Best of our wild blogs: 2 May 16

Coral Spawning in Singapore: A Natural Wonder
Hantu Blog

Annual departure of "future" coral babies (27042016 & 28042016)
Psychedelic Nature

Mass coral spawning in Singapore 2016
wild shores of singapore

Blue-winged Pitta (Pitta moluccensis) @ Tanjong Katong
Monday Morgue

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Food Bank collects 60 tonnes of unused food a month

Boey Lye Weng, The New Paper AsiaOne 2 May 16;

The Food Bank Singapore was founded in 2012 by siblings Nichol and Nicholas Ng. It operates as a bank for companies or individuals to donate their unused or unwanted food.

The food is then assessed for quality and redistributed to the needy through 160 member charity organisations.

Beneficiaries include family service centres, voluntary welfare organisations, various homes, soup kitchens and needy individuals.

The siblings also run a family business, FoodXervices, which distributes more than 4,000 products to food and beverage and hospitality companies.

It was through this business that they learned how much food was wasted. Ms Ng, 37, tells The New Paper on Sunday that The Food Bank Singapore collects an average of 60 tonnes of food per month for redistribution.

The bank does not redistribute expired products or any products past its "use-by" date.

Donors have the option of dropping off excess food with at least four weeks of shelf life at the following locations:

The Food Bank Singapore's warehouse at Tanjong Pagar Distripark

Bank boxes located at City Square Mall, Sentosa Cove, VivoCity, National University of Singapore, The Grandstand, Parkway Parade and Liang Court.

For more information, visit

Food wastage on the rise, but F&B companies not keen to donate
Boey Lye Weng, The New Paper AsiaOne 2 May 16;

Singapore generates 788,600 tonnes of food waste.

This means each Singaporean contributes about 146kg of food waste yearly, based on figures released by the National Environment Agency in 2014.

The amount has increased by 48 per cent in the past decade.

Households, supermarkets, catering and bakery businesses all contribute to this situation.

Food waste is generated daily through our food cycle: production, distribution, retail and consumption.

"Wastage occurs due to various reasons such as food spoilage due to improper storage or handling, edible food discarded due to blemished appearances, and when individuals overestimate their appetites," says Mr Eugene Tay, executive director of Zero Waste SG.

He says because Singapore is relatively more affluent and there are more food choices available, people end up buying more than they can consume.

Despite the wastage, food and beverage companies are not so keen to donate excess and unsold food.

This could be because of food poisoning and legal liability issues, says lawyer Luke Lee, 63.

"The party providing the food item may be liable in court. Though the chances of them being liable for damages is not high, you can't discount that possibility," he says.

Unused food sold for a token sum by charity initiative
Boey Lye Weng, The New Paper AsiaOne 2 May 16;

If everything at the grocery store is just $1, you can bet customers will raid the pantry.

And that happened on April 25 at The Food Pantry. But the store, smaller than a three-room flat, is a grocery business with a difference.

The Food Pantry is a project of Food Bank Singapore, a charity initiative started by two siblings who wanted to tackle the problem of food waste here.

The bank takes donations of unused food from food and beverage companies and then distributes the items to the needy.

Whatever is leftover is not left to waste. Instead it ends up at the Pantry and each item is sold for $1.

The money is then used to cover overheads.

Last Monday, the pantry opened for the first time and people streamed in immediately.

By noon, 80 per cent of the goods were gone - just three hours after the store's opening.

Ms Nichol Ng of The Food Bank Singapore says she was surprised by the turnout.

"We didn't expect The Food Pantry to pique so many people's interest. We are definitely happy that many are receptive to buying these foods despite their shorter shelf life," says Ms Ng, whose designation is chief food officer.

And that is the catch with items at the Pantry - they generally have a shelf life of around two months.


Ms Ng says: "Redistributing the food for free to the underprivileged remains our main priority.

"When certain items are rejected by the beneficiaries or if the shelf life is short, then will we consider stocking them at The Food Pantry to give it a last shot at having a chance to be consumed instead of instant disposal."

Ms Ng hopes to change attitudes with The Food Pantry.

She says consumers tend to pick up the best-looking items with the longest shelf life.

"If you intend to use the stuff tomorrow, you don't need a year-long shelf life. Help to use up the products with shorter shelf life first before it ends up in the dumpsters," she says.

Residents in the area had heard of the plan to sell short shelf-life items for $1 and were eagerly waiting for its opening.

The customers were mainly middle-aged and elderly citizens, with a handful of people in their late 20s.

The Food Pantry is hoping to include perishable items next, if people are comfortable paying for items with short shelf life and some defects.

Meat will only be introduced if there is proper storage and refrigeration to ensure that the quality is not compromised.

What expiration dates really mean

Would a can of beans go bad immediately after hitting the use-by date?

Not necessarily, says Dr Leong Lai Peng.

The senior lecturer at National University of Singapore's Food Science & Technology Programme says some food still tastes good after expiry dates.

She says: "It is certainly not a magical date when the food will suddenly turn bad the day after."

So what does it mean when the packaging says "best if used by"?

Dr Leong explains some of the more common terms:

What the terms mean

Sell by and manufacture date

Meant for retailers and manufacturers for stock control.

Pack date

For manufacturers to know when the item was packed.

Best if used by

Quality is peak before this date. Quality includes taste, texture and aroma.

Guaranteed fresh

A guarantee that the product tastes fresh by this date.

Use by

You are encouraged to use this product by this date for maximum enjoyment and quality.

Food safety tips

Whether before or after the expiry date, look out for clues that the food has gone bad. The clues include inflated packaging caused by gases produced by bacteria and a bad odour.
Store food at the recommended conditions. For example, the storage temperature before and after opening. If the advice is to consume foods within a stipulated number of days after opening, you should also observe that.
Handle with care. This includes maintaining the cold chain for cold foods. For food that is fragile, be gentle.
Don't dent cans as damaging the packaging is similar to opening them. Once opened, the packaging does not protect the food.
Do not thaw and refreeze food. Similarly, don't leave chilled foods out at room temperature for too long. Take out what you need and put the rest back in the fridge.
For food to be consumed over a period of time, use a clean and dry serving spoon to scoop out a portion. Do not eat directly from the packaging and then put it back in the fridge.

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APP should focus on preventing peatland fires, pay for damage

Today Online 2 May 16;

I thank Mr Jose Raymond for his letter “APP committed to stopping haze and zero deforestation” (April 27), which was a response to my earlier letter “Tackling new mills a key way to stop the haze at source” (April 23).

In his letter, Mr Raymond acknowledged the link between land clearance and the production of forest commodities, and cited Asia Pulp and Paper’s (APP) Forest Conservation Policy to defend the company’s new OKI mill in South Sumatra. But he did not address any of our concerns in detail. First, Mr Raymond suggested that part of the new mill’s supply will come from increased yields in existing plantations. However, he did not provide evidence that yields can improve sufficiently to catch up with APP’s 50 per cent increase in wood demand with the new OKI mill.

Second, Mr Raymond said APP is conducting research to identify new plant species that can thrive in wet peatland conditions. But the OKI mill is scheduled to start operations this year, and how much any new species will actually contribute to APP’s supply remains unclear.

Third, Mr Raymond said APP is supporting communities to reduce poverty and to provide them with alternative livelihoods. Yet, APP continues to blame communities for setting fires, and social conflict remains a major issue that APP has yet to properly address.

Fourth, Mr Raymond suggested that part of the woodchip supply may come from plantations outside Indonesia without specifying these potential suppliers.

In summary, APP’s response largely repeats the old and vague messages that have been refuted by the joint report released on April 20 by 12 international and Indonesian non-governmental organisations (NGOs), “Will Asia Pulp & Paper default on its zero deforestation commitment?”.

The transboundary haze suffered by the people of Singapore last year was largely due to peatland fires on APP’s concessions. Although there is no official cost estimate of the damage caused by these fires, it is definitely a very significant figure.

The joint NGO report conservatively estimated that fires on APP’s concessions in South Sumatra alone generated 197 million tonnes of emissions in 2015. Estimating the price of carbon at US$20 (S$27) per tonne CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent), APP would need to pay US$4 billion.

Why is APP not focusing on fire prevention and paying for the damage first before further expanding production? Even without fire, carbon-rich peatland releases carbon dioxide when it is drained for acacia (paper) plantations. For each five-year cycle of acacia plantation on peatland, the emission is roughly the same as clearing a forest with an area five times that of the plantation. This also applies to other pulp and paper companies that grow acacia on peatland, such as APRIL Group.

The Indonesian peatland restoration agency has encouraged pulp and paper companies to switch to species suitable for wet peatlands. Although this may reduce the yield of pulpwood in the short term, it is a mandatory step to create a long-term solution to haze and climate change.

APP working with stakeholders as part of its forest conservation policy
Today Online 5 May 16;

We thank Mr Chris Cheng for his letter “APP should focus on preventing peatland fires, pay for damage” (May 2) and will address the specific concerns he raised.

He cited a lack of evidence showing that yield from our existing plantations and new species being developed will meet the full demand of the new OKI mill in South Sumatra.

As I had set out in an earlier reply, “APP committed to stopping haze and zero deforestation” (April 27), this point is immaterial.

We have pledged firmly, as part of our forest conservation policy, to never use natural forest fibre in our mills. The mill will run on available supply of plantation fibre; if that supply is inadequate, we will adjust production accordingly. Since we made our zero-deforestation commitment, in February 2013, to stop using natural forest fibre in our production, we have not deviated from it.

Mr Cheng asked that we specify our potential woodchip sources in the event of any shortfall in supplies from our plantations. This is business-sensitive information that would give our competitors a commercial advantage if disclosed publicly. As far as we are aware, even sustainability reporting guidelines do not request companies to mandatorily report potential suppliers.

On the issue of peatlands, we are following the guidance set by the Indonesian government, and we are supporting the Peatland Restoration Agency to establish ecosystem restoration models.

With regard to communities, it is well established that slash-and-burn practices used by unauthorised parties and some smallholders are a cause of fires. Some smallholders resort to this mostly owing to a lack of choice: They do not have access to more sophisticated methods of land clearance.

In attempting to tackle one of the main causes of forest fires, we will continue working with communities to educate and support them in alternative methods of land clearance and to find them alternative sources of living through our agro-forestry programmes.

Likewise, we are working to establish an inclusive framework to help resolve social conflicts between stakeholders in the landscape — a key pillar of our forest conservation policy.

Fire prevention, in the context of landscape-level forest conservation, remains a priority. So far, we have invested US$20 million (S$27 million) in fire prevention and suppression efforts following last year’s haze episode. Tackling fires, however, must be part of a wider strategy to protect the environment and empower communities, as the underlying causes of fires and deforestation are similar: Peatland degradation, slash-and-burn agriculture, illegal encroachment and land conflict.

A long-term solution to fires can be found only by addressing these issues, which is what we have been doing with our partners for the last three years as part of our forest conservation policy.

I invite Mr Cheng to work with us in finding long-term solutions to the challenges discussed.

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Malaysia: Remapping of water resources in Johor opens up opportunities for alternatives

BERNAMA New Straits Times 2 May 16;

BATU PAHAT: A remapping of the types of water resources available in Johor needs to be done before any exploration of underground water source is conducted in the state government’s efforts to find long term alternative water resources in the state.

The move is in line with the state government’s efforts to draft a water supply development plan for 50 years, which is seen to solve the water problems faced due to the extreme and erratic global weather conditions lately.

Water and Environmental Engineering Department lecturer at the Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Universiti Tun Hussein Onn Malaysia (UTHM), Dr Mohamad Faizal Tajul Baharuddin said the remapping was required to get accurate data on potential sources for water.

“The last mapping by the Johor Department of Mineral and Geoscience was carried out over 15 years ago, and it was only the data for a particular area and not a comprehensive report.

“Therefore, it is appropriate to re-do the mapping to identify areas in the state where there is potential for underground water,” he told Bernama in an interview here recently.

Mohamad Faizal, who has eight years of experience in the exploration of underground water, had previously accompanied his Head of Department Dr Mohd Adib Mohammad Razi along with several other lecturers in the faculty to help several areas in Kelantan to tap underground water on a small scale, for the use of local residents.

“The remapping of water resources throughout Johor is estimated to take around six months, and could cost up to RM500,000,” he said.

According to him, the potential of underground water as a source was huge, as there was a very large quantity of clean water available, now expected to be in excess of what was once mentioned in studies by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

In 1982, JICA reported that Malaysia was estimated to have about 5,000 billion cubic metres of underground water reserves, which remained untapped.

“However, our country up to now has used only three percent of the total, which is mostly for small and medium industries, and agriculture activities like aquaculture,” said Mohamad Faizal.

Currently, only Kelantan uses groundwater resources as its main water source covering more than 70 per cent of the state, he said.

Mohamad Faizal said the groundwater management model run by Syarikat Air Kelantan Sdn Bhd (AKSB) should be reviewed and made into a ‘case study’, in addition to making improvements in terms of using more modern technologies, as well as the involvement of experts from within the country and abroad.

“For example, a well field in Kampung Putih, Kelantan, which has about 10 to 18 tube wells, is capable of delivering approximately 36,000 cubic metres of water per day to 3,000 to 5,000 people,” said the principal investigator at the Research Centre for Soft Soil at the university.

He said based on Johor’s terrain, groundwater resources were available through two of four types of aquifers that store water, namely alluvium, limestone, meta-sediment, and granite.

“In Johor, the groundwater resources are often found in soil near sandy beaches (alluvium) or meta-sediments. However, what’s important is to ensure the quality and quantity of underground water is good, exploration should be done deep into the ground, up to about 200 or 300 metres,” he said.

He added that in Kelantan, the exploration of underground water was done up to about 150 to 170 metres deep.

Mohamad Faizal, however, acknowledged the cost of dredging was expensive, and that Malaysia did not yet possess the technology required to do it.
Therefore, he said the development of local technology was very welcome.

Meanwhile Mohd Adib said UTHM had the expertise in terms of detecting potential underground water, and in this case, cooperation with foreign researchers could be beneficial not only to the state of Johor, but even the country.

Thus, both the lecturers concurred that the negative perception by certain parties towards underground water or its exploration as orthodox methods should be discarded, as it is still a viable and practicle solution. -- Bernama

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Malaysia: Ground zero of the water crisis

Ray Yeh Channel NewsAsia 2 May 16;

BUKIT MERAH, Perak: Sporadic light rain brought on by cloud seeding might have provided folks in peninsular Malaysia reprieve from the unbearable heat, but it has done little to alleviate the country's water crisis.

At the heart of the crisis are Malaysia’s 41 dams and reservoirs, some of which are fast drying up, especially in the northern states of Perak, Penang, Kedah and Perlis.

While El Nino is to blame for wreaking havoc on weather patterns and causing the drought, some environmentalists claim that excessive deforestation and mismanagement of the dams are equally responsible for the severe water shortage the Southeast Asian country is currently facing.


The district of Kerian in the northern part of Perak is known as the “rice bowl” of the state, with a long history of paddy farming. A total of 23,705 hectares of land in this area are used for rice plantation.

However, Kerian has lately been making news in Malaysia - not for the district’s unique agricultural heritage, but for the trouble farmers in this rice bowl state find themselves in, as extreme temperatures and dry lands have delayed the start of the planting season.


The area’s main water source for agricultural and domestic use is Bukit Merah Dam, also known as Bukit Merah Lake. It was built more than a century ago in 1906, making it Malaysia’s oldest dam.

Here, normal storage level for full water supply is 8.7m, but water level in the dam has been hovering at around 6m in recent weeks, with a storage balance of below 20 per cent, way below the "danger" level of 40 per cent.

As a result, the Perak state government had decided to stop supplying water to the rice fields to focus on domestic users. They also estimate that if the dry spell continues, the lake will completely dry up in about a month.


Hit hard by the drought, large expanses of Kerian’s paddy fields have been lying unattended in the scorching heat for more than three months. The once lush landscape has been reduced to patches of brown rice straws and mud cracks.

Close to 1,800 farmers have missed the new planting season that was slated to begin in January. It is uncertain how much longer they have to wait, despite the decision last week by the Drainage and Irrigation Department to release water from the dam in phases to help irrigate the dry paddy fields.

Even with sufficient water, “paddy seeds can’t be planted yet because they will die due to the extreme temperature”, said Mr Abu Bakar, a supervisor at one of the rice fields.

“Temperature plays an important role in farming. I estimate I’ll have to wait for another two weeks (before planting).”

The months-long delay and its domino effects will result in millions lost in combined income.


Water rationing will be imposed in Kerian by the state if the Bukit Merah Dam level hits the critical 5.18m mark, affecting up to a quarter of a million residents in the area.

However, Malaysia’s National Water Services Commission (SPAN) wants it to be done immediately. “Why wait and risk the livelihood and welfare of the people? The dam may dry up and we cannot predict when this drought will end,” said SPAN commissioner Dr N Marimuthu recently after visiting the Bukit Merah lake.

“Water rationing will make the people aware that there is a water crisis, and they should avoid wastage.”


Bukit Merah Laketown Resort is a popular tourist attraction built right next to the dam, consisting of hotels and theme parks. Water activities came to a halt since the lake near the resort dried up.

Columns and foundation of the main jetty are left exposed, as well as stilts on which water chalets stand.

Not far from the resort, nestled in the lake, is the Orang Utan Island, which has become inaccessible to visitors due to the shallow water.

“Actually every year we have this situation, but not this bad,” said Ms Noor Haslina, a guest service officer.

“In 15 years, I think this is the worst. Last year the boats still can go to the island, but now you cannot go using normal boat, you need to kayak.”

For the past three weeks, staff has been rowing canoes to ferry food and medicine for the 24 orangutans living on the island.

Formerly known as Pulau Panjang, the 14-hectare site also houses research and education facilities on the endangered primate.

“We receive lots of phone calls asking us when we are going to open the island, but we cannot tell them,” said Ms Haslina. “We don’t know, it depends on the rain, on nature.”


The current El Nino episode, which began last year, has been one of the strongest ever, smothering vast regions in a months-long heat wave. Economic losses in Southeast Asia could top US$10 billion, according to research firm Global Insight.

However, Mr Afandi Ahmad, secretary of Malaysia’s Environmental Activists Association (Kuasa), said that the water shortage can also be attributed to other man-made factors.

“We have been telling them you will face this problem if you carry on deforestation upstream,” said the 57-year-old, referring to the almost empty Bukit Merah Lake.

“A lot of reserved land around the lake, which is supposed to absorb more water when it rains, is now used to plant oil palm, so the land won’t absorb water anymore, all the rain will just push off.

“And Bukit Merah itself is not what it was supposed to be. When it is rainy season the water level should be brought up so that we can keep more water. But when they started building the resort, no matter how much it rains, they cannot raise the water level, because they have to protect the buildings in the resort,” Mr Afandi said.

“So when it rains, the water would flow away and they will suffer floods. When it is dry season, the water which is meant for paddy plantation is used to help the resort maintain the water for their activities. So the priority of the dam is now the resort. They have misused the purpose of the dam.”


The state government revealed in late April they have plans to upgrade the 110-year-old dam to increase capacity of the reservoir.

“With the upgrading ... the quantity of water the dam can hold will increase from 79 million m³ to 109 million m³, a 38 per cent increase in water catchment,” said Perak’s State Infrastructure, Public Utilities, Water and Energy Committee Chairman Zainol Fadzi Paharudin.

But for now, most ordinary folks can only wait and pray - for the rain to come and the drought to finally end.

It’s bleak for Bukit Merah Dam
The Star 2 May 16;

BAGAN SERAI: Encroachment into the more than 200ha of forest reserves that is a buffer zone around the Bukit Merah reservoir is believed to be one of the factors affecting the water catchment area at the Bukit Merah Dam.

Bagan Serai MP Dr Noor Azmi Ghazali said the intrusion, especially at Kampung Selamat and Pondok Tanjung forest reserve, had been happening for the past few years and was primarily used for agricultural purposes.

“This buffer zone is to store water for the dry season, and when the Bukit Merah Dam level recedes, water from here will flow into the reservoir.

“The encroachment has affected the ecosystem. Sedimentation has made the lake shallow, and heavy rain leads to flooding, because the trees which were meant to act as the buffer have been cut,” he told reporters after visiting the encroached areas with Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM).

The Bukit Merah Dam supplies water to over 22,000ha of padi fields in the Kerian district, and is the source of drinking water for over 200,000 people, including the industrial needs in Kamun­ting, Taiping.

According to Noor Azmi, who is also Bagan Serai Agriculture Development chairman, measures of cloud seeding and upgrading the Bukit Merah reservoir would be in vain, if the encroachment issue was not addressed.

“I have requested the Govern­ment to reserve this site for environmental remediation and to keep it as a watershed,” he said.

SAM researcher Meor Razak Meor Rahman said several areas in Pondok Tanjung and Kampung Selamat previously used to supply water to the reservoir here, had been encroached.

He claimed that his organisation found about 1,400ha of the Pondok Tanjung forest reserve degazetted for breeding Boer goats. – Bernama

Pahang MB orders probe into claims logging is cause for Sungai Pahang’s low water level
The Star 1 May 16;

KUANTAN: Pahang Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob (pic) has ordered relevant government departments and agencies to immediately investigate allegations that the main cause for Sungai Pahang becoming shallow and dry was due to excessive logging in Hulu Tembeling.

Adnan said the probe was to determine whether the drop in the water level was caused by logging or attributed to other factors such as extreme hot weather due to the El Nino phenomenon currently sweeping the country.

"We cannot say that only Sungai Pahang is drying up because other rivers are also going dry.

"Indeed (no doubt) one of the reasons for Sungai Pahang going dry is due to the clearing of forest for agriculture, logging and as we know there is the construction of the Tekai and Jelai hydro dams going on in the region ... Nevertheless, we will ask the technical department to give a full and accurate report," he said.

Adnan was speaking to reporters after participating in a charity golf event between the Mentri Besar's team and the alumni of Sekolah Menengah Sains Sultan Ahmad Shah at the Mahkota Golf and Country Club, here Sunday.

Hewas commenting on a recent report about Sungai Pahang's shallow and dry state being attributed to rampant logging activities.

He also said that the water supply problems in some districts in the state such as Temerloh, Lipis, Bera and Raub was due to old pipes besides the water intake point being dry.

In another development, Adnan said the state government through Yayasan Pahang will provide "one off" assistance to 150 students from the International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM), Gombak campus.

Besides students from Pahang, the aid will also be given to students from other states as a sign of concern from the state government and out of respect to Sultan Ahmad Shah as IIUM's constitutional head and its rector Prof Datuk Seri Dr Zaleha Kamaruddin, who also hails from Pahang.

The charity golf tournament was held to raise funds to help national golfer Shaaban Hussin, 36, who was involved in a road accident while on the way from his house in Kota Damansara to Shah Alam, last Thursday.

Adnan said RM150,000 had been collected from the tournament and that the amount was expected to increase to RM200,000 with contributions from state companies and individuals, and he himself would hand over the donation to Shaaban next week. – Bernama

Pahang MB orders probe into claims that logging affected Sg Pahang water level
NOR AIN MOHAMED RADHI New Straits Times 1 May 16;

KUANTAN: Pahang Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Adnan Yaakob has ordered technical agencies to immediately investigate reports that the critical drop in the Sungai Pahang water level was caused by excessive logging and land clearing, particularly in Hulu Tembeling.

“I have read the report in the newspapers, which to me was fair.

"I have called for an immediate investigation by the technical agencies over the matter,” he said after a charity golf event between the Menteri Besar team and the alumni of Sekolah Menengah Sains Sultan Ahmad Shah here today.

He said it was not fair to say that only Sungai Pahang is experiencing a critical drop in water level when the country is experiencing extreme hot weather due to El-Nino.

“I am not living in denial, but that is the fact. But at the same time I also did not deny the fact that land clearing for oil palm cultivation and logging had taken place there alongside hydroelectric project in Jelai and Tekal.

“We must be fair too by allowing an investigation to take place before any conclusion could be made,” he said. Recently, it was reported Sungai

Pahang’s shallow state is being attributed to a number of factors including logging, clearing of land for oil palm cultivation and soil erosion.

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Malaysia: Firemen battling to put out peat fires

The Star 2 May 16;

DUNGUN: Firemen here are still busy trying to extinguish the peat fires in Dungun and Setiu.

The state Fire and Rescue Department public relations office Rozizah Abni Hajar said fire fighters were still doing their best to put out the peat fires at Pengkalan Jering in Dungun and Bukit Layat forest in Setiu.

The fires were detected last Wednesday and a total of 7ha was on fire in Dungun, but half of the fire has been extinguished, he said.

“In Setiu, efforts to put out the fire on an hectare of forest are still ongoing.

“We expect to fully extinguish the fire today (yesterday),” he said.

The fire in Dungun is expected to take three more days to put out – depending on the weather and water sources.

Previously, some 200ha of forest and vegetation in the state were destroyed due to fires in the first four months of this year due to El Nino.

During that time, the department received more than 900 calls on open burning.

He reminded the public not to carry out open burning, including for agricultural purposes or clearing rubbish during this dry season. – Bernama

Terengganu firemen battle forest and peat fires caused by El Nino
ADRIAN DAVID New Straits Times 1 May 16;

SETIU: Firemen in Terengganu have been kept busy dousing forest and peat fires, no thanks to the current extreme hot and dry spell.

Terengganu Fire and Rescue Department public relations officer Rozizah Abni Hajar said that about 11 hectares of forests in Pengkalan Jering in Dungun and Bukit Layat in Setiu were consumed in flames.

“We expect to control the blaze in Setiu affecting 4ha in a day, while it may take up to three days to do so at the 7ha forest in Dungun owing to the severity of the fire over there,” said Rozizah.

She added that about 200ha of forest were destroyed in the state for the first four months this year following the El Nino phenomena.

Rozizah said during that period, the department received 900 emergency calls for forest fires. “The extreme hot and dry spell puts plantations, bushes and forests at high risk of fires.

As such, people have been advised not to carry out open burnings,” she said.

Meanwhile, firemen were also seen busy putting out peat fires in Manir, Kuala Terengganu.

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Indonesia: Illegal wildlife traders arrested in Riau

Rizal Harahap Jakarta Globe 1 May 16;

Officers from the Riau Police’s special crime investigations unit have arrested two traders of rare and protected species parts in Bukit Pedusunan, Kuantan Singingi regency, Riau.

The Riau Police’s special crime investigations deputy director Adj. Sr. Comr. Ari Rahman Nafarin said it was suspected that the two wildlife traders, identified only as Herman, 54, and Andri, 45, had long been members of an international wildlife trade syndicate. They could evade arrest for so long because the police had difficulty in getting evidence on the suspects, he added.

Ari said the police managed on Friday to arrest the two traders after they were entrapped by a police officer who pretended to be a customer for their wildlife products. After two days of negotiations, he said, they agreed to show the wildlife parts they were willing to sell.

“Right after our personnel saw the evidence, they were arrested,” said Ari in a press conference on Saturday.

The police chief further explained that from the two suspects, they confiscated several pieces of evidence, comprising a tiger skin, which was still in the preserving process, several sheets of dried snake skins, one set of tiger bones, one set of bear bones and two bird skulls. They were worth a total of around Rp 100 million ( US$7,577.20 ).

The police said all of the wildlife products were hidden in a place behind of Herman’s house. What the purpose of the tiger skin and bear bones was remained unknown. Ari said the police would question traditional medicine experts to find out.

It was the first time for the Riau Police to confiscate a tiger skin. Previously they had seized several tusks of wild elephants.

Where the two suspects got the wildlife parts also remains unknown. Ari said they were suspected of violating Law No.5/1990 on the conservation of biodiversity and its ecosystem, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and Rp 100 million in fines. From their preliminary investigation, he said, the police concluded that Herman and Andri were just buyers, not wildlife hunters.

“From their statements, we will pursue the hunters,” said Ari, adding that the investigators would also investigate other wildlife parts the two suspects had traded before.

Wildlife crime – Personnel of the Riau Police’s special crime investigation unit show bits of tiger skin in the course of being preserved and other skins they confiscated from two wildlife organ traders. The tiger skin sells for between Rp 50 million ( US$3,788.60 ) and Rp 100 million on the black market. ( Harahap )

Osmantri, the World Wildlife Fund’s ( WWF ) wildlife crime team ( WCT ) coordinator for central Sumatra, said Herman had long worked as a protected-wildlife trader on the black market, he was known as Man Bobok.

He further said Herman was only a wildlife buyer and he had carried out this profession for at least the last five years. Apart from Riau, wildlife lovers in West Sumatra and Jambi knew Man Bobok well and his network spread across the three provinces.

“He played a key role in the chain of wildlife trading crime,” said Osmantri.

Based on information obtained from WCT informants in the three provinces, Herman had bought tiger skins from wildlife hunters several times.

Ari said wildlife products bought by Man Bobok were from forest areas in Kuantan Singingi, Kampar and Indragiri Hulu regencies and conservation areas on the Riau-Jambi and Riau-West Sumatra borders. The Jambi Natural Resources Conservation Agency ( BKSDA ) had long targeted Herman and continued to follow the case to discover tiger and other protected species hunts in the province.

On the black market, a piece of tiger skin of less than 150 centimeters in length can sell for between Rp 50 million and Rp 70 million. Meanwhile, a piece bigger than 180 cm sells for more than Rp 100 million. Most tiger skins are sold to domestic consumers. Dried tiger bones are sold at Rp 2 million per kilogram and are mostly sent to China, where they are processed into powder for the mixture of Chinese traditional medicines. It is widely believed tiger bones can boost male vitality. ( ebf )

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Indonesia: Book Sheds Light on Dire Consequences of Burning Peatland -- Johannes Nugroho

Johannes Nugroho Jakarta Globe 1 May 16;

In light of Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo’s recent announcement of the moratorium on new oil palm plantations, the publication of "Catastrophe and Regeneration in Indonesia’s Peatlands: Ecology, Economy and Society" by NUS Press and Kyoto University Press seems timely. The new book’s timeliness is further borne out by a similar pledge last year by president on peatland development. Even more encouraging is the newly formed partnership between the Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) and Kyoto University in the ambitious task to help restore 2.26 million hectares of damaged peatland in the next five years.

Representing the university at its MOU signing ceremony with BRG was its Center for Southeast Asian Studies director Kosuke Mizuno. Professor Mizuno was also one of the main editors and indeed contributors to Catastrophe and Regeneration. The book details multi-disciplinary discourses on the state of Southeast Asian peatland past and present, with fieldwork research carried out in Giam Siak Kecil-Bukit Batu Biosphere Reserve in Riau from 2010 to 2012.

Boasting a lineup of fourteen respective experts on various disciplines (Kosuke Mizuno, Motoko S. Fujita, Shuici Kawai, Retno Kusumaningtyas, Kazuo Watanabe, Tetsuya Shimamura, Kazuya Masuda, Kaoru Sugihara, Shigeo Kobayashi, Haruka Suzuki, Osamu Kozan, Ahmad Muhammad, Haris Gunawan and Hiromitsu Samejima), the book is rare in its thoroughness and clarity on the history, current state as well as future of peatland use in Southeast Asia.

Through analyses of historical data and fieldwork findings gathered by the team, the authors attempt to identify the environmental problems facing peat forests resulted from human and industrial exploitation in the past century. A thoughtful line from the book best summarizes the underlying reason for the current crisis: “The logic of industrialization is not the logic of symbiosis with the biosphere.”

Last year’s terrible haze across the region as a result of forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan was enough testimony to the gravity of the problem. The book ably explores how forest fires only became a major threat after Southeast Asia underwent extensive deforestation in the late 1980s, made worse by the subsequent “development” in the peatland areas, hitherto considered unsuitable for human habitation or use.

In Indonesia specifically, the books recounts President Suharto’s “developmentalist” drive, which eventually saw vast tracts of peatland drained in the effort to make them arable for cash crops such as oil palm or forestry products like acacia trees, a major source of paper pulp. In its natural state submerged under water, peat posed no fire risk. But once drained and baked dry by the sun, it becomes easily combustible, which explains why forest fires became more common as more peatland was “reclaimed” for industrial activities.

Kyoto University’s research team also discovered an important fact which led them to conclude that behavioral changes in our treatment and approach to peat forests are necessary in order to avert future crises. They argue that we have been growing the wrong trees there and in doing so we have exacerbated the problem. Take oil palm for example. Palm trees grown in former peatlands, even after extensive soil treatment and fertilization, yield less oil than those planted in non-peatlands. With the growing frequency of forest fires, the yields promise to be even less as a significant number of palm trees are destroyed or rendered unproductive by fire damage before reaching maturity.

Yet as the commodity boom in the last decade continued its march, the conversion of natural peatlands into oil palm plantations became relentless. Far from dissuading people from using peat areas for oil palm culture, the 2002 forest fires which spread to rubber plantations and fruit orchards only ended up seeing the decimated areas replanted with oil palm saplings. The environmental powder keg even became more menacing as in Riau “between 2002 and 2006 the area of oil palm plantations more than tripled from 7,514 ha to 22,681.”

The authors of the book have also endeavored to offer possible solutions which would satisfy both environmental and economic needs of the region. An idea prominently discussed is “people’s forestry” which focuses on economically viable trees which are more suited to peatland conditions, such as rubber, bintagur, jelutong and ramin. It is believed that with local knowledge as its guide, people’s forestry may provide the region with a more sustainable way of making use of the biomass resources while conserving the environment.

However, its success depends on the restoration of peatlands through rewetting, something which the authors believe the local inhabitants can accomplish. They also suggest diversifying the current economic activities, again with reference to local traditions. For instance, their research reveals that many of the locals used to rely on fishing in the sea for a living but later turned to oil palm culture.

Catastrophe and Regeneration in Indonesia’s Peatlands: Ecology, Economy and Society provides us with new insights and considered data on the problem of peatland use and its effects. As the Southeast Asian haze threatens to become an annual occurrence with dire repercussions, the issue of peatland restoration has taken on renewed urgency. It is in this respect that the new book is a welcome new voice in the search for solutions to the region’s most pressing environmental hazard.

Johannes Nugroho is a writer from Surabaya.

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As Asia's rice crop shrivels, food security fears resurface

Channel NewsAsia 2 May 16;

SINGAPORE: Nearly a decade after a spike in global food prices sent shockwaves around the world, Asia's top rice producers are suffering from a blistering drought that threatens to cut output and boost prices of a staple for half the world's population. World rice production is expected to decline for the first time this year since 2010, as failing rains linked to an El Nino weather pattern cut crop yields in Asia's rice bowl.

A heat wave is sweeping top rice exporter India, while the No.2 supplier Thailand is facing a second year of drought. Swathes of farmland in Vietnam, the third-biggest supplier, are also parched as irrigation fed by the Mekong river runs dry.

The three account for more than 60 percent of the global rice trade of about 43 million tonnes.

"As of now we haven't seen a large price reaction to hot and dry weather because we have had such significant surplus stocks in India and Thailand. But that can't last forever," said James Fell, an economist at the International Grains Council (IGC).

Rice inventories in the three top exporters are set to fall by about a third at the end of 2016 to 19 million tonnes, the biggest year-on-year drop since 2003, according to Reuters calculations based on U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Any big supply disruption can be extremely sensitive. In 2008, lower Asian rice output due to an El Nino prompted India to ban exports, sending global prices sky-rocketing and causing food riots in Haiti and panic measures in big importers such as the Philippines.

Manila at the time scrambled to crack down on hoarding, ordered troops to supervise subsidised rice sales and asked fast food chains to serve half-portions, as well as urging Vietnam and others to sell the country more rice.

The world has suffered a series of food crises over the past decade involving a range of grains due to adverse weather.

In the case of rice, benchmark Thai prices hit a record around US$1,000 a tonne in 2008. Price spikes like this typically also boost demand for other grains such as wheat, widely used for noodles in Asia, and soybeans and corn used for food or feed.

While currently far below 2008 highs, rice earlier this month hit US$389.50, the strongest since July and up 13 percent from an eight-year low of US$344 in September.


Bruce Tolentino of the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute is concerned about Asia's vulnerability.

"In general prices are still stable right now. They're inching up though, and what will drive things over the edge will be a major calamity in one of the major producing countries."

Although India's rice output in 2015 was largely stable, extremely hot temperatures are threatening a second crop in eastern regions.

Traders see further price gains by June as India's next big crop is not due until September and Thailand's main crop by year end.

The IGC sees a 2016 world harvest of 473 million tonnes, down from 479 million tonnes in 2015 and the first decline in six years.


Thailand's last main crop was only about half of the peak production a few years ago and the USDA has forecast output will drop by more than a fifth to 15.8 million tonnes this year.

"The government has been asking farmers not to plant rice as there is little water in the reservoirs after two years of drought," said one Bangkok-based trader.

In Vietnam, output could fall 1.5 percent this year to 44.5 million tonnes, while exports would be 8.7 million tonnes, steady on a previous projection, the government said.

As much as 240,000 hectares (593,000 acres) of paddy have been destroyed by drought and salination in the central area and southern Mekong Delta region, it said.

A Singapore-based trader said that while the annual decline appeared modest Vietnam's latest harvest "is 5 to 6 percent lower than last year."

Thailand and Vietnam harvest three crops a year.


Some Asian countries are already looking to raise imports.

Indonesia is expected to see 2016 purchases jump by more than 60 percent to two million tonnes from a few years ago.

China, the world's top importer, taking about 5 million tonnes annually, is expected to continue this buying pace. IGC has forecast China's 2016 production will fall short of consumption for a third consecutive year.

The Philippines had the lowest stocks since October in March despite importing 750,000 tonnes and its procurement agency has standby authority to ship an additional 500,000 tonnes.

"Although El Nino has entered its weakening stage, the risk of higher food prices remains given the onset of the summer season," said Philippine Economic Planning Secretary Emmanuel Esguerra.

(Additional reporting by Enrico dela Cruz in MANILA, Fergus Jensen in JAKARTA, Ho Binh Minh in HANOI and Mayank Bhardwaj in NEW DELHI; Editing by Ed Davies)

- Reuters

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Armed guards at India dams as drought leaves farmers dry

Channel NewsAsia 1 May 16;

TIKAMGARH, India: As young boys plunge into a murky dam to escape the blistering afternoon sun, guards armed with guns stand vigil at one of the few remaining water bodies in a state hit hard by India's crippling drought.

Desperate farmers from a neighbouring state regularly attempt to steal water from the Barighat dam, forcing authorities in central Madhya Pradesh to protect it with armed guards to ensure supplies.

India is officially in the grip of its worst water crisis in years, with the government saying that about 330 million people, or a quarter of the population, are suffering from drought after the last two monsoons failed.

"Water is more precious than gold in this area," Purshotam Sirohi, who was hired by the local municipality to protect the stop-dam, located in Tikamgarh district, told AFP.

"We are protecting the dam round the clock."

But the security measures cannot stop the drought from ravaging the dam in the parched Bundelkhand region, with officials saying it holds just one month of reserves.

Four reservoirs in Madhya Pradesh have already dried up, leaving more than a million people with inadequate water and forcing authorities to truck in supplies.

Almost a hundred thousand residents in Tikamgarh get piped water for just two hours every fourth day, while municipal authorities have ordered new bore wells to be dug to meet demand.

But it may not be enough, with officials saying the groundwater level has receded more than 100 feet (30 metres) owing to less than half the average annual rainfall in the past few years.

"The situation is really critical, but we are trying to provide water to everyone," Laxmi Giri Goswami, chairwoman of Tikamgarh municipality, told AFP.

"We pray to rain gods for mercy," she said.

In the nearby village of Dargai Khurd, only one of 17 wells has water.

With temperatures hovering around 45 degrees Celsius, its 850 residents fear they may soon be left thirsty.

"If it dries up, we won't have a drop of water to drink," Santosh Kumar, a local villager told AFP.


Farmers across India rely on the monsoon -- a four-month rainy season which starts in June -- to cultivate their crops, as the country lacks a robust irrigation system.

Two weak monsoons have resulted in severe water shortages and crop losses in as many as 10 states, prompting extreme measures including curfews near water sources and water trains sent to the worst-affected regions.

Many dejected farmers are now moving to cities and towns to work as daily wage labourers to overcome their financial losses and support their families.

At a scruffy, makeshift camp in north Mumbai, in one of the worst-affected states, dozens of migrants who have fled their drought-stricken villages queue to fill plastic containers with water.

Migrants from rural areas usually come to the city in January or February to get jobs on construction sites, but in March and April the number of arrivals kept increasing.

"There are some 300-350 families here. That's a total of more than 1,000 people," said Sudhir Rane, a volunteer running the camp in Mumbai's Ghatkopar suburb.

"There is a drought and there is no water back home so more families have come here this year," he told AFP.

Babies cling to mothers lined up to register with officials. They are allocated a small space in the dusty wasteland, where wooden posts combine with tarpaulin sheets to make rickety tented homes.

"We had no choice but to come here. There was no water, no grain, no work. There was nothing to eat and drink. What could we do?" 70-year-old Manubai Patole told AFP.

"We starved for five days. At least here we are getting food."


Weather forecasters in New Delhi this month predicted an above-average monsoon, offering a ray of hope for the country's millions of farmers and their families.

But many, like Gassiram Meharwal from Bangaye village in Madhya Pradesh, are not optimistic as they struggle to cultivate their crops.

Meharwal's two-acre farm has suffered three wheat crop failures in as many years, leading him to lose an estimated 100,000 rupees ($1,500).

"Our fields are doomed, they have almost turned into concrete," he said.

Thousands of acres of land in his village go uncultivated and fears are mounting for the cattle, which face a shortage of fodder.

Desperate for income, 32-year-old Meharwal, who supports eight members of his family including his children and younger brothers, left to work as a labourer in the city of Gwalior, four hours away.

"There is no guarantee that it will rain this year. Predictions are fine but no one comes to your help when the crops fail," he said.

"It is better to use your energy breaking stones."


Thousands battle deadly forest fires in northern India
Channel NewsAsia 2 May 16;

NEW DELHI: Thousands of labourers backed by water-carrying helicopters were battling to control fires that have killed two people in India's northern Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, officials said Sunday (May 1).

Fires have swept through more than 1,900 hectares (4,700 acres) of forest but have so far not threatened towns in Uttarakhand which draws tens of thousands of tourists every year, officials and media reports said.

Environment and Forests Minister Prakash Javadekar said some 6,000 labourers were being deployed to help fight the fires. They started about one month ago but according to other officials have intensified in recent days.

Javadekar told reporters the fires have broken out at 1,200 locations in the densely forested state, known for its remote valleys, over the last month.

"This can be compared with the worst fire of 2012 when fire took place in 1,300 places and (covered) more than 2,000 hectares," the minister said.

Senior Uttarakhand disaster management official Piyoosh Rautela said two people have been killed in recent days, although local media reported six deaths since the state's fire season started at the beginning of February.

He said disaster relief experts were being deployed to help those already on the ground.

"They are all working with two Indian Air Force choppers which are spraying water over isolated forest areas in the state," Rautela, executive director of Uttarakhand's disaster management and mitigation centre, told AFP.

"The forests are spread across our six districts but are all isolated and we are getting them under control," he added.

Uttarkhand, with its Himalayan mountains, rivers, treks and Hindu religious sites, is a popular destination for local tourists who flock there to escape India's harsh summer.

Officials said it was unclear what started the fires but some have linked the intensity of the blazes to the drought gripping India.

India is suffering its worst water crisis in years, with the government saying that about 330 million people, or a quarter of the population, are suffering from drought after the last two monsoons failed.

- AFP/ec

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