Best of our wild blogs: 26 May 15

Successful nesting of the Malaysian Pied Fantails at Pasir Ris Park
Singapore Bird Group

Nest of the Common Myna
Bird Ecology Study Group

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Appetite for local produce growing

Rising demand for eggs, vegetables produced here despite higher prices
JESSICA LIM Straits Times 25 May 15;

THE go-local food movement here has found more supporters. Demand for vegetables and eggs farmed in Singapore is seeing healthy growth, despite the produce being pricier.

New Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) figures show that 10,848 tonnes of leafy vegetables, such as cai xin and kang kong, consumed here last year were home-grown, up from 9,300 tonnes in 2010.

In terms of proportion, the amount of locally produced leafy greens eaten here last year was 12 per cent of the total vegetable consumption - an increase from the 7 per cent in 2010.

This means the long-term AVA target of raising local production of such vegetables to 10 per cent of consumption has been met.

The appetite for locally farmed eggs has grown too, with about 433 million eaten last year. This was 25 per cent of total egg consumption, up from 22 per cent, or about 340 million eggs, in 2010. The target is 30 per cent.

Currently, there are about 200 food farms in Singapore. Of these, three are hen layer farms, about 50 are leafy vegetable farms and about 130 are fish farms.

There has been a push to help farmers here boost yields so that Singapore is less vulnerable to food import disruptions caused by external issues such as climate change and disease. The country imports 90 per cent of all food consumed here.

A $30 million Food Fund was launched in 2009 to help farmers improve technology and upgrade production capability. A second fund, the $63 million Agriculture Productivity Fund, was announced last year to develop local farms and landscape nurseries.

In January, the AVA set up a task force to promote demand for key food items that have been grown, harvested or reared here.

With the help of government funding, Kok Fah Technology Farm in Sungei Tengah now produces 3,000kg of leafy greens daily, up from 2,000kg in 2010.

Workers used to dump buckets of water over crops and plant seeds by hand. Now, they use automatic sprays. The farm also protects the crops from heavy rain by growing them in greenhouses. Seedlings are grown for 15 days on trays before machines transplant them into land plots.

Kok Fah Technology Farm's owner Wong Kok Fah, 53, who supplies vegetables to supermarkets here, said: "We optimise land use this way, so we can harvest more frequently."

Prices of local greens are estimated to be 15 per cent higher than those of imported vegetables, owing to relatively higher labour costs and rents. Still, demand for local greens has grown.

"Imported vegetables tend to be less fresh as it takes longer to transport them here," Mr Wong said in Mandarin, adding that food scares overseas may also have pushed people to go local.

Chew's Agriculture produces 480,000 eggs each day for Singapore, up from 300,000 in 2010. This came after the farm spent $7 million on larger-capacity chicken coops. It now has 560,000 layer hens at any one time. In 2010, it could house only half of that.

Mr Tan Chee Nam, 67, its general manager of production, said its "designer eggs" boosted demand. The farm sells 23 types of eggs, including low-cholesterol ones and eggs infused with omega-3 fatty acids. "Singaporeans are more health-conscious these days," he added.

The other locally farmed food is fish but the sector has not been doing as well. Last year, only 8 per cent of all fish consumed here - about 4,200 tonnes - came from local sources, well short of the 15 per cent target. In 2010, local fish made up 7 per cent of fish eaten here.

Recurring plankton blooms are likely to blame for the poor showing. A plankton bloom in February and March, for instance, killed about 500 to 600 tonnes of fish at local fish farms in Changi, Lim Chu Kang and Pulau Ubin.

Madam Raja Lathimi, 55, tries to buy local vegetables whenever she can. "I try to eat local as much as possible. We should support our own farmers and it (local produce) also seems safer," said the housewife. "There have been so many food scares lately."

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From 50 shades of brown to a green city

Jack Sim The Straits Times AsiaOne 26 may 15;

Singapore'stoilet journey is one to be proud of as we celebrate our country's 50th birthday and reflect on just how far our nation has come in its jubilee year.

I still remember clearly when the first flushing toilets were introduced in Singapore's Housing Board flats. My family wanted more than anything to move into a modern apartment with a flushing toilet. That happened in 1962, when we moved into a rental flat in Jalan Bahagia. I was five.

The indoor, flushing HDB toilets not only gave us convenience, safety, health and hygiene, but they were also seen as symbols of progress and gave us a sense of status and dignity, which is also very important for the pride of a nation.

I grew up in a kampung in Lorong Ong Lye near Paya Lebar Road.

Growing up, our toilet, like that of most families, was a simple squat over wooden planks, with a bucket below it to capture the waste that was collected at night - the so-called "night-soil" bucket system.

It was very traumatic as a child to look down at all of the 50 shades of brown in the bucket, as well as used sanitary napkins and intestinal worms crawling while big green flies buzzed around.

I'm 58 this year. Just in my lifetime, I have witnessed how Singaporeans have enjoyed a better quality of life as toilets and sanitation have improved over the last 50 years as the nation progressed.

In the years under British rule in the 1960s, Singapore was a filthy, overcrowded city. Open defecation was rampant and, at best, our sanitation system was the "night-soil" bucket communal toilet system.

In rural areas at that time, pit latrines were shared by a number of families that consisted of a drop hole in the ground, with planks over the hole, located outside the houses.

Once the pit was full, the waste was emptied manually and disposed of directly into nearby waterways. Public health was poor.

Diarrhoea was widespread and frequent outbreaks of typhoid fever were caused by poor hygiene. The Singapore River was full of debris and faecal contamination.

With no natural resources and less than 600 sq km of land at that time, and without a sufficient water supply, the prevailing wisdom was that our island state would not be viable after its separation from Malaysia in 1965.

Yet, against all odds, its economy grew at an average of 8 per cent annually over the next 30 years, transforming Singapore from a "Third World country" to the country with the third-highest per capita GDP in the world.

One main component of this economic miracle was the concept of public health based on a "clean" strategy.

Improved cleanliness and hygiene reduced our health expenditure from 4.5 per cent of GDP in 1965 to 3 per cent of GDP consistently over the next three decades.

We invested more in the prevention of diseases so that we spent less on cures. By providing clean water and sanitation, we created a healthy, productive workforce that was ready for foreign investors to train and employ.

We installed an extensive sewerage network, which was later taken underground with the Deep Tunnel Sewerage System to optimise land space.
The cleaning up of the Singapore River took 10 years and was the cornerstone of Singapore's transformation into a clean city.

By cleaning up the river and our waterways, we also prevented the spread of many diseases.

Today with the Marina Barrage, we have turned the rivers into reservoirs for drinking water which we recycle continuously into Newater with an award-winning waste-water treatment plant.

We also cleaned up the streets and imposed heavy fines on people who litter. Today, the national culture is to hold on to a piece of rubbish until we find a dustbin to dispose of it.

The concept of "clean" was thus applied beyond clean toilets, to cleaning up the waterways and the environment, and greening the country. The idea of a "clean" mindset extended to cleaning up organised crime and corruption, and the resulting leaps forward in the quality of life in Singapore.

In 1998, inspired by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong's call for clean public restrooms as one of the markers of a gracious society during his 1996 National Day Rally speech, I decided to devote my life to improving sanitation.

I founded Restroom Association Singapore, with the mission of raising the standards and cleanliness of public toilets in Singapore.

Then in 2001, seeing the need for a global body to tackle the worldwide sanitation challenge, I founded World Toilet Organisation, and established World Toilet Day on Nov 19 to draw attention to the sanitation crisis.

In 2013, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted Singapore's "Sanitation for All" resolution and officially declared Nov 19 as UN World Toilet Day, to be commemorated each year.

Singapore today is renowned globally for being a clean, green garden city, and our country's approach is an inspiration that holds valuable lessons for developing countries that are now seeking to tackle their sanitation challenges.

Addressing Singapore's sanitation challenge and taking a "clean and green" approach has led to an improved quality of life, a better environment and economic prosperity.

Singapore's journey from a developing country with poor sanitation to one of the world's cleanest countries, with one of the strongest economies, is one for all of us to reflect on with pride in this SG50 year.

The next time you visit your flushing toilet, you should feel proud of our progress as a nation, while you remember that 2.5 billion people on this planet still do not have this privilege.

The writer is the founder of the World Toilet Organisation.

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Bugis Junction goes solar

Bugis Junction now has about 1,000 sqm of solar panels installed at the top of the mall and office tower.
Channel NewsAsia 25 May 15;

SINGAPORE: The mall and office tower at Bugis Junction will be partially powered by solar energy, following the installation of about 1,000 sqm of solar panels at the roof of the complex.

Bugis Junction will be able to generate 200,000 kWh of clean energy and mitigate 110 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually, solar company REC said in a news release on Monday (May 25).

This translates into cost savings of S$30,000 every year for the next 25 years. According to REC, the energy generated is enough to power about 50 four-room HDB households every year.

Bugis Junction shopping mall is owned by CapitaLand Mall Trust, while Bugis Junction Towers belongs to Keppel REIT. Both properties are recipients of the Building and Construction Authority’s Green Mark Platinum award, the highest green building accolade in Singapore.

REC, which operates a solar panel plant in Singapore, provides solar energy solutions to companies and households in the region.

- CNA/xk

Bugis Junction installs 1,000sqm of solar panels
SIAU MING EN Today Online 26 May 15;

SINGAPORE — Bugis Junction is the latest shopping mall and office tower to adopt solar energy following the completion of one of the largest solar panel installations for an integrated mixed-use development here.

The installations, carried out by solar energy firm REC, cover a roof area of about 1,000 square metres, said Ms Jen Tan, REC’s vice-president for sales and marketing in Asia-Pacific, in a press release today (May 25).

“With part of its electricity generated by solar, Bugis Junction will be able to generate 200,000 kWh of clean energy and mitigate 110 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually,” she added.

The amount of energy generated will be sufficient to power about 50 four-room HDB households every year. Bugis Junction will also be able to save about S$30,000 every year for the next 25 years, Ms Tan said.

About 0.5 per cent of the buildings’ total energy consumption will be from solar energy, she said.

Solar energy typically takes up about 1 per cent of a commercial property’s total electricity consumption, as such buildings are limited by their small roof space and relatively high energy consumption.

The solar panels are installed at four locations within Bugis Junction, of which, three areas are located above the shopping mall, owned by CapitaLand Mall Trust.

The last location is on the rooftop of the office tower, Bugis Junction Towers, owned by Keppel REIT.

Ms Jacqueline Lee, head of investment and asset management of CapitaLand Mall Trust Management Limited and the manager of CapitaLand Mall Trust, said: “Partnering with REC to install solar panels at Bugis Junction not only helps our mall to tap on a renewable energy source, it also delivers cost savings that enable us to run our malls more efficiently.”

Also owned by CapitaLand Mall Trust, JCube in Jurong East has a solar installation measuring around 300 sq metres and generates about 60,477 kWh of energy each year, while Sembawang Shopping Centre has one that measures around 65 sq metres and generates 12,110 kWh of energy each year.

Other malls with solar installations include 313@Somerset in Orchard and City Square Mall in Kitchener Road.

City Square has 66 solar panels, covering about 97.91 sqm. The panels generate about 11,560 kWh of energy per year, said a spokesperson for City Developments Limited, which owns the mall.

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Malaysia: Bleak harvests may see cockles off the menu

AMANDA YEAP The Star 26 May 15;

TAIPING: There may not be any cockles in our markets by July if those bred near here keep dying, say long-time cockle farmers in Perak.

According to Cockle Farmers Association president Koay Seng Lam, thousands of cockles that are bred for human consumption are dying in Kuala Sepetang, about 16km from here.

“Since March, what used to be a bountiful harvest of cockles has turned into a harvest consisting of mostly empty shells,” said Koay, who put the drop in yield this month in the region of 90%.

“While the yield was getting less and less since last year, it has never been this serious,” he said.

“In the past, we could harvest at least two tonnes of live cockles within two hours. Now, we barely make it past 50kg after five hours.

“Even so, many of them turn out to be just empty shells,” he said yesterday.

Noting that the harvested cockles were also smaller, Koay said fishermen could not afford to wait for them to grow any larger.

“If we wait any longer, they might all be dead, and there would be nothing for us to harvest,” he said.

Kuala Sepetang is home to the largest cockle breeding ground in the country, supplying the shellfish throughout Malaysia and Singa­pore.

Cockles are ingredients for dishes like char koay teow, curry noodles and lok lok.

Koay said, should the industry collapse, many workers would be forced to look for other jobs.

“There used to be more than 200 fishermen and cockle breeders a few years back, but there are only about 50 now,” he said.

He suspects that poor water and mud quality could have led to the dwindling numbers.

“We need to know the cause scientifically before cockles totally disappear from our markets,” he said.

Cockle breeders who hold temporary occupancy licences are required to pay RM100 per year for every 0.4ha of sea bed they use for cockle breeding.

“If we aren’t earning enough or none at all from cockle sales, we appeal to the government to waive our renewal fees.”

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Malaysia: Sun bear Natalie begins new life

RUBEN SARIO The Star 26 May 15;

KOTA KINABALU: Conservation efforts for endangered sun bears are beginning to pay off as a cub found five years ago was returned to its natural habitat in the east coast Lahad Datu district.

The release of the female sun bear named Natalie was first for the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC) that began operating at Sepilok in Sandakan seven years ago.

BSBCC founder and chief executive Wong Siew Te said Natalie was flown by helicopter from Sepilok and released in the Tabin Wildlife Reserve on May 17.

He said wildlife officials would be keeping track of Natalie’s movements at Tabin through a satellite collar she had been fitted with.

Natalie was brought to the centre after it was surrendered to Wildlife Department officials in Lahad Datu by an individual.

Its mother was believed to have been hunted by poachers.

“Natalie has since matured into a healthy young adult under our care,” said Wong, adding that the centre had been preparing her for the move by helping her to develop essential survival skills like foraging, climbing, nest building and socialising.

“Natalie grew up in natural forest enclosures in BSBCC with tall trees, dense vegetation and significant amounts of natural food such as termites, earthworms, insects and honey from bee hives,” he added.

He said Natalie’s release to Tabin was a joint effort of BSBCC, the Sabah Wildlife Department and its Wildlife Rescue Unit (WRU), as well as the Danau Girang Field Centre.

Department director William Baya commended BSBCC for initiating the project.

“The release of Natalie is a sign of BSBCC’s success and I believe more bears will be released into the wild in the near future,” William said.

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Malaysia: The dark side of Vader begonia

YU JI The Star 26 May 15;

Mysterious: One of the few pictures available of the Begonia in the wild. – Picture courtesy of A Guide to Begonias of Borneo authors.

KUCHING: It is called the Begonia “Darth Vader” but despite the powerful Star Wars character it is named after, the plant species, endemic to Sarawak, is helpless against smugglers who take it out of the state.

The Begonia darthvaderiana is a hit online. At US$80 (RM290) for a small plant, it is one of the most expensive begonias.

Named as such because of its all-black leaves, the species was “discovered” last year by foreign researchers hiking near the Batang Ai dam bordering West Kalimantan.

Authorities in Sarawak only became aware of the plant and the high price tag it carried when a Facebook post landed in the inbox of a Sarawak Forestry Corporation employee.

All begonias are protected under the Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1998.

Local begonia experts said they had never seen the plant and the few photos available were unlikely to have been taken by locals.

In the scientific paper that first published the discovery, a trio of Taiwanese researchers said they found the plant growing along “deeply shaded soil slopes” near the dam, which is about a five-hour drive from here.

“The epithet refers to the resemblance of the dark appearance of this new begonia to that of Darth Vader, the fictional warrior in the Star Wars movies,” wrote Che-Wei Lin, Shih-Wen Chung and Ching-I Peng of the Taiwan Forestry Research Institute and Taiwan Biodiversity Research Centre.

In the same paper, they also named another new species, Begonia amidalae, after Padmé Amidala, the love interest of Darth Vader and mother to protagonists Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia.

Julia Sang, who co-wrote the book A Guide to Begonias of Borneo, has been in contact with the Taiwanese researchers.

“I have never seen the plant,” Sang said. “We had to get the foreign researchers’ permission to use the photo of the Begonia darthvaderiana in the book,” Sang told The Star after presenting a talk at the Sarawak Biodiversity Centre (SBC) here last weekend.

She said no one was sure how the plant ended up on sale online.

“I’m not saying that people cannot grow begonias – all of them are protected – but it would be a problem if people just take it from the wild and destroy the population, just for easy money.”

The book’s co-writer Dr Ruth Kiew, who believed Sarawak had the most begonia species in the world, said commercialisation should be done with the permission of local authorities.

The authors estimated that only about half of Sarawak’s begonias had been discovered.

An official at SBC, a state government body, said the matter, including commercialisation, would be brought up at the next council meeting.

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IMF says energy subsidized by $5.3 trillion worldwide

Anna Yukhananov Reuters 22 May 15;

Governments around the world charge prices for energy that do not account for its harmful environmental, health and other side effects, amounting to a $5.3 trillion "post-tax" subsidy this year, the International Monetary Fund said in a report on Monday.

The IMF said China in particular failed to charge its more than 1 billion consumers for the pollution that comes from heavy use of fossil fuels, adding up to a $2.3 trillion subsidy this year.

The United States was the second-biggest offender, with an estimated $699 billion subsidy, followed by Russia, the European Union, India and Japan.

The report comes as almost 200 nations are trying to work out a deal to combat global warming ahead of a summit in Paris in December. Getting rid of fossil fuel subsidies and setting policies to price carbon pollution are seen as key international measures that would help keep temperatures from rising.

The IMF has long urged governments to get rid of "pretax subsidies" that allow firms and households to buy coal, gasoline or other fuel sources below their cost of supply. Many governments, including Egypt, India, Indonesia and Jordan, have recently raised domestic prices to match those internationally, said the Washington-based institution charged with policing global economic and financial stability.

But the Fund said it had turned its focus to the post-tax subsidies that mean prices fail to reflect costs like unfair tax advantages and deaths from pollution.

In its last study on the subject in 2013, the IMF estimated these post-tax subsidies amounted to $2 trillion in 2011, or 2.9 percent of the world's gross domestic product.

With new data about the extent of environmental damage, the IMF says these subsidies totaled $4.9 trillion in 2013 and should rise to $5.3 trillion this year, or 6.5 percent of global GDP.

"The fiscal implications are mammoth: At $5.3 trillion, energy subsidies exceed the estimated public health spending for the entire globe," IMF economists Benedict Clements and Vitor Gaspar wrote in a blog post accompanying the report.

The IMF said about three-quarters of the damages from energy affect domestic consumers, meaning it is in countries' own interests to get rid of these subsidies.

(Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

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