Best of our wild blogs: 18-19 Mar 17

Life History of the Purple Duke v2.0
Butterflies of Singapore

First Nesting Record of the Blue-winged Pitta in Singapore
Singapore Bird Group

Hot fun with kids at Chek Jawa
wild shores of singapore

Best 10 Nature Images of 2016
Bugs & Insects of Singapore

888kg of marine trash removed from Lim Chu Kang by 67 Toddycats & friends during the Chinese New Year / World Wetlands Day coastal cleanup

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Commentary: Can farming be a success story for Singapore?

It would be a shame if farms in Singapore are valued only for their economic production, because they have potential to be a success story for Singapore, says Kranji Countryside Association president Kenny Eng.
Kenny Eng Channel NewsAsia 19 Mar 17;

SINGAPORE: I read with interest the Government’s plan to transform the farming sector in Singapore last week. It had key strategies we expected to see: overcoming space constraints with technology, using resources more efficiently and developing a generation of “agri-specialists”.

I was hopeful because it showed us that agriculture is getting increased policy attention, and symbolised a growing recognition that despite being a city-state, Singapore must take growing some of its own food seriously.

The farming transformation map identified many technologies that farms can look to to increase productivity: vertical farming, climate-controlled systems and robotics to name a few. Indeed, for a small market that imports 90 per cent of our food, Singapore’s food supply can be threatened by climate change and geopolitical uncertainties, and technology can be one answer. Developing strong local capabilities in agriculture at this stage in the game may be a belated move, but better late than never.

The Government also rightly pointed out that skilled workers would need to support this effort. So engineers, architects, researchers and entrepreneurs should all be co-opted into building Singapore’s farming and food future.

However, the farming transformation map was also a missed opportunity to address inherent problems and wider possibilities of our agricultural sector. There was a strong focus on scarcity and intensification, but more can be done to connect the dots of a natural and social ecosystem and more holistically develop the agricultural sector.

I wish I could say that we will be able to easily transform our agriculture sector into one with high-tech, productive and profitable farms envisaged, but we have to ask ourselves some hard questions first.

First, are farmers able to adopt technology, and why or why not? The trouble is that agricultural technologies have not taken off in Singapore because of underlying business factors. High risks, lack of financing and limited farm tenures hold us back. A 30 per cent upfront government grant to buy a machine or install a system does not fundamentally address common challenges faced by the local farmer of having no money for basic infrastructure, no assurance that his farm is on ground protected for agriculture and few talent joining the industry. As production capabilities are inextricably linked to business prospects, the farm transformation map may be asking farmers to fly before they even walk.

Second, are we measuring the right outcomes? Although “people development” and “multi-disciplinary expertise” were mentioned in the roadmap, they still only refer to people and expertise that support intensification. Yet agriculture’s success surely cannot be defined solely by yields – farming and related enterprises have intrinsic value for education, tourism, community and nation building. In these important aspects that add immeasurable value to primary production, the transformation map misses the mark.


Agriculture is one of humankind’s oldest pursuits and one that enabled civilisation to thrive.

Singapore, like inhabited lands across the world, was once an agrarian society that produced nearly all our own food. Orchard Road was a gambier plantation, Punggol had pig farms and every kampong had free range chickens and organic vegetables. At our independence in 1965, we produced 60 per cent of our own vegetable demand, 80 per cent of poultry, 100 per cent of eggs and even exported pork. We published a farming journal and even organised a large agricultural show attended by the late founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew in 1965.

In our quest for economic growth, rapid industrialisation was achieved at the expense of small farms that were gradually phased out. By 2014, only one per cent of land – most of which were located within the Kranji countryside – was used for agriculture. 62 farms will be relocating in 2019 to make way for defence training grounds. Depending on the land size farmers will be given, this move may shrink agricultural land to 0.5 per cent. And efforts to develop the sector are still very much focused on achieving the goals of land intensification and primary production.

There is some background to this focus. The global food crisis in 2007 that led to a 12 per cent increase in prices of Singapore’s food imports may have marked a first turning point in the Government’s policies on agriculture – giving urgency to shore up Singapore’s self-sufficiency in core food items to buffer against supply shocks. Given a context of land scarcity and urban pressures, it is no wonder that intensification of primary production seemed to have become the key priority for Singapore’s agricultural sector.

Yet, there is much to be done to marry policy intent and ground realities. Unlike other sectors in Singapore with long-term policy, infrastructure and other forms of support, farms do not have a sound enough business footing to invest heavily in expensive and unproven technology. They also have short land leases, making it harder for returns on investment to be worthwhile.

Farmers also say that while increasing support for the core food items of vegetables, eggs and fish has helped many of them, it leaves out others who produce nutritious and safe food for Singapore and are equally deserving of assistance. Indigenous root vegetables, fruits and herbs, goat’s milk and frog meat are some examples.

In an age of climate uncertainty and rapid urbanisation, there may be merits to protecting indigenous agriculture and farmers’ livelihoods. For as long as we turn to the land rather than labs for food, agriculture should be taken seriously as an industry and rendered the appropriate support as the sector faces new challenges.

Models of development surrounding farming have changed drastically in the last decades. While higher productivity and yields were achieved through land intensification and industrial farming methods of Green Revolution in the 1960s and 70s, many of these developments have reached a plateau because of soil and environmental degradation.

But there is more to be optimistic about, if we decide to invest seriously into this sector. The new waves of agricultural thought now encompass not only the higher end of biotechnology such as gene editing, but also simply going back to basics, creating a healthy environmental ecosystem for crops and livestock, and letting nature take its grand course. Importantly, agricultural thought leadership embraces inclusiveness: uplifting smallholder farms, giving them reasons to stay on their land and raising awareness of rural lifestyles to increasingly urban populations.

If Singapore is to be serious about farming, seeing it not as just as a possible economic engine but a sector with potential for innovation and lifestyle transformation, then we need a new approach now – one with a more rounded development trajectory for the local agricultural industry. We can take a wait-and-see approach. But if we do so, it is likely that 50 years from now, the natural and indeed the social ecosystem of farms in our present countryside would be long gone and rebuilding it organically would be close to impossible.


As early as 2004, some of us in Kranji were already looking at a different development model. Farmers themselves were acutely aware of the need to innovate and change their business models to remain relevant and viable in a city-state where land and labour is expensive. So we looked to other countries and found that small farms at the fringes of cities, also known as peri-urban farms, made use of their proximity to urban populations to offer services and experiences beyond primary production.

We got rules for farms changed so that farmers could build education centres, museums, cafes and farmstays on their premises. These amenities were never intended to replace primary production but to enhance and preserve farms, and to give the farming cluster new life as a lifestyle destination.

Bed and breakfasts and vineyards in the countrysides of developed nations provided good referenced, but Singapore has an even more attractive proposition: Kranji is only 30 minutes away from the city, with different types of farms co-existing. It is also just a stone’s throw from the historic Kranji War Memorial and Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve, and safe under the watch of our nearby defence forces.

It is a gem of an ecosystem, and should be protected and developed as a national treasure. Countries that have protected their peri-urban areas, such as the Netherlands, Japan and Australia, are far ahead in food security than others who have not, such as India, Myanmar and Indonesia.

Many of us in Kranji have always held the view that the last one per cent of land used for agriculture must achieve multiple goals and not just that of primary production. Visitors to Kranji can testify that local farms have continuously evolved through innovation. The introduction of enterprise, value creation and destination marketing strategies into traditional farming business models have enabled us to achieve higher productivity and commercial viability while creating good jobs and contributing to the larger Singaporean community.

In a way, maybe innovation does not always need to involve adopting the latest production technology in farming – it should also encompass artisanal processing, visitor experience and concept innovation. There have been companies that evolved their plant nursery businesses to landscape and events companies offering naturally inspired lifestyles. And in Kranji, we focused on developing the countryside, which contains the ecosystem in which the industry thrives - running a private shuttle bus service to farms and getting installed a directional sign for Kranji farms that identified the area as a tourist destination.

Visitors to the Kranji countryside now total more than 20,000 each month. This tell me that such forms of innovation drive demand in our digital age and city, which in turn generates revenue and investment for building core capabilities.


Agricultural businesses in Singapore need to capture value where they can and work together with the government and community to grow multi-dimensionally. With the help of government agencies such as the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA), SPRING and Singapore Tourism Board (STB), many farms have indeed upgraded their capabilities and offerings in the last decade.

AVA’s support enabled the first hydraulic vertical vegetable growing system developed by local farm Skygreens to open its doors in 2011. SPRING’s grants helped our egg farmers purchase much needed labour-saving and processing technologies. As a result, egg productivity increased over the past five years. STB supported the first ever Go-local campaign in 2009 and subsequently the 27th Commonwealth Agriculture Conference that saw 300 international delegates visit our tiny countryside in 2016. Throughout the years, it has also introduced many foreign journalists to the area and the result is more tourist interest in our local farms.

The community has also played an important role in the countryside’s transformation. When we launched the first Kranji Countryside Farmers’ Market in 2014, 4,000 people showed up and wiped out limited stocks in two hours. Nearly three years down the road and into its ninth edition, the quarterly event now attracts 12,000 people who see the value in knowing the farmers who produce their food and bringing their families to the countryside for a day out.

The community has been vocal in supporting the preservation of farms as many share the view that Singapore’s farms have an intrinsic value for national education, conservation and tourism. Many people who I have talked to also say they see the countryside as an inalienable part of Singapore’s heritage and nation building.


I distinctly remember, nine years ago, addressing an auditorium full of young farmers from around the Commonwealth on value creation for smallholder farms. Facing farmers who own thousands of hectares of land and businesses worth millions, I thought I would be laughed at when I highlighted how Singapore’s farms hope to diversify their income, build a brand and attract young talent.

Instead, many young farmers told me that they knew deep in their bones this direction is the future of agriculture. In a primary industry of diminishing margins and rising costs and risks, reinvention is necessary. The reinvention the brightest minds in farming talk about has more to do with human ingenuity, resilience and creativity than any technology silver bullets.

Can farms and our countryside survive in the global city of Singapore? Having grown accustomed to their lonely struggles, farmers in Singapore today are heartened by the growing awareness and support of the industry, though the future still looks uncertain.

We hope for a bolder and more balanced transformation map, and one that recognises the intrinsic value the farming community captures for Singapore and Singaporeans – in heritage, education and promoting a sustainable and green way of life. We know the community behind us grows. And we hope that despite being the underdog of the economy, we can be another one of Singapore’s softer success stories.

It would be a shame if we were valued solely for our economic production.

Kenny Eng is president of the Kranji Countryside Association, a non-profit organisation founded in 2005 that promotes local agriculture, food security and sustainability.

- CNA/sl

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Plastic cups found in the gut of sperm whale

Audrey Tan AsiaOne 17 Mar 17;

Singapore's murky waters are an unexpected treasure trove of marine life, and the greatest proof of that now hangs at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

The skeleton of a 10.6m-long sperm whale takes pride of place there, and it is little wonder why.

It is the first sperm whale to be documented in the Republic.

Jubi Lee, as the whale is affectionately known, was found dead and floating off Jurong Island two years ago, when Singapore was having its golden jubilee celebrations.

Observations showed it had suffered a deep cut that may have been caused by a collision with a ship.

But the whale still had a story to tell.

Researchers have documented findings based on their study of the sea mammal, to raise awareness of the importance of marine conservation.

The story of how the giant sea creature was treated is being told in a new book launched recently by the museum.

"The 50th year of Independence, 2015, was marked by the return of the Singapore whale," wrote Professor Tommy Koh, chairman of the museum's advisory board, in the foreword.

"Unlike the whale of 1892, this whale was actually found in Singapore's territorial waters."

He was referring to a 12.8m Indian fin whale that had been found in Malaysia.

It was hung at the old National Museum in Stamford Road from 1907 to 1974 before it was given to Malaysia.

The 155-page book, titled A Whale Out Of Water: The Salvage Of Singapore's Sperm Whale, details how the whale was found, scientific discoveries arising from the carcass, and how museum staff worked round the clock to preserve its skeleton.

One important discovery was what researchers found in the gut of the whale: Other than the remains of squids - a major part of its diet, they also found plastic cups.

"Mixed emotions were felt as we discovered both the astounding appetite of a whale and the devastation humans are causing to nature," wrote the authors, museum staff Iffah Iesa, 25, and Kate Pocklington, 30.

"Among the thousands of indigestible squid beaks and eye lenses, was a collection of plastic wrappers and cups."

The book retails at the museum shop for $26.

But from now till the end of this month, it will be sold at a promotional price of $16.

Visitors can also view footage of the whale's dissection at the museum's new Out Of The Water exhibition.

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Malaysia: No need to quarantine areas with H5N1, says Health Ministry

New Straits Times 19 Mar 17;

SEGAMAT: There is no necessity to quarantine areas found positive for H5N1 bird flu for the time being, says Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S.Subramaniam.

He said this was because there had not been any cases of H5N1 infection affecting humans and the Health Ministry was making efforts to ensure it would not happen.

The ministry is implementing various preventive measures and giving awareness to those concerned.

“We are disseminating information on health care by putting on protective wear such as face mask, apron and gloves to ensure that those handling chicken do not come in contact with chicken fluid,” he told reporters here tonight.

Earlier he attended a Segamat District Information Office dinner here with about 200 people including media personnel.

According to Kelantan Veterinary Services Department today, two new locations had been found positive for H5N1 in Pasir Mas.


H5N1 outbreak: 30,927 birds culled, 11,804 eggs destroyed as of Friday
Sharifah Mahsinah Abdullah New Straits Times 18 Mar 17;

KOTA BARU: The State Veterinary Services Department has culled more than 30,927 birds and destroyed 11,804 eggs in its operation to curb the spread of avian flu H5N1 in Kelantan since early this month.

The department, in a statement today, said the figures were accurate as of Friday. It said that 28 locations in six districts have been hit with the virus, including two new locations detected in Pasir Mas yesterday.

Kota Baru recorded the highest number of locations affected by the virus with a total of 14 areas, followed by Pasir Mas (six) and Tumpat (three). The others are Tanah Merah and Bachok.

"At the two new locations in Pasir Mas, the department has culled 554 birds and destroyed 415 eggs," the statement said.

The department added it would continue to carry out surveillance at all the 28 locations from time-to-time and so far, its officers have taken samples from more than 3,000 birds.

No new bird flu locations in Kelantan, situation under control
The Star 19 Mar 17;

KOTA BARU: There has been no new location in Kelantan found to be affected by the bird flu (H5N1) epidemic, said the state Veterinary Services Department.

The department said 426 fowls and 463 eggs were culled on Saturday and that the monitoring will be continued.

"As of yesterday (Saturday), 28 locations in six districts have been confirmed to be positive for the H5N1 virus, namely Kota Baru (14 locations), Pasir Mas (six), Tumpat (three), Tanah Merah (one), Bachok (one) and Pasir Puteh (three), involving 43 premises.

"A total of 31,353 fowls and 12,267 eggs have been destroyed. As many as 3,012 samples were taken from 502 owners," the department said in a statement.

It said the epidemic had been brought under control within a 30km-radius of Kampung Pulau Tebu covering six districts affected by the virus.

"The situation is under control and confined to the affected areas, involving only free-range chicken of small rearers. Roadblocks were set up to control the movement of fowls from Kelantan," it said.

"To date, there has been no cases of infection among humans.

"The public are urged to report to the nearest Veterinary Department if there are instances of chicken death," the statement said.

On March 15, the Kelantan state government was reported to have declared the bird flu epidemic (H5N1) a state disaster after several free-range chickens died from the disease in Kampung Pulau Tebu, Tunjong here on March 6. - Bernama

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Indonesia: Flood sweeps through three sub-districts in W. Java

Antara 19 Mar 17;

Bandung (ANTARA News) - A flood triggered by the overflowing of Citarum River swept through the three sub-districts of Dayeuhkolot, Baleendah, and Bojongsoang in Bandung district, West Java, on Saturday (March 18).

"The flood was caused by rains since Saturday morning. According to our monitoring of the area, the water level in the three sub-districts reached 60 centimeters to 1.2 meters high," coordinator of the districts disaster response agency (Tagana) Dadang Wahidin said on Saturday evening.

The flood forced local residents, who had earlier fled their flooded homes, to evacuate to higher ground, he noted.

"At around 03.00pm, some residents returned home, but because of todays flood, they evacuated again," he stated.

Some 500 families are taking refuge, he added.

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Abnormal El Nino in Peru unleashes deadly downpours; more flooding seen

Channel NewsAsia 18 Mar 17;

LIMA: A sudden and abnormal warming of Pacific waters off Peru has unleashed the deadliest downpours in decades, with landslides and raging rivers sweeping away people, clogging highways and destroying crops in a potential sign of a global El Nino pattern this year.

At least 62 people have died and more than 70,000 have become homeless as Peru's rainy season has delivered 10 times as much rainfall than usual, authorities said Friday.

About half of Peru has been declared in emergency to expedite resources to the hardest hit areas, mostly in the north where rainfall has broken records in several districts, said Prime Minister Fernando Zavala.

Peru is bracing itself for another month of flooding.

A local El Nino phenomenon, the warming of surface sea temperatures in the Pacific, will likely continue along Peru's northern coast at least through April, said Dimitri Gutierrez, a scientist with Peru's El Nino committee.

Local El Ninos in Peru tend to be followed by the global El Nino phenomenon, which can trigger flooding and droughts in different countries, said Gutierrez.

The U.S. weather agency has put the chances of an El Nino developing in the second half of 2017 at 50-55 percent.

While precipitation in Peru has not exceeded the powerful El Nino of 1998, more rain is falling in shorter periods of time - rapidly filling streets and rivers, said Jorge Chavez, a general tasked with coordinating the government's response.

"We've never seen anything like this before," said Chavez. "From one moment to the next, sea temperatures rose and winds that keep precipitation from reaching land subsided."

Some scientists have said climate change will make El Ninos more frequent and intense.

In Peru, apocalyptic scenes recorded on cellphones and shared on social media have broadened the sense of chaos.

A woman caked in mud pulled herself from under a debris-filled river earlier this week after a mudslide rushed through a valley where she was tending to crops.

Bridges have collapsed as rivers have breached their banks, and cows and pigs have turned up on beaches after being carried away by rivers.

"There's no need to panic, the government knows what it's doing," President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski said in a televised event, urging people to stay clear of rivers.

In Lima, the capital, classes have been suspended and running water has been restricted after treatment systems were clogged - prompting a rush on bottled water that produced shortages at some supermarkets.

The vast majority of people affected by the extreme weather are poor, including many who built makeshift homes on floodplains that had been dry for 20 years, said Chavez.

"There's no electricity, no drinking transit because streets are flooded," said Valentin Fernandez, mayor of the town Nuevo Chimbote.

Chavez said Peru must rethink its infrastructure to prepare for the potential "tropicalization" of the northern desert coast, which some climate models have forecast as temperatures rise.

"We need more and better bridges, we need highways and cities with drainage systems," said Chavez. "We can't count on nature being predictable."

(Reporting by Mitra Taj; Additional reporting by Reuters TV; Editing by Leslie Adler)

- Reuters

Flash floods take dramatic toll in Lima and northern Peru
Channel NewsAsia 19 Mar 17;

LIMA: Flash floods and landslides hit parts of Lima, leaving some communities cut off from roads on Saturday (Mar 18), as others in Peru fled rising rivers, and millions fretted that they won't have drinking water.

The government announced Saturday that so far this year 72 people have died as a result of heavy rains and flash floods around the country.

Peru's geographic extremes help fuel the often deadly force of the mudslides known locally as huaycos, the indigenous Quechua word for flash flood-landslide.

The South American nation of over 30 million has plenty of extremes: its Pacific coastal deserts in the west are interrupted by the soaring Andes, famed for the Inca people and Machu Picchu in the south. Further east, Peru has hot Amazon basin lowlands.

The tremendously steep mountains combine with many rocky and sandy areas that lack the topsoil found in more temperate places, meaning fewer trees are there to stop mudslides.

After weeks of heavy rain swept toward the coast late this week, many riverbeds in coastal areas went from empty to overflowing in no time.

In Lima, some residents on the outskirts of the capital of 10 million awoke Friday to realise their bedrooms were filling with water.

On Thursday and Friday, 10 people died in a landslide in the northern town of Otuzco. Seven of them were in trucks crushed by the huge flow of earth.

Others found themselves cut off by mudslides that blocked portions of the main highway linking Lima to the centre of the country.

In one dramatic scene, rescuers used zip lines to help residents of Lima's Huachipa neighbourhood escape over the torrent of brown water that was once their street, as it swallowed up cars and trucks.

The floods have been triggered by the weather event known as El Nino, a warming of surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean that wreaks havoc on weather patterns every few years.


But this year it has hit Peru particularly hard. "It's a difficult situation, there's no doubt about it. But we have the resources" to deal with it, said President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.

The government announced it would release 2.5 billion soles (US$760 million) in emergency funds to rebuild affected areas. Over half a million people were getting assistance.

While Peruvians have been dealing with huaycos for centuries, many poor residents of cities and towns build makeshift homes in areas that they may not realise could be flash-flood zones.

At times, authorities tell different groups to move, but they voice frustration that they have nowhere to go. And authorities' presence in the poorest peripheral districts, many perched on mountainsides, can be inconsistent.

The inundation came as the National Emergency Operations Center said at least 72 people have been killed in Peru this year in natural disasters. A total of 72,115 have lost their homes.

Some opposition politicians have called for the president to declare a national state of emergency, instead of local ones.

Among them were a few lawmakers urging Kuczynski to drop a bid for Lima to host the 2019 Pan-American Games so that more funds could be used for recovery efforts.


In metro Lima - areas such as Huachipa as well as Carapongo - locals had to form human chains to avoid being swept away to their death.

Police and firefighters also used zip lines to evacuate people from the roofs of their homes.

Frank Luis Limache, a resident of Huachipa, told El Comercio he was trapped with a group of more than 30 people. "Please. Help us. We are trapped in here and haven't eaten since last night," he said.

The Rimac River in Lima toppled a pedestrian bridge linking El Agustino and San Juan de Lurigancho.

In the Punta Hermosa district south of Lima, a getaway of posh beach flats, the usual upscale quiet was jarred by a huayco that on Wednesday swept a farm woman, 32, far from her farm, leaving her standing awkwardly near the beach with her bloodied cow. Caked in mud, her distraught image has become one of the local symbols of this flash-flood season.

Meanwhile, city authorities slapped tight restrictions on drinking water use due to worries over the cloudiness of local river water.

Those who could afford it, pounced on supermarkets and neighbourhood shops to buy drinking water, causing shortages in many areas. In less-well-off areas, people lined up to fill buckets from tanker trucks.

- AFP/ec

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