Date palm disease threatens livelihoods in Yemen


A disease which kills date palm trees, on which thousands of people depend for a living, has returned to Hadhramaut Governorate in southern Yemen, reports the UN news service IRIN.

Khalid Saleh, 55, could not believe his eyes when he saw his smallholding in Doan District (some 250km north of Mukalla) hit yet again by the dubas bug.

In the past the disease ravaged date palms in his village leaving dozens of trees dead and spoiling the date crop for the following three years.

“In 2005, 2006 and 2007 the date crop was severely damaged by dubas and consequently many people in my village went bankrupt,” Saleh said.

“The reappearance of the disease means we’ll get a poor crop. We celebrated when heavy rain washed the trees and we thought the disease had been wiped out.”

Ommatissus binotatus lybicus De Berg, or date palm dubas, is caused by an insect which absorbs the plant’s natural juices and exudes a sticky liquid, which gradually spreads and in the worst cases engulfs the whole tree, which then dies.

Saleh Ahmed is the head of Wadi Gozah Agricultural Association, an NGO working to maintain date palms in Doan District (250km north of Mukalla), and a member of the local council.

He told IRIN that when the disease reappeared in his village, he immediately informed the Centre for Agricultural Research (CAR) in Mukalla which carries out spraying campaigns, but he was stunned by their reply.

“They told us that they didn’t have money and when they got it they would start spraying. The disease has spread wildly and they haven’t come yet,” he said.

Ahmed has warned that many people in Doan District are threatened by bankruptcy.

“Selling dates is a life-line for poor farmers; others get work tending to the trees. This year, they may fall on hard times again,” he said, adding that farmers were no longer interested in planting palm trees.

Mohammmed Hubaishan, a CAR entomologist responsible for spraying campaigns, told IRIN that lack of cash was hampering the CAR: “We don’t have enough money to combat the disease in all areas and we are also waiting for insecticide to be sent from the capital.”

Hubaishan said the disease had struck to varying degrees in different parts of the governorate, with Doan, Al-Duais, Al-Shargiah, Qusiar and Hadhramaut Valley worst affected. Hundreds of thousands of palm trees already had the disease in the valley.

“Hundreds of tonnes of the crop were afflicted by the sticky substance in the last couple of years… and packing factories were paying lower and lower prices.

According to Hubaishan, there are no precise statistics but he believes the number of trees affected could be millions, and that thousands of livelihoods are at risk.

Source: UN IRIN service

Date: 10/05/2009

‘Green Nobel’ for rainforest champion


A campaigner who was jailed during his battle to save the rainforest in Gabon has received a top international award., reports the BBC’s Victoria Gill.

Marc Ona Essangui was honoured for his fight to stop what he describes as a destructive mining project in the Ivindo National Park.

He is one of seven people from six continental regions to be awarded an equal share of the $900,000 (£600,000) 2009 Goldman Environmental Prize.

It has been described as “the Nobel Prize for grassroots environmentalism”.

Mr Ona has campaigned for three years against the Belinga mine project – a deal between the government in Gabon and the Chinese mining and engineering company, CMEC, to extract iron ore.

The project includes the construction of a large hydroelectric dam, which is already underway, to provide power for the mine. The dam is being built on the Ivindo River, near the Kongou Falls, Gabon’s highest waterfall.

Mr Ona, who described the falls as “the most beautiful in central Africa”, said that Gabon’s government had failed to consult the local population and had not assessed the impact of the development on the environment before it gave permission for construction to begin.

He told BBC News that he hoped his receipt of the Goldman Prize would “draw international attention to just how precious this area is”.

Mr Ona, who uses a wheelchair, dedicated his early career to improving education and communication infrastructure in Gabon, including working with the United Nations Development Programme. He later turned his attention to environmental issues.

He eventually decided to focus his efforts full time on the work of his own environmental NGO, Brainforest, which aims to protect the rainforest for the benefit local of communities.

“The government established 13 national parks here, and I became interested in all the activities within them,” he said.

“In 2006, my colleagues and I noticed that roads were being built within Ivindo.”

When Mr Ona investigated, he discovered that there had been no environmental impact studies carried out before the road building started.

On its website, the Gabonese government describes the national parks as having been “classified for the conservation of Gabon’s rich biodiversity”.

The key goals of the national park scheme, it says, are preservation of “the wealth of the ecosystem… for current and future generations” and stimulating “the development of ecotourism as an economic alternative to the exploitation of natural resources”.

Mr Ona said: “All of this construction was carried out illegally and against the code of the national parks.”

He also unearthed and leaked a copy of the Belinga mine project agreement between the government and CMEC, revealing that CMEC had been offered a 25-year tax break as part of the deal.

“When we really started to look into the deal, we noticed that it was China, not Gabon, that was the major beneficiary,” he said.

He and his colleagues embarked on their campaign, working with other environmental NGOs, holding news conferences and meeting with local communities.

“The government even motivated some protests against the NGOs involved,” he recalled.

“They alleged that we were working [on behalf of] Western powers, and we received a lot of pressure to stop the campaign.”

This culminated in Mr Ona being arrested and charged with “incitement to rebellion”.

He was jailed by the Gabonese judicial police on 31 December 2008; but following an internationally co-ordinated campaign for his release, he was freed on 12 January 2009.

Since June 2006, however, he has been banned from travelling outside the country.

His passport was returned to him only 24 hours before he was due to travel to San Francisco for the Goldman award ceremony.

There has been no construction in Ivindo for almost a year, but Mr Ona says this has more to do with the economic crisis and the price of iron ore than with the Gabonese government backing down.

He has no plans to give up his quest.

“Some of the money from this award will go to the functioning of Brainforest, and the rest will be allocated to setting up small- and medium-sized businesses for local communities,” he said.

“I want to set up a clinic near Ivindo where the local people can be treated using traditional medicine. Some of the money will serve to establish this health centre for all of those communities.”

The organisers of the Goldman Prize describe the six winners as “a group of fearless grassroots leaders, taking on government and corporate interests and working to improve the environment for people in their communities”.

Source: BBC News website

Date: 19/04/2009

UK firm barcodes trees to save the world’s forests


Barcoding every tree in an African rainforest sounds as plausible as counting grains of sand on a beach, but this is exactly what one British company has set out to do, reports Kate Walsh for the Times.

Helveta, a technology firm based in Oxford, is developing a system for tracking timber that will help prevent illegal logging and could become a template for forest management all over the world.

Using a system of barcoding similar to that used by supermarkets for stock control, Helveta aims to tag all 90 million trees in 4.3 million hectares of rainforest in Liberia.

The marking process will allow customers in Britain and elsewhere to trace every timber plank or piece of garden furniture back to its stump.

The Liberian government has awarded the company a £1m, four-year contract to implement the system.

A 14-year civil war destroyed much of Liberia’s forestry sector, along with the country’s infrastructure.

At the height of the fighting, the country’s fragile forests were being stripped to pay for weapons. Niangon and Lovoa, high-quality timber used in furniture making and worth up to £180 a cubic metre, was sold to buy guns and ammunition.

Helveta claims its system of mapping is the only one in the world that can guarantee the “sustainability and legality” of timber.

Climate change is making the protection and management of forests a priority – the provenance of timber is therefore becoming “critically important” to retailers such as B&Q and Habitat, the company said.

“Our appetite in the West for ethically-sourced goods – whether it’s coffee or chocolate – is growing and retailers are responding to that,” said Derek Charter, Helveta’s project manager in Liberia.

“There is also a raft of different legislation being put in place – at EU and UK-government level – that will enforce the legality of timber on the retailer. In other words, if retailers cannot prove where the timber has come from, they could be penalised.”

The process of barcoding each tree – about one million of the 90 million tagged trees will actually be harvested – is fairly simple.

A 4cm plastic tag, which has a unique identity number, is hammered into the tree trunk. Only trees over 40cm in diameter can be tagged; anything smaller than that is protected.

After the tree has been felled, another tag (carrying the same identity number) is hammered into the stump.

“The barcode gives a record of where exactly the tree stands in the forest,” said Mr Charter.

“Ultimately, it will create a map of the forest. It also records the species and what that tree would be expected to yield. All this information is stored in our database in Reading.

“If you went into a furniture retailer on the high street and asked where a garden table came from, they will look at the ticket and say it is from a forest in Bolivia but they have no proof – that’s just where they have been told it is from or where the invoice was paid.

“With our system you could go to our website, type in the tree’s identity number and it will show you a map of Liberia and then zoom into the stump where your timber was harvested from. The current principle is that the country can use that information to market its natural resources to the buyer.”

The government hopes that the first tagged log will be exported before the end of the year.

Some conservationists have criticised Liberia’s plans to cut down trees – sustainably or not – instead of setting aside its rainforest for carbon offsetting.

Employment is the government’s biggest argument in favour of logging, together with the tax revenues it will generate.

It is estimated that the forestry sector could employ 10,000 people directly by 2012 and another 30,000-40,000 indirectly.

US Aid, the American development agency, together with the UN and the World Bank, have invested $20m in the country’s forestry sector to prevent a return to the days of illegal logging.

The result is that not a single log has been exported from Liberia since the lifting of the embargo three years ago.

Peter Lowe, forestry co-ordinator at the World Bank, said: “Liberia really has bravely taken the challenge to set regional standards in forest conservation.

“[Barcoding] is the most sophisticated system I’ve seen because it requires levels of transparency that don’t normally exist.”

Source: The Times newspaper

Date: 22/03/2009

UN: World’s forests facing tough tests


World forests face the dual challenge of climate change and the global economic crisis, a key UN report says.

On the BBC News website, environment reporter Mark Kinver said it suggested that although the economic slowdown might reduce deforestation rates in the short term, it was also likely to lead to other problems.

One concern, would be a lack of investment in the sector and in forestry management.

The study by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was published on Monday.

It is timed to coincide with the start of UN World Forest Week.

CTS Nair, one of the report’s lead authors and the FAO Forestry Department’s chief economist, said the economic crisis was having “tremendous impacts – both positive and negative”.

“You will find the forestry industries in a number of countries almost on the verge of collapse,” he told BBC News.

For example, he said the construction of starter homes in the US and Canada had fallen from about two million units at the end of 2005 to less than 500,000 now.

This had led to a dramatic fall in the demand for wood products, which was affecting forest-based industries and export markets in developing nations.

However, Mr Nair added, the downturn was having some beneficial effects.

“We are seeing a decline in the prices of soya beans, palm oil and rubber etc,” he explained.

“The prices have fallen drastically, so this means that the incentives for cultivating these crops have also gone down.

“As a result, the pressure to clear primary forest stands is also declining.”

The report, State of the World’s Forests 2009, also showed that the health of forests varied from region to region of the world.

“We see advances being made in places like Europe, but losses being made in places like Africa and especially developing countries,” Mr Nair observed.

“For example, what we see in the case of Africa is that there is a growing population yet the productivity within agriculture has remained extremely low.

“There is very little diversification in terms of sources of income so there is a very high dependency level on land use and natural resources, such as timber.”

“On the other hand, in places such as Asia where there has been rapid economic growth, people have moved out of agriculture to some extent and the pressure on the land has declined.”

In recent years, the importance of the world’s forests as carbon sinks has featured prominently in global climate policy discussions.

An initiative called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (Redd), which is likely to involve developed nations paying tropical forest-rich nations not to cut down trees, appears to be gaining support.

Mr Nair gave the scheme a cautious welcome: “In theory, it is an excellent idea but its implementation is going to be extremely tricky.

“If you look at the people involved in forest clearing, it is different people in different regions.

“For example, in Latin America, it is largely cattle rangers and soya bean planters. In South-East Asia, it is palm oil and rubber plantations.

“What we find is that it is not the smallholders, it is the big players who are working within a global market.

“So far, only the issue of what it is trying to achieve has been examined, the issue of how we are going to implement it has not really been discussed or examined.”

Source: BBC News website

Date: 16/03/2009

Forestry can create ‘ten million new jobs’


Ten million new “green jobs” can be created by investing in sustainable forest management, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

“As more jobs are lost due to the current economic downturn, sustainable forest management could become a means of creating millions of green jobs, thus helping to reduce poverty and improve the environment,” said Jan Heino, assistant director-general of FAO’s Forestry Department.

Since forests and trees are vital storehouses of carbon, such an investment could also make a major contribution to climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, said Heino.

According to a recent study by the International Labour Organization (ILO), unemployment worldwide could increase from 179 million in 2007 to 198 million in 2009 under the best case scenario; in the worst case scenario, it could go as high as 230 million.

Increased investment in forestry could provide jobs in forest management, agroforestry and farm forestry, improved fire management, development and management of trails and recreation sites, expansion of urban green spaces, restoring degraded forests and planting new ones.

Activities can be tailored to local circumstances, including availability of labour, skill levels and local social, economic and ecological conditions.

A number of countries, including the US and South Korea, have included forestry in their economic stimulus plans.

Similarly, afforestation is an important component of India’s rural employment guarantee programme.

According to FAO, the global potential is at least 10 million new jobs through national investments.

At the same time, improved forest management and new tree planting could significantly reduce the downward trend in forest cover reported by many countries.

This would help to reduce carbon emissions from land-use change and could potentially have a larger positive impact on climate change than any other initiative currently being planned or considered by world leaders.

How sustainable forest management can help build a green future and meet society’s changing demand for forest-derived goods and services will be the main thrust of World Forest Week, which begins on 16 March.

Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, the UN secretary general’s special envoy on climate change, will deliver the keynote address.

She will emphasise the critical role of forests in society’s response to the challenges posed by climate change.

The meeting takes place against the backdrop of an unprecedented global economic crisis. The forest sector has also been affected severely, notes FAO’s State of the World’s Forests 2009, to be released on 16 March 2009.

However, the forest sector has considerable potential to play a catalytic role in the world’s response to the global economic and environmental crises, the FAO concludes.

Source: FAO press release

Date: 10/03/2009

Forest fires ‘to add to climate concerns’


The fierce bushfires that scorched Australia’s Victoria State released millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide, a leading scientist has warned.

Forest fires could become a growing source of carbon pollution as the planet warms, he told Reuters news agency.

Mark Adams of the University of Sydney said global warming could trigger a vicious cycle in which forests could stop becoming sinks of CO2, further accelerating the rise of the planet-warming gas in the atmosphere.

“With increasing concerns about rising CO2, rising temperatures and reduced rainfall in many of the forested areas, then we could well see much greater emissions from forest fires,” added Professor Adams, dean of the Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.

The Victoria fires, which killed more than 200 people, were the worst in the nation’s history and many were still burning weeks later.

“Scientists worldwide are worried about fires and forests.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s the Arctic tundra fires, or peat fires in Kalimantan or bushfires in Australia,” observed the Australian researcher, who has worked in collaboration with the Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre.

In a submission to the United Nations last year, the Australian government said wildfires in 2003 released 190 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent, roughly a third of the nation’s total greenhouse gas emissions for the year.

Such large, one-off releases of CO2 and other greenhouse gases such as methane, are not presently accounted for in Australia’s annual list of national greenhouse gas emissions.

If they were, the country would vastly exceed its emission limits under the Kyoto Protocol, the United Nations’ main weapon to fight climate change.

This is one reason, critics say, why Australia is calling for amendments to UN rules on land use change, so that only human activities that “can be practicably influenced” are included.

Professor Adams said the UN climate summit at the end of the year in Denmark should discuss the growing threat from forest fires and how to develop better legal frameworks to tackle the problem.

In a study of how much carbon Australia’s forests and soil can store, he estimated that fires in 2003, which ravaged the capital Canberra, and in 2006-07 released about 550 million tonnes of CO2.

The current fires had already burned hundreds of thousands of hectares, he said, in areas with total carbon content of 200 tonnes per hectare or more.

Australia, though, was not his only concern; annual fires in Indonesia also release vast amounts of CO2.

Huge fires in 1997 released up to 6 billion tonnes of CO2, covering South-East Asia in a thick haze and causing a spike in global levels of the gas.

Research on the forest and peat fires by a team of international scientists found the blazes released the equivalent of up 40% of global annual emissions from burning fossil fuels.

Professor Adams described the findings as a “wake-up call”.

“When you see the step-increases (of CO2) that they observed, we have to sit up and take notice, that fires are a major problem,” he said.

In the past, he explained, native forest carbon had been in rough equilibrium over millions of years with fires, with very small accretion of carbon over very long periods of time.

“But then if you add rapid climate change and much greater fire frequency, the equilibrium carbon content of the native forests, instead of going up, is going to go down.”

Source: Reuters


Date: 26/02/2009

Forests and farms ‘can fight climate change’


The problem of global warming from greenhouse gases calls for a stronger involvement of agriculture and farming communities, as well as forestry and forest users in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has said.

“Agriculture and deforestation are major contributors to climate change, but by the same token farmers and forest users could become key players in reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said FAO assistant directo-general Alexander Muller.

“Unlocking the potential of agriculture and forestry for climate change mitigation requires financing mechanisms targeting farmers and foresters around the globe, particularly small-scale land-users in developing countries,” he added.

“These mechanisms should give priority to emission-reducing measures that have ‘co-benefits’ for food and energy security, poverty reduction, sustainable use of natural resources. Forestry and agriculture offer many opportunities for such ‘win-win’ measures.

According to the FAO, greenhouse gas emissions from forestry and agriculture contribute more than 30% of the current annual total emissions (deforestation and forest degradation accounts for 17.4%, while agriculture is responsible for 13.5%).

When looking at methane, the FAO says that agriculture is responsible for half of the annual emissions (primarily through livestock and rice), and more that 75% of nitrous oxide (largely from fertiliser application) emitted annually by human activities.

“Climate change will affect the lives and livelihoods of farmers, fishers and forest users in developing countries, many of whom are already facing difficulties in earning a sufficient income and feeding their families,” Mr Muller continued.

Rural communities, particularly those living in already environmentally fragile areas, face an immediate and ever-growing risk of increased crop failure, loss of livestock, and reduced availability of marine, aquaculture and forest products.

Humans, plants, livestock and fish also face the risk of being exposed to new pests and diseases.

Mr Muller concluded that climate change had the potential to increase hunger, particularly in the world’s poorest nations.

“We have to act now if we want to avoid a humanitarian disaster,” he said.

Roughly 40% of the land biomass is directly or indirectly managed by farmers, foresters or herders.

He added: “The international community can only win the global battle against climate change if we succeed in mobilizing the potential of these land users to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and in sequestering carbon in soil and plants.

“We have to adapt to climate changes that are of greater intensity and rapidity than in the past.”

Source: FAO press release

Date: 04/12/2008

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