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.”


England to allow unquarantined travel from US and EU if jabbed: govt

England to allow unquarantined travel from US and EU if jabbed: govt
Updated 28 July 2021

England to allow unquarantined travel from US and EU if jabbed: govt

England to allow unquarantined travel from US and EU if jabbed: govt
  • "We're helping reunite people living in the US and European countries with their family and friends," Transport Minister Grant Shapps tweeted
  • Separate rules will continue to apply for those arriving from France

LONDON: People fully vaccinated in the United States and European Union — except France — will be allowed to travel to England without having to quarantine on arrival, the UK government announced on Wednesday.
“We’re helping reunite people living in the US and European countries with their family and friends,” Transport Minister Grant Shapps tweeted, adding that the policy will come into force from 4:00 am (0300 GMT) on August 2.
Travelers fully jabbed with a vaccine approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration or the European Medicines Agency will be able to travel from any country on the British government’s “amber” traffic light list without having to self-isolate at home for 10 days.
They will still need to do a pre-departure test and take another test on day two after arriving in England.
Separate rules will continue to apply for those arriving from France.
Those traveling from an amber list country, which includes most of Europe and the US, who are not fully vaccinated will still have to quarantine on arrival.
The government also confirmed the restart of international cruises.
“This is progress we can all enjoy,” wrote Shapps.
Britain is in the midst of another wave of the virus due to the so-called delta variant, although case numbers have dropped over the past week, while its vaccine drive has seen more than 70 percent of adults fully jabbed.
The devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland set their own health policies, and decide their own foreign travel rules.


Former UK military chiefs sound alarm over Afghan interpreters ‘left behind to die’

Former UK military chiefs sound alarm over Afghan interpreters ‘left behind to die’
Updated 28 July 2021

Former UK military chiefs sound alarm over Afghan interpreters ‘left behind to die’

Former UK military chiefs sound alarm over Afghan interpreters ‘left behind to die’
  • Relocation scheme to bring to Britain former colleagues who risked their lives is “inadequate,” letter warns

LONDON: Former high-profile British defense figures have urged the expansion of a relocation initiative for Afghan interpreters who supported Britain’s role in the country’s conflict, after it emerged that hundreds were denied the right to live in the UK.
The group raised “grave concerns” in a letter to The Times newspaper that the UK scheme was inadequate in protecting Afghans who risked their lives to help coalition forces in the conflict with the Taliban.
The letter includes the signatures of six former heads of the armed forces, and in total was signed by 45 former military officers and officials.
It urged British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to reconsider the scheme, warning: “It is not being conducted with the required spirit of generosity and urgency.”
The initiative, formally titled the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy, was launched this year to urgently relocate Afghans — who previously worked for British forces as interpreters —   to the UK amid a NATO withdrawal from the war-torn country.
In past years, more than 2,200 Afghans and their families arrived in Britain.
But through the letter, the former military figures raised urgent concerns that too many relocation applications had been “unreasonably rejected” by UK officials.
It read: “The UK should be as generous and welcoming as we know it can be. These individuals have stood shoulder to shoulder with us. We must now do the same for them.”
Other campaigners have also joined the campaign in urging the government to update the scheme. The Sulha Alliance, which was founded to promote the relocation of former Afghan interpreters, warned that policy should be “more generous.”
About 450 Afghans who worked for British forces told the alliance that their applications had been formally rejected, Ed Aitken, a former captain and co-founder of the group, said.
One former interpreter who was rejected, Muhammad, 30, warned that “it is only a matter of time before the Taliban find and kill me.”
He said that he was being “left behind to die after being denied sanctuary in the UK.
“I am sure I will suffer the same fate as interpreters before me and be beheaded.”
But despite his warnings, as well as personal recommendations from British commanders, his application has been continuously denied by officials.


Trafficking victims barred from returning to Britain under new bill

Trafficking victims barred from returning to Britain under new bill
Updated 28 July 2021

Trafficking victims barred from returning to Britain under new bill

Trafficking victims barred from returning to Britain under new bill
  • Government is telling young girls who were forced overseas that they are not victims, Reprieve director tells Arab News

LONDON: British women and children trafficked overseas into terror groups would be barred from returning under the government’s new immigration bill, an investigation has revealed.

The Nationality and Borders Bill, which passed its second reading last week, will give Home Secretary Priti Patel the power to deny victims protection under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 if they are trafficked by a terrorist organization.

This denial of assistance will be justified by classifying the trafficking victims as a threat to national security. 

The new legislation is being introduced despite the Home Office being forced to U-turn after it claimed a child who was trafficked to Afghanistan by a terrorist gang “did not fall under the definition of modern slavery.”

Patel later admitted that the department’s actions were based on a “misunderstanding of the law” and withdrew it. 

Home Office lawyers said in 2019 that it was “not her position or policy” to separate trafficking victims from the protection they are owed when terrorist organizations are involved.

Maya Foa, director of the legal charity Reprieve, told Arab News that “the government is effectively telling young girls taken to Syria by an older man ‘you weren’t trafficked.’ 

“It’s telling women who had no choice but to go to Syria with their abusive, controlling husbands that they weren’t trafficked either. And it’s telling the teenagers groomed online by predators that they cannot have been trafficked because the gang in question was ISIS,” she said, using another term for the terror group Daesh.

She added: “It flies in the face of everything we know about trafficking — and is illegal under international law.”

Under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, human trafficking is defined as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of people through force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them. 

The government’s own guidance notes that a child cannot consent to being trafficked, even though they may appear a “willing participant.”

Reprieve has found that of the Britons held in camps in northeastern Syria, 20 are women and 35 are children and that nearly two-thirds of the women met the legal definition of a trafficking victim. 

However, the government has ignored calls to recover them to Britain. Most of the women have had their citizenship removed.

Women in the camp who meet the standard for being designated as trafficking victims include a teenager who was taken to Syria by a male relative aged just 12. She was raped, forced into marriage at 14 and was pregnant via rape at 15.

The Home Office has denied that its new clause breaks any obligations to trafficking victims. “All decisions to exclude people from provisions are considered on a case-by-case basis and will safeguard those with legitimate modern slavery claims,” a spokesman said.


Germany charges Syrian doctor with crimes against humanity

Germany charges Syrian doctor with crimes against humanity
Updated 28 July 2021

Germany charges Syrian doctor with crimes against humanity

Germany charges Syrian doctor with crimes against humanity
  • Federal Prosecutor's Office said Alla Mousa is accused of 18 counts of torturing people in military hospitals in Syria
  • Prosecutors invoked the principle of universal jurisdiction for serious crimes to bring the case that involved victims and defendants in Germany

BERLIN: A Syrian doctor has been charged in Germany with crimes against humanity for allegedly torturing people in military hospitals in his homeland and killing one of them, German federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
The Federal Prosecutor’s Office in Karlsruhe said in a statement that Alla Mousa, who came to Germany in 2015 and practiced medicine before he was arrested last year, is accused of 18 counts of torturing people in military hospitals in the Syrian cities of Homs and Damascus. The allegations include charges that Mousa tried to make people infertile.
A federal indictment charged him with murder, severe bodily harm, attempted bodily harm and dangerous bodily harm, the statement said.
Prosecutors said after the beginning of the opposition uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad in 2011, protesters were frequently arrested and tortured. Injured civilians who were thought to be members of the opposition were also taken to military hospitals, where they were tortured and sometimes killed.
In February, a German court convicted a former member of Assad’s secret police of facilitating the torture of prisoners in a landmark ruling that human rights activists said would set a precedent for other cases in the decade-long conflict.
Eyad Al-Gharib was convicted of accessory to crimes against humanity and sentenced by the Koblenz state court to 4 1/2 years in prison.
It was the first time that a court outside Syria ruled in a case alleging Syrian government officials committed crimes against humanity. German prosecutors invoked the principle of universal jurisdiction for serious crimes to bring the case that involved victims and defendants in Germany.
In the current case, prosecutors accuse the Syrian doctor of having poured alcohol over the genitals of a teenage boy and another man and setting fire to them with a cigarette lighter at military hospital No. 608 in Homs. He is also accused of torturing nine more people in the same hospital in 2011 by kicking and beating them.
The indictment also alleges that Mousa kicked and beat a jailed man who was suffering an epileptic seizure. A few days later, the doctor gave the man a medication and he subsequently died without the exact cause of death ever clearly being identified, German prosecutors said.
The indictment lists other cases of alleged torture at the military hospital in Homs, including hanging people from the ceiling and beating them with a plastic baton, and pouring flammable liquids over the hand of one of them and burning it. Mousa also is accused of kicking another patient’s open, infected wound, pouring disinfectant into it and setting it on fire.
In one case in 2012, Mousa allegedly beat and kicked an inmate severely. When the man defended himself by kicking back, Mousa beat him to the ground with the help of a male nurse and shortly after administered a toxic substance that killed the inmate, German prosecutors allege.
In addition to the torture allegations at the military hospital in Homs, Mousa is also accused of abusing inmates at the military hospital Mezzeh No. 601 in Damascus between late 2011 and March 2012.


German woman indicted over her time with Daesh in Syria

German woman indicted over her time with Daesh in Syria
Updated 28 July 2021

German woman indicted over her time with Daesh in Syria

German woman indicted over her time with Daesh in Syria

BERLIN: A German woman who traveled to Syria to join the Daesh group and whose husband bought a Yazidi woman as a slave has been charged with membership in a terror group and being an accessory to a crime against humanity, German prosecutors said Wednesday.
The indictment of Leonora M., whose full name wasn’t released because of local privacy rules, is the latest in a string of cases in Germany involving women who went to the area held by Daesh and were involved in holding women captured by the extremist group as slaves.
Federal prosecutors said the suspect went to Syria and joined Daesh in 2015 and became the “third wife” of a member of the group. She is accused of enabling her husband’s activities for Daesh by running their household in Raqqa and writing his application for a job in the group’s intelligence service.
The suspect herself allegedly worked at an Daesh-controlled hospital and snooped on wives of Daesh fighters for the group’s intelligence service.
Prosecutors said her husband bought a 33-year-old Yazidi woman as a slave in 2015 with the aim of selling her with her two small children. Leonora M., they said, cared for the woman so that she could be sold on at a profit — which she subsequently was.
The suspect surrendered to Kurdish fighters in January 2019 as IS lost the areas it held in Syria. She was brought back to Germany in December last year and arrested after her arrival.
The indictment was filed on July 7 at a court in the eastern town of Naumburg.