Best of our wild blogs: 30 May 17

Return to Serapong reef after mass coral bleaching
wild shores of singapore

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Lim Chu Kang farmers perplexed by 3rd lease extension

Move giving farms in Lim Chu Kang two more years till 2021 leaves many in limbo
Audrey Tan and Samantha Boh Straits Times 28 May 17;

The third time's the charm, or so the saying goes. But some farmers in Lim Chu Kang may beg to differ.

About two weeks ago, they were told their leases had been extended by another two years to 2021 - the third extension in four years.

But while their rice bowls can continue feeding them for the extra years, farmers say they are caught in limbo as the repeated extensions add uncertainty - it would be too risky to plough investments into a plot of land with an expiry date. Many simply end up playing a waiting game.

The agricultural sector is small, contributing to less than 10 per cent of total food supply. But local food production is still vital for food security.

Despite this, uncertainties plague the industry. For instance, even though some farmers in Lim Chu Kang knew they had to move from as early as 2013, it was not until earlier this month that the authorities announced details of the location and size of the new plots of farm land available for bidding.

A total of 36 new plots of farmland spanning 60ha will be up for tender in several tranches from August this year. The new plots are in Lim Chu Kang and Sungei Tengah, not far from the current farms.


The Jurong Frog Farm (above) has received three lease extensions since 2013. Director Chelsea Wan, seen here with her son Adam, is still mulling over whether to bid for the new farmland tender in August. The farm is one of 62 making way for new military training grounds. PHOTOS: DON WONG FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES
As Ms Chelsea Wan, 32, of Jurong Frog Farm puts it: "If there had been more certainty, and our time not extended bit by bit over the years, our morale wouldn't have taken such a big hit and we would have done much more."

The extra years could have made investing in a customised recirculating aquaculture system designed to improve water quality for the bullfrogs worthwhile, said Ms Wan, who is a director at Singapore's only American bullfrog breeding farm.

The original lease on Ms Wan's farm, founded in Jurong by her father Wan Bock Thiaw in 1981, had initially been due to expire in November 2013. Reprieve came that month, when the authorities gave her farm a three-year lease extension to November last year.

A month before that deadline, the frog farm received a second lifeline in a letter informing them of a "final extension" till November 2019.

The latest letter with the 2021 deadline is the third received by Jurong Frog Farm since 2013, and the second one indicating a "final extension", said Ms Wan.

In response to queries, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said the 2021 deadline "will be the final lease extension".

Ms Wan's farm was one of 62 which will have to move to make way for new military training grounds. She is still mulling over whether to bid for the new farmland tender in August.

At nearby goat farm Hay Dairies, farmer John Hay, 62, is wondering whether the latest extension could mean that it can stay put.

"What if by the time 2021 comes around, the Government tells me that I can stay?" he said.

The AVA had said that experienced farmers with a good track record and who are willing to adopt high-tech farming methods to boost productivity and use of labour will stand a good chance of winning their bids.

Still, he plans to bid for new land when it comes up for tender, and his son Leon Hay, 38, has other ideas to boost productivity, including bringing in more goats and expanding from milk to other products, such as yogurt and ice cream.

But the younger Mr Hay said of the uncertainty surrounding the extension: "Even if we are successful in bidding for new land, can the Government ensure that our current plot of land will not be re-tendered once we move out?"


The letter informing farmers of the 2021 deadline, which The Sunday Times has seen, said that the extension would give them "sufficient time to transit to the new farm land if you bid successfully in the upcoming tenders by AVA". But not all the farms which would have needed to vacate by end-2019 received this.

Quan Fa Organic Farm located at 35 Murai Farmway, off Lim Chu Kang Road, for example, did not receive the extension, said Mr Fabian Liao, sales and operations manager at the family-run vegetable farm.

In response, AVA would only say that Quan Fa is not in Lim Chu Kang, and that "farms should plan their business based on their existing lease for business sustainability".

In other countries, the future of farming depends on whether there are members of the younger generation who are willing to become farmers, said the elder Mr Hay. "In Singapore, we have younger people stepping up. But we may not have the land for them."

But Mr Kenny Eng, president of the Kranji Countryside Association that represents about 40 farms, believes the agriculture sector here could grow - provided the right support is given.

"I think this additional two years gives us the assurance that the Government is seriously looking at this as an industry right now, but there is still more work to be done."

Timeline of lease extensions

September 2014: 62 farms in Lim Chu Kang are told they will have to move out between 2017 and 2021 when their leases expire. They are told that the tract of land will be converted into military training grounds. Farms whose leases run out between 2014 and early 2017 are given an extension until June 2017.

June 2016: Farms whose leases run out in June 2017 are given an extension by 2½ years to end 2019.

This month: The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) announces that it will tender out 36 new plots of farmland in Lim Chu Kang and Sungei Tengah on 20-year leases from August.

AVA said experienced farmers with good track records awho are willing to adopt high-tech farming methods will stand a good chance of winning their bids. Some farms are given a third lease extension, by two years, to 2021.

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Cambodia Customs Recorded Less Than 1% of Singapore Sand Imports

BEN PAVIOUR The Nation 30 May 17;

Cambodia’s customs department counted less than 1 percent of the sand Singapore reported importing from Cambodia last year, according to trade statistics.

The new data is the latest addition to a more than 77 million ton gap from 2007 to last year that the governments of both countries have attributed to differing international reporting standards, and activists have chalked up to corruption.

Meanwhile, Cambodia has exported almost 100,000 tons of silica sand this year. The government says that type of sand is exempt from its October ban on exports of the commodity, according to trade data on the website of the Finance Ministry’s department of customs and excise.

Singapore, which uses sand to reclaim land and expand its territory, reported importing more than 6.5 million tons of Cambodian sand last year in data it provided to the U.N. Commodity Trade Statistics Database—down from more than 10.9 million tons the year before.

But Cambodia’s customs department figures show just 14,800 tons of Singapore-bound sand leaving the country, continuing a trend over the past three years of the department counting less than 1 percent of the sand recorded by Singapore.

Meng Saktheara, a spokesman for the Mines and Energy Ministry, repeated the ministry’s past defenses of the gap, arguing that such discrepancies were a common feature of trade statistics due to international differences in measurement, classification and reporting.

“Basically, you can’t find a country that has an exact match,” he said, adding that he was puzzled by why the gap might be so large.

Singapore’s National Development Ministry did not respond to a request for comment, but in the past has blamed the trade differences on different calculation formulas.

Those explanations do not satisfy Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, the exiled founder of environmental NGO Mother Nature, which has documented ecological havoc caused by what it calls illegal sand dredging in Koh Kong province.

“The gap in reported trade, as the vast majority of Cambodians already know, is due to smuggling, under-reporting, and several fraudulent practices key government agencies have been engaged in over the last 10 years,” he wrote in a Facebook message on Monday.

Although the ministry banned sand exports in late October to get to the bottom of the trade gap, Mr. Saktheara said it had immediately issued a clarification allowing the continued export of silica sand.

Cambodia’s exports of silica sand, which is used to make glass, were sourced from the ground rather than waterways, according to Mr. Saktheara, with almost all of the exports coming from special economic zones (SEZs) along the coast.

“The sand leaving Cambodia—if it’s legal—is all silica sand,” he said.

Those exports have totaled 94,600 tons sent to China, Taiwan and Thailand, according to the customs department.

Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson said it was possible these exports were also causing environmental destruction, pointing to an SEZ owned by the LYP Group conglomerate “carved out of the Botum Sakor National Park, where extraction and export of silica sand is taking place.”

“Some of these ongoing exports could be coming from SEZs such as this, but we cannot know for certain as the relevant ministries feel they have no need to be transparent to the Cambodian people,” he said.

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Vegetable prices rise in Singapore due to rainy weather in Malaysia

The Star 29 May 17;

SINGAPORE: Inclement weather has reduced vegetable yield from farms in Malaysia, causing vegetable prices to rise by as much as 20%.

The reduced yield has also caused a corresponding fall in import volume of Malaysian vegetables, Shin Min Daily News reported on Monday (May 29).

The report added that celery, spring onion and coriander prices are thought to be the hardest-hit, citing vegetable sellers in Singapore wet markets.

Said a vegetable seller at the Toa Payoh Lorong 8 wet market, who was identified only as Chen: "Vegetable roots have rotted in the waterlogged soil."

Prices of celery at wet markets have increased by 20%, from S$5 (RM15) to S$6 (RM19) per kg, while spring onion and coriander have increased from S$6 (RM19) per kg to S$7 (RM22) per kg and S$14 (RM43) to S$16 (RM49) per kg respectively.

The prices of other vegetables have also increased, but by an insignificant degree, added the report.

Import prices for celery, spring onion and coriander have also increased by about 50%, revealed Jerry Tan, who is general secretary of the Singapore Fruits And Vegetables Importers & Exporters Association.

He added that the price volatility of these three vegetables was caused by low import prices previously, prompting many Malaysian farms to stop cultivating them.

This amplified the adverse impact of the weather on yield for these vegetables. - The Straits Times/Asia News Network

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Indonesia: Choppers prepared to anticipate forest fires in Riau

Rizal Harahap The Jakarta Post 29 May 17;

Authorities in Riau have prepared five helicopters with water bombing abilities as the forest-fire-prone province braces for the dry season.

Riau Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) head Edward Sanger said on Monday that the S-61 Sikorsky choppers had been stationed at Roesmin Nurjadin Air Force Base in Pekanbaru.

“[The helicopters] have been equipped with buckets for water bombing,” Edward said, referring to the Mi-171, Mi-8 and Mi-172 chopper types, each of which has the ability to carry four tons of water.

The operational areas of the choppers were Pekanbaru and Riau's eastern coastal area and southern area.

“Riau will see a very dry season in June that could trigger forest fires, especially in peat lands in eastern coastal areas,” he said, adding that the province had a forest fire alert status until Nov. 30. This year’s dry season was expected to be similar to that of 2015, when the province helped pollute the region with smoke.

Meanwhile, Roesmin Nurjadin air base operational division head Col. Firman Dwi Cahyo said that the Air Force would also prepare one Super Puma helicopter and dozens of F-16 and Hawk 100/200 fighter jets to back up the fire patrols.

“Fighter jets can assist in imaging the hot spots and record the coordinates,” he said.

The numbers of hot spots in Riau were fluctuating last week. The Pekanbaru Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) recorded seven hot spots on Saturday, but the number dropped to four the following day as rains poured down on the province.

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Indonesia: NGO calls for firm action against illegal logging in Mt Leuser area

Antara 29 May 17;

Medan, N Sumatra (ANTARA News) - Indonesian Environmental Forum (Walhi) has urged legal enforcers to take firm action against illegal logging activities in Mount Leuser National Park, Langkat District, North Sumatra Province.

"Security officers should not only seize illegal timbers, but also arrest the perpetrators of illegal logging activities," Director Executive of Walhi branch of North Sumatra Dana Tarigan, said here, Sunday.

The authorities must take stern action against illegal logging activities, the NGO activist said.

The perpetrators must be punished heavily to give them and others a deterrent effect, according to Tarigan.

A joint team comprising among others personnel from the environmental affairs and forestry ministry and police officers, recently seized tens of cubic meters of timbers in Telagah village, Sei Bingei sub-district, Langkat District.

The Leuser ecosystem located in North Sumatra and Aceh Provinces, is among the most biodiverse and ancient ecosystems to be ever documented by science and the last habitat of Sumatran orangutans, elephants, tigers, rhinos, and sun bears.

The ecosystem is part of the 2.5 million-hectare Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra site that comprises three national parks: Gunung Leuser National Park, Kerinci Seblat National Park, and Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park.

The site holds the greatest potential for long-term conservation of the distinctive and diverse biota of Sumatra, including many endangered species.

The protected area is home to an estimated 10,000 plant species, including 17 endemic genera; more than 200 mammal species; and some 580 bird species of which 465 are resident and 21 are endemic. Of the mammal species, 22 are Asian, not found elsewhere in the archipelago and 15 are confined to the Indonesian region, including the endemic Sumatran orang-utan.

The World Heritage List of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has inscribed the site since 2004. The natural site has been inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger since 2011 until present. (*)

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Coral bleaching on Great Barrier Reef worse than expected, surveys show

Surveys taken throughout 2016 show escalating impact from north to south, with 70% of shallow water corals dead north of Port Douglas
Australian Associated Press The Guardian 29 May 17;

Coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef last year was even worse than expected, while the full impact of the most recent event is yet to be determined.

Queensland government officials say aerial and in-water surveys taken throughout 2016 had confirmed an escalating impact from north to south.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority chairman, Russell Reichelt, said the reef had experienced significant and widespread damage over the past two years.

“The amount of coral that died from bleaching in 2016 is up from our original estimates and ... it’s expected we’ll also see an overall further coral cover decline by the end of 2017,” he said in a statement on Monday.

Surveys by the Marine Park Authority, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Australian Institute of Marine Science and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies found the most severe bleaching north of Port Douglas.

There, an estimated 70% of shallow water corals had died, with significant variability between and within reefs.

It is now confirmed that about 29% of shallow water corals died from bleaching during 2016, up from the previous estimate of 22%, with most mortality occurring in the northern parts of the reef.

Bleaching was also found in corals beyond depths divers typically survey, but mortality could not be systematically assessed.

However, there was a strong recovery in the south in the absence of bleaching during the same period.

Officials are predicting further coral loss this year, resulting from the second consecutive year of bleaching and the impacts of tropical Cyclone Debbie.

Over the past few months bleaching occurred in a similar pattern to last year, most severely between Cairns and Townsville.

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