Women show the way as India pushes ‘eco-miracle’ seaweed

In this photograph taken on Sept. 24, 2021, a woman works on seaweed after harvesting from the waters off the coast of Rameswaram in India's Tamil Nadu state. (Photo by Arun Sankar/ AFP)
1 / 6
In this photograph taken on Sept. 24, 2021, a woman works on seaweed after harvesting from the waters off the coast of Rameswaram in India's Tamil Nadu state. (Photo by Arun Sankar/ AFP)
In this photograph taken on Sept. 24, 2021, a woman dives to harvest wild seaweed from the waters off the coast of Rameswaram in India's Tamil Nadu state. (Photo by Arun Sankar/ AFP)
2 / 6
In this photograph taken on Sept. 24, 2021, a woman dives to harvest wild seaweed from the waters off the coast of Rameswaram in India's Tamil Nadu state. (Photo by Arun Sankar/ AFP)
In this photograph taken on Sept. 24, 2021, a woman collects seaweed in the waters off the coast of Rameswaram in India's Tamil Nadu state. (Photo by Arun Sankar/ AFP)
3 / 6
In this photograph taken on Sept. 24, 2021, a woman collects seaweed in the waters off the coast of Rameswaram in India's Tamil Nadu state. (Photo by Arun Sankar/ AFP)
In this photograph taken on Sept. 24, 2021, a woman harvests wild seaweed in the waters off the coast of Rameswaram in India's Tamil Nadu state. (Photo by Arun Sankar/ AFP)
4 / 6
In this photograph taken on Sept. 24, 2021, a woman harvests wild seaweed in the waters off the coast of Rameswaram in India's Tamil Nadu state. (Photo by Arun Sankar/ AFP)
In this photograph taken on Sept. 24, 2021, women work to cultivate fronds of seaweed on bamboo rafts in the waters off the coast of Rameswaram in India's Tamil Nadu state. (Photo by Arun Sankar/ AFP)
5 / 6
In this photograph taken on Sept. 24, 2021, women work to cultivate fronds of seaweed on bamboo rafts in the waters off the coast of Rameswaram in India's Tamil Nadu state. (Photo by Arun Sankar/ AFP)
 In this photograph taken on Sept. 24, 2021, a woman works on seaweed after harvesting from the waters off the coast of Rameswaram in India's Tamil Nadu state. (Photo by Arun Sankar/ AFP)
6 / 6
In this photograph taken on Sept. 24, 2021, a woman works on seaweed after harvesting from the waters off the coast of Rameswaram in India's Tamil Nadu state. (Photo by Arun Sankar/ AFP
Short Url
Updated 28 October 2021

Women show the way as India pushes ‘eco-miracle’ seaweed

Women show the way as India pushes ‘eco-miracle’ seaweed
  • India is the world’s third largest carbon polluter, behind China and the US, and has yet to set a target date for its emissions to reach net zero

RAMESWARAM, India: Draped in a colorful saree and shirt, Lakshmi Murgesan dives into the azure waters off India’s southern coast to collect seaweed, which is being hailed by scientists as a miracle crop that absorbs more carbon dioxide than trees.
India is the world’s third largest carbon polluter, behind China and the US, and has yet to set a target date for its emissions to reach net zero.
But authorities are looking into how seaweed farming could help reduce the impact of greenhouse gas emissions, reverse ocean acidification and improve the marine environment, as well as providing a sustainable livelihood for marginalized coastal communities.
“I am doing this for my children... It requires a lot of hard work, but I am able to earn good profits from about four months of work,” said Murgesan, who makes 20,000 rupees ($265) each month farming the fibrous macroalgae.
“I would not have been able to educate my children but after doing this, I could send my children to college,” she added, smiling as she emerged from the waters in Rameswaram, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.
M. Ganesan, a government marine scientist, said seaweed provides a possible way forward as coastal habitats and wetlands absorb five times more carbon than terrestrial forests.
“It is a miracle crop in many ways, it is eco-friendly, it doesn’t use land or fresh water. It absorbs carbon dioxide dissolved in water during photosyntheses and oxygenates the entire marine ecosystem,” Ganesan told AFP.
India, which has an 8,000-kilometer (5,000-mile) coastline, is now aiming to boost production from the current 30,000 tons to more than one million tons each year by 2025.
Globally, seaweed production was worth around $12 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow to $26 billion by 2025, with China and Indonesia having 80 percent of the market share.

Murgesan is part of a team of women who work together to cultivate fronds of seaweed on bamboo rafts, before harvesting and drying them.
The tropical waters of Tamil Nadu form an ideal environment — with one raft yielding up to 200 kilos (440 pounds) in around 45 days.
The product is then sent for sale in markets nationwide as well as the US and Australia through AquAgri, a private company that promotes algal cultivation in India.
Popular in East and South East Asian cuisine, seaweed is also used in medicine, cosmetics, bio-fertilizer and bio-fuel.
“Seaweed has major use as a crop bio-stimulant for increasing productivity and making the crop more resilient to climate induced stresses. It’s also used as a major ingredient in meat and food processing,” Abhiram Seth, managing director of AquAgri, told AFP.
And while it has not been traditionally popular in India, in July the government announced some $85 million in subsidies for seaweed farming initiatives over the next five years.
Seaweed cultivation is already common in Japan, China, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Interest is growing in Australia, which has outlined a plan to develop a $100 million industry by 2025.
Seth said there was potential to benefit both the environment and farmers like Murgesan.
“Seaweeds clean up the water. At the same time seaweed cultivators get a sustainable income without having to relocate to urban areas to find work,” he explained.

Seaweed does not require fertilizer, freshwater, or pesticides. Kelp, one of the most commonly farmed types, grows at a rate of 61cm (two feet) a day.
They absorb an estimated 173 million metric tons of carbon each year — the same annual emissions as New York State, according to a 2016 paper in Nature Geosciences.
And a recent study by the University of California found that mixing red seaweed in animal feed could help reduce methane emissions.
“We now have sound evidence that seaweed in cattle diet is effective at reducing greenhouse gases and that the efficacy does not diminish over time,” Ermias Kebreab, director of the World Food Center, said in the research.
As well as absorbing carbon dioxide when it is alive, when it dies and drops to the seafloor, seaweed also keeps carbon in the sediment, Ganesan added.
However scientists say there can be downsides to farming it.
“Overharvesting seaweed has its drawbacks because it forms the food for many reef dwelling creatures like sea urchins and reef fish,” said marine biologist Naveen Namboothri, from Dakshin Foundation, adding that extraction could disturb the reef.
Conscious of these risks, Murgesan and the other farmers work for only 12 days a month and don’t harvest during the main fish breeding season, between April and June.
Seaweed farmer Vijaya Muthuraman, who never went to school, relies on traditional knowledge.
“We only grow as much as we need and in a way that doesn’t harm or kill the fish,” she said, sitting on the shore after the day’s toil, the gentle surf rising and ebbing behind her.
The dangers of getting hurt by the rocky sea bed or stung by jellyfish always lurk for the women, but they appeared undaunted, laughing and chatting away their worries.
“We face a lot of hazards but this work has given me and my family some dignity,” she said, adding: “Our living standards have improved and now others in my village also want to become seaweed farmers.”


New Zealand’s plan to end smoking: A lifetime ban for youth

New Zealand’s plan to end smoking: A lifetime ban for youth
Updated 5 sec ago

New Zealand’s plan to end smoking: A lifetime ban for youth

New Zealand’s plan to end smoking: A lifetime ban for youth
  • Because the current minimum age to buy cigarettes in New Zealand is 18, the lifetime smoking ban for youth wouldn’t have an impact for a few years
WELLINGTON, New Zealand: New Zealand’s government believes it has come up with a unique plan to end tobacco smoking — a lifetime ban for those aged 14 or younger.
Under a new law the government announced Thursday and plans to pass next year, the minimum age to buy cigarettes would keep rising year after year.
That means, in theory at least, 65 years after the law takes effect, shoppers could still buy cigarettes — but only if they could prove they were at least 80 years old.
In practice, officials hope smoking will fade away decades before then. Indeed, the plan sets a goal of having fewer than 5 percent of New Zealanders smoking by 2025.
Other parts of the plan include allowing only the sale of tobacco products with very low nicotine levels and slashing the number of stores that can sell them. The changes would be brought in over time to help retailers adjust.
Because the current minimum age to buy cigarettes in New Zealand is 18, the lifetime smoking ban for youth wouldn’t have an impact for a few years.
In an interview with The Associated Press, New Zealand’s Associate Health Minister Dr. Ayesha Verrall, who is spearheading the plan, said her work at a public hospital in Wellington involved telling several smokers they had developed cancer.
“You meet, every day, someone facing the misery caused by tobacco,” Verrall said. ”The most horrible ways people die. Being short of breath, caused by tobacco.”
Smoking rates have steadily fallen in New Zealand for years, with only about 11 percent of adults now smoking and 9 percent smoking every day. The daily rate among Indigenous Maori remains much higher at 22 percent. Under the government’s plan, a taskforce would be created to help reduce smoking among Maori.
Big tax increases have already been imposed on cigarettes in recent years and some question why they aren’t hiked even higher.
“We don’t think tax increases will have any further impact,” Verrall said. “It’s really hard to quit and we feel if we did that, we’d be punishing those people who are addicted to cigarettes even more.”
And she said the tax measures tend to place a higher burden on lower-income people, who are more likely to smoke.
The new law wouldn’t impact vaping. Verrall said that tobacco smoking is far more harmful and remains a leading cause of preventable deaths in New Zealand, killing up to 5,000 people each year.
“We think vaping’s a really appropriate quit tool,” she said.
The sale of vaping products is already restricted to those aged 18 and over in New Zealand and vaping is banned in schools. Verrall said there was some evidence of a rise in youth vaping, a trend she is following “really closely.”
New Zealand’s approach to ban the next generation from tobacco smoking hasn’t been tried elsewhere, she said.
But she said studies have shown youth sales decrease when minimum ages are raised. In the US, the federal minimum age to buy tobacco products was raised from 18 to 21 two years ago.
While public health experts have generally welcomed the New Zealand plan, not everybody is happy.
Sunny Kaushal said some stores could be put out of business. Kaushal chairs the Dairy and Business Owners Group, which represents nearly 5,000 corner stores — often called dairies in New Zealand — and gas stations.
“We all want a smoke-free New Zealand,” he said. “But this is going to hugely impact small businesses. It should not be done so it is destroying dairies, lives and families in the process. It’s not the way.”
Kaushal said the tax increases on tobacco had already created a black market that was being exploited by gangs, and the problem would only get worse. He said smoking was already in its twilight in New Zealand and would die away of its own accord.
“This is being driven by academics,” he said, adding that stakeholders hadn’t been consulted.
But Verrall said she didn’t believe the government was overreaching because statistics showed the vast majority of smokers wanted to quit anyway, and the new policies would only help them achieve their goal.
She said the pandemic had helped people gain a new appreciation for the benefits of public health measures and rallying communities, and that perhaps that energy could be harnessed not only to tackle smoking but also diseases like diabetes.
Verrall said she had never smoked herself but her late grandmother did, and it likely compromised her health.
“It’s a really cruel product,” Verrall said.

Acting now on COVID-19 will help avoid lockdown later, Britain’s Javid says

Acting now on COVID-19 will help avoid lockdown later, Britain’s Javid says
Updated 23 min 53 sec ago

Acting now on COVID-19 will help avoid lockdown later, Britain’s Javid says

Acting now on COVID-19 will help avoid lockdown later, Britain’s Javid says
  • Javid said there was no plan to impose mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for the general population

LONDON: Britain’s decision to impose restrictions to slow the spread of the omicron variant of the novel coronavirus will likely avoid the need to impose much tougher controls in the new year, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said on Thursday.
Javid said the omicron variant was spreading more swiftly than any other variant studied and could result in around 1 million infections across the United Kingdom by the end of the month if transmission continued at the current rate.
“I hope that most people will understand that by taking some decisive action now, we can potentially avoid action later,” Javid told Sky.
Asked if tougher measures could be imposed in January, Javid said: “No. I hope not.”
Javid said there was no plan to impose mandatory COVID-19 vaccination for the general population.


India’s defense chief to be laid to rest with full military honors

India’s defense chief to be laid to rest with full military honors
Updated 09 December 2021

India’s defense chief to be laid to rest with full military honors

India’s defense chief to be laid to rest with full military honors
  • General Bipin Rawat, his wife and 12 defense personnel were en route to a military staff college when their helicopter crashed

NEW DELHI: The bodies of India’s defense chief and 12 others who died in a helicopter crash will be brought to New Delhi on Thursday, where the top general will be laid to rest with full military honors, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said.
General Bipin Rawat, his wife and 12 defense personnel were en route to a military staff college in southern India when the air force helicopter they were traveling in came down near the town of Coonoor on Wednesday.
Only one of the 14 on board survived the crash. The cause of the crash is being investigated.
Rawat, 63, was appointed as India’s first chief of defense staff by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in late 2019. The position was set up with the aim of integrating the army, navy and air force.
In a brief statement in parliament, Defense Minister Singh said the Mi-17 V5 helicopter took off at 11.48 a.m. on Wednesday from the Sulur Air Base. The base lost contact with the aircraft seven minutes before it was scheduled to land at a hillside military area at 12.15 p.m.
“Locals spotted a fire in the forest near Coonoor and rushed to the spot where they observed the wreckage of military helicopter engulfed in flames,” Singh said.
Rawat, who served in the army for over four decades, would be laid to rest with full military honors, Singh said.
The lone survivor of the crash, an air force group captain, is on life support at a military hospital.
“All efforts are being made to save his life,” Singh said.


An Afghan village shrivels in worst drought in decades

An Afghan village shrivels in worst drought in decades
Updated 09 December 2021

An Afghan village shrivels in worst drought in decades

An Afghan village shrivels in worst drought in decades
  • Afghanistan’s drought, its worst in decades, is now entering its second year, exacerbated by climate change

KAMAR KALAGH, Afghanistan: Hajji Wali Jan brought a half-dozen plastic containers to the well in Kamar Kalagh on a recent Friday — one of the handful of days each week he and those who live on his side of this Afghan village ae allowed to use the water source.
When it was finally his turn, the 66-year-old filled one container, then a second. The stream of water from the spigot got thinner. He started on another container — but the thread of water tapered away and then stopped before the vessel was full.
The well was done for the day.
Afghanistan’s drought, its worst in decades, is now entering its second year, exacerbated by climate change. The dry spell has hit 25 of the country’s 34 provinces, and this year’s wheat harvest is estimated to be down 20 percent from the year before.
Along with fighting, the drought has contributed to driving more than 700,000 people from their homes this year, and the onset of winter will only increase the potential for disaster.
“This cumulative drought impact on already debilitated communities can be yet another tipping point to catastrophe,” the UN Food and Agricultural Organization’s Afghanistan office said in a tweet Tuesday. “If left unattended, agriculture might collapse.”
UN experts blamed a late 2020 La Nina event, which can change weather patterns across the globe, for causing lower rain and snowfall in early 2021 in Afghanistan, and they predict that it will continue into 2022.
Afghanistan has long seen regular droughts. But in a 2019 report, the FAO warned that climate change could make them more frequent and more intense. The past year’s drought came on the heels of one in 2018 that at the time was the worst seen in Afghanistan in years.
In the midst of the drought, Afghanistan’s economy collapsed in the wake of the August takeover by the Taliban that resulted in a shut-off of international funds to the government and the freezing of billions of the country’s assets held abroad.
Jobs and livelihoods have disappeared, leaving families desperate for ways to find food. The FAO said last month that 18.8 million Afghans are unable to feed themselves every day, and by the end of the year that number will be 23 million, or nearly 60 percent of the population.
Already hit hard by the drought of 2018, small villages like Kamar Kalagh are shriveling away, unable to squeeze out enough water to survive.
A collection of mud brick homes in the mountains outside the western city of Herat, Kamar Kalagh is home to about 150 families who used to live off of their livestock, particularly camels and goats, and the salaries of men who worked as porters at the Islam Qala border crossing with Iran.
That work has largely dried up as well, and now the village’s main income is from selling sand.
Ajab Gul and his two young sons dug sand from the riverbed and stuffed it into bags on a recent day. A full day’s work will earn them the equivalent of about $2.
“The grass used to grow up to here,” Gul said, holding his hand up to his nose. “When a camel walked through it, you’d just see his head. That was 20 years ago.”
Now there’s no grass and almost no livestock.
Two years ago, the village’s main well ran dry, so the residents pooled the money to pay for it to be dug deeper. For a while, it worked. But soon it grew weak again. The villagers began a rationing system: Half could draw water one day, the other half the next.
Even rationing is no longer enough. The water from the well is only enough for about 10 families a day, Wali Jan said.
When Wali Jan couldn’t fill his canisters, he sent two of his grandsons to an alternative source. They turned the chore into a game: The older boy, about 9, pushed the wheelbarrow, with his younger brother riding alongside the canisters, laughing.
They went up the hill, down the other side, through another dry riverbed — about 3 kilometers (2 miles) in all. Plodding along in hand-me-down tennis shoes too big for his feet, the older boy tripped, and the wheelbarrow tumbled over. Still, they made it to a pool of stagnant water in the riverbed, its surface covered in green algae. They filled the canisters.
When they got back to the village, their grandfather met them. He unwound his turban and tied one end of the long scarf around a handle on the front of the wheelbarrow to help the boys get it up the last slope to his family’s home.
The elderly and the very young are nearly the only males remaining in the village. Most of the working-age men have left to find jobs, elsewhere in Afghanistan, in Iran, Pakistan or Turkey.
“You don’t find anyone outside during the day anymore,” said Samar Gul, another man in his 60s. “There’s only women and children inside the houses.”


Reports: Myanmar troops burn alive 11 in retaliation attack

Reports: Myanmar troops burn alive 11 in retaliation attack
Updated 09 December 2021

Reports: Myanmar troops burn alive 11 in retaliation attack

Reports: Myanmar troops burn alive 11 in retaliation attack
  • Charred remains were found in a village in Sagaing, an area which has seen fierce fighting

BANGKOK: Myanmar government troops raided a small northwestern village, rounding up civilians, binding their hands and then burning them alive in apparent retaliation for an attack on a military convoy, according to witnesses and other reports.
A video of the aftermath of Tuesday’s attack showed the charred bodies of 11 victims, some believed to be teenagers, lying in a circle amid what appeared to be the remains of a hut in Done Taw village in Sagaing region.
Outrage spread as the graphic images were shared on social media over what appeared to be the latest of increasingly brutal military attacks in an attempt to put down stiffening anti-government resistance following the army takeover in February.
Human Rights Watch called Thursday for the international community to ensure that commanders who gave the order are added to targeted sanctions lists, and more broadly, efforts are stepped up to cut off any source of funding to the military.
“Our contacts are saying these were just boys and young people who were villagers who were caught in the wrong place at the wrong time,” a spokeswoman for the group, Manny Maung, said.
She added that similar incidents have been occurring regularly, but that this one happened to be caught on camera.
“This incident is quite brazen, and it happened in an area that was meant to be found, and seen, to scare people,” she said.
The images could not be independently verified, but an account given to The Associated Press by a person who said he was present when they were taken generally matched descriptions of the incident carried by independent Myanmar media.
The government has denied that it had any troops in the area.
The military ouster of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi was initially met with nonviolent street protests, but after police and soldiers responded with lethal force, violence escalated as opponents of military rule took up arms in self-defense.
The killings in Done Taw were decried by Myanmar’s underground National Unity Government, which has established itself as the country’s alternative administration in place of the military-installed government.
The organization’s spokesperson, Dr. Sasa, said a military convoy had been hit by a roadside bomb and troops retaliated first by shelling Done Taw, then assaulting the village, rounding up anyone they could capture.
He said victims ranged in age from 14 to 40.
“Sickening scenes reminiscent of the Islamic State terrorist group bore witness to the the military’s escalation of their acts of terror,” he said in a statement.
“The sheer brutality, savagery, and cruelty of these acts shows a new depth of depravity, and proves that despite the pretense of the relative détente seen over the last few months, the junta never had any intention of deescalating their campaign of violence,” said Sasa, who uses one name.
The witness who spoke to the AP said about 50 troops marched into Done Taw village at about 11 a.m. Tuesday, seizing anyone who did not manage to flee.
“They arrested 11 innocent villagers,” said the witness, who described himself as a farmer and an activist and asked to remain anonymous for his own safety,
He added that the captured men were not members of the locally organized People’s Defense Force, which sometimes engages the army in combat. He said the captives had their hands tied behind them and were set on fire.
He did not give a reason for the soldiers’ assault.
Other witnesses cited in Myanmar media said the victims were members of a defense force, though the witness who spoke to the AP described them as members of a less formally organized village protection group.
In recent months, fighting has been raging in Sagaing and other northwestern areas, where the army has unleashed greater force against the resistance than in urban centers.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric expressed deep concern at the reports of the “horrific killing of 11 people” and strongly condemned such violence, saying “credible reports indicate that five children were among those people killed.”
Dujarric reminded Myanmar’s military authorities of their obligations under international law to ensure the safety and protection of civilians and called for those responsible “for this heinous act” to be held accountable.
He reiterated the UN’s condemnation of violence by Myanmar’s security forces and stressed that this demands a unified international response. As of Wednesday, he said security forces have killed more than 1,300 unarmed individuals, including more than 75 children, through their use of lethal force or while in their custody since the military takeover on Feb. 1.
The allegations follow Monday’s conviction of Suu Kyi on charges of incitement and violating coronavirus restrictions and sentencing to four years in prison, which was quickly cut in half. The court’s action was widely criticized as a further effort by military rulers to roll back the democratic gains of recent years.
In New York, the UN Security Council on Wednesday expressed “deep concern” at the sentencing of Suu Kyi, ousted President Win Myint and others and reiterated previous calls for the release of all those arbitrarily detained.
“The members of the Security Council once again stressed their continued support for the democratic transition in Myanmar, and underlined the need to uphold democratic institutions and processes, refrain from violence, pursue constructive dialogue and reconciliation in accordance with the will and interests of the people of Myanmar, fully respect human rights and fundamental freedoms and uphold the rule of law,” a council statement said.