Best of our wild blogs: 27 Apr 16

Vitex vestita: A Rare Glimpse in the Shadow of Giants in MacRitchie Forest
Flying Fish Friends

Whale of a time at the Museum
News from Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum

Chafer Beetle By The Corridor (26 Apr 2016)
Beetles@SG BLOG

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Think like a city instead of a state to innovate, consultant urges Singapore

Singapore should think more like a city than a state when exploring how public policies can affect innovation in the economy, says Adrian Brown, executive director of the London- based Centre for Public Impact, speaking of technological disruptions upending all facets of society, including public service.
Soon Weilun, The Business Times AsiaOne 26 Apr 16;

Singapore should think more like a city than a state when exploring how public policies can affect innovation in the economy, says Adrian Brown, executive director of the London- based Centre for Public Impact, speaking of technological disruptions upending all facets of society, including public service.

"You can imagine Singapore setting up a network of virtual hubs of innovation around the world, and that would be a whole new way of thinking about it rather than being just a regional hub," said Mr Brown in an interview with The Business Times earlier this month.

The Centre for Public Impact (CPI) is a not-for-profit foundation founded by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) last June. It seeks to facilitate dialogue among various stakeholders - particularly governments - to help strengthen the effectiveness of public policies and their impact on the public.

The 10-month-old foundation is now in the midst of compiling a report on "hundreds of examples" around the world to see how effective these policies are. It will be published later this year.

For the report, the centre will focus on how policies are designed, how they are implemented, and how much stakeholders agree with the policies.

Singapore will be featured as a case study. CPI has already reached out to tertiary institutions to obtain data and information.

Likely areas of interest for the report include Singapore's transportation, education and rehabilitation, said Mr Brown, who has spent years as a civil servant in the British government and also as a BCG consultant.

Pointing to recent examples of how technology companies are affecting traditional industries, he said he saw public service as "ripe for disruption". Therefore, it is up to governments to decide if they should continue doing things the same way they have been doing, or adapt to remain relevant in an age where economies are becoming increasingly digitised and diversified.

How Singapore views this issue will have a deep impact in the future, as the country has constantly taken pride in its efficient public services, said Mr Brown.

"A government has to think of itself as an innovative engine of the economy, rather than just a provider of public services. This will make it more successful in the decades to come rather than slip behind," he said.

In this sense, Singapore's small size gives it an advantage as its policies can be quickly implemented.

To learn from the best, Mr Brown suggested that the country think of itself more as a city.

Cities are where the most diverse range of economic activities are found, and the best minds and technologies reside, he said. Thus major global cities like New York, London and Tokyo are good counterparts for Singapore to learn from.

In London, for example, there is a surge of interest in artificial intelligence and financial technology, commonly referred to as fintech. Singapore could possibly look into partnerships with the British capital to "unlock similar kinds of entrepreneurship and innovation".

"What makes a successful city is a good question for the next 50 years, and how you ask that question is the biggest determinant of growth, of wellbeing and other aspects of society. Given that Singapore is a city-state, it is well positioned to address that question as much as any other city," said Mr Brown.

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Malaysia vegetable prices set to rise further in Singapore as high temperatures hit supplies

Jerry Tan, Assistant Secretary of the Singapore Fruits and Vegetables Importers and Exporters Association, expects supplies of leafy vegetables to fall as farmers across the border grapple with sizzling temperatures.
Lim Jia Qi Today Online 26 Apr 16;

SINGAPORE: As Malaysia continues to grapple with hot and dry weather, the price of Malaysian greens imported into Singapore looks set to increase further.

Mr Jerry Tan, Assistant Secretary of the Singapore Fruits and Vegetables Importers and Exporters Association, expects prices to go up as the supply of leafy vegetables from Malaysia could drop by about 30 per cent in the coming weeks.

Prices have already been increasing as farmers across the Causeway grapple with the challenging conditions, with temperatures in some places exceeding 37 degrees Celsius. In Singapore, the wholesale cost of vegetables such as chye sim and spinach has doubled since last month and the price of xiao bai cai has increased by half since two weeks ago, said Mr Tan.

"The reasons are because of the hot weather, which is causing those plants not to grow. Production is dropping and demand is going up," he added.

As a result, the rise in import prices is in many cases being passed on to consumers in Singapore. This was reflected in the most recent inflation data, which showed food inflation rose to 2.2 per cent in March from 2 per cent in February. The statement from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) yesterday (Apr 25) said that higher food prices were partly due to weather-related supply disruptions in neighbouring countries.

At a wet market stall in Teck Whye Lane, the price of chye sim imported from Malaysia has increased to around S$2 per kilogram, up from S$1.50 last month. The price of Malaysian-grown spinach has also gone up from S$4.50 per kilogram to S$5.

This is having an impact on consumer demand, according to stall owner Gary Lian, who said that earnings have since dropped by about 20 per cent a day as consumers baulk at the higher prices.

"Every year is like that, when the weather is bad. We started to increase the price two to three weeks ago, we have to cover the cost price."

Sheng Fa, a wet market stall at Ayer Rajah Food Centre and Market, is also starting to feel the pinch. The price of Malaysian-grown xiao bai cai doubled from S$1.30 per kilogram last month to the current S$2.60.

"The supplier told us there are not enough vegetables because the weather is very hot. Our earnings have dropped but we are not suffering a loss," said Mdm Tang, who is the stall assistant.

Supermarket chains seem less affected by the price hike. Prices of vegetables from Malaysia at NTUC FairPrice have remained stable because it uses contract farming, according to Mr Victor Chai, director of fresh and frozen products at its purchasing and merchandising department.

"(Contract farming) supports a stable supply of goods and helps moderate pricing. With contract farming, FairPrice is less vulnerable to sudden price changes due to shortages, for example, caused by the weather in the market. At the same time, contract farming enables us to ensure stronger quality and safety control," said Mr Chai in a statement to Channel NewsAsia.

"We diversify our sources for products so that we can ensure a stable supply and cushion shoppers from price shocks," added Mr Chai.

While prices are going up, some consumers say they have no choice but to absorb the higher cost.

"If it's an additional dollar a day, then it adds up. But we still have to eat. Maybe I just buy (less) vegetables," said housewife Mdm Chua Gek Lang, who was buying supplies at Teck Whye Lane.

"We can't control the weather, there's no choice we still have to eat," added 57-year-old Mdm Tan.

However, there may be some relief in sight, as Mr Tan said that prices of vegetables from China have been dropping and consumers will have greater variety of greens to choose from.

"The weather is getting better in the northern part of China and it's the best time of the production of the year. The volume they are producing is very large, that's why the prices have been coming down."

- CNA/jq

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Malaysia: Firemen to take three to four days to battle Kuala Langat peat fire

C. PREMANANTHINI New Straits Times 26 Apr 16;

SHAH ALAM: Efforts to put out peat fires in Kuala Langat will take about three to four days.

Selangor Fire and Rescue Department assistant director (operations) Mohd Sani Harul said areas such as the Kuala Langat Selatan Forest Reserve, Tanjung Sepat and Banting, are among the identified target areas.

"There are still small fires spotted in these areas and it will take about three to four days to put out the blaze," he said.

Several days ago, parts of the Klang Valley was shrouded in haze due to the forest and peat fires in central Selangor and Pahang.

This was caused by the extreme hot and dry weather brought about by the El Nino phenomenon.

Dept struggling with blazes

KLANG: As if fighting fires in this unforgiving weather is not bad enough, firemen here are working round-the-clock to battle blazes set off by irresponsible individuals at an illegal dumping site as big as eight football fields.

The stench of burning trash and smoke coming from piles of rubbish reaching 9m-high is what Sg Pinang fire station chief Zaidi Aatan and his team are facing daily at Jalan Bukit Kapar, which is near a quarry area here.

The operations began last Saturday with help from other state authorities.

Zaidi’s team, with the help of officers from the Klang Municipal Council, the Klang District Land Office and firemen deployed from the Andalas, Port Klang, Sg Pinang and Kota Raja fire stations have been working to control the situation.

A total of 45 firemen and officers are stationed there during the day while at night, there are 25 of them dousing the smoke from the rubbish piling up here for over two years.

Zaidi said unscrupulous people have been burning several spots at the site to look for scrap metal, with the fires escalating due to the weather.

Zaidi said the operations are divided into two sectors, with each sector as big as four football fields.

“The fire has been going on for almost one week, which is why we are working round the clock to put it out.

“We took three days to put out the fire in sector one and we are aiming to clear sector two by this Friday,” Zaidi told The Star.

He said the smoke and toxic fumes from the fire are harmful to anyone nearby, especially his team.

The team also has to deal with a lack of water source, and have had to resort to using tankers.

“We have three tankers on standby.

“Each tanker can hold up to 20,000 litres of water so we go back and forth to get water from a housing estate, which is about 5km away,” said Zaidi.

Each day, the team needs at least 15 tankers.

Veteran fireman A. Selvarajoo, who has 35 years of service, said the stench was difficult to handle.

“I have experienced putting out many fire but this is difficult because of the smell and the smoke is rather toxic. The water supply is also difficult.”

“It is a tough job but we have to do it,” said the 59-year old.

Helmi Ismail, 26, fears getting buried inside the pile of rubbish.

“I am new to this operation so it is difficult but thanks to the support and advice from my seniors, I can do it,” said Helmi who only joined the Fire and Rescue Department a year ago.

Both are hoping people will be more responsible and not start open fires anywhere.

Firemen brave the heat
NICHOLAS CHENG The Star 27 Apr 16;

BANTING: Stepping into the blazing South Kuala Langat forest reserve is like stepping into a land made of sponge soaked in boiling water.

Open burning by farmers to illegally clear land for business has ignited peat soil here covering an area the size of 43 football fields.

Fire and Rescue Department personnel have been battling the blaze since March 31, and have finally managed to stop the spreading fires with the help of the daily thunderstorms of late.

The fires here have been pegged as one of the contributors to the poor air quality in the Klang Valley recently.

Every morning at 7am, about 45 firemen begin their operation to put out and cut off the fire from spreading even more.

The land clearers started burning right smack in the middle of the forest reserve, some 3.5km off the nearest dirt road.

Firemen, carrying heavy equipment, pumps and hoses have to walk the distance every day before they can even begin their work.

It is scorched earth and flattened land all around the path to the active fire zone.

Even walking becomes difficult as the ground beneath sizzles with embers and spews white smoke – indicating there are still fires smoldering in the peat soil.

Heat radiating from the ground turn the firemen’s journey into a fire-walking challenge. The loose soil makes it difficult for the mens to find their footing.

“It’s very difficult because the fire is breaking out in the middle compartments of the reserve. We had to use excavators to make paths for us to go in and reach the fires.

“The peat soil is also a problem because the fire is not seen on the surface, it’s underground and it can spread very fast. The only way we can put it out is if we totally flood the place,” said Selangor Fire and Rescue Department Zone 5 chief Abu Bakar Abu Kadir.

Officers work non-stop, he said, only taking time to have one meal of simple packed white rice with curry and a drink, before going on until 6pm.

The Forestry Department warned the officers not to work into the night as nocturnal animals may pose a threat to their safety.

However, Abu Bakar said the morale was high in the team, made up of officers from four fire stations, as they are rotated out every three days to keep them fresh.

“This is our job, to do this. Even though it’s hard, we have to keep going,” he said.

Officers have managed to contain the fires within 34 acres (13.75ha) of the reserve by digging water trenches around the blaze and flooding the lands with water.

On April 9, the fires were so bad the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency were called to waterbomb the forest to keep the fires under control.

Abu Bakar said that if the wet weather continues, his men would be able to completely extinguish the fires soon.

He asked the public to refrain from anymore open burning.

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Malaysia: Dying farm fishes -- end of El Nino to resolve problem

NABILA AHMAD The Star 27 Apr 16;

JOHOR BARU: The Fisheries Department is confident that the issue of dying fishes in breeding farms around the country will come to an end when the El Nino phenomenon is over in three months.

The department’s aquaculture development division head Dr Mazuki Hashim said that the department was breeding more aquaculture fish fry, which would be distributed to the farmers, once the weather improves and becomes cooler.

He said due to the hot and dry spell, the water temperature in rivers had risen, which contributed to the dead fishes including puyu, catfish, tilapia, red snapper, jenahak and patin.

“We are in the process of breeding more fish fry and within three months we will be distributing the fry to the affected farms in Perlis, Kedah, Pahang, Perak and Terengganu.

“At the same time, the department has already urged all farmers to move their breeding activities to shady areas and temporarily stop farming activities,” he said.

Meanwhile, Johor Fisheries Department director Munir Mohd Nawi said that fishes in Segamat farms were also affected due to the weather.

“Catfish and snapper were the affected ones but the case is not serious and the department is still closely monitoring the situation,” he said, adding that there were 905 fish breeders in the state.

“There are fish farms located in Batu Pahat, Kluang, Kota Tinggi, Kulai, Tangkak, Mersing, Muar, Pontian and Segamat,” he said.

Munir said this during a press conference after attending the presentation of certificates of participation for mussels cluster project here in Kampung Senibong last Tuesday.

During the event, a total of 25 local fishermen received the certificates and became the pioneers in the programme.

On April 7, Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek announced that the El Nino phenomenon has caused losses totalling RM6.9mil in fish farming activities since January.

He said the affected fishes are those that breed in fresh and brackish water cages as well as in ponds.

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Malaysia: Resources ‘drained’ to cope with water shortage

The Star 27 Apr 16;

KUANTAN: The water shortage in Felda Chini, Pekan, has become so severe that residents are resorting to collecting water from a drain.

Settler Rasli Jaafar, 44, said he has no choice but to look for alternative sources of water, seeing that the disruption has been going on for two weeks.

“The residents in Chini 1 go to a nearby well but about 100 people are sharing the supply there now.

“We found there is water flowing from the hill but the problem is that it goes into a drain,” he said yesterday.

Rasli said so many residents were trying to get the drain water that he has heard of quarrels starting because of the rush.

“Someone has fixed a pipe to the drain but I hope we can make a catchment area so that everyone can share.

“Of course I am worried about health problems and that is why I am buying drinking water for my family.

“There are many residents here who have young children and those with the means buy bottled water,” said Rasli who has a wife and a four-year-old daughter.

He said that Pengurusan Air Pahang Bhd (PAIP) had sent static tanks and water tankers but only to certain areas in the settlement.

“We live on higher ground and PAIP has not sent us any water so far. I hope PAIP can at least put a water tank in our area and top it up regularly,” said Rasli.

PAIP public relations officer Nurul Farhana Abdul Hamid said the number of affected account holders in Chini has improved, dropping from 2,500 to 2,000 accounts yesterday.

She said PAIP was still providing 23 static tanks and water tankers to five areas in Chini.

Besides Chini, there were 1,000 account holders facing water disruption in Lipis and another 360 in Temerloh, she said.

It was understood that the level of Sungai Mentiga, which supplies raw water to the Chini treatment plant, has dropped drastically.

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Indonesia: WWF initiates green economy in Kalimantan conservation area

Severianus Endi Jakarta Post 25 Apr 16;

Conservation group World Wildlife Fund ( WWF ) branches in Indonesia, Japan and Malaysia are collaborating with local administrations in Kalimantan to initiate a green economy scheme in the Heart of Borneo, the island’s rain forest conservation area.

The NGO-government collaborative program will run from this year through to 2019.

West Kalimantan-chapter WWF Indonesia program manager Albert Tjiu said as the first stage of the program, the conservation group was identifying the activities of people living in forest areas in Kapuas Hulu regency, West Kalimantan, that could be the targeted by the program.

“People living in areas around the forest must be empowered so that they still can benefit from natural resources while at the same time, continue to pay close attention to the sustainability of their environment. This is what we call a green economy,” Albert told

To realize the plan, WWF branches in the three countries, supported by the International Climate Initiative ( ICI ) from Germany’s Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety, launched the Green Economy in the Heart of Borneo program in Putussibau, Kapuas Hulu, on April 19.

Kapuas Hulu, which covers 29,842 square kilometers, is the upstream area of 14 regencies and municipalities in West Kalimantan. It is more than 800 kilometers away from the province’s capital, Pontianak. Kapuas Hulu has two conservation areas, namely Betung Kerihun and Danau Sentarum national parks.

“The green economy program will be focused on the southern part of Kapuas Hulu, which includes seven districts. In the program, WWF and its project associates in Kalimantan local administrations will provide assistance to small business owners for the development of prime commodities, such as rice, rubber and forest honey,” said Albert.

All areas in Kapua Hulu regency are part of the Heart of Borneo, a conservation program initiated by three countries, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam, which was initiated in 2007. The Heart of Borneo is a 220,000 square kilometer rainforest area that spans the three countries. In Indonesia, the Heart of Borneo covers four provinces, namely Central, East, North and West Kalimantan.

Kapuas Hulu regent AM Nasir said since 2003, the regency had declared itself a conservation regency. More than a half of the regency is covered by forest.

“I hope all NGOs working here can directly address the basic needs of the people so that they can feel the benefits of the program within a short period of time,” said Nasir, adding that Kapuas Hulu was still categorized a disadvantaged region.

WWF says the Green Economy program aims to integrate greenhouse gas emission reduction, biodiversity conservation, environmentally friendly economic development, the improvement of local people’s livelihoods and the development of industries such as ecotourism.

The program will be carried out in Kapuas Hulu in West Kalimantan and Sri Aman and Kapit, two areas in Sarawak, Malaysia.

Along with the Green Economy program, the West Kalimantan-chapter of WWF Indonesia is finishing its forest restoration program in Kapuas Hulu, which began in 2010. The restoration program, which is aimed at enriching food sources for orangutans, mobilizes people to plant trees over an area spanning around 1,000 hectares.

WWF West Kalimantan program officer Hendrizias Mono said the program managed to restore around 791 hectares of land in five villages in Batang Lupar district. Almost 80 percent of forest fruits consumed by people were part of the tradition diet of orangutans. ( ebf )

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Indonesia: National antigraft agency involvement helps to improve forest governance: UNDP

Edo Karensa Jakarta Globe 26 Apr 16;

Jakarta. The involvement of the national antigraft agency in monitoring forest practices in Indonesia has helped to improve governance in the industry, the United Nations Development Program said.

The Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) started its involvement in forest industry monitoring in 2015 under the auspices of the National Movement for Saving Natural Resources, after signing a memorandum of understanding with 12 ministries and government institutions.

UNDP Indonesia technical adviser Abdul Wahib Situmorang said the KPK had introduced a holistic approach to improve the forest governance in 13 provinces, especially around the issues of irregular permits and taxation.

Abdul said that during 2015, the antigraft agency monitored the practices of forest business permit reviews and tax collection from corporations and noted that it was also important to dig deeper into cases of corruption in the forestry industry.

"When there is an indication of suspicious forest business permits, corruption or tax manipulation, the findings should be handed over to law-enforcement institutions," he said in Jakarta on Tuesday (26/04).

UNDP forestry expert Hariadi Kartodihardjo said the KPK's presence has pushed regional governments to re-collect the data of forestry corporations in each region and map the tax revenue potentials.

The KPK predicted that the state loses out on around $1.2 billion in tax revenue annually from forestry and mining activities across the country. Another $2.6 billion is believed to be lost due to illegal logging each year.

"My findings show that many regional government agencies are uncertain of their tax-revenue targets from the forest industry. They don't even know how corporations are operating in their area and their data are mostly incomplete," Hariadi told reporters.

The UNDP's 2015 Forest Governance Index showed that 48 percent of respondents saw improvements in law-enforcement measures in the forest industry compared to last year.

Yet, 32 percent said the laws are still stagnant, while another 20 percent believed there were setbacks.

The survey also showed that 82 percent of respondents believe authorities managed and responded positively to their complaints related to forestry issues, while 9 percent stated that the situation was still stagnant. Another 9 percent believed the situation was getting worse.

The Forest Governance Index surveyed local residents, businessmen, civil society, academics and government representatives.

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60 million people worldwide hit by El Nino: UN

AFP Yahoo News 27 Apr 16;

Geneva (AFP) - Some 60 million people worldwide need assistance due to havoc wreaked by the El Nino climate phenomenon, but a shortage of funding could threaten the delivery of life-saving aid, the UN warned Tuesday.

"The numbers are truly alarming," UN humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien told reporters in Geneva.

The El Nino effect, which comes with warming sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific, causes heavy rains in some parts of the world and drought elsewhere.

The 2015-2016 El Nino was one of the most powerful on record, and has caused significant damage across 13 countries across Africa, Asia, Central and South America and the Pacific, sending malnutrition levels spiralling and leading to greater spread of diseases.

In addition to the some 60 million people directly affected by El Nino, "there will be millions more who are at risk," O'Brien said, following a meeting in Geneva with representatives of affected countries and aid organisations.

Floods and failed rains caused by El Nino have sparked a dramatic rise in the number of people going hungry in large parts of Africa, with some 32 million people in the southern part of the continent alone in need of some form of assistance.

Ethiopia, which is experiencing its worst drought in half a century, is considered "ground zero" in the crisis, with some 10 million people in need of aid, Care International Secretary General Wolfgang Jamann said.

But getting aid to all those in need is no easy task.

The UN estimates that at least $3.6 billion is required to meet critical needs for food and agricultural support, as well as health and emergency water and sanitation needs linked to El Nino, and O'Brien warned that figure was likely to rise.

But even if the needs remain stable, less than half of what is required -- only $1.4 billion -- has been provided.

"So far what has been raised is far short of what we need," he said, cautioning that "lifesaving programmes, including the food pipeline in Ethiopia, are at risk of being cut short."

"We have weeks, not months to get this right."

Making matters worse, the communities still reeling from the impact of El Nino are likely to get slammed again later this year by a return swing of the pendulum with its opposite number, La Nina.

In addition to providing desperately needed aid, the world should now be preparing for La Nina, which is characterised by unusual cool ocean surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific, said the UN's Izumi Nakamitsu.

"If La Nina happens, the local community level coping mechanism is already quite low, because they have been coping with El Nino impact," she told reporters.

"So when that hits, the community will be again devastated, and possibly even much worse," she said.

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