Argentine airline cancels 371 flights due to strike ahead of G20

Aerolineas Argentinas’ planes sit on the ramp of Ezeiza International Airport near Buenos Aires, Argentina. (File photo / AFP)
Updated 23 November 2018

Argentine airline cancels 371 flights due to strike ahead of G20

BUENOS AIRES: Argentina’s state-owned airline Aerolineas Argentinas said on Friday that it had canceled all flights scheduled for Monday due to a strike called by pilots and other personnel, just days before the country is to host a meeting of the G20.
More than 370 flights, affecting 40,000 travelers, have been scratched from the schedule, Aerolineas said in a statement.
On Nov.30, the yearly meeting of the leaders of the world’s 20 biggest economies is to be held in Buenos Aires. The G20 summit will be the biggest of its kind ever to be held in Argentina.
The inflation- and recession-racked country is hoping to use the G20 meeting to showcase the market-friendly policies of President Mauricio Macri, who has failed to attract significant foreign direct investment since he took office in late 2015.
Frequent strikes by activist labor unions are a reason why investors still shy from Argentina.
“Given the need to protect its passengers, Aerolineas is forced to cancel the entire operation scheduled for that day (Monday) and is reprogramming flights in the most orderly way possible,” the statement said.
Two pilots unions plus the Aeronautical Personnel Association and the Aeronautical Technical Personnel Association are among the groups that will strike, the statement said.
“From 00:00 Monday morning (03:00 GMT) Nov. 26 there will be a total stoppage of activities,” a statement on the website of the local APLA pilots union said. The open-ended strike is over issues including what the union called inadequate wages.
Labor stoppages are common in Argentina, where employers are hard-pressed to grant pay increases in line with inflation.
Consumer prices in Argentina rose 5.4 percent in October alone. Annual inflation is expected to top 47 percent by the end of the year, according to the latest central bank poll.


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.”