Incumbent facing run-off in Cyprus president vote: exit polls

Cyprus’ President Presidential candidate Nicos Anastasiades, center, is greeted by his supporters in Nicosia, on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018. The final tally from Sunday’s first round of election showed Anastasiades garnering 35.5 percent of the vote as Stavros Malas, who ran as an independent with support from the communist-rooted AKEL party, finished second with 30.25 percent. (AP)
Updated 29 January 2018

Incumbent facing run-off in Cyprus president vote: exit polls

NICOSIA: Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades looked set for a run-off against a dovish challenger after he failed to win a majority at a vote Sunday despite finishing first, an exit poll showed.
A forecast by state broadcaster CyBC after polls closed put the conservative incumbent on 38-42 percent ahead of Communist-backed Stavros Malas on 27-31 percent as the divided Mediterranean island weighs up whether to make a fresh push to reunite.
If the exit poll proves right the two candidates will go head-to-head in a second round of voting next Sunday.
Anastasiades — who is seeking a second and final five-year term in the European Union’s most easterly member — has pledged to restart talks promptly with the Turkish-backed north after they collapsed last year in acrimony.
Malas, a former health minister who lost out to Anastasiades in 2013, is firmly in favor of a deal to reunite the country and has criticized the president for not going far enough.
There now looks set to be intense jockeying behind the scenes to secure the support of the losing candidates, above all predicted third place finisher Nikolas Papadopoulos, a former president’s son who takes a tougher line on talks.
Two other exit polls had Anastasiades well ahead but made the race for second place closer to call.
Turnout was well down on five years ago at 71.4 percent as apathy among young voters fed up with an insular system appears on the rise.
Former lawyer Anastasiades — under the slogan “Steady Steps Forward” — has taken credit for an impressive recovery by the European Union’s most easterly member since a debilitating financial crisis in 2013.
After voting earlier in his hometown of Limassol Anastasiades called for “sobriety” and unity after the vote.
As always, the nearly 44-year division of the island between the internationally recognized Greek-majority Republic of Cyprus and a Turkish Cypriot statelet in the north looms large.
In July, two years of UN-backed talks between Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci came closer than ever to reunifying the island but then collapsed in acrimony.
Despite the failure to bridge key issues, including the future of tens of thousands of Turkish troops in the north, Anastasiades insists he wants talks with Akinci to restart soon.
But there is deep skepticism internationally over whether the political will for a breakthrough exists.
“The economy is doing reasonably well — but for me the main criterion is still the Cyprus problem,” said university lecturer Andres Karageorghis after voting at a school in Nicosia.
“To carry on and hopefully find a solution.”
There are clear warning signs that the road to reunification will only get tougher as fatigue mounts after decades of failure.
For the first time ultra-nationalist party ELAM — fiercely opposed to the proposed reunification — is fielding a candidate.
While the “national problem” is ever present, this time around the economy has been a dominant issue.
When Anastasiades became president, the banking sector was in meltdown and he took a 10 billion euro (more than $12 billion) bailout that entailed biting austerity measures.
That included a drastic “haircut” on accounts of more than 100,000 euros held in the country’s largest lender, Bank of Cyprus.
Since then, the economy has rebounded faster than many people expected, and growth has been steady since 2015.
Tourism reached a record high last year and explorations are going on for oil and gas deposits offshore.
Analysts warn there are still major challenges, however.
The economy is still smaller than it was before the crisis, unemployment is around 11 percent and banks are awash with bad loans.
Final official results are expected by 1830 GMT.


Thai rice farmers shun ‘big agribusiness’ and fight climate change

Updated 12 December 2019

Thai rice farmers shun ‘big agribusiness’ and fight climate change

  • Traditional Thai rice farmers earn around 3,000 baht a month ($100)
  • Rice is a staple in the diet of around three billion people globally

MAE RIM, Thailand: Battling drought, debt and ailments blamed on pesticides, rice farmers in northern Thailand have turned to eco-friendly growing methods despite powerful agribusiness interests in a country that is one of the top exporters of the grain in the world.

Walking through a sea of green waist-high stalks, farmer Sunnan Somjak said his fields were “exhausted” by chemicals, his family regularly felt ill, and his profits were too low to make ends meet.

But that changed when he joined a pilot agricultural project for the SRI method, which aims to boost yields while shunning pesticides and using less water.

“Chemicals can destroy everything,” the 58-year-old said, adding that the harvest in his village in Chiang Mai province has jumped 40 percent since employing the new method.

There have been health benefits too. “It’s definitely better, we don’t get sick any more,” he added.

SRI was invented in the 1980s in Madagascar by a French Jesuit priest, and the technique has spread globally.

It works by planting crops wider apart — thus drawing in more nutrients and light — and limiting the amount of water that gets into fields, which helps micro-organisms flourish to act as natural fertilizers.

In a plus for debt-laden farmers, it also uses fewer seeds, and they are encouraged to use plants and ginger roots that naturally deter insects rather than chemical alternatives — meaning fewer expenses.

Traditional Thai rice farmers earn around 3,000 baht a month ($100) but Sunnan was able to increase his income by 20 percent after adopting the SRI method.
“I’ve finally got rid of my debts,” he told AFP.

Rice is a staple in the diet of around three billion people globally. But agricultural workers are locked in a vicious cycle: beset by drought and floods brought on by climate change, the farmers contribute to the disruption as their fields release methane and nitrous oxide, two greenhouse gases.

With SRI, paddy fields are not permanently flooded, which reduces methane emissions by 60 percent, according to Tristan Lecomte, founder of Pur Projet, a French company supporting the technique.

The project also helped Sunnan plant trees around his crops to reinforce the water table.

According to Lecomte, rice yields can jump from 20 percent to more than 100 compared to the traditional method.

Southeast Asia, where agriculture supports millions, is slowly embracing SRI.

The US-based Cornell University created a center specializing in the technique in 2010 and more than two million farmers in the region — especially from Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos — have been trained.

In Bac Giang province in northern Vietnam, net profits for farmers were as much as 226 percent higher after adopting the SRI method than when using traditional ones, according to Abha Mishra, who led a large project on behalf of the Asian Institute of Technology.

The Philippines, which grows rice but is also one of the world’s leading importers, is also interested in this method and the Ministry of Agriculture has started training farmers.

The method is also used in parts of India, China, and Africa. But, while there is support from NGOs, as well as some scientists and authorities, it still has a long way to go before widespread adoption.

It faces resistance domestically from agribusiness as there is no new hybrid seed or fertilizer to sell.

Industry lobbies are very active in Southeast Asia, particularly in Thailand, one of the largest users of pesticides in the world.

And they recently won a big battle over chemical use in agriculture.

Thai authorities, who had committed to ban controversial glyphosate, backtracked at the end of November, deciding that “limited” use would eventually be allowed.

The use of two other herbicides has also been extended. Lecomte says the other challenge potentially impacting the rate of adoption is the SRI method is quite complex to learn and it is labor intensive.

“You have to plant one by one and closely control the amount water,” he explained, adding that the extra manual effort required means some farmers don’t want to try the method, and others give up early on.

Sunnan admits that his workload is heavier but the financial and health benefits make it worth it in the end. He added: “It is safe for our body, and the environment.”