Best of our wild blogs: 30 Oct 15

Open now: Public registration for Dive Trails at the Sisters Islands Marine Park
Sisters' Island Marine Park

Living shores of Sentosa Tanjung Rimau
wild shores of singapore

Snippets of bird behaviour
Bird Ecology Study Group

Indonesian wildfire disaster threatens virgin forest in Borneo
Mongabay Environmental News

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Sisters’ Islands Marine Park dives open for registration

Today Online 29 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE — The public can now register to immerse themselves in Singapore’s first marine park, which will open for dives next month.

Six operators have been granted approval to lead dives on the park’s two dive trails, which will take place on Nov 8 and 22. Interested divers can sign up with any of the dive operators listed on the Sisters’ Islands Marine Park website (

To protect marine biodiversity, divers must have certification beyond entry level from reputable international training organisations, and must have logged at least 20 dives, with one local dive within the past two years. “Good buoyancy control is essential to ensure that corals are not broken accidentally while diving. To ensure long-term sustainability of the dive trails, training dives will not be allowed at the dive trail,” National Parks Board (NParks) said on its website.

The approved dive operators must adhere to regulations established by NParks, including prohibitions on removing or collecting of any living or non-living components of the reef.

The cost of the dive trips will be set independently by operators and may differ based on the types of packages and the services they offer.

NParks does not collect any fees from the dive operators. Currently, local dive packages to sites such as Pulau Hantu average about S$90 for two dives.

The maximum depth of the two trails are 6m and 15m, and visibility is 1m to 5m, depending on weather conditions.

Divers will be guided through 20 stations marked by signs indicating the marine biodiversity and reef features present in Singapore’s waters.

“Divers will be encouraged to contribute towards the upkeep of the dive trails; for example, by helping to sweep off accumulated algae on the station signboards using cleaning brushes,” said NParks.

At some stations, divers will also help in simple biodiversity or water quality surveys, as part of NParks’ efforts to encourage participation in its citizen science programmes.

The agency also assured that diving activities will be regulated, with a cap of eight divers allowed for each trail at any given time to protect the marine biodiversity and to avoid overcrowding.

“Dive windows will be limited to the existing condition of the marine habitat and periods when currents are suitable for diving, which will be determined using hydrodynamic predictions for the site,” NParks said.

“It is estimated that there will be two to four days with suitable dive windows in any given month.”

The six operators are Diving Solutions (Asia), GS-Diving, Leeway Sub-Aquatic, Marlin Divers, Opcon, and Sea Hounds.

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ASEAN ministers express concern over 'unprecendented severity' of haze

At their meeting in Hanoi, the environment ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nation's member states committed to developing a roadmap for a haze-free ASEAN by 2020.
Channel NewsAsia 29 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: Environment Ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations member states on Thursday (Oct 29) expressed their concern over the "unprecedented severity and geographical spread" of the recent smoke haze affecting the region, and expressed sympathy to the millions of people affected by the haze.

They also reaffirmed their commitment to the objectives and principles of the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, and agreed to step up cooperation to effectively implement this in its entirety, with the aim of eliminating the scourge of haze in the region within five years.

"The Ministers are committed to develop an ASEAN Haze-Free Roadmap which is an action-oriented and time-bound framework for ASEAN Member States to achieve the vision of Haze-Free ASEAN by 2020," they said.


At the 11th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution in Hanoi, Vietnam, the respective ministers responsible for the environment reviewed regional cooperation on a number of haze-related issues, in particular actions taken under the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, and discussed new initiatives to further promote regional cooperation in addressing transboundary haze pollution.

"The Ministers noted and appreciated the collaborative efforts undertaken by Indonesia, the neighbouring ASEAN countries and the international community to address the forest fires and the associated smoke haze," they added in a media release.

The member states also pledged to remain vigilant and implement haze preventive measures in anticipation of strong El-Nino conditions.

ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre’s weather outlook, in which the strong El-Nino conditions that currently prevail are likely to extend into early 2016, suggests that hotspot activities are likely to increase in the northern nations with the onset of the traditional dry season in November and December, the ministers said.

However, they were more optimistic about countries in southern ASEAN, with the monsoon seasons from late October to December possibly helping to subdue hotspot activities in region.


In their joint press release, the ministers said they had reviewed national, sub-regional and regional activities to address land and forest fires in the region and its associated transboundary haze pollution.

They welcomed the "significant progress" in the implementation of the Work Programme of the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution, including concrete on-the-ground activities such as multi-national cooperation to fight fires; and implementation of the ASEAN Peatland Management Strategy (2006-2020).

The Ministers also encouraged ASEAN Member States to enhance bilateral and multinational collaboration, according to the statement.

"ASEAN Member States agreed to share information, subject to respective national laws and policies and international obligations. The Ministers also agreed to institutionalise the possible activation of international assistance by member states early in the haze season at the appropriate alert level."

At the same time, the Ministers said they recognised the need for ASEAN Member States to revisit their respective national plan of action in order to effectively address the land and forest fires that cause haze in the region.

ASEAN said the Ministers endorsed Indonesia’s intention to host the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Transboundary Haze Pollution Control, and further tasked Indonesia to continue to work towards timely establishment of the Centre.

Meanwhile, the Ministers suggested that Indonesia explore the use of the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management to ensure efficient and quick response to the outbreak of haze-causing fires.

ASEAN's environment ministers will meet again in 2016 in Malaysia, at the 12th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution.

- CNA/es

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Indonesia Red Cross Extends Haze Emergency Response to Jan 2016

Carla Isati Octama Jakarta Globe 29 Oct 15;

Jakarta. Indonesia Red Cross, or PMI, will extend the emergency response period in haze-affected provinces until January, officials said.

“Since the number of the people whose health have been severely affected by the haze keeps increasing, we have decided to extend the [emergency] response period to January 2016, hoping that rains will fall in February 2016,” Ginandjar Kartasasmita, the PMI's Chairman, said at the PMI's headquarter in South Jakarta, Thursday.

“This is actually the second response operation we are doing. It will be held from November to early January. The first one took place right after the haze started happening this year,” he added.

Sumarsono, the PMI's Disaster Management Chief, said that the emergency response operations will be launched in seven provinces mostly-affected by the haze: South Sumatera, Jambi, Riau, Central Kalimantan, West Kalimantan, South Kalimantan and East Kalimantan.

The PMI will deploy numerous ambulances for evacuation, mobile clinics, blood donation units and emergency posts.

“We will distribute more masks and shelters as well,” Sumarsono said.

Specialized medical treatment for vulnerable groups — children, expectant mothers, the elderly and the disabled — will also be provided by the PMI.

Earlier on Thursday, the PMI sent more aid to Sumatra and Kalimantan Islands including dozens of water trucks, water purifiers, ambulances, masks, air purifiers and eye drops.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent, the US Red Cross, as well as the Australia Red Cross also given a hand in the PMI's emergency response operations.

The haze crisis has continued to worsen with over 43 million people exposed to smoke from the wildfires, with over half a million cases of acute respiratory tract infections recorded. Months of drought have exacerbated the crisis.

PMI sends more aid to fight forest fires 29 Oct 15;

A team of emergency operators from the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) departed to the smog affected areas in Sumatra and Kalimantan on Thursday to help tackle the country’s worst haze to date.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla, upon deploying the 630 personnel, reported Antara news agency, said, "Local PMI officers have worked really hard but after given the worsening situation, the PMI [Jakarta] must help them expand the operation."

The haze from forest and peatland fires has been blanketing parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan for the past three months.

Social Affairs Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa said on Wednesday that at least 19 people had died from the toxic smoke and 500,000 people had been severely affected.

Kalla added that the PMI was working at close to its national potential with the support of PMI officials from Central Java and East Java already in action.

"Hopefully this task can be carried out well until the rainy season comes," Kalla said.

PMI has also arranged a three-month emergency operation in Sumatra from November to January.

The operation, released on Thursday, will send out 10 water-tank vehicles, two water filters, 10 ambulances, 100,000 N95 masks, 150,000 evo masks, air filters and eye drops.

The PMI’s regional office will send similar equipment to Kalimantan.

The organization received support from partners including the International Red Cross Federation, Red Crescent, US Red Cross and the Australian Red Cross.

The PMI has already distributed 700,000 masks for haze victims in Sumatra and Kalimantan. (rin)

VP Kalla dispatches PMI team to haze-affected areas
Antara 29 Oct 15;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Vice President M. Jusuf Kalla, who is concurrently chairman of the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI), dispatched a PMI emergency response team to the haze-affected areas in Sumatra and Kalimantan on Thursday.

"The PMI in the regions has so far worked hard, but due to the haze disaster, it will put in greater efforts during its operations," Kalla stated at the PMI headquarters here on Thursday.

According to the vice president, the PMI personnel deployed in different regions affected by haze have made every effort to provide medical assistance to the haze victims.

The vice president said the forest fires, which have produced catastrophic smoke, have been ongoing for three months.

He remarked that the PMI emergency response team comprising around 630 personnel will offer medical assistance to the haze victims in various areas in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Haze death toll reaches 19 in Sumatra, Kalimantan
Hans Nicholas Jong and Ina Parlina, The Jakarta Post 29 Oct 15;

Haze blanketing parts of Indonesia has taken the lives of 19 people in the last two months as thousands of fires caused by slash-and-burn farming have choked vast areas of Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Social Affairs Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa said on Wednesday that the death toll had increased from 10 people as previously reported by the he National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB).

“Nineteen people have died from the effects of haze as of [Wednesday] morning,” she said.

More than 500,000 people have been severely affected by the disaster, with thousands, mostly children, hospitalized for severe respiratory issues brought on by the haze.

However, the number of hot spots indicating forest fires has plunged drastically thanks to rain in Sumatra and Kalimantan in the past couple of days, making the government optimistic that the fires will end next month.

According to data from the BNPB, the number of hot spots has dropped to 507 from 3,226 last week, when forest fires spread to the eastern part of the country.

“Yesterday’s rain reduced the number of hot spots very significantly, as well as increasing visibility in a number of cities with airports,” BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said in a coordination meeting at his office in East Jakarta on Wednesday.

Sumatra, which still had thousands of hot spots last week, only had 10 hot spots as of Wednesday, with Riau and Jambi having zero hot spots, followed by Bengkulu and Lampung with three hot spots each and South Sumatra with four.

Kalimantan still has the largest number of hot spots, with 138, according to BNPB data, 127 of which were in East Kalimantan, while Central Kalimantan only had nine hot spots and West and South Kalimantan had one hot spot each.

The rain also helped to increase visibility in many cities, including Pekanbaru, which previously were forced to suspend airport operations as flights could not be accommodated in low visibility caused by thick smoke.

“Commercial flights have resumed this morning, but only Batik Air. As for Garuda Indonesia, they have stopped their flights [to Riau] until October 31,” acting Riau governor Arsyadjuliandi “Andi” Rachman reported during the meeting.

Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, who also attended the teleconference meeting, ordered Andi to allow aircraft from Garuda Indonesia to land.

“If the visibility is already 2,000 meters, just tell them to land. It’s already possible,” he said.

Luhut also ordered all regional governments to be alert to the possibility of intensifying rainfall in the coming weeks, as the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) predicted rain would begin to fall on regions affected by haze in November.

The retired general urged local administrations to deploy planes for cloud-seeding to induce rain. “We are talking about a window of opportunity of mere hours, because clouds will appear for only one or two hours,” he said.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is set to personally lead the government’s haze countermeasures when he returns to Indonesia from a brief visit to the US. He is expected to stay in the affected regions, such as South Sumatra, Jambi and Central Kalimantan, to oversee operations.

New Hotspots Detected in Sumatera
Tempo 29 Oct 15;

TEMPO.CO, Pekanbaru - Tera and Aqua satellites detected 111 hotspots in several areas in Sumatera, the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) in Pekanbaru station reported. The number rose sharply after the hotspots had previously decreased to only six.

“New hotspots detected at 07.00am,” said BMKG’s Pekanbaru station chief Sugarin Widayat on Thursday, October 29.

Sugarin said South Sumatera has the most hotspots with 104, followed by Jambi with four hotspots and Lampung with three hotspots. “Riau has no more hotspot,” said Sugarin.

Riau’s weather condition is generally cloudy with haze, explained Sugarin. There is a chance of light rain at noon across Riau. “The maximum temperature is 33.5 degrees Celsius,” he said.

Thin haze from the forest fires in Riau is still disrupting the air quality in Riau. The visibility in Rengat and Dumai is only 50 meters and 100 meters. On the other hand, Pekanbaru and Pelalawan have good visibility with 1,000 meters.

Thousands pledge to combat haze
Rizal Harahap, Syofiardi Bachyul Jb and Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post 29 Oct 15;

Commemorating Youth Pledge Day on Wednesday, thousands of activists, students and lecturers in Riau and West Sumatra staged rallies, urging the government to resolve the prolonged haze problem.

Calling their rally “Pledge against Haze”, students and lecturers from Sultan Syarif Kasim State Islamic University in Pekanbaru marched from their campus to occupy the yard of the Riau governor’s office.

The students then together pronounced a pledge adapted from the one pronounced by Indonesian youth leaders in 1928: “We, as Indonesian sons and daughters, acknowledge one motherland free from haze, one nation that does not burn land or forests and one language that fights against the government and corporations that cause haze.”

The protesters managed to begin lowering the national flag at the gubernatorial office, but police officers intervened to hoist it back up.

“We want to use today’s symbolism to demand that the government take concrete steps to resolve the haze problem,” the rally’s field coordinator Rizky Ananda said.

The protesters, according to Rizky, demanded the revocation of a gubernatorial decree that allows residents to burn land of a certain area, as well as the arrest of directors of corporations that burn land and the seizure of company assets.

“The government should also immediately send medicine to remote villages affected by the haze,” he said.

The demonstrators also urged the government to review permits for palm oil plantations and industrial forest plantations to prevent haze reoccurring in the future, he added.

“Revoke half of all palm oil and industrial forest plantation permits to prevent haze in the future,” Rizky said.

The protesters also asked all political parties to establish medical centers to help residents suffering from haze-related diseases.

“If the political parties do not set up medical centers, we will call on people to boycott them during the next regional elections,” he said.

Meanwhile in Bukittinggi, West Sumatra, hundreds of students in face masks marched from Belakang Balok to the city legislative council building. The students demanded the government review the permits of plantations believed to have caused land and forest fires.

In Padang, the capital city of the province, students and activists from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) distributed masks and leaflets to motorists.

“We are distributing 750 masks and still collecting donations from the public to help haze-affected areas, especially in Sijunjung and Dhamasraya regencies,” said rally participant Novi Fani Rovika.

On Wednesday, haze decreased after sporadic rain in some parts of West Sumatra. However, the Air Pollution Standard Index (ISPU) remained at the “unhealthy” level, with particulate matter (PM10) measured at 240 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m³).

“PM10 levels are lower than in previous days, but still at an unhealthy level,” said Alberth Nahas, a researcher with Global Atmosphere Watch Kototabang.

According to the government’s existing guidelines, air quality is considered “healthy” if its PM10 level stands below 50 µg/m³, “moderate” when the level stands between 50 and 150 µg/m³, “unhealthy” between 150 and 350 µg/m³, “very unhealthy” between 350 and 420 µg/m³ and “dangerous” when it surpasses 420 µ-g/m³.

In Deli Serdang regency, North Sumatra, the number of people suffering severe acute respiratory infections (ISPA) increased from 3,835 patients in July to 5,627 in August as a result of the haze.

Among the patients were three siblings, Ramadhani, 11, Pandry, 7, and Putri, 5, who were being treated in the same room at Deli Serdang General Hospital on Wednesday.

Juningsih, the mother of the three patients, said her children had needed treatment at the hospital after breathing in polluted air.

“My three children are suffering fever, coughs and nausea. The Doctor said it is ISPA, probably because of the haze,” said Juningsih.

Learn preventive measures to counter haze impacts: Indonesia minister
Antara 29 Oct 15;

Jambi (ANTARA News) - Health Minister Nila Djuwita Anfasa Moeloek has called on the public to learn preventive measures against the impacts of haze emanating from forest fires, so they could stay healthy.

"The public must know about preventive measures," Minister Moeloek, an ophthalmologic surgeon, stated here on Tuesday.

She called on the inhabitants of the regions hit by forest fires to say indoors when the pollutant standard index reached a hazardous level.

"When the level of the pollutant standard index is high, do not go outside homes, particularly for children and other high-risk groups, such as elderly people," Moeloek, who had served as the then president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyonos special envoy for the Millennium Development Goals, affirmed.

The minister also advised the residents to always wear face masks when they venture outdoors, stay amply hydrated, and eat nutritious food to boost their immunity, so that they would not easily fall ill.

The hazardous haze arising from the ongoing forest and plantation fires has led to 10 deaths, left 503 thousand people sick, and 43 million people exposed to smoke in six provinces in Sumatra and Kalimantan alone.

The people are suffering from acute respiratory infection, eye and skin irritations, and pneumonia.

Moeloek was born in Jakarta on April 11, 1949. Her husband, Faried Anfasa Moeloek had also served as health minister during the period between 1998 and 1999.

Jokowi leads haze countermeasure efforts from Palembang 29 Oct 15;

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has arrived at the Sultan Mahmud Badaruddin II Airport in Palembang, South Sumatra, on Thursday at 8:15 a.m. after a 25-hour trip from the US, and immediately departed to Ogan Komering Ilir (OKI) regency by land.

In the entourage that welcomed Jokowi at the airport was South Sumatra Governor Alex Noerdin, Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut B. Pandjaitan, Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung, Culture and Elementary and Secondary Education Minister Anies Baswedan, Health Minister Nila Moloek and National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) head Willem Rampangilei.

"The President will work from the OKI regent office for a few days," said Presidential communication team member Ari Dwipayana in a press release on Thursday as quoted by

According to Ari, Jokowi wanted to ensure a more effective handling of forest and land fires as well as haze-affected citizens, especially regarding emergency health services, education and social aid.

Jokowi also wants to take preventive steps as well as open cases against the offending companies.

OKI and Musi Banyuwasin regencies in South Sumatra are currently among the regencies producing the largest number of hot spots.

"The haze [in these regencies] is very wide spread. The smoke is brought by the wind to the north and northwest and is thus blanketing Jambi, Riau and other parts of the region," said Ari.

Jokowi reportedly also plans to survey the Anak Dalam tribe in Soro Langu regency in Jambi and oversee the haze countermeasure efforts in Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan. (kes)(+)

President holds meeting at OKI district head`s official residence
Antara 29 Oct 15;

Ogan Komering Ilir, S Sumatra (ANTARA News) - President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) held a meeting with several ministers at the official residence of Ogan Komering Ilir (OKI) district head in South Sumatra on Thursday.

Among the ministers present at the meeting were Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Luhut Binsar Panjaitan, Health Minister Nila F. Moeloek, Education and Culture Minister Anies Baswedan, and Social Service Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa.

Chief of the Presidential Staff Teten Masduki and South Sumatra Governor Alex Noerdin also attended the meeting.

Cabinet Secretary Pramono Anung informed the press before the meeting that the president had summoned several ministers related to the handing of the haze disaster to attend the meeting.

"He (the president) has also completed his official work and has few free days to focus on the haze disaster," he stated without further elaborating on it.

He noted that the president had an office in OKI district to personally oversee several aspects in order to focus on humanitarian issues.

"The president will also inspect several hotspots and visit the Anak Dalam tribe in Jambi," he remarked.

In case possible, the president will fly to the Central Kalimantan provincial capital of Palangkaraya on Friday evening or Saturday morning. Visits to both Jambi and Palangkaraya have been on the presidents agenda, he pointed out.

"Hopefully, the weather this time will be favorable, so that the president could fly to Jambi and Palangkaraya. The president will fly to Jambi onboard a helicopter instead of the presidential aircraft," he added.(*)

Govt shouldn't focus on haze as national disaster: People's Assembly
Edna Tarigan, 29 Oct 15;

Declaring haze as a national disaster should not be the government's main priority as it would only serve as a ceremonial status, said People's Consultative Assembly (MPR) deputy speaker Mahyuddin.

"[The national disaster] status is only ceremonial. We have to work and solve the [haze] issue even without the status," Mahyuddin told in Kendari in Southeast Sulawesi on Wednesday night.

According to Mahyuddin, the government should focus on other urgent matters such as taking care of haze-affected citizens and reaching for assistance from other countries.

"Our priority is taking care of the haze-affected citizens in addition to tackling the fires since many have died due to acute respiratory infections [ISPA]. The distribution of face masks is also important as there are still many people who haven't received them such as those in Central Kalimantan," said Mahyuddin.

He added that, according to the Health Ministry data, only 165,000 face masks had been distributed in Central Kalimantan where the number of residents reached 2 million.

Regarding the House of Representatives (DPR) plan to establish a Pansus (committee) to inquire into the nation’s handling of land and forest fires, Mahyuddin commented that law enforcement and reviews on national and regional regulations related to the opening of forest and land for industry were among the issues that should be highlighted.

"For example, the Central Kalimantan governor regulation allows the opening of forests and land using the controlled and supervised method of burning. This should be reviewed. We should learn from the disaster that it would be better not to allow the method [at all]. But the government should also provide more support to substitute the method using technical equipment," said Mahyuddin. (kes)(+)

Regional elections to remain on track: KPU
Tama Salim, The Jakarta Post 29 Oct 15;

General Elections Commission (KPU) chairman Husni Kamil Manik has said that raging forest fires and the ensuing smoky haze engulfing much of Sumatra and Kalimantan has not yet affected the conduct of the upcoming simultaneous regional elections.

Husni said he had yet to receive word from his fellow election organizers about any disruptions from the haze in the regions most affected by it, with the elections currently in the campaign phase leading up to balloting on Dec. 9.

“Up until this moment, I haven’t received any information from [election organizers in] the regions pertaining to such worries,” Husni told The Jakarta Post on the sidelines of a seminar in Jakarta, on Wednesday.

According to the 2015 Regional Elections Law, election organizers have the authority to decide whether balloting will proceed or be postponed in cases of force majeure, such as natural disasters or rioting.

“The authority to postpone lies with the election organizers. All other matters, like the danger posed by the haze, you’ll have to ask the government,” he added.

Husni said he was optimistic that the conduct of the elections would remain unobstructed by the haze, denying that the Home Ministry had indicated there was possibility of postponement.

Also on Wednesday, Elections Supervisory Agency (Bawaslu) head Muhammad said that a meeting with Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut B. Panjaitan earlier in the day had concluded that the government was still optimistic about controlling the pollution.

“That’s the point Luhut said this morning, meaning that the KPU and Bawaslu will proceed as planned,” Muhammad said on the sidelines of the seminar.

He said that was the reason President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo cut his US visit short. “Luhut also said that the President had done so to make sure that the haze wouldn’t get in the way of elections,” he explained.

Home Minister Tjahjo Kumolo previously said that the upcoming regional elections may have to be postponed if the haze persisted until balloting day. He made it clear that in that case the elections would take place soon afterwards and would not wait until the next round of local elections in 2017.

Data from the People’s Voter Education Network (JPRR) show that 48 regencies and cities may not be able to conduct the elections on time as a result of the smoke, including 14 in Central Kalimantan, seven in South Sumatra, nine in Riau, seven in West Kalimantan and 11 in Jambi.

Meanwhile, Democratic Party lawmaker Fandi Utomo told the Post that the law required the government to declare the haze crisis a national emergency before election organizers could weigh in on the decision to postpone the balloting.

“If the government declares that it isn’t a national emergency, then the local elections cannot be postponed and yet we have to also see whether the ongoing [campaigning] can be carried out in the current situation,” Fandi said on Wednesday.

Fandi, who is a member of the House of Representatives’ Commission II overseeing governance and regional autonomy, has asked the public to wait until legislators are able to determine the effect of the pollution haze on the different stages of the elections.

“We’ll have to wait for the evaluation results; several colleagues from House Commission II are visiting Palangkaraya in Central Kalimantan, where it is worst, to review the conditions in the field,” he added.

He said the commission would provide a full evaluation regarding whether the haze negatively impacted the campaigning season on the ground, pending discussions in the next House sitting period starting in mid-November.

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Rain brings some respite from haze here

Audrey Tan, The Straits Times AsiaOne 30 Oct 15;

Singapore got some respite from the haze yesterday as changing winds and heavy rain cleared the white pall from the skies.

But experts warn that the relief is temporary, as wind patterns could still turn unfavourable and bring polluted air from the region.

The 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) reading at 6pm yesterday was in the moderate range of 80 to 94 - the first time it had inched out of the unhealthy band since last Friday. At 9am, the three-hour PSI registered a reading of 26 - possibly one of the lowest in recent weeks.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said the improvement was due to widespread showers early in the morning.

Dr Erik Velasco, a research scientist from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, said rain in Sumatra and Kalimantan in Indonesia also helped to slow the fires' intensity and expansion. "More rain is forecast for the following days along large sectors of both islands. If the rain is long and intense, it will help to extinguish the fires," he told The Straits Times.

He said that previous instances of rain had not helped much as they were short and not very intense.

"Only on a few occasions were they capable of reducing the pollution for a few hours, but because the winds were blowing from the south-west and south, the haze quickly returned."

Assistant Professor Winston Chow of the National University of Singapore's geography department said north-easterly winds were the main reason for yesterday's improved conditions.

"The rain helped somewhat in improving air quality, but the northeast instead of southerly winds were more important in blowing the haze away temporarily."

The change in wind direction was due to the current inter-monsoon season.

During this season, winds are very variable, Prof Chow said, and Singapore could experience hazy conditions again if winds revert to a generally southerly direction. The inter-monsoon season is expected to transition into the north-east monsoon in mid-November, and people can expect to breathe easier when this happens, Prof Chow said.

The NEA said that for today, prevailing winds are expected to be weak and blowing from the north-east or east. Thundery showers are also expected in the early morning today.

"Occasional slightly hazy conditions can still be expected and visibility could be slightly reduced if PM2.5 concentration levels are elevated," it said in yesterday's update.

The air quality for today is expected to be in the high end of the moderate range, and could enter the low end of the unhealthy range.

Dr Velasco said: "We are getting close to the north-north-east monsoon onset. Wind direction will fluctuate less and once the main winds come from the north, the haze threat over Singapore will decrease. However, if the fires don't stop, any meteorological anomaly may bring back the haze, and I would recommend following NEA's warnings closely."

- See more at:

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Putting the brakes on haze financing

Today Online 30 Oct 15;

In all the finger-pointing over the transboundary haze, some banks in Singapore have come under the spotlight for allegedly financing the culprits behind Indonesia’s forest fires.

Now the Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS) has a new set of guidelines for banks to incorporate responsible financing practices into their business model. While the guidelines, announced this month, are not specific to the haze, their announcement is timely and commendable.

Currently, banks typically assess their clients’ creditworthiness solely on financial grounds. By broadening the credit-approval criteria to include the client’s social and environmental impact under the new guidelines, it could help prevent irresponsible business practices such as the land-clearing fires that cause the haze.

With this, Singapore is moving beyond intergovernmental cooperation and legal action against companies responsible for the haze. It is exerting influence through its financial institutions, a significant move given its financial hub status in the region.

After all, Singapore is the top foreign investor in Indonesia, according to the Indonesia Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM). From January to September this year, Singapore invested US$3.5 billion (S$4.86 billion) in Indonesia, making up 16.4 per cent of total foreign direct investments.

Financial institutions can make a positive contribution to broader economic growth and stability. As the haze has shown, the economic penalties from environmental damage can be severe and long-lasting with Indonesia estimating that it could be set back by as much as 475 trillion rupiah (S$47 billion).


Singapore has long established itself as a financial hub serving the many rapidly emerging markets in the Asia -Pacific. In the September 2015 Global Financial Centres Index, Singapore came in fourth — behind London, New York and Hong Kong — in terms of global competitiveness.

For a long time, however, the environmental impact of business was rarely a determining factor in whether a local bank approved credit. This contrasts with their international counterparts that consider environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors alongside traditional finance criteria, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)’s report on Sustainable Finance in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia.

The WWF report, launched in May, also showed that Singapore banks fared the worst — compared with Indonesia and Malaysia — for not disclosing the use of ESG in their credit processes. Thus, local banks are often seen as providing easy financing options, exposing financiers to some degree of threat in the form of reputational damage and loan defaults.

This threat is increased when financing high-risk industries such as the agriculture and forestry sector, which is often plagued with controversies such as deforestation, land conflicts and biodiversity loss.

In the case of transboundary haze pollution, large companies and small-scale farmers are often blamed for fires on peatlands that produce dense and acrid smoke. While the use of fires for land clearance is nationally outlawed, they continue to be favoured because they are cheap and effective.

Yet, fires and haze can also destroy crops and lower labour productivity while demanding resources for remedy. This not only harms large companies’ — and by extension their banks’ — branding and image, but could also lead to lower profitability and possible loan defaults.

However, how banks offer credit may change with the new ABS guidelines. It mandates disclosure of senior management’s commitment to responsible financing, the formation of a governing body as well as capacity building for staff on responsible financing. The guidelines also cover ESG issues.

Investors are also increasingly encouraged to consider ESG issues in their decision-making. Last year, the Singapore Exchange announced it will soon be compulsory for listed companies to publish sustainability reports that will include the environmental and social impacts of their businesses.

But Singapore can do more in this area, or risk becoming a destination for companies that cannot meet ESG standards in other parts of the world.

As it is, some Asian countries are moving ahead in implementing sustainable financing. For instance, the Indonesian central bank mandates banks to integrate certain ESG-related factors in their credit-quality assessments while China has adopted “Green Credit Guidelines” to help banks manage environmental and social risks.

Elsewhere, financial institutions are also increasingly looking to adopt international standards such as the Equator Principles — a risk management framework to “determine, assess and manage environmental and social risk in projects”. It offers a minimum standard for screening and is used by around 80 banks and financial institutions to date.

The Transboundary Haze Pollution Act should also compel banks to tighten their lending process. The Act attributes liability to entities that conduct or condone an act that causes or contributes to haze pollution in Singapore. Although it is not clear what constitutes condoning, this could possibly extend to investors and banks that fail to screen and assess investees and borrowers beforehand.


The new ABS rules are just a start. Financial institutions in Singapore can consider adopting a range of short- and long-term measures to strengthen sustainable financing.

First, the ABS could develop an industry-level roadmap that defines expectations for member banks with respect to sustainable lending practices. This will encourage individual banks to adopt a long-term view towards profit-making as they make internal adjustments or reorganisation.

Second, where gaps exist in the current lending guidelines, international standards such as the Equator Principles can play a complementary role. This will strengthen financiers’ risk management.

Third, financial institutions would do well to be more discerning in lending money, especially to clients that fail to meet their ESG standards. Instead, banks and investors should engage these companies to improve on their environmental and social performance before any loan disbursements.

To engage meaningfully, banks can prioritise training on sustainable financing among employees. Employees should be equipped to raise awareness on issues including international certifications — such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, which sets a global standard for sustainable palm oil — and how they will benefit clients.

Fourth, financial institutions can encourage clients from the agriculture and forestry sector to create value through improved management practices. This includes favouring innovations that raise productivity without compromising on environment and human rights. The sustainability bar can be raised by giving priority financing to outstanding firms , for instance.

The imperative to stop the haze is clear. Financial institutions can and should aspire to do more — not only for their own interests but also for the region’s sustainable development.


Lee Chen Chen and Lau Xin Yi are respectively, Director (Policy Programs) and Executive (Sustainability) of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA). This is the final of a three-part series on what governments and corporations can do to tackle the haze. On Nov 23, the SIIA is hosting a public seminar ‘Fighting the haze: Insights from Indonesia’s worst-hit provinces’ where visiting experts and NGOs from Indonesia will share their insights on the haze crisis.

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SE Asia breathes sigh of relief as rains ease smog crisis

Dan Martin AFP Yahoo News 29 Oct 15;

Kuala Lumpur (AFP) - Persistent rains have cleared the air across vast stretches of Southeast Asia that have choked for weeks on hazardous smoke from Indonesian fires, with officials expressing hope Thursday the crisis could soon end.

Parts of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore enjoyed the cleanest air in two months, while affected areas of the Philippines and Thailand also gained a respite from pollution that has sickened hundreds of thousands, disrupted air travel and fuelled anger at Jakarta.

"We can see clouds again!" Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen gushed in a Facebook posting that include a picture of now-unfamiliar blue skies taken from his office.

"I am sure that all of us in Singapore woke up this morning and felt so good that we had clear blue skies again."

Malaysia's top weather forecaster declared the region's rainy season -- crucial to putting out the annual outbreak of smoke-belching Indonesian forest and agricultural fires -- had begun.

"We should have blue skies and no more haze," Che Gayah Ismail, director-general of the country's Meteorological Department, told AFP, adding that any further smoke would be blown away from the region.

The fires and resulting region-wide pollution occur to varying degrees each year during the dry season as vast Indonesian plantation lands are illegally cleared by burning.

- Rains 'welcomed with joy' -

Experts had warned that this year's outbreak was on track to become the worst yet due to bone-dry conditions caused by the El Nino phenomenon, which alters weather patterns across the Pacific basin.

Fears had grown that the rainy season could be delayed for months, prolonging the health and environmental disaster.

Indonesian authorities say 19 people have died either fighting the fires or due to the smoke, and that half a million Indonesians are suffering from respiratory illness.

Indonesian officials are yet to declare that the corner had been turned in the battle against the haze.

But its disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said recent rainfall on the huge islands of Sumatra and Borneo -- where hundreds of fires have smouldered since July -- has dramatically reduced the smoke, and that more precipitation was expected.

Affected communities "welcomed this with joy and said grace after two months of being held captive to haze", Sutopo said in a statement.

The rains there included both natural and artificially induced showers from cloud-seeding, he added.

The semi-annual crisis brings recurring pressure on Indonesia, which has failed over the years to rein in the planters accused of starting the fires.

Jakarta agreed earlier this month to accept international help after failing for weeks to douse the blazes, and has employed dozens of planes and thousands of personnel on the ground in a fire-fighting campaign.

Residents of Palangkaraya, an Indonesian city on Borneo where the intense fires have created eerie yellow skies and unbreathable air, expressed relief at seeing patches of blue up above for the first time.

Schools that were closed for health reasons have begun reopening, and children in uniforms were seen riding bikes without masks.

- 'Finally I can breathe' -

"Finally I can breathe normally," said Suratmini, 34, a Palangkaraya resident who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

"It's good for the children as well because they can go to school."

Environment ministers from the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) met Wednesday and Thursday about the issue in Hanoi.

"The ministers expressed concern over the unprecedented severity and geographical spread of the recent smoke haze affecting various ASEAN countries," a statement afterward said, but no new measures were announced.

But Environment Minister Masagos Zulkifli of Singapore, which has been particularly critical of Indonesia, said Jakarta must do more to punish plantation firms in order to prevent the problem recurring.

He issued a statement calling on Indonesia to release more information on companies suspected in the blazes and the enforcement actions it was taking.

"We need to prevent these companies from starting fires, mismanaging land, and causing harm to people in the region," he said.

Singapore last month launched legal action that could lead to massive fines against Indonesian companies.

The US-based World Resources Institute has said that at their peak the fires were spewing more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere each day than the United States, the world's second-largest emitter of the gases blamed for global warming.

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Malaysia: Clear skies are here again

The Star 30 Oct 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: There were clear skies in many parts of the country with the Department of Environment recording 40 areas with healthy air pollutant index (API) readings and 12 at moderate level.

At noon yesterday, among the areas with healthy readings were Larkin Lama (49); Malacca (48); Petaling Jaya (47); Port Dickson (46); Tanjung Malim (45); Bintulu (44); Miri (43) and Sandakan and Putrajaya (both 40).

Areas with moderate readings included Cheras, Kuala Lumpur (90); Banting (69); Port Klang (63); Bakar Arang, Sungai Petani (58); Kota Kinabalu (55); Pasir Gudang (54); and Seberang Jaya 2, Perai (53).

Meanwhile, Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun spoke on ways to avoid forest burning that caused the haze.

Speaking in Kota Kinabalu at an environmental dialogue organised by the Sabah Environment Protection Department and Natural Resources and Environment Board of Sarawak, he said Indonesia could learn sustainable palm oil planting from parts of east Malaysia, which had similar peat soil conditions.

“Not that I’m being a smart aleck, but I think Indonesia can also learn from Sarawak because Sarawak doesn’t have haze issues,” he said.

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Malaysia: Residents in east coast brace for wrath of floods again

The Star 30 Oct 15;

KUALA TERENGGANU: Residents in the east coast states suffer the wrath of the floods in the year-end monsoon season each year.

Abdul Malik Muhamad, a 39-year-old education technology officer from Tanjung Damai in Gong Badak, here, said the monsoon season brings sleepless nights.

“All we think about is the floods. My children aged two and 10 have started asking me if this year too we will have to put up in a relief centre.

“With the flood come snakes. So, it is better for me to start looking for another place to temporarily stay,” he said yesterday.

Self-employed Haslinda Mohd Zanggi, 44, and her family are not taking any chances.

“I have learnt from past experience. The car is always parked at the raised roadside.”

In KUANTAN, odd-job worker Zulkifli Ismail, 58, said high tide and the heavy rain in December flooded his village, Kam­pung Pasir Garam, making it inaccessible.

“By November, I will pack our essential belongings just in case my family has to move to a relief centre. I usually stay back to make sure nobody burgles our house.”

For keropok seller Roslina Othman, 36, stocking up on food is most important.

Her house is on stilts so while “waves appear in front of my house”, she said the water doesn’t come in.

In GUA MUSANG, Amran Mat, 49, of Kampung Tiong hopes that this year will be more forgiving as his house and belongings were all lost in the floods last year.

“There is nothing we can do but watch our property get washed away. The only way to see this through is with God’s help,” said the farmer with seven children, who have already moved to a relative’s house nearby.

Nik Mat Nik Dasuki, 50, regrets living by the Nenggiri river in Kuala Betis.

He can still remember his house being swept away in half an hour.

Rough seas as north-east winds blow in
The Star 30 Oct 15;

PETALING JAYA: The wet and wild north-east monsoon appears to have swept away most of the haze.

The weather forecast by the Malaysian Meteorological Depart­ment warned of winds up to 50km per hour and waves as high as 3.5m coming from southern Vietnam.

“The winds are expected to last until Tuesday.

“The strong winds and rough sea conditions are dangerous to small boats, and recreational activities at sea,” the department said in a statement on its website.

Thunderstorms have been predicted for Perlis, Kedah, Penang, Perak, Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Negri Sembilan, Malacca, Johor, Pahang, Kelantan, Sarawak and Labuan.

The department added that rain was expected all along the east coast of the peninsula and Sabah next week in the morning followed by thunderstorms in the evening in most parts of the country.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim said the relevant authorities had met yesterday to discuss flood measures.

A total of 5,161 flood relief centres had been made ready and could shelter some 1.5 million victims, he added.

Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek said the Government would help farmers relocate livestock, moveable agricultural produce, machinery and other resources to secure centres if floods hit farms.

Among the worst flood-hit states last year were Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, Perak and Perlis.

Ahmad Shabery said the total losses in the agricultural sector came to RM297.83mil – RM106.8mil for damaged infrastructure and RM152.97mil in lost produce.

Floods and winds wreak havoc in Perak and Terengganu
The Star 30 Oct 15;

PETALING JAYA: The first signs of the monsoon season are here with heavy downpour, floods and landslides wreaking havoc in Pantai Remis in Perak and Batu Burok in Kuala Terengganu.

A total of 118 people from 31 families in four villages in Perak were forced to be evacuated following heavy rains and landslides.

In Terengganu, a severe thunderstorm blew canopies and bamboo sheds off a beachside cultural village at Batu Buruk.

The thunderstorm forced events, held at the beachside early yesterday morning and sche­duled to end tomorrow, to be cancelled.

Traders from as far as Kuala Lumpur, Johor and Pahang, who were selling their products under the canopies and in their bamboo sheds, were seen trying to hold on to their canopies and items, as the storm tore through.

Azizah Rasip, 26, from Pahang, a pet trader at the 2015 Cultural Village Carnival at Pantai Batu Buruk, was distraught after discovering that two of her Lionhead rabbits, which cost about RM500 each, had died while several others were missing after the cages holding them were blown away.

Hasnan Hassan from Kuala Lumpur, a 52-year-old fruit pickle trader, said this was one of the worst storms he had experienced, leaving him over RM700 poorer.

“All of a sudden, things and canopies were flying. One by one, the bamboo sheds started collapsing. Some people ran off, trying to save themselves from getting hurt while others held on to canopies.

“Things happened so fast. It was horrifying. All I could think of was to take shelter as I was worried about my safety,” he said.

The early morning thunderstorm also damaged the ceiling of the porch at the TH Hotel in Gong Badak here.

In Kampung Sungai Batu in Pantai Remis, a downpour at 6pm on Wednesday left a house damaged when a tree fell on it.

Three other houses were also damaged but no one was hurt.

Pantai Remis Fire and Rescue Department Superintendent Amir Ahmad said the affected villages were Kampung Tebuk Yan, Kampung Nelayan Sungai Batu Pantai Tin, Kampung Sungai Batu and Kampung Parit Merican.

A total of 118 people from 31 families from the four villages, have been evacuated to the Kampung Sungai Batu and Kampung Nelayan Sungai Batu Pantai Tin community halls.

The three-hour downpour caused the nearby river to overflow, resulting in flash floods, landslides and uprooting of trees.

Operations to evacuate the flood victims, beginning 6pm on Wednesday continued early yesterday morning.

‘Rain could see rise in dengue’
The Star 30 Oct 15;

WHILE the monsoon season is seen as bringing some respite to the haze plaguing the country, it may be a double-edged sword with the dengue situation, says the Health Ministry.

Deputy Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahaya said the extra rain could cause a rise in the number of dengue cases and the ministry was monitoring the situation closely.

He said if rainwater pooled in many areas, this would increase the number of possible breeding grounds for the Aedes mosquito.

But if the rainfall helped flush drains, this would work against the mosquito and dengue, he said.

“We have seen a drop in the number of dengue cases, from more than 3,000 a week to more than 2,000,” he told reporters at the Parliament lobby yesterday.

He noted that Selangor, mainly the Klang Valley, had many dengue hotspots due to its numerous construction sites.

A total of 94,175 dengue cases and 293 deaths have been recorded nationwide from January till early this month.

According to the ministry, more than half of these cases were in Selangor, followed by Kuala Lumpur (6,194).

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Malaysia: Sharks hunted in Sabah

RUBEN SARIO The Star 30 Oct 15;

KOTA KINABALU: The sight of hundreds of shark fins being dried in the open outside a shop here is further evidence of the marine creature being intentionally hunted down, Sabah Shark Protection Association (SSPA) chairman Aderick Chong said.

Chong, who went to the shop yesterday after receiving photographs of the fins, estimated that they were stripped from at least several hundred sharks.

The fins, he said, were being sold at between RM1,000 and RM1,300 or more depending on their size.

“The sheer number of the fins indicates there is a supply chain from the sea to the shops,” he said in an interview.

He said the large quantity of the fins being displayed in the open also appeared to ignore Sabah’s stand of pushing for shark conservation.

Chong said a shop assistant acknowledged that the shark fins were sourced locally from Sabah but claimed that most of them were old stock dating back to 2010.

“I find that difficult to believe,” Chong said.

Last month, Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek said the Sabah government’s request for a ban on shark hunting and finning in the state was unnecessary.

He said sharks, unlike tuna, were accidentally caught by fishermen in Malaysian waters.

This indicated that shark hunting and the finning industry did not exist in Malaysia.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said the state would respect the Federal Government’s decision not to amend the Fisheries Act and ban shark hunting and finning activities.

He said they would proceed with plans to set up shark protection areas at certain locations in the state.

Previously, Chong had maintained that a law banning the hunting and finning of sharks was just as important as a proposed sanctuary for them in waters off Sabah.

He said Malaysia was now the ninth largest shark producer worldwide, citing wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic reports that 231 tonnes of sharks were caught in this country between 2002 and 2011.

Chong also cited statistics which showed a decreasing amount of sharks being caught each year since 2003, indicating a decline in the population of the marine creature.

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How can Singapore strengthen its food supply chain?

Government-industry partnerships and an emphasis on innovation are key, says National Development Minister Lawrence Wong. For example, 20 farms have benefitted so far from the AVA's S$63 million Agriculture Productivity Fund launched last year.
Liyana Othman Channel NewsAsia 30 Oct 15;

SINGAPORE: An average Singaporean consumes more than 300 eggs, 300 bowls of rice, 70 packs of leafy vegetables, 30 whole fish and 20 whole chickens each year. With more than 90 per cent of Singapore's food imported from 160 countries, the nation is reliant on overseas food sources, increasing its vulnerability to potential disruptions in the global food supply chain.

To safeguard against this, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said on Thursday (Oct 29) that Singapore's food supply chain can be strengthened "through Government-industry partnership and continuous innovation".

For example, the Government is supporting farmers in purchasing technology to boost local production. So far, 20 farms from 17 companies have benefitted from the S$63 million Agriculture Productivity Fund that was launched by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) in August last year.

Besides that, the Government is helping to pilot other industry solutions and perform R&D. AVA, too, is collaborating with food companies to test-bed cold chain systems like advanced freezing systems to reduce food wastage, and exploring how the industry can recycle by-products as value-added food and animal feed.

Food importers should also continue to diversify their overseas food sources, instead of just concentrating on countries within the region to lower cost and simplify logistics, said Mr Wong. This is currently being practiced in the vegetable, fish and egg industries.

"By forging and maintaining close business links with new markets, importers will be better able to rebalance their different sources of supply, should there be any disruptions", said Mr Wong.

"If we continue to ramp up our local production in cost-effective ways, we can become more self-reliant over time. At present, local farmers are producing around 10% of our demand for leafy vegetables. And we can certainly increase this percentage. Because there are technologies that can enable us to raise our local vegetable production greatly," he said.

He cited Sky Greens' vertical rack method which produces at least five times more vegetables per hectare than conventional vegetable farming methods. "Imagine if this happens across all our vegetable farms in Singapore. Then certainly our local produce, which is currently at 10 percent, can increase significantly, and that will go some way in terms of enhancing our resilience and our supply self-sufficiency," Mr Wong added.

The minister encouraged industry players to join food sourcing missions that are currently being conducted by AVA and International Enterprise Singapore (IE Singapore). Said Mr Wong: "These missions have yielded some results - we now enjoy a greater variety of food, including apples from Poland, frozen chicken from Denmark, vegetables from Yunnan in China, as well as pomegranates and persimmons from South Africa."

He also called for the industry to invest in overseas farming, distribution and processing, as well as increase its bargaining power in the region through tapping on third-party logistics service providers.

Mr Wong was speaking at the second Food Industry Convention organised by AVA. Attended by close to 300 industry players, the event acts as a platform for them to discuss how to manage risks and challenges faced by Singapore's food supply chain, as well as improving overall efficiencies.

- CNA/av

Farms tap S$63m fund to boost yields
Melissa Lin, Straits Times AsiaOne 30 Oct 15;

They should press on to invest in automation to further strengthen food security: Minister

They used to pick out the bad eggs by hand, but this was not easy as the defects were like hairline cracks.

But from next month, workers at Seng Choon Farm can leave it to a machine that can go through 120,000 eggs an hour, sorting out bad ones more accurately and efficiently.

The machine of more than $2 million was co-funded by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) through a $63 million fund launched last August to help farms here boost yields and increase productivity.

Some 20 local farms from 17 companies have tapped the fund, said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong yesterday. "If we continue to ramp up our local production in cost-effective ways, we can become more self-reliant over time," he told some 300 food industry players gathered at Orchard Hotel for an AVA convention.

Seng Choon now produces 400,000 eggs per day, and hopes to increase this to 600,000. Its managing director Koh Yeow Koon said a lot of the technology for farming was developed in Western countries with large farms.

"Here, the farms are generally small to medium-scale. It's a steep investment (for us). To use these technologies, we need a helping hand from the Government," he added.

Metropolitan Fishery Group, which is opening a fifth fish farm next year, used the fund to buy movable aerators, machines that increase oxygen in the water. Previously, its farmers went around in speedboats, using the engine to churn the waters.

Its chief executive Malcolm Ong said: "Doing it manually takes up time. With the aerator, we can dedicate more manpower and time to taking care of the fishes."

Yesterday, Mr Wong said Singapore can do a lot more to further strengthen its food security.

Every year, each person here consumes more than 300 eggs, 300 bowls of rice, 70 packs of leafy vegetables, 30 whole fish and 20 whole chickens. Singapore imports more than 90 per cent of its food from 160 countries worldwide.

Mr Wong said food importers should continue to diversify their food sources and invest in overseas farming, distribution and processing. Firms can also pool purchases for more bargaining power.

He said local farms and manufacturers should invest in automation through technology and streamline operations to be more competitive.

This year, Singapore was ranked the second-most food secure country, behind the United States, in the Economist Intelligence Unit's Global Food Security Index. Last year, it was fifth.

Mr Wong said: "This is a significant result, considering our high dependency on food imports. It's a testament to the success of our collective efforts, and an encouragement for us to press on for a food-secure future."

Read more!