainability reporting has to be a key feature for them to realise their impact on the environment, she added.

The minister said: "It is becoming clearer that a well executed environmental strategy will bring about stronger consumer branding, better relations with stakeholders and greater readiness for a resource-constrained future"

The Responsible Business Forum on Sustainable Development brings together governments, businesses and civil society leaders to discuss ways of implementing sustainable solutions to global challenges.

- CNA/kk

Green businesses have an edge: Grace Fu
Minister urges firms to ensure economic growth is not at the expense of the environment
VALERIE KOH Today Online 26 Nov 14;

SINGAPORE — Businesses with a well-executed environmental strategy will have an edge over others, as they would have stronger consumer branding, better relations with stakeholders and a greater readiness for a resource-constrained future.

Speaking at the Responsible Business Forum on Sustainable Development yesterday, Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu made this point as she called on businesses to work alongside the Government to ensure economic development does not come at the expense of the environment.

She said environmental sustainability has to be featured in business decisions and discussed in boardrooms. “You’ll find that many of the good tips to conserve energy and water do not require many resources. It requires a change in processes,” said Ms Fu, who is also Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office.

She suggested, for instance, that a company’s management team take the lead in monitoring energy and water consumption so employees could follow suit and reduce wastage.

WWF Singapore’s chief executive officer Elaine Tan, who was also speaking at the forum, urged businesses to take bold action in the name of sustainable development.

“Sustainable development is not just about saving the forests and oceans. It is about your licence to operate in a society, your business operations and your brand reputation,” said Ms Tan. “There is going to be a lot more risk and uncertainty, and it’ll be more important than ever to ensure that your business can stand up to the new challenges and new consumer demands.”

Mr Kurt Wee, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, said small and medium businesses (SMEs) here are already practising more sustainable initiatives.

“At the end of the day, having good sustainable practices is good for business, because if you’re more conscious about the environment, it makes your business more palatable for people to deal with,” he said.

Still, SMEs are encountering difficulties along the way, given their lack of knowledge in operating in a more environmentally-friendly way. What various businesses could do is to come together as an industry to collectively find a solution, said Mr Wee.

The three-day forum, in its third edition this year, is being held at Marina Bay Sands. About 650 people from government bodies, businesses and civil society came together to discuss the implementation of sustainable solutions to global challenges.

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Experts: Most Malaysians know the panda, not orang utan

WINNIE YEOH The Star 25 Nov 14;

Most Malaysians, apparently, know more about the panda than the country’s very own orang utan, USM School of Biological Sciences Ecology, Aquatic Botany and Weed Science lecturer Prof Dr Mashhor Mansor said.

“Many people go gaga over the pandas, which are on loan to Malaysia from China,” he said. “But there’s not much hype about the primate. Many people still think that the orang utan is a monkey.”

The lack of knowledge persisted despite the wide usage of the orang utan images, he told reporters at the First International Primate/Orang Utan Dialogue – Survival of Orangutan at Sains@USM in Bukit Jambul yesterday.

Dr Mashhor said more information on the orang utan, such as their habitat and conservation efforts, should be included in the school curriculum.

“The Government should set aside more money for conservation and biodiversity studies,” he suggested.

He also pointed out that the orang utan’s favourite fruits were from the ficus trees, pokok kulim or jungle garlic.

“They also love wild durian, rambutan, mangosteen and mango.”

International Primatological Society president Prof Dr Tetsuro Matsuzawa said orang utan was a critically endangered species under Appendix 1 of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).

He said human beings, chimpanzee, orang utan and gorilla belonged to the hominid (hominidae) family.

The chimpanzee, orang utan and gorilla were facing threats such as habitat loss, poaching and diseases, he said.

“Cutting of trees and deforestation for agriculture and timber is badly affecting their habitat.”

Matsuzawa, who is also Kyoto University Primate Research Institute professor, said Malaysia should be proud to be one of the only two host countries for the orang utan. The other is Indonesia.

He said Malaysia should also take a leading role in studying about the orang utan as well as launch its own primatological society.

“The orang utan is the less researched primate compared to chimpanzee and gorilla.”

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Indonesia: Finding the best path toward sustainable palm oil

Vincent Lingga, The Jakarta Post 25 Nov 14;

The world’s largest palm-oil companies gathered here last week, sharing the best practices of what is assessed as the model of sustainable oil-palm plantation development.

Several of them magnanimously admitted mistakes amid the mounting campaigns by consumer and environmental organizations, but then they have often been accused by international green NGOs of being the main drivers of deforestation.

The occasion was the 12th conference of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a global body of plantation companies, refiners, consumers and green groups, which promotes the development of socially, environmentally and economically sustainable palm oil.

Indeed palm-oil companies are most likely the first to be blamed, with pulp producers next on the list of culprits, every time haze pollution caused by forest fires in Sumatra or Kalimantan hits Singapore or Malaysia.

But it also happens that Indonesia and Malaysia, which together account for more than 85 percent of global palm-oil production, are home to the biggest palm-oil and pulp and paper companies.

Indonesia, now the world’s largest palm-oil producer with more than 30 million tons of annual output, has often been notoriously cited as the third-biggest polluter globally as the country has allegedly expanded its oil-palm estates, currently estimated at almost 10 million hectares, by destroying its rain forests.

But international environmental NGOs and consumer organizations cannot simply tell Indonesia to stop expanding its oil-palm estates because this crop turns out to be the most productive among all vegetable oils, with yields more than nine times as high as soybean, rapeseed oil, peanut oil and sunflower oil, which are cultivated mostly in developed countries.

Indonesia’s palm-oil industry, according to the industry’s association, now directly employs more than 4.5 million workers and earns about US$20 billion in export earnings a year. Yet more significant to the economy is that 40 percent of the oil-palm plantations are owned by smallholders with acreages ranging from two to 20 ha.

According to the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization, palm oil accounts for almost 40 percent of global vegetable-oil production, estimated at 145 million tons last year, with soybean, rapeseed, peanut, corn and sunflower accounting for the remaining 60 percent.

Douglass Cress, a senior executive of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), who attended the big gathering, acknowledged the paramount role of the RSPO as an independent promoter of sustainable palm oil as it included all the representatives of the whole spectrum of the industry.

The causes of deforestation or forest fires are rooted in the most basic problem of poverty.

“I am impressed by the open and frank discussions in this forum where companies talk about their successes and failures within the palm-oil industry. It is really a brave thing to do,” Cress noted.

That is why UNEP had signed a cooperation agreement with the RSPO to jointly implement programs to enhance the sustainable development of palm oil, he said, hoping that RSPO would become a model for similar programs for other farm commodities.

But the representatives of environmental NGOs and smallholders still have a lot to complain about the RSPO’s performance, notably with regard to the still weak market reception for sustainably produced palm oil.

RSPO secretary-general Darrel Webber acknowledged that even though the capacity of RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil at present already accounts for 18 percent of global output, only about 50 percent of the sustainably produced palm oil has been taken up by the market.

Several European countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark and Belgium, and major corporations such as Nestle, Unilever, Carrefour and Johnson & Johnson, have committed to 100-percent RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil in 2015.

But Europe takes only around 4 million tons from Indonesia, which exports over 20 million tons annually, and supplies more than 50 percent of the RSPO-certified palm oil.

The RSPO did boast more than 1,750 members representing the whole spectrum of the palm-oil supply-chain. But as long as the growth of market uptake remains slow and the premium price enjoyed by certified palm oil remains rather insignificant, market faith in the RSPO certification program could decline.

It is perhaps because of this low market uptake and the perpetual international criticism of the palm-oil industries in Indonesia and Malaysia that both countries have launched their own certification schemes: Indonesia Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) and Malaysia Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO).

But the launch of the ISPO and MSPO should actually be welcomed as the result of the increasing awareness on the part of the governments of the vital importance of sustainable management of palm oil, not as competitors to the RSPO.

However, the operation of three different certifications of sustainability for the same commodity and toward the same goal seems a waste of resources. After all, the principles of sustainable management promoted and audited under the three schemes for their respective certification processes are by and large similar, covering such elements as transparency, legal and regulatory compliance, best production practices, environmental responsibility and commitment to local community development.

Now that UNEP has engaged with the RSPO, the UN body is expected to help develop synergy between the three sustainability-certification schemes, or else they could cause confusion and unnecessarily add to the production costs. Consumer or market pressures alone cannot make the campaign for of sustainability sustainable in the long term.

It would be counter-productive if foreign green NGOs and consumer organizations, which are among the most assertive members of the RSPO, try to intervene in implementing changes in Indonesia. There are rules which are already in place and numerous ministries and local government agencies that have to be brought into the process.

The causes of deforestation or forest fires are complex as they are rooted in the most basic problems of poverty, unemployment and weak law enforcement. The blunt fact is that poor farmers trees are usually worth much more dead than alive.

Put another way, land is worth more as cropland than as forests as the benefits from trees such as capturing carbon emissions and embodying biodiversity are hard to price. They are also intangible concepts for farmers who are preoccupied with the question of what to eat tomorrow.

It will be difficult to change the behavior of small farmers illegally cutting trees and burning degraded forest lands and peats if they remain gripped by dire poverty.

The writer is senior editor at The Jakarta Post.

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Global importance of urban agriculture 'underestimated'

Mark Kinver BBC News 24 Nov 14;

Urban agriculture is playing an increasingly important role in global food security, a study has suggested.

Researchers, using satellite data, found that agricultural activities within 20km of urban areas occupy an area equivalent to the 28-nation EU.

The international team of scientists says the results should challenge the focus on rural areas of agricultural research and development work.

The findings appear in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

"This is the first study to document the global scale of food production in and around urban settings," explained co-author Pay Drechsel, a researcher for the International Water Management Institute (IWMI).

"There were people talking about urban agriculture but we never knew details. How did it compare with other farming systems? This assessment showed us that it was much larger than we expected."

The team acknowledged that the study could actually be conservative, as it focused on urban areas with populations of 50,000 or greater.

Urban world

Dr Drechsel said that when urban farming was compared with other (ie rural) farming systems, the results were surprising. For example, the total area of rice farming in South Asia was smaller in rural areas than in urban locations.

Likewise, total maize production in sub-Saharan Africa was not as large as the area under cultivation in urban areas.

UN data shows that more than 50% of the world's population now lives in urban areas, which could explain the changing landscape of global agriculture.

"We could say that the table is moving closer to the farm," observed Dr Drechsel.

"The most interesting factor when we look at India is that we could map the whole country as urban or peri-urban because there are so many towns and cities."

He added: "This has so many consequences in terms of what cities do to their environment because they are sucking out water but giving back polluted waste."

Using Ghana as an example, Dr Drechsel said that the majority of vegetable farmers irrigated their crops with polluted water. In Accra, it is estimated that up to 10% of household wastewater was indirectly recycled by urban farms.

"These farms are now recycling more wastewater than local treatment plants," he observed.

Lead author Anne Thebo from the University of California, Berkeley, said the study was "an important first step towards better understanding urban crop production at the global and regional scales".

She added: "In particular, by including farmlands in areas just outside of cities we can begin to see what these croplands really mean for urban water management and food production."

Dr Drechsel explained that there was a marked difference in attitudes between the developed world and developing nations when it came to urban agriculture.

"In the North, we consider agricultural activities in cities as something positive," he told BBC News.

"We think it is really useful and there are many models as to how we could better integrate agriculture into cities.

"Yet in the South, it is considered to be an oxymoron - farming and cities have nothing in common and they would like to get all of the farming out of the cities."

He explained that it was important to foster a greater level of integration between agricultural and urban development policies.

"This is not happening in large parts of the developing world because the urban sprawl is happening far too quickly. The legislative, administrative infrastructure is unable to keep pace."

Read more!

Some climate change impacts unavoidable: World Bank

Alister Doyle PlanetArk 24 Nov 14;

Some climate change impacts unavoidable: World Bank Photo: Petar Kujundzic
Photo: Petar Kujundzic

Some future impacts of climate change, such as more extremes of heat and sea level rise, are unavoidable even if governments act fast to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the World Bank said on Sunday.

Past and predicted emissions from power plants, factories and cars have locked the globe on a path towards an average temperature rise of almost 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times by 2050, it said.

"This means that climate change impacts such as extreme heat events may now be simply unavoidable," World Bank President Jim Yong Kim told a telephone news conference on the report, titled "Turn down the Heat, Confronting the New Climate Normal."

"The findings are alarming," he said.

Sea levels would keep rising for centuries because vast ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica thaw only slowly. If temperatures stayed at current levels, seas would rise 2.3 metres (7 ft 6 in) in the next 2,000 years, the report said.

Average temperatures have already risen by about 0.8 degree(1.4F) since the Industrial Revolution, it said.

"Dramatic climate changes and weather extremes are already affecting millions of people around the world, damaging crops and coastlines and putting water security at risk," Kim wrote in the report.

As examples of extremes, he pointed to the hottest November day in Australia during a recent Group of 20 summit "or the five to six feet of snow that just fell on Buffalo" in the United States.

Still, the worst impacts of global warming could be avoided by cutting greenhouse gas emissions, the report said.

For example, a rise of 2 degrees (3.6F) in average world temperature over pre-industrial times would mean a reduction in Brazilian crop yields of up to 70 percent for soybean and up to 50 percent for wheat in 2050.

Officials from almost 200 nations will meet in Peru from Dec. 1-12 to work on a deal due in Paris in late 2015, to slow climate change. [ID:nL6N0TB496]

Kim defended World Bank policies that permit investments in fossil fuels in developing nations in rare cases, saying it was often for power plants to supply electricity vital to help end poverty.

"Sub-Saharan Africa has a total of about 80 gigawatts of installed (electricity generating) capacity, which is less than Spain," he said.

(Reporting By Alister Doyle; Editing by Clelia Oziel)

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Prospects rise for a 2015 U.N. climate deal, but likely to be weak

ALISTER DOYLE PlanetArk 25 Nov 14;

A global deal to combat climate change in 2015 looks more likely after promises for action by China, the United States and the European Union, but any agreement will probably be too weak to halt rising temperatures.

Delegates from almost 200 nations will meet in Lima, Peru, from Dec. 1-12 to work on the accord due in Paris in a year's time, also spurred by new scientific warnings about risks of floods, heatwaves, ocean acidification and rising seas.

After failure to agree a sweeping U.N. treaty at a summit in Copenhagen in 2009, the easier but less ambitious aim now is a deal made up of "nationally determined" plans to help reverse a 45 percent rise in greenhouse gas emissions since 1990.

"We are in much better shape," a year before Paris than in the run-up to Copenhagen, said Yvo de Boer, who was the U.N.'s climate chief in 2009 and now leads the Global Green Growth Institute in South Korea, which helps poor nations.

The hope is that in Paris, delegates will also work out ways to ratchet up national plans in coming years to limit average temperatures rises to an agreed ceiling of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above levels before the Industrial Revolution.

Temperatures have already climbed 0.85 C (1.5 F). "Not in my wildest dreams do I expect the Paris agreement to close the gap to 2 degrees," de Boer told Reuters.

China, the United States and the European Union, which together account for more than half of world greenhouse gas emissions, have indicated they want some sort of global accord in Paris, sharply raising the chances of success for the summit.

"The prognosis is vastly better than going into Copenhagen," said Robert Stavins, director of Harvard University's Environmental Economics Program. "The expectations (in 2008-09) were much too high."


The new, looser model for a deal is a shift from the U.N.'s existing Kyoto Protocol, which obliges the European Union and a few other rich nations to cut emissions until 2020. But Kyoto only represents about 14 percent of global emissions.

Last month, the European Union set a goal of cutting emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, shifting from fossil fuels toward renewable energies.

And, in a joint announcement with China's President Xi Jinping on Nov. 11, President Barack Obama set a target of a U.S. emissions cut of 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 - 14 to 16 percent below the U.N. benchmark year of 1990.

China, meanwhile, said it would cap its soaring emissions by "around 2030". It was the first time China has set a cap, but Beijing gave no numbers and studies by Chinese academics indicate emissions could soar by 30 percent by 2030.

And Obama's goal faces a hostile Congress. Mitch McConnell, the incoming U.S. Senate majority leader, denounced the U.S.-China deal, as requiring nothing of China for 16 years while threatening "havoc" across in the United States.

Still, Beijing's acceptance of a cap may change the dynamics of the U.N. negotiations. "It represents significant pressure on other large emerging economies" such as India, South Africa and Brazil, Stavins said.

This year is on track to be the warmest since records began in the 19th century, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - despite cold snaps like one seen in the United States in recent days.

A fall in oil prices to about $80 a barrel from $110 earlier this year may brake a shift in investments toward cleaner energies such as wind and solar power.

Among other recent shifts, donor nations promised $9.3 billion in aid for a new Green Climate Fund to help developing nations cut their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a changing climate.

Marlene Moses, chair of the Alliance of Small Island States, said it was an "important first step" but well short of the $15 billion developing nations had urged.

And a series of reports by the U.N.'s panel of climate scientists raised the certainty that human activities rather than natural variations are the main cause of climate change since 1950 to at least 95 percent.

(Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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Climate change investment falls for second year in 2013

Megan Rowling PlanetArk 24 Nov 14;

Global investment in tackling climate change fell for a second year in 2013 to $331 billion, largely due to a drop in the cost of solar power technology, according to an annual report on climate finance.

Overall, the world is falling further and further behind its low-carbon investment goals, warned the Climate Policy Initiative (CPI), a research and advisory group.

"Our analysis shows that global investment in a cleaner, more resilient economy is decreasing, and the gap between finance needed and actually delivered is growing," said Barbara Buchner, senior director of CPI.

"As policymakers prepare a new global climate agreement in 2015, climate finance is a key ingredient to bring the world on a 2-degree Celsius pathway," she said.

Private investment totaled $193 billion in 2013, dropping 14 percent ($31 billion) from 2012. Climate finance from public sources stayed steady at around $137 billion.

The report described lower costs for solar photovoltaic systems as positive, because they boosted solar energy deployment. Without the drop in costs, 2013 solar deployment would have resulted in an increase of $12 billion in climate finance flows from 2012 rather than a decrease of $28 billion.

Climate change investment was split almost equally between developed and developing countries in 2013. But the amount flowing from developed to developing countries fell to $34 billion, down $8 billion from 2012, with less coming from development finance institutions and the private sector.

Almost three quarters of all spending happened in the country where funding originated, the report said. Private investors had an especially strong domestic focus, with 90 percent of their finance staying in the country of origin.

"Our numbers demonstrate that most investment is happening at the national level, with investors favoring familiar environments they perceive to be less risky," Buchner said.

In 2013, $25 billion in public resources went to climate change adaptation - efforts to adjust to extreme weather and rising seas - around the world, an increase of $3 billion from 2012.

But this accounted for just 7 percent of total climate finance flows, with 91 percent of funds spent on mitigation, or activities to reduce planet-warming emissions.


The scarcity of funding for adaptation has come into focus with the first round of pledges this week to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which aims to become the main vehicle for climate finance for poorer countries in the coming years.

It aims to direct half of its funding into adaptation over time, which should channel more money to the countries and communities most vulnerable to climate impacts.

Following donor commitments over the past week, the GCF is set to be capitalized with more than $9.5 billion over the next four years, although domestic politics could make it hard for some governments to deliver on their promises.

Canada was the latest country to contribute, offering some $265 million late Thursday. That comes on top of up to $9.3 billion from more than 20 other governments - contributions confirmed or announced at a pledging conference Thursday.

"Poor countries will arrive at the U.N. climate talks in Lima (in December) with some confidence that rich countries are starting to live up to their responsibilities," said Sven Harmeling, CARE International's climate change advocacy coordinator.

"However, (the) GCF pledges must be part of an ongoing increase in levels of climate finance to help developing countries deal with climate impacts," he said.

They are still waiting for answers to questions such as how much of the GCF money will come as grants versus loans, whether there are conditions attached to the pledges, and if the money will actually be delivered, he added.

While wealthy nations appear to making an effort to fill the GCF, there is still no concrete international plan for how to raise publicly mobilized climate finance for poorer countries to $100 billion a year by 2020, as governments promised in 2009.

Harmeling said many developing countries want to set an interim target for higher levels of support.

"If there is no more clarity on this (in Lima), it will become a hotter issue over the next year," he said.

(Reporting by Megan Rowling; editing by Laurie Goering)

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