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

Thai rice farmers shun ‘big agribusiness’ and fight climate change
This photo taken on November 7, 2019 shows Tristan Lecomte, founder of French company "Pur Projet", meeting farmers harvesting rice in the village of Mae Rim in the northern Thai province of Chiang Mai. (File/AFP)
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Updated 12 December 2019

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

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.”


US pledges funding to help Egypt move to solar power

US pledges funding to help Egypt move to solar power
Updated 16 June 2021

US pledges funding to help Egypt move to solar power

US pledges funding to help Egypt move to solar power
  • Egypt remains reliant on fossil fuels for its energy needs, and a gigantic cloud of air pollution often hovers over Cairo
  • But President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s government is taking steps toward renewables

CAIRO: The United States is planning to increase funding to Egypt to help it convert to solar energy and move away from fossil fuels, US special envoy for climate John Kerry said in Cairo on Wednesday.
Egypt is “blessed to be the number one country in the world” when it comes to making use of solar energy, Kerry told reporters following meetings with Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry.
Egypt remains reliant on fossil fuels for its energy needs, and a gigantic cloud of air pollution often hovers over its capital of Cairo, home to some 20 million people.
But President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s government is taking steps toward renewables. El-Sisi has said that he aims to take greater advantage of the country’s optimal solar and wind conditions for energy harvesting. Officials have said they plan to get 20 percent of the country’s energy needs met by renewables before 2022, and 43 percent by 2035.
Kerry said that switching to renewable energy could help Egypt create jobs as well. Roughly a third of Egyptian citizens live below the poverty line, according to a government study from 2019. And the effects of the coronavirus pandemic have also hit hard the tourism-dependent nation.
Kerry also told reporters that the world has a long way to go before it meets international goals that were set by the historic 2015 Paris climate accord.
President Joe Biden, who has said that fighting global warming is among his highest priorities, had the United States rejoin the historic Paris accord in the first hours of his presidency, undoing the US withdrawal ordered by his predecessor Donald Trump.
Major emitters of greenhouse gases are preparing for the next UN climate summit, due in November in Glasgow, UK The summit aims to relaunch global efforts to keep rising global temperatures to below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) as agreed in the Paris accord.


’Time on no one’s side’ in Iran nuclear talks: France

’Time on no one’s side’ in Iran nuclear talks: France
Updated 16 June 2021

’Time on no one’s side’ in Iran nuclear talks: France

’Time on no one’s side’ in Iran nuclear talks: France
  • French foreign ministry said "significant disagreements persist"
  • US President has indicated a willingness to rejoin the agreement, once it is certain Iran’s willing to respect its commitments

PARIS: France said Wednesday that “time is on no one’s side” in talks aiming to bring the US back into the 2015 deal on Iran’s nuclear program.
This comes two days ahead of an Iranian presidential election expected to be won by a hard-liner.
The French foreign ministry said “significant disagreements persist” as representatives from Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and Iran meet in Vienna in search of a breakthrough.
US President Joe Biden has indicated a willingness to rejoin the agreement, once it is certain that Iran is willing to respect its commitments, after his predecessor Donald Trump walked out of the accord.
But the expected victory of hard-line judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi in Friday’s presidential election in Iran could add a new complication, even if supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has always had the final say on the issue.
“The negotiations become more difficult as they focus on the more difficult issues. Significant disagreements persist,” the French foreign ministry said in a statement.
“This means courageous decisions are needed, which will have to be taken quickly, because we all share the opinion that time is on no one’s side,” it added.
Raisi is regarded as the clear favorite to win after heavyweight rivals, including conservative figures, were disqualified in pre-vote vetting by an oversight body, the Guardians Council.
The French ministry was responding to comments in an Italian newspaper by UN atomic agency chief Rafael Grossi who indicated there was no prospect of a deal until a new Iranian government takes office, which may not be until August.
The landmark 2015 accord has been hanging by a thread since Trump took the United States out of the deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions. That led Tehran to step up its nuclear activities, which were curtailed by the deal.
Negotiators from the US are taking part indirectly in the EU-chaired discussions in Vienna.
The Iranian presidency has been held for the last eight years by Hassan Rouhani, a former chief nuclear negotiator seen as a relatively pragmatic figure on the issue.
The constitution bars him from seeking a third consecutive term.


Junta troops burn Myanmar village in escalation of violence

Junta troops burn Myanmar village in escalation of violence
Updated 16 June 2021

Junta troops burn Myanmar village in escalation of violence

Junta troops burn Myanmar village in escalation of violence
  • The action appeared to be an attempt to suppress resistance against the ruling military junta
  • The attack is the latest example of how violence has become endemic in much of Myanmar

BANGKOK: Government troops in Myanmar have burned most of a village in the country’s central heartland, a resident said Wednesday, confirming reports by independent media and on social networks.
The action appeared to be an attempt to suppress resistance against the ruling military junta.
The attack is the latest example of how violence has become endemic in much of Myanmar in recent months as the junta tries to subdue an incipient nationwide insurrection. After the army seized power in February, overthrowing the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, a nonviolent civil disobedience movement arose to challenge military rule, but the junta’s attempt to repress it with deadly force fueled rather than quelled resistance.
Photos and videos of devastated Kinma village in Magway region that circulated widely on social media on Wednesday showed much of the village flattened by fire and the charred bodies of farm animals. A villager contacted by phone said only 10 of 237 houses were left standing.
The villager, who asked that his name not be used because of fear of government reprisal, said most residents had already fled when soldiers firing guns entered the village shortly before noon on Tuesday.
He said he believed the troops were searching for members of a village defense force that had been established to protect against the junta’s troops and police. Most such local forces are very lightly armed with homemade hunting rifles.
The village defense force gave residents advance warning of the troops’ arrival, so only four or five people were left in the village when they began searching houses in the afternoon. When they found nothing, they began setting the homes on fire, he said.
“There are some forests just nearby our village. Most of us fled into the forests,” he said.
The villager said he believed there were three casualties, a boy who was a goat-herder who was shot in the thigh, and an elderly couple who were unable to flee. He believed the couple had died but several media reports said they were missing.
Asked if he planned to go back to the village, he said: “No, we dare not to. We think it isn’t over. We will shift to other villages. Even if we go back to our village, there is no place to stay because everything is burnt.”
The village defense forces are committed to forming a future opposition federal army, and some have allied themselves with ethnic minority groups in border areas that have been fighting for decades for autonomy from the central government.
Most of the fiercest fighting takes place in the border regions, where government forces are deployed in areas controlled by ethnic groups such as the Chin in the west, the Kachin in the north and the Karenni in the east.
The incident in Kinma attracted special attention because the Burman, or Barmar ethnic group, the country’s power-holding majority, is predominant in the Magway region and it is unusual for them to be targeted for such severe measures.
The army burned many villages of the Muslim Rohingya minority in 2017 in a brutal counterinsurgency campaign in the western state of Rakhine that drove more than 700,000 to seek safety across the border in Bangladesh.
There is widespread prejudice against the Rohingya and few in Myanmar protested the army’s treatment of them, though international courts are now considering whether it constituted genocide. Some people commenting Wednesday on social media said the burning of Kinma made Rohingya claims of mistreatment more credible.


Family: Briton arrested in UK after fighting Daesh is being ‘persecuted’

Family: Briton arrested in UK after fighting Daesh is being ‘persecuted’
Updated 16 June 2021

Family: Briton arrested in UK after fighting Daesh is being ‘persecuted’

Family: Briton arrested in UK after fighting Daesh is being ‘persecuted’
  • Dan Newey traveled to Syria to join Kurdish forces
  • Home Office: ‘We have consistently warned’ against UK nationals, residents going to Syria ‘for any reason’

LONDON: The father of a British man arrested fighting Daesh alongside Kurdish forces has said his family is being “persecuted.”

Dan Newey, 28, was detained by police when he landed at Heathrow airport in London earlier this year. He had traveled to and fought on the border region between Syria and Turkey.

Newey’s father Paul told British newspaper Metro that Dan had fought with the People’s Protection Units (YPG). Paul was arrested on suspicion of funding terrorism after sending his son £150 ($211).

The case against him collapsed at the Old Bailey, the central criminal court of England and Wales, but former YPG fighters still face arrest even though it is not a banned group in Britain.

Newey traveled to the Syrian border region against advice from the UK Foreign Office. He has previously claimed that he worked closely with British and US forces.

Paul said his son “flew back into Heathrow and got arrested straight away under terrorism laws. He’s been on bail ever since. They’re looking into it but in the meantime he’s just been left in limbo. He can’t go to work and he can’t sign on.

“There’s no light at the end of the tunnel — this could go on for years and we feel we’re being persecuted despite my son having risked his life to protect British interests.”

Paul said his son was prevented from speaking to the media due to his legal situation in the UK.

In November, Newey said he was “exhausted” after spending almost two years in Syria, but remained because he wanted to continue fighting Daesh. 

He added: “We survive this and then have another war when we go home. Lots of people don’t manage. I know many people that struggled to reintegrate, struggled to come to terms with the things they’d seen here, and the treatment of us by the Crown Prosecution Service makes it worse. People have taken their own lives. We’re not the criminals. We’re doing the right thing.”

A UK Home Office spokesperson said in a statement: “We do not routinely comment on individual cases. We have consistently warned against UK nationals and residents travelling to Syria for any reason.

“Those who become involved in fighting abroad, including fighting against Daesh alongside Kurdish groups, can expect to be arrested on return and investigated to establish if they pose any risk and whether they have committed any offences.”


British lawyer Karim Khan sworn in as ICC’s chief prosecutor

British lawyer Karim Khan sworn in as ICC’s chief prosecutor
Updated 16 June 2021

British lawyer Karim Khan sworn in as ICC’s chief prosecutor

British lawyer Karim Khan sworn in as ICC’s chief prosecutor

THE HAGUE: British lawyer Karim Khan was sworn in Wednesday as the new chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, pledging to reach out to nations that are not members of the court in his quest to end impunity for atrocities and to try to hold trials in countries where crimes are committed.
Khan, a 51-year-old English lawyer, has years of experience in international courts as a prosecutor, investigator and defense attorney. He takes over from Fatou Bensouda of Gambia, whose nine-year term ended Tuesday.
“The priority for me, and I believe that’s the principle of the Rome Statute, is not to focus so much on where trials take place, but to ensure that the quest for accountability and inroads on impunity are made,” Khan said, referring to the treaty that founded the court, in his first speech after taking his oath of office.
“The Hague itself should be a city of last resort,” he said. “Wherever possible, we should be trying to have trials in the country or in the region.”
Khan said he wanted to work with countries that are not among the court’s 123 member states to achieve justice. World powers the United States, Russia and China are not members and do not recognize the court’s jurisdiction.
“My conviction is that we can find common ground in the quest and in the imperative to ensure we eradicate genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes,” Khan said.
Most recently, Khan led a United Nations team investigating atrocities in Iraq, telling the Security Council last month that he uncovered “clear and compelling evidence” that Islamic State extremists committed genocide against the Yazidi minority in 2014.
In the past, he has defended clients at international courts including former Liberian President Charles Taylor and Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto. ICC prosecutors dropped charges against Ruto and President Uhuru Kenyatta of involvement in deadly post-election violence in their country.
Khan begins his nine-year term as the court’s prosecution office is struggling to keep up with demands for investigations. The court prosecutes genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in nations unable or unwilling to carry out their own prosecutions.
He said he wants to reform the office and immediately address what he called a “gender and geographical imbalance” among its staff. He also said prosecutors, who have lost several high profile cases in recent years, have to improve their performances in court.
“We have to perform in trial,” Khan said. “We cannot invest so much. We cannot raise expectations so high and achieve so little so often in the courtroom.”
His predecessor told The Associated Press in an interview Monday that there is “a serious mismatch” between what the prosecutor’s office needs to do its work and what it is getting from the court’s member nations.
“We have more or less had an explosion of cases that we are supposed to be handling, but we cannot do it without adequate resources,” Bensouda told the AP.
She also had a warning for Khan that there are “attempts at every side, every corner, to politicize the actions of the prosecutor.”
Among the most politically charged investigations Khan inherits are those in Afghanistan — where prosecutors are pursuing cases against all sides in the country’s conflict, including allegations of crimes by American troops and foreign intelligence operatives — and in the Palestinian territories, where alleged abuses by Israeli forces and Palestinian militants are being probed.
Bensouda said every case the court opens “is politically charged one way or the other. So we are aware of that. But it should not be part of our decision-making.”
Human Rights Watch had a similar message for Khan.
Bensouda’s decisions to launch investigations in Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories “reinforced the office’s independence,” said Liz Evenson, associate international justice director at the rights group. “Karim Khan should build on his predecessor’s efforts to ensure that those most responsible for grave crimes are held to account, regardless of their power or position.”