No. 13/10

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  • Artemisia annua: Largest clinical trial confirms new drug for worldwide malaria treatment

Source:, 7 November 2010

The largest clinical trial ever conducted has concluded that the drug artesunate should now be the preferred treatment for Malaria in both children and adults everywhere in the world.
Professor Nick White of the Wellcome Trust-Mahidol University-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Programme in Bangkok, Thailand, and his colleagues conducted the trial called African Quinine v. Artesunate Malaria Trial (AQUAMAT).
Artesunate is derived from a Chinese herb called qinghao (Artemisia annua).
AQUAMAT found that treatment with artesunate reduced the number of deaths from severe malaria by 22.5 percent compared with quinine. With artesunate treatment 8.5 percent of the patients died, compared to 10.9 percent with quinine.
Children treated with artesunate were also less likely to slip into a deeper coma or have seizures after the treatment was started. Severe hypoglycaemia — dangerously low blood sugar — was also less common in children treated with artesunate. In addition, artesunate was easy to administer, well tolerated, and proved very safe.
Thanks to the development of the artemisinin compounds, we now have a safer and much more effective treatment. We recommend that artesunate should now replace quinine for the treatment of severe malaria in both children and adults everywhere in the world,” the Lancet journal quoted White as saying.
“For those of us who treat malaria in Africa, this trial is a turning point. Finally we have a better treatment to offer to our malaria patients,” agreed Dr Olugbenga Mokuolu from the University of Ilorin in Nigeria.
“There are still many hurdles to overcome and we must be vigilant to protect against resistance to these new drugs and against a market in counterfeit drugs. But Professor White and colleagues have shown that we have the potential to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of children,” said Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, which supported the study. (ANI)
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  • Bushmeat hunting alters forest structure in Africa

Source:, 4 November 2010

According to the first study of its kind in Africa, bushmeat hunting impacts African rainforests by wiping-out large mammals and birds — such as forest elephants, primates, and hornbills — that are critical for dispersing certain tree species. The study, published in Biotropica, found that heavy bushmeat hunting in the Central African Republic changes the structure of forest species by favoring small-seeded trees over large-seeded, leading to lower tree diversity of trees that have big seeds.
"When hunters remove big animals, they remove at the same time the ecological functions of the animals," lead author Hadrien Vanthomme, from the Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle in France, explained to "To keep it simple, animals can have two opposite impacts on forest regeneration: they can favour it (mostly by carrying seeds away from the parent plants, a phenomenon called dispersal), or they can oppose regeneration (by destroying seeds or young seedlings). So basically, we expect that if a guild of animals implied in seed dispersal of a plant is removed, the regeneration of this plant species will be compromised."
Due to a dearth in data, Vanthomme and colleagues did not know which animals spread which plants, but instead had to hypothesize likely ecological interactions.
According to co-author, Pierre-Michel Forget, given the diversity of such it is almost impossible "to know all the actors involved — we are simply not enough and an army of scientists would be needed for that, just as to describe the diversity on earth — and what are the ecological services these animals offer to plants".
However by analyzing two plots in the Ngotto Forest, one with little hunting and the other with high hunting, they were able to paint a broad picture of the impact of bushmeat hunting on forests in the region, a "net effect" as Vanthomme puts it.
The study found that a number of key trees — the African star apple Chrysophyllum africanum, a species of cola nut tree Cola acuminate, and the Carapa procera, a species of mahogany — were all depleted in the high hunting site, most likely due to the lack of necessary seed dispersers. Each of these trees produces large seeds that probably require big mammals and birds to disperse successfully.
"Our results show a significant reduction of regeneration diversity in the hunted site compared to the less hunted site, and that this reduction also concern mainly animal-dispersed and large-seeded plant species," says Vanthomme.
Dr. Forget adds that the study's findings are buoyed by similar studies in South America that show that trees which hold similar ecological niches also vanish when hunting is high. However, since the study broke new ground, more research is needed to confirm the results and build a more complete picture of how hunting is changing forests, according to the authors.
"Duplicating this kind of study across Africa and other tropical forest will make it possible to compare the situation across space and better target the questions that need to be answered regionally. It will also be possible to choose appropriate plant species to further test hypotheses and produce data that could be used in ecological models to predict the future diversity of tropical rain forest plant species," says Vanthomme.
Yet if these findings stand the test of time, it means forest structure is being changed in ways hardly imagined a few decades ago.
"It would mean that hunting, on the long term, may affect the general balance of plant species in forests," says Vanthomme. "Consequences of this phenomenon are absolutely unpredictable, especially when associated to other disturbance like logging, fragmentation, or climate changes… One thing is sure: forest will never be the same."
While seed dispersal studies have become almost common in South America and Southeast Asia, Vanthomme and Forget say that studies in Africa have taken time to get off the ground in part due to a lack of field stations and infrastructure in tropical Africa for researchers. "It is crucial to develop and support field stations in Central Africa if we want to know more about how human activities impact the ecology and diversity of the rainforest. African scientists, for instance, have many difficulties to study their own forest due to the lack of infrastructure, and that is not fair," says Forget.
In addition, if researchers are to move forward in their understanding of the complex interactions between animals and plants in rainforests — knowledge that could prevent species and ecosystems from vanishing — Forget says that local education must be paramount.
"[We] need more researchers from tropical countries to describe the diversity and the essential relationships that exists linking plant to animals. And for that, we need to both educate a young generation of scientists, and to offer them the most favorable conditions for adequate learning and training to study rainforest ecology. That is the next challenge for educators, politicians and stakeholders if they don’t want the rainforest to disappear."
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  • Honey: Action plan drawn to address issues for EU ban of Indian honey

Source: MSN (Microsoft News India), 16 November 2010

The Government of India has drawn up an action plan, including rigorous testing of samples and prohibiting the use of certain drugs, to address issues raised by the European Union for banning import of honey from India, Parliament was told today.
The European Union has banned the import of honey from India on account of positive detection of heavy metals and other contaminants reported in the Residual Monitoring Plan," Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Jyotiraditya M Scindia said in reply to a question in Lok Sabha.
A detailed Action plan has been prepared by the Export Inspection Council, which is a competent authority and this has been communicated to the European Commission, he said. "The Action plan squarely addresses all the issues raised by the Food and Veterinary Office Mission and puts in motion a system to ensure that honey exported from India to the EU is free of contaminants," Scindia added.
The 27-nation EU banned import of honey from India in May this year. The EU is the second largest destination for Indian honey exports after the US. India exports honey to over 60 countries.
India’s total honey exports totalled US$32.39 million in 2008-09, a quarter (US$7.7 million) of which went to the EU.
According to Scindia, corrective steps taken include rigorous testing of samples, educating bee producers on the contamination arising from lead tins, changing of these tins to food grade plastic tins and subsidising purchase of these food grade plastic tins. To discourage tetracycling and sulphonamides usage at the primary level, the Drug Controller of India has issued written instruction to the state authorities asking them to prohibit sale of these drugs to farmers without prescription, the Minister added.
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  • Honey in the USA: Reaping fruits of their labour

Source: (USA), 24 October 2010

This month, a Holliston-based honey producer in Massachusetts (USA) launched its own share program, selling larger quantities of raw local honey and beeswax candles directly to consumers.
The move by Reseska Apiaries Inc. points to the economic pitfalls of honey production, as well as the public’s growing interest in locally cultivated foods and burgeoning curiosity about the somewhat-secret life of bees, according to its founder.
“We get calls all the time. People want to see what we do,’’ said Andy Reseska, whose company is the wholesale producer and distributor behind the Boston Honey Company and Golden Meadow brands sold in stores. “Honey is at more of a premium than ever. And with all of this information on honeybees and their declines, the public is very interested in how local honeybees are doing. We are trying to capitalize on that and make them a part of what we are doing.’’
About 20 people have signed up for US$75 shares in the program, which provides 6 lbs of Massachusetts-produced honey and a variety of tapered, pillar, and votive candles made of beeswax, a byproduct of extracting honey from hives. “To be really sustainable, we need to sell not only the honey but the beeswax’’ as well, Reseska said.
Reseska Apiaries has 25 bee yards with about 1 000 colonies on private farms in communities across Eastern Massachusetts, including Concord, Dover, Holliston, Lincoln, Medfield, Sherborn, Sudbury, Wayland, and Weston.
Chuck Clapham, a Holliston resident and early member of Reseska’s share program, used to raise his own bees to pollinate plants in his gardens. “Honey’s really complex,’’ Clapham said. “Most brand-name honeys mix a bunch of different people’s honeys and they lose their identity.’’ In Reseska’s case, he said, “it is his honey.’’
Because per capita consumption of honey is fairly small — 1 pound/person per year in the United States, according to Reseska — the move to a community-supported agriculture share program is also part of Reseska’s desire to harvest more retail dollars for his labour.  “We are trying to move away from the wholesale,’’ Reseska said. “If we can take part of the production and move into retail, it will be better for us and becomes more sustainable.’’
This economic reality is due, in part, to reduced honeybee production in recent years, including a drought this summer that dried up flowers that bees would normally pollinate, Reseska said.
Al Carl, the chief apiary inspector for the state’s Department of Agricultural Resources, said there are two main obstacles to beekeeping in Massachusetts. Varroa mite infestations have been known to cause the collapse of entire colonies by spreading deformed wing virus among honeybees. The second obstacle is a diminished number of pollen- and nectar-producing plants that nourish bees, a situation that Carl attributes to increased residential and commercial development, and the movement against invasive plants such as the purple loosestrife. “They are beneficial not only to honeybees but native pollinators,’’ he said.
Carl estimates there are at least 2 000 beekeepers across the state, although most are much smaller than Reseska Apiaries and maintain a dozen or fewer colonies.
“If the conditions are right, the bees will gather as much nectar as possible and store it up in our space. In a perfect season, those boxes will be filled with honey,’’ he said. “But this year, because of the drought, we are taking off partially empty boxes.’’
That is what makes the retail dollars from selling community-supported agriculture shares even more important to the continued production of local honey. Reseska said he is promoting the local honey and candles as distinctive holiday gifts. “People really appreciate it,’’ he said. “It is a different kind of gift, and it is also supporting local beekeeping.’’
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  • Maple syrup: In 100 years, maple sap will flow a month earlier

Source: (USA), 14 November 2010

As the climate warms this century, maple syrup production in North-eastern USA is expected to slightly decline by 2100, and the window for tapping trees will move earlier by about a month, reports a Cornell University (Ney York, USA) study.
Currently, the best times to tap maple trees are within an eight-week window from late winter to early spring when temperatures cause freezing at night and thawing by day.
"By 2100, we can expect to begin tapping maples closer to Christmas in the Northeast," said Brian Chabot, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and a co-author of a paper on climate changes and maple sugar production that appeared earlier this year in the journal Climate Change.
Sap flow is related to pressure changes in the trees' xylem, which are tubes beneath the bark that carry sap from the maple's roots up to the leaves. Chabot and colleagues identified that the best days for sap flow are when diurnal temperatures swing at least a few degrees below freezing at night to a few degrees above freezing by day.
In the study, lead author Chris Skinner determined daily temperatures for 10 000 locations across the sugar maple's range. In this way, the researchers could identify daily minimum and maximum temperatures during optimal eight-week windows for tapping sugar maples.
By "backcasting," the researchers validated their models with temperature data, which revealed that start dates for tapping maples in the Northeast are about a week earlier than in 1970. Under a high carbon dioxide emissions computer model scenario, syrup production will decline slightly in the Northeast, mostly after 2030.
Maple production south of Pennsylvania will likely be lost by 2100 due to lack of freezing, while production in Quebec may benefit from climate changes, Chabot added.
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  • Moringa oleifera: India’s “miracle tree” finds home in Central and Eastern Kenya

Source: Business Daily (Kenya), 22 November 2010 

The Eco Holdings Organization has launched a pilot project that will introduce farmers to India’s Moringa oleifera tree.
Known as the Indian miracle tree, drought resistant Moringa oleifera’s leaves are a super-food, its seeds are medicinal and used in purifying water, while prunings are used to make paper, all at a low maintenance cost with little tending.
Eco Holdings Organization is working with 1 000 farmers in Ukambani, Embu, Mukurweini and Othaya (Kenya) where the firm sells Moringa seedlings and educates farmers on how to tend the tree for commercial benefit.
Moringa leaves contain four times the amount of vitamin A available in carrots. In Kenya, Vitamin A deficiency, which causes childhood blindness and suppressed immunity, is more widespread than in almost any other country in the world. Moringa leaves also have four times the calcium in milk, more iron than spinach, seven times as much vitamin C as oranges, and three times the potassium in bananas, as well as more protein than that found in milk and eggs.
In India, the leaves are eaten in salads, soups and casseroles and dried to make drinks, delivering a near cure-all to the many health problems caused by malnutrition.
The tree also delivers other products. Its seeds are used in India to purify water and in making oil for the cosmetics industry, with the country’s farmers produce and sell more than 1.1 million tonnes of seeds per year.
The tree also has ecological value as it fixes nitrogen in the soil. The nitrogen generates proteins in crops, visible in the lush green appearance of the leaves. When inter-cropped with crops like maize, Moringa helps in growth, reproduction and yields. In orchards, the nitrogen it generates is vital for budding, flowering and fruit development.
When the leaves are mixed with livestock fodder, “they increase milk yield by 30 percent,” said Collins Mwenda, who works with the Kenya Bureau of Standards and the Kenya Institute of Research and Development to formulate rules and a structure to govern the Moringa leaf industry. The tree is suited for semi-arid regions, has a brown, rugged, bark and can grow up to 10m high.
In countries like India, the Philippines and the Maldives where it is commercially grown, the tree is pruned to 4m high for ease of picking leaves and seeds. The cultivation is not labour intensive, requiring little manure and irrigation. The leaves can be harvested six months after planting. And “one shrub can have 20kg of leaf yields,” said an expert.
Kenya lags behind Tanzania and Uganda where factories for processing the tree’s products have been developed. One such factory is Optima of Africa in Tanzania. The seeds and leaves are used in the making of medicinal and food supplements. For all its benefits, however, the Moringa tree does poorly in chilly climates. And although resistant to most pests, it is vulnerable to Diplodia root rot. However, some studies show that its presence in any region reduces crop pests.
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  • Mushrooms: Enoki, the winter mushroom

Source: New York Times, 13 November 2010

Enoki (Flammulina velutipes), also known as winter mushroom, enokitake, velvet stem, or velvet foot, is a dark-orangey-brown gilled mushroom with an elongated velvety stem, and a cap that can grow to two inches wide. Like oyster mushrooms, enokis grow on dead wood and have a long season, even showing up throughout the winter.
In its wild form, enoki looks nothing like the ghostly white supermarket version, those long, thin crunchy fungi that are cultivated in the dark. From above, Flammulinae velutipes are deep-amber-brown to tawny-colored, and slimy-tacky to the touch. But underneath, their caps are light, whitish-gold, and clustered very close together.
Prized in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cuisine, where it is used in soups and stir fries, enokis have been cultivated for hundreds of years.
Wild enoki can easily be mistaken for poisonous mushrooms like the deadly galerina (Galerina autumnalis or Autumn galerina), a very common little brown mushroom that grows throughout North America, which also has tacky, brown caps and grows on wood. Unlike enoki, which has a white spore print, Galerina autumnalis has a ringed stalk and a telltale brown spore print.
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  • Rattan, sustainability and the ethical consumer

Source:, 7 November 2010

Rattan is used extensively all over large parts of Asia to make furniture, baskets and so on. There are 600 rattan species in the world, with 54 species in the Indo-China region. Rattan is a climber from the palm family and a valuable NTFP available in forests throughout the Greater Mekong region. Its stems are used for a variety of purposes, including food as well as housing and furniture.
Village communities in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam rely heavily on the rattan trade, with sales accounting for up to 50 percent of cash income in some rural areas. Rattan can be sustainably harvested and in forests where it grows, its economic value can help protect forest land by providing an alternative to loggers who forgo timber logging and harvest rattan canes instead.
Rattan can form part of ethical consumption as it is a significant contributor to local economies with Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia together playing an increasingly significant role in the global rattan trade, the value of which is estimated at US$4 billion. Sales of rattan account for up to 50 percent of cash income to villages making this industry a major contributor to poverty alleviation in rural areas.
In order to make rattan more sustainable, the WWF and IKEA Sustainable Rattan Harvesting and Production Programme began in 2006 with the aim of creating a rattan industry in the Greater Mekong Region that gives communities, governments and industry an economic reason to conserve forests. By the end of the project, the aim is to convert at least 40 percent of all Small and Medium Enterprises involved in rattan into more sustainable enterprises and give them a greater sense of environmental awareness.
Earlier this month, representatives from Lao businesses and nine Vietnamese rattan processing companies travelled to the Greater Mekong Region. The trip was organized by the Khamkeuth district Agriculture and Forestry Office (DAFO) and WWF. The sustainable rattan model has been such a success that DAFO plans to replicate it in other areas, improving local livelihoods and supporting reduced cutting of the plant. Its success has also caught the interest of Vietnamese rattan companies.
Judging from interest among players in the rattan business, it is clear that sustainably managed rattan is becoming a popular choice among processors and consumers. The aim is to establish a sustainable and clean rattan industry by the end of 2011 in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Industries involved in rattan also want to apply for FSC certification.
The project by WWF and IKEA also aims to increase export of sustainable rattan products by 15 percent. They have already achieved many project aims including making nurseries to preserve rattan species which produce 60 000 seedlings/year. They have also developed a total of 8 ha of rattan production by inter-cropping with other products like maize, vegetables etc. The project also includes training in rattan handicrafts, which brings additional income for the villages.
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  • Saffron in Afghanistan: Farmers turn from opium's red poppies to saffron's red gold

Source: Deutsche-Welle (Germany), 12 November 2010

A new project in Afghanistan encourages farmers to switch from cultivating opium poppies to saffron. But Taliban threats keep farmers from planting one the world's most expensive spices on a large scale.
Responsible for some 90 percent of the world's opium supply, Afghanistan has become the largest producer of the drug over the last decade, and proceeds from sales in the illegal drugs often land in the hands of Taliban.
In attempt to improve the situation, the Afghan government has instituted a policy of burning poppy fields, but some experts have said offering farmers an alternative source of income would be a better way to deal with the problem.
In Herat Province in western Afghanistan, a small project is proving a resounding success by switching from opium poppy cultivation to saffron flowers. The initiative, which provides farmers with free saffron bulbs to plant in their fields, is coordinated by the Italian military forces stationed in the region together with the Provincial Reconstruction Team.
For centuries saffron has been considered the most precious of all spices. It has a fragrant, pungent flavor and a rich red colour which creates shades of bright yellow and orange when mixed with rice. In Europe, it is the most expensive spice on the market, costing an average of €10/g (US$14).
While Iran is the main producer of saffron, Herat Province has dry weather and soil conditions which are ideal for the plant. Some 300 tons of the spice are produced worldwide each year.
Afghan farmers can more than double their income with saffron. While one hectare of opium poppies is worth €2 200 to €3 700, one hectare of saffron is worth up to €8 800 (US$12 000). But rural communities are often paid in advance by the Taliban, while it takes two years to produce a crop of saffron flowers.
The proposal to switch is attractive since farmers receive the saffron bulbs free of charge and because the government has implemented a policy of burning poppy fields, but many farmers in remote villages are still frightened of repercussions and need reassurance that they will be protected.
When safety can be guaranteed, the fruits of the project pay off. It takes 120 000 to 150 000 saffron flowers to produce 1 kg of the spice, which is produced by drying the flowers' threadlike red stigmata. Each stigma has to be individually removed from each flower by hand.
One district of Herat now has an association of 480 female saffron producers. The Ghoryan Women's Saffron Association is the first all-female business venture in the area. 
Fruit farmer and distributor Hedayatullah Omarkhil, president of the Afghan Apricot Association, said he hopes Afghanistan's saffron growers will be able to claim a share of the export market currently dominated by Iran. "Now we are competing with Iran and I think they are a bit scared of our saffron growing because we are growing better quality saffron," he said.
Although one hectare of saffron flowers yields 10 kg of the spice, the spice cannot be considered a miracle alternative.
"The world market for saffron is much less than for opium," explained Ghulam Rasoul Samadi of Kabul University's Faculty of Agriculture, who pointed out that the country also has a devastated socio-economic status. "There is only a good market for opium."  
Omarkhil agreed that saffron alone cannot solve the opium problem. In addition to security guarantees for farmers who want to switch from opium poppy cultivation, he said there also needs to be more investment in trade and export.
Establishing a stable and efficiently managed market for Afghanistan's produce, including saffron, is now of paramount importance for the country's future, he added.
For full story, please see:,,6221037,00.html



  • Saffron in Spain: Harvest brings a new gold rush

Source: Independent (UK), 13 November 2010

Jose Martinez, a 24-year-old plumber, never imagined himself crouching in the dirt on a blustery field, delicately plucking purple flowers. But he has been out of work for two years, so even the brief saffron harvest, which ended this week in the Spanish region of La Mancha, is a welcome opportunity to earn some money.
"I will work at anything," he said while gingerly wrapping his fingers around the stems to avoid damaging the crocus petals and their valuable red stigmas. "I do not know what they will pay me yet — I do not expect more than €7 an hour — but it is better than nothing."
The worldwide recession has burst Spain's housing bubble, devastating the job market and pushing the unemployment rate to a painful 20 percent, but it has been accidentally kind to a fragile, once-forgotten crop: saffron.
Those spindly aromatic filaments that give paella its characteristic golden glow are a centuries-old tradition in the torrid plains of La Mancha. Until recently, this cottage industry — which sprouts for about two weeks of planting in spring and two weeks of harvesting in late autumn — seemed to be withering as quickly as a plucked saffron crocus. But now, amid the bleak economic landscape, it is blossoming once again.
Jose Martinez, who picked a basketful of purple buds outside the town of Madridejos on Monday, is among the newcomers to the backbreaking harvest season, initiated into the somewhat secretive, family-dominated field by a veteran grower's son. But many former saffron producers, who abandoned their fields years ago for promising jobs in the now-ailing construction industry, are also seeking refuge in those precious purple flowers. Other growers, inspired by historically high wholesale prices of €3,000/kg (more than double in stores), have expanded their plots.
"Rural people are returning to their roots," said Antonio García, president of the province-wide Regulatory Commission for the Denomination of Origin of La Mancha. Until the 1990s, about 60 percent of La Mancha families grew the treasured spice. The income from the wispy filaments was not enough to live on, but they allowed an olive farmer or grape-grower to afford a few luxuries. Many people squirreled away the dry red stigmas in closets or secret places as though they were gold nuggets, to be sold during hard times. But then, in the heat of Spain's housing boom, relatively high-paying construction jobs beckoned.
"Imagine, it almost disappeared," Mr Garcia said. Prices plummeted because some saffron-sellers mixed the Spanish variety, highly valued by spice connoisseurs, with cheap import from Iran, he added.
But production started picking up again after the La Mancha region instituted a saffron certifying process, with detailed criteria for everything from colour and purity to the stigma arrangement (they must look like a three-pronged pitchfork in miniature). Every farmer was even given a number that appears on the saffron label. The move cut down on the swindles by rogue distributors.
Today, 440 state-certified saffron growers, most of them families, churn out 1 500 kg/year. At €3 000/kg, the delicacy is double the price paid four years ago, Mr Garcia said. At the gourmet counter at Spain's El Corte Ingles supermarket, a 10g gift pack fetches €102.
After so many years, again in La Mancha, people are talking about "red gold".
Gregoria Carrasco Sanchez, whose six children and nine grandchildren harvest 7 or 8 kg of saffron each year, said: "Here in Madridejos, the majority of the homes were built with saffron. When I was young, we saved the saffron in the house and used it for weddings and trousseaus. When I got married, we furnished the kitchen and the bedroom with it. You do not live on it day to day, but it certainly is a big help."
The children of veteran growers used to groan at the annual date with hand cramps and yellow-stained fingers. After all, stooping in the dirt and peeling flowers with mum is not everyone's favourite way to spend a two-week holiday. But with the poor economy, even the younger saffron generation is performing their familial duties with renewed vigour.
"We are harvesting with gusto," said Ana Cabra Carrasco, one of Ms Carrasco Sanchez's daughters, as she gingerly peeled the petals from a mound of recently picked flowers. Seated around a table with her family, she extricated the slender stigmas and set them in a small pile. Her mother dried them on a silk-covered drum over a traditional heater.
"The extra money comes in handy now," her sister, Valentina Cabra Carrasco, chimed in. "With the crisis, we are making an extra effort."
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  • Saffron in Spain: Luring workers back to the land

Source: Reuters (Spain), 3 November 2010

Saffron has always provided the subtle flavour to Spain's national rice dish paella and coloured the central plains with a purple hue for centuries.
Now in the 21st century soaring prices have made harvesting the delicate stem of the saffron flower from which the spice is made a backstop for professionals, labourers and the unemployed in the La Mancha region hit by the global financial crisis.
"Hereabouts we say: Saffron is La Mancha's gold, and the poor man's piggy bank," said Antonia Moreno, one of almost 4 million people now out of work in Spain and a champion hand at separating the prized stems from saffron flowers.
Wholesale prices for Spanish saffron are at historic highs, said Javier Guerrero, manager of the Spanish Saffron Export Company, up more than €300 (US$421)/kg since the last harvest, to around €3 500/kg partly due to a U.S. ban on saffron imports from Iran.
Moreno is a member of Spanish teacher Vicente Lozano's extended family, who drop everything for a week each autumn to painstakingly pick more than a million saffron stems from their tiny plot in the central Spanish region. "We sell about half of the saffron we pick to wholesalers," Lozano said, while out picking near the village of Consuegra, 130 km (81 miles) south of Madrid. "We package the other half with a denomination of origin to sell to retailers."
It takes about 400,000 stems to make up one kg of saffron, although only a few fragrant threads are needed to add that typically tasty yellow tinge to traditional paella.
Besides Paella, saffron is also used to cook pork and bean stews such as "fabada" and "olla podrida," or fish stew "zarzuela" and is popular in Middle Eastern and Asian cuisine.
After Lozano's family pick saffron flowers, his 75-year-old father and local women deftly separate the stems, one by one. The stems are tipped into a sieve and dried on an ancient stove, turning the reddish-purple stems a blood red colour.
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  • Truffle: Sex life of black truffle surprising

Source: Discovery News, 9 November 2010

The black truffle is a rare and treasured delicacy and now scientists have learned that the fungus even reproduces in manner highly unusual for its kind: sexually.
The finding could help scientists come one step closer to learning how to cultivate the oak tree root-loving species. The discovery came from a careful study and mapping of different strains of the fungi — Tuber melanosporum.
"Firstly, it has to be said that until recently the prevailing view was that these organisms were self-fertile," explained Francesco Paolocci of the National Research Council's Plant Genetics Institute in Perugia, Italy. What that means is it was thought to be able to fertilize itself to produce viable spores. So the presence of strains of different mating types underneath natural and artificial truffle plantations were just ignored, he said.
"Further, the difficulties of unveiling (the) truffle mating system was due to the impossibility to mate these fungi under controlled conditions," said Paolocci, who is a co-author of a paper reporting the discovery in the 22 October issue of the journal New Phytologist.  It has been very difficult to zero in on the genes that control sexual reproduction in the fungus, he said. It turns out that despite carrying both male and female parts on the same individual fungus organism, they cross their genes with other individuals in the same way we do when we reproduce sexually, a strategy that is called self-sterile, or heterothallic. It is this strategy that was so long overlooked and could only be uncovered by examining the genetic differences among fungi in plantations.
"In recent years we have learned a lot about truffles," said Paola Bonfante of the University of Turin, in Italy. "For example we know how we can identify them by using molecular genotyping, we know how truffles interact with their hosts," oak trees, by activating specific genes, she said. "But the events leading to the production of the highly-prized fruitbodies, what we call a truffle, are largely unknown. (This) represents a big step forward."
"We have proven that Tuber melanospoprum is heterothallic," said Paolocci. "It is conceivable that other truffle species are self-sterile too."
In fact, the team has already proven that the prestigious white truffle (Tuber magnatum) can reproduce sexually across individuals, but they have not figured out whether it is the only way it reproduces.
The work of Paolocci, along with co-authors Andrea Rubini and F. Martin and others, is already pointing to changes in how truffles can be reared. "Artificial truffle grounds have been set worldwide using nursery truffle-inoculated host plants," said Paolocci. The new discovery suggests that it might be a good idea to inoculate plants with fungal strains of different mating types. "These should be equally present and possibly spaced to favour mating.," Paolocci said.
The end result should be more truffle "fruit," the prized, edible part of the organism.
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  • Wildlife: More than 1 000 tigers killed in last decade

Source: Reuters (UK), 10 November 2010

More than 1 000 tigers have been killed over the last decade for illegal trade in parts such as skin and bones, and this is likely only a small fraction of the true numbers, a study by wildlife protection groups says.
India saw by far the most seizures of tiger parts, followed by China, Nepal, and Indonesia, said British-based Traffic International, which carried out the study with help from the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).
"With parts of potentially more than 100 wild tigers actually seized each year, one can only speculate what the true numbers of animals are being plundered," said Pauline Verheij, joint Traffic and WWF Tiger Trade Programme Manager and an author of a report on the study.
A study issued in September by the U.S.-based Wildlife Conservation Society said Asia's tiger population could be near extinction, with fewer than 3 500 remaining in the wild.
Tiger parts reported in trade ranged from complete skins, skeletons, and even whole animals — alive and dead — through to bones, meat, claws, teeth, skulls, penises and other body parts, the report said.
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  • Wildlife: UNEP highlights readiness to assist in saving the tiger

Source: UNEP Press Release in IISD, 23 November 2010

In an address to the International Tiger Conservation Forum, Bakary Kante, Director of the Division of Environmental Law and Conventions of UNEP, on behalf of UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner, stated that UNEP stands ready with its experience to assist in saving the tiger.
The Forum convened in St. Petersburg, Russian Federation, from 21-24 November. Kante said the Forum, organized by the Government of the Russian Federation, the City of St. Petersburg, the World Bank, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and WWF-Russia, expressed a “new level of political will” to bridge ambition with decisive action. He underscored the need to strengthen cross-border customs and law enforcement between countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda, and he said such activities were a “key element and part of UNEP's wider work in the area.”
He noted UNEP’s experience in building the capacity of developing country legal systems in environmental law, including via the 2002 Johannesburg Principles on the Role of Law in Sustainable Development. He also highlighted the need for full and cooperative implementation and strengthening of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), for which UNEP is the secretariat. Kante said UNEP’s experience and principles, which are being evolved to support the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, also referred to as Rio+20) in Brazil in 2012, can also contribute to saving the tiger.
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  • Wildlife: As Tigers near extinction, a last-ditch strategy emerges

Source: Yale Environment News 360, 15 November 2010

The most venerated predator on Earth, the tiger is also the most vulnerable, described in a recent World Bank document as “enforcement-dependent.” The phrase is borrowed from the medical world, where patients reliant on blood products are known as “transfusion-dependent.” Saved only by scarce conservation dollars and thin ranks of poorly equipped park guards, the tiger’s hold on life is tenuous. Without future infusions of expensive, well-coordinated, state-of-the-art life-support, Panthera tigris is doomed in the wild.
Now, in one of the most high-profile conservation interventions in recent memory, the World Bank is stepping in to try to secure that life support. At a meeting later this month, the bank's president, Robert Zoellick, will seek approval from the leaders of 13 tiger range countries for an extraordinarily ambitious plan to save the world’s few remaining tigers and their habitat. At the same time, a group of leading tiger scientists and conservationists is lobbying for a similar effort to protect the tiger’s last remaining breeding populations.
The World Bank’s tiger recovery program aims to double tiger populations in the wild by 2022. The tiger’s situation has grown desperate in a mere century. A hundred years ago, there were over 100 000 in the wild, with more than 40 000 in India alone. Currently, the total number of tigers worldwide is calculated at fewer than 3 500. Three subspecies — Javan, Bali, and Caspian tigers — vanished during the 20th century. A fourth, the South China tiger, has not been seen in the wild for more than 25 years and is assumed to have gone extinct during the 1990s.
Remaining populations — including 1 850 Bengal tigers and a few hundred each of the Siberian, Indochinese, Malayan, and Sumatran subspecies — are pressed into tiny, isolated protected areas comprising less than 7 percent of their former range. Found in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, and China, the Bengal tiger possesses the highest genetic variation, and is considered the key to the species’ survival.
Blocking tiger recovery efforts in India and elsewhere is the black market in the animal’s body parts. Although the World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies cooperated with conservation efforts by removing tiger bone from their pharmacopeia in 1993, skins still sell for up to US$35 000, and organs and body parts — bones, whiskers, eyeballs, penises, paws, claws — are snapped up as souvenirs or ingredients of traditional Asian medicine. Tiger is occasionally served at restaurants in Hanoi and Beijing, where rare dishes denote high status. In Russia, the wealthy have acquired a taste for tiger pelts as home décor; in Sumatra, magic spells require tiger parts.
Potential profits are so corrupting that criminal entrepreneurs in China raise captive tigers in cages, eventually slaughtering the animals for their body parts, skin, and bones, which are boiled to make a medicinal “tiger wine.” Legalizing tiger “farming” has been proposed by the Chinese government as a solution to the illegal trade, to drive down prices. The move has been strongly opposed by the World Bank and trafficking experts. A recent Conservation Biology study points out that consumers say they want wild tiger parts, not farmed ones.
Tigers lucky enough to escape the poachers face being shot or poisoned by villagers angered by livestock losses. Starvation in the wild presents another peril: Prey depletion and habitat degradation are eroding the species’ future. A breeding female Bengal tiger needs two deer a week, an Amur tiger more than 20 pounds of meat a day to make it through the winter. Because of these threats and the tiger’s rapid decline, the IUCN, arbiter of the authoritative “Red List” of endangered species, is considering changing its status from “Endangered” to “Critically Endangered.” That is the last stop before the bitter end: “Extinct in the Wild,” and, ultimately, “Extinct.”
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  • Wildlife: Bangladesh okays strict law to protect endangered species

Source: Reuters (UK) in Environmental News Network, 22 November 2010

Bangladesh has approved a law that sets jail terms of up to 12 years for deliberately killing tigers and other wild animals endangered in the South Asian country, officials said on Saturday.
A recent cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also agreed to provide reparations to the families of victims killed or maimed by the animals that range between 100 000 taka (US$1 415) and 50 000 taka.
Each family will also get 25 000 taka as compensation if wild animals destroy assets such as houses and crops.
"The cabinet approved jail terms from two years to 12 years for killing endangered snakes and animals including tigers," Hasina's press secretary Abul Kalam Azad told Reuters.
The minimum jail term will be two years for killing pythons and crocodiles and a maximum of 12 years for killing tigers and elephants, Azad said.
Hasina will attend a conference on tigers in St. Petersburg, Russia, from Monday to discuss ways and means to protect the animals, officials said.
Bangladesh's southwestern mangrove forests, called Sundarbans and which also stretch across the border with India, are currently home to just 400 tigers and its southeastern Chittagong Hill Tracts have 300 elephants. Many animals are killed in conflicts with humans, who are increasingly encroaching on their habitat, forest officials said.
At least 80 people, and some 15 tigers, have been killed in last five years across Bangladesh-controlled areas of the Sundarbans, which are dotted with hundreds of small islands and criss-crossed by rivers.
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  • Armenia: Wild fruit and nuts project on sustainable forest use launched

Source:, 15 November 2010

A pilot project aiming to capitalize on the sustainable non-timber use of forests in a region of Armenia has been developed following a WWF Armenia analysis, carried out within the framework of the ENPF-FLEG Programme (European Neighbourhood and Partnership Institute-Improving Forest Law Enforcement and Governance). Non-timber use of forests, for example the collecting of wild fruit, berries and nuts, is a significant component of sustainable forest management and an important factor in the efficient use of forest resources.
The project, which will be launched in Koghb village in the Tavush region, aims to create new alternative income opportunities and reduce the pressure on natural resources. The WWF Armenia analysis revealed that the collecting and processing of forest fruit and berries was the most profitable alternative use of forest in Koghb, and that the community has the potential to develop a viable ecotourism and cultural tourism sector.
The pilot project aims to establish a fruit and berry collection point, in addition to tourism infrastructure such as a visitor information centre, observation points and pavilions and signs and route maps. The idea is that the planned fruit and berry collection point will allow harvesters to deal directly with buyers in order to negotiate prices and organize delivery, ensuring better supply chain efficiency and reducing possible spoilage of crops. The village will also have a new source of income through being able to provide tourists with services such as horses for rent, accommodation and selling locally grown and prepared food.
The €6 million ENPI-FLEG Programme supports governments, civil society and the private sector in the development of sound and sustainable forest management practices, including the prevention of illegal forestry activities.
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  • Australia: Exploring bamboo market opportunities in Manning (NSW)

Source:, 12 November 2010

A meeting was held in Taree (New South Wales) was held this month to form an industry cluster of local bamboo growers interested in growing their share of the market.
Greater Taree City Council's Economic Development Manager Chris Ryan is bringing interested people together to examine opportunities which might give them a larger share of the growing worldwide bamboo market, and provide more local jobs.
Mr. Ryan has already spoken with a number of Manning Valley landholders who grow bamboo for a range of purposes.
"Bamboo is a very fast growing product and is very sustainable. The Manning Valley is ideally placed from a geographical and climatic point of view for its production. Technology for the use of bamboo products is now state of the art and a lot of very good products are being created," he said.
Mr. Ryan stressed it is “very early days” in council's investigation, however he hopes it could lead to formation of an industry cluster in the Manning which might eventually attract a major buyer or manufacturer to establish in the valley.
Mr. Ryan has already spoken with representatives of a number of companies involved in production or manufacture of bamboo products, specifically about potential opportunities for Manning growers to increase their yield. "I have also spoken to a group of Manning bamboo growers, property owners and material suppliers to the industry. We now need a meeting to form an industry cluster," he said. "This will give local people an opportunity to network and decide whether as a group they can take advantage of the expanding market. They need to decide whether they can benefit from, for example, getting a trainer in or maybe purchasing equipment that they can share, or forming a cooperative to help in the joint marketing of their bamboo products."
He again stressed a lot of market research was needed. "The first step is to see if there is enough bamboo grown here to create a demand which might lead to us attracting a processing company. We need to know who is growing bamboo in the Manning Valley, how much they are growing, and what capacity they might have for the future. Then, if a manufacturing company decides to look at Taree, we know the level of access they will have to raw material, and we will know what we can offer them in the way of suitable land with services like power and water."
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  • Brazil: Battle between jungle and livestock in the Amazon

Source: International Press Service, 5 November 2010

During the 1980s, forest communities in the jungle of Iracema survived on sales of nuts, natural latex extracted from the "seringueira" or rubber tree, and other products harvested in the jungle.
Over the years, the north-western state of Acre began to receive a new influx of outsiders, interested not in what could be gathered from the jungle, but in knocking down the forest to clear the way for cattle and a few crops. The settlers drawn to the rainforest by the offer of land distributed by the National Institute for Colonisation and Agrarian Reform (INCRA) began to encroach more and more on the seringales jungle.
When the INCRA started gearing up in 1986 to occupy part of the seringales to settle farmers, the rubber tappers, threatened with expulsion, joined together and developed a strategy of peaceful resistance called an "empate" or standoff, in which families — men, women, and children — would create human chains to protect the trees from the loggers' saws.
"We managed to block the expropriation by INCRA," said Nenzinho. But it took a long fight before the triumph crystallised in the creation of the Cazumbá-Iracema extractive reserve (Resex) in 2002.
The Resex are areas of public land where rural communities make a living from harvesting forestry products like natural rubber or Brazil nuts, and from small-scale farming, while preserving the forest and its biodiversity under the principle of sustainable use of the Amazon jungle's natural resources. Local residents of the Resex also receive subsidised prices for their products.
The creation of the Resex was a victory of the empate movement led by Chico Mendes, the internationally renowned leader of Brazil's seringueiros.
But a plunge in rubber prices at the start of the 1990s began to break apart his community, as many left the seringal. In an attempt to keep the community from falling completely apart, Nezinho Cerqueira Maia, a rubber tapper, invited 10 families to join him in a Brazil nut business, which was providing his family with an income.
Another triumph was the opening of a road leading to the Resex. Because of the subsidised prices paid to Resex residents, local producers now receive 3.2 reals/kg of rubber (US$1.85), 2.7 times the local market price. However, that is only one-third of the purchasing power that their incomes from rubber brought them in 1980, Nenzinho said.
Today he helps watch over the Resex as an employee of the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio), the Environment Ministry agency in charge of the country's conservation units, like the Resex and national parks.
The local population has grown to 320 families who are trying to diversify production in order to boost their incomes. Besides the Brazil nut harvest and small-scale farming, they make crafts, especially using "encauchado", a kind of latex fabric used to make different products like large wall hangings or computer mouse pads in the shape of leaves from trees that are native to the Amazon rainforest.
Activists and local residents are now fighting for the creation of an "ecological economic zone" in Acre, and when landless farmers or others are settled in the area by the INCRA, areas of native forest are avoided, or the settlements are created in a sustainable manner, said João Ricardo de Oliveira, the land reform agency's head of planning in Acre.
This new model will soon be tested in the settlement of "Brasivianos" (a portmanteau of Brazilian and Bolivian) — peasant farmers who have been displaced from the area along the Bolivian border. "We have a list of 417 families," he said.
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  • Canada lacks biodiversity data: scientists

Source: CBC News, 17 November 2010

Canada's declining ability to keep track of its biodiversity leaves the country vulnerable to invasive species, extinctions and poor environmental policy, a new report says. The gaps in data about the country's plants, animal, fungi and microbe species may also limit the country's ability to respond and adapt to global changes such as a warmer climate, says the report released Thursday by the Canadian Council of Academies.
"Canada may lose the long-term information … essential to understanding changes in biodiversity and our ability to make informed policy and management decisions," said David Green, director of the Redpath Museum at McGill University in Montreal and a co-author of the report.
Already, such decisions are "often made with limited information," due to knowledge gaps across the country and among different groups of species, said Luc Brouillet, a professor and curator at the University of Montreal's Marie-Victorin Herbarium, another one of the 14 co-authors.
The report was commissioned by the federal Heritage Ministry on behalf of the Museum of Nature from the Council of Canadian Academies.
Sarah Otto, Director of the Biodiversity Research Centre at the University of British Columbia, said some of the consequences are already being felt. For example, the brown spruce longhorn beetle, a European pest that damages trees, was not identified until 10 years after it was first collected in Canada and had had a decade to spread. Otto said that biodiversity and taxonomy data are also critical to identifying and protecting endangered species: "We can only protect that which we know about."
Biodiversity knowledge can also help in the response to problems associated with environmental changes, Otto said. For instance, as Canada grows warmer the ticks that carry Lyme disease do better, she said. Distinguishing between different species can help with the treatment of the disease, as it progresses differently depending on its origin.
The study also found that biodiversity data collected in Canada is housed mainly in museum cabinets. It is mostly inaccessible on the internet, where troves of other countries' biodiversity data can be found. In addition, 80 percent of Canadian online biodiversity data is held outside the country.
The number of expert taxonomists in Canada who can manage biodiversity collections and interpret data, moreover, is dwindling, and jobs for them have nearly vanished. In some cases, collections of specimens are being rendered unusable because of a lack of staff, infrastructure and national standards.
The report's authors recommended dedicating more money to training taxonomists while expertise is still available in the country and making digital records of its collections of plant, animal and fungi collections.
Brouillet estimated the digitization effort would cost at least US$150 million, but is urgently needed by decision-makers. "The ecologists and managers, they need the data now."
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  • China: Traditional medicine prices go sky high

Source: Global Times, 18 November 2010

Some 84 percent of the nearly 600 Chinese traditional medicines in the market have seen price spike as high as 700 percent over the past year, according to the China Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Industry watchers blame speculation, bad weather and strong market demand for the soaring prices.
"With the government still curbing the real estate sector and the stock market's performance mixed, hot money is now turning up in other sectors like gold and traditional Chinese medicines," said Guo Fanli, a medical industry analyst with CIC Industry Research Center.
Two traditional medicines undergoing astronomical price include pseudostellaria root, commonly known as prince ginseng, and Cordyceps sinensis, colloquially known as caterpillar fungus. Prince ginseng is often used for spleen-related illnesses or to rehydrate the body, while caterpillar fungus is used for ailments ranging from fatigue to cancer.
Prince ginseng prices jumped from 119 yuan (US$17.90)/kg at the end of 2009 to 905 yuan (US$136.17) today, a 660 percent increase in less than one year. And top-grade caterpillar fungus has seen a 20 percent increase in just the last month, selling for as high as 200 000 yuan (US$30,109.20)/kg.
However, some analysts said a supply-side shortage is the root of the problem, while other blame bad weather and soaring growing consumer demand for alternative medicines and healthcare products. "As Chinese get richer and richer, they are growing increasingly more aware of their health," Guo said.
The health product market in China was worth about 91 billion yuan (US$13.69 billion) last year, ranking it behind the US and Japan.
In the first three quarters of this year, exports of traditional Chinese medicines topped US$1.35 billion, up 20.5 percent year on year, according to data from the China Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
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  • Ghana: Community-based ecotourism

Source:, 16 November 2010

The village of Tafi Atome, buried deep in Ghana’s tropical Volta region, once fiercely protected its surrounding forest and the Mona monkeys that live within it as sacred. Today, community-based ecotourism is helping to return the village to its roots with a unique business model that blends environmental conservation with community development and cross-cultural exchange, dispelling the notion that conservation and development are mutually exclusive.
When the first residents of Tafi Atome arrived on the land more than 200 years ago, as the story goes, a shrine was built in the forest to house an idol they worshiped. After leaving the land to fight a war with a neighbouring tribe, they returned to the forest to find their possessions and the shrine untouched. As a sign of gratitude, the villagers declared the forest sacred, proclaiming that no part of it should be used for farmland or timber.
Soon after, Mona monkeys from the forest began appearing in the village, which were believed to be representatives of the idol. “So with that, they considered the monkeys sacred and decided to protect them,” said Emmanuel Kumadze, one of the five sanctuary tour guides and a native of Tafi Atome. In 1908, Christian explorers arrived in the village and began to work to dispel those beliefs. “The people lost reverence and,” Kumadze explained, “decided to cut down the trees in the forest and kill the monkeys.”
This destruction continued gradually until conservation centers began taking notice in the 1980s. With the help of Ghanaian NGOs, USAID and Peace Corps volunteers, the protection of the forest and the monkeys was resumed through the creation of a monkey sanctuary. “They trained the people, they offered advice on how to manage the community, how to handle the guests, and with that it started officially in 1996,” Kumadze said.
For about US$10, visitors to the sanctuary receive two meals, overnight accommodation in a guest house or homestay, direct community and cultural involvement, and an early-morning walk through the monkey sanctuary that includes feeding and holding the Mona monkeys. Meanwhile, the  roughly 2 000 residents of Tafi Atome benefit from employment and significant community development: 98 percent of the profits go directly back to the community.
For the most part, the locals welcome the tourists because they associate them with development, employment and the chance to experience the outside world.
“The people have understood what ecotourism is,” Kumadze said. “It is helping; it is a way of conserving nature and then, through that, gaining development ... It is a way of interacting with the other people of the world because not even 5 percent of the population of this village could ever make it to any other country because they are very poor. But with the monkey sanctuary, people come.
Profits have continued to rise in the past several years: In 2009, the sanctuary brought in 16 646 GHC (about US$11,600), up from 9 660 GHC in 2008 and 6 896 GHC in 2004. Discounts are given to Ghanaians to encourage in-country tourism.
“Ecotourism is very good for the village,” Kumadze said, “especially when the people of the community understand what it means for them.”



  • India: The human side of biodiversity

Source: Slow Food International, 18 November 2010

On the second day of his six-day tour of India, Carlo Petrini, founder of “Slow Food,” paid tribute to the country’s indigenous cultures and urged young people to preserve its rich gastronomic heritage. Speaking at a culinary festival in Mawphlang village near the city of Shillong, Slow Food International’s president joined residents from fifteen local communities in celebrating and showcasing the region’s indigenous foods, with dishes prepared by representatives of the Khasi and Jaintia ethnic groups.
With a large number of youth present, Petrini took the occasion to call out to the custodians of tomorrow’s inherited traditional knowledge, urging them to maintain their distinct identity in the face of the globalization. “The world is charmed by McDonalds and fast food,” he said. “However, you will eat much better here than in McDonalds, and I exhort the youth to retain their distinct identity, culture and traditions.” Speaking through a translator into Khasi, the local language, Petrini continued, “Be proud of your own culture, tradition and history. Let people know that you are a Khasi.”
“If we look around us, we will see that the world has forgotten about indigenous food,” said Phrang Roy, an internationally renowned expert on rural development, gender and indigenous peoples and coordinator of Slow Food’s Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty. “However, we are trying to remind people about the importance of local gastronomy, culture and traditions.”
Petrini also spoke at the Asia Pacific Regional Workshop on People in Biodiversity Conservation conference in Shillong, participating alongside academics and researchers, as well as representatives of NGOs, institutions and communities from Asia-Pacific, including India, Japan and Australia.
Biodiversity is a particularly pertinent topic in Shillong. "This part of India is one of the most diverse regions in the world, both culturally and biologically,” said Phrang Roy. “In this area, not much bigger than the UK, about 250 distinct languages are spoken and there are still many plant species that have not yet been accounted for."
Petrini addressed the conference with a speech entitled “The Human Side of Biodiversity”, discussing the importance of valuing and protecting indigenous peoples, women, youth and farmers, in order to protect biodiversity. According to Petrini these four key groups are the best custodians of traditional knowledge and will be the ones to ensure its survival.
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  • Myanmar: Transportation costs put pressure on honey makers

Source: Myanmar Times, 15 November 2010

Migration costs — required to shift hives closer to flowerbeds — are threatening the honey export business this year, bee experts say.
Myanmar Apiculture Association co-secretary, U Kyi Lwin Oo, said the cost of moving beehives to different fields is threatening to overwhelm the profits from selling the honey. At the same time, the demand for Myanmar’s honey from abroad is strong, with the amount exported on track to better last year by 50 percent. However, a weak dollar means the earnings are not likely to be significantly higher, U Kyi Lwin Oo said. “Beekeepers are not really expecting to earn big profits because the cost of transporting hives is quite high,” he said.
By early November, companies had exported about 800 tonnes of honey, worth about US$740 000, since the start of the 2010-11 financial year in April. For the whole of the previous fiscal year only 1 000 tonnes, earning slightly more than US$900 000, was exported.
The current domestic price of 1 viss (1.6kg) of honey is between K1200 and K1400.
At this time of year as many as 90 percent of beekeepers keep their hives in Kani township, in Sagaing Region. But soon some will migrate to southern Shan State or Meiktila in Mandalay Region to bring their bees in reach of the sesame crops.
In February and January they will move on again to Katha, Kale, Monywa, Htigaing or Madaya. These relocations make up a large percentage of the costs of production, U Kyi Lwin Oo said.
“Seventy percent of the total costs of producing honey comes from moving the bees to new fields. This year our exports are worth less and the transport charges have risen. I am worried that if this situation continues then we will see a dip in production,” added the general manager of Welcome General Trading.
Part of the problem is that beehives cannot be driven by bus or truck to many of the fields the bees feed on, leaving the keepers no choice but to hire ox-driven carts. Bees also have a limited flying range — only about 3.2km — and need to be moved to a fresh field every week, Welcome General Trading’s general manager said.
Production also relies on the weather: Heavy rainfall can reduce the amount of pollen the flowers produce and in turn curtail the amount of honey.
Companies typically export as much as 90 percent of all the honey produced here, selling it to Thailand, Japan, China, Singapore and Malaysia. This year Thailand is buying the majority, he said.
Myanmar’s honey also has too much moisture in it to compete in many international markets. This year’s exports have about 20 percent moisture content courtesy of the heavy rains, whereas the international standard is below 20 percent. Honey is exported in drums that weigh between 250 and 290kg each.
U Kyi Lwin Oo Oo said that if producers here were able to minimize their transport costs, boost production and lower the moisture content of the honey they would find ready markets nearby, pointing out that Japan consumes at least 20 000 tonnes of honey a year.
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  • Myanmar: Fragrant future for agarwood exports

Source: Myanmar Times, 1 November 2010

Interest is growing in a fragrant new product that could help boost Myanmar’s foreign exchange income.
Agarwood, primarily derived from the Aquilaria malaccensis species, produces an oil that, under certain conditions, emits a pleasing fragrance and is said to have medicinal properties. Investment in Myanmar agarwood is increasing, a spokesperson for the Forest Products Joint Venture Corporation said last week.“There is little domestic demand for the time being. Middle Eastern countries and America use agar oil mostly for perfume and medicine,” said U Aung Min Kyaw Thu, the corporation’s general manager.
The Corporation planted 60 agar trees as a test in 2003, and has since expanded to 2 000 trees, he said.
“Thailand and Vietnam export agarwood. They have successful plantations, and can produce the oil themselves,” he said.
Agar trees produce the oil naturally only in combination with a fungus. Agarwood, an evergreen, is listed as an endangered species, and is protected by law. A permit is required to cultivate and sell it. Two of the 15 known species can grow here. One kilogram of agarwood can be worth from US$800 to US$10 000.
“Most farmers think they cannot afford to grow it, but there are profits to be made,” said U Aung Min Kyaw Thu, who said the wood had grown in popularity over the past two years. “Companies are increasingly interested. If we succeed in producing the fragrance, it could bring in lots of foreign income.”
Daw Jar Var, who owns an agar field in Myitkyina township, Kachin Region, said: “I started growing agarwood early last year. It can grow everywhere in Myanmar, but in a tropical zone it grows in May and June, the rainy months.” It costs about K6.5 million an acre to plant agar, and the profit for each plant can range from K800 000 to K1.5 million.
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  • Namibia: New policy to monitor the usage of devil’s claw products

Source: Economist (Namibia), 19 November 2010

Devil’s Claw, Harpagophytum procumbens, has been a very important resource for the livelihood of many Namibians for over 50 years. In view of this, the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA-N) hosted a one-day training workshop on the revised National Policy on the utilization of devil’s claw products which was approved by Cabinet in July 2010, this week.
The aim of the policy is to assist the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) to manage devil’s claw resources, processes and products to ensure its sustainable management as well as the effective promotion of biodiversity conservation and human development.
The policy will also allow MET to control the utilization of the plant to ensure sustainable harvesting methods are used, collect information to facilitate trade in devil’s claw products and to promote value addition in Namibia as the biggest devil’s claw exporter in Africa.
Under-Secretary at MET, Simeon Negumbo, said that the policy was drafted about ten years ago and has been used by staff members as an internal guiding document for permitting and regulating the utilization of devil’s claw in the country.
“With the assistance of MCA-Namibia, MET has finalized the devil’s claw policy this year. The newly approved policy will therefore improve the existing framework to address sustainable management of devil’s claw as well as effective promotion of both biodiversity conservation and human development,” he said.
The aim of the workshop was to train MET officials and devil’s claw traders on the implementation of the newly approved policy.
“This policy is very important where Namibians are considered ‘price takers’ rather than ‘price makers’ and therefore a more organized and coordinated supply chain is expected to result in a better price for the product in its different forms: raw, semi-processed or processed,” said Eline van der Linden, deputy CEO of Programme Implementation at MCA-N.
Devil’s claw products have been harvested in Namibia for more than 50 years. In 1977 devil’s claw was declared a “protected plant” due to concerns over possible over-utilization. Devil’s claw is found in Namibia, Botswana, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and some northern parts of South Africa.
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  • Portugal: Chestnuts worth their weight in gold

Source:, 13 November 2010

November in Portugal is traditionally a month that heavily features the humble chestnut. Across the country, fairs and celebrations are held for Dia de São Martinho (Saint Martin’s Day), which is officially on 11 November though events can last for days. Roasted chestnuts and wine are inextricably linked to São Martinho.
In certain regions of Portugal, chestnuts are the main source of income for the majority of the population and the overall profit generated by chestnut sales and exports is today estimated at tens of millions of euros.
In Terras de Montenegro, Valpaços (Northern Portugal), chestnut production is a primary source of employment that provides an income to nearly 90 percent of families in that region. Annually it is worth an estimated €20 million in sales.
Flávio Sousa, head of the Regional Terras de Montenegro Farmers’ Association (ARATM), told Lusa News Agency that many producers from that region “survive only on chestnuts.” “When a year is poor production-wise it is a miserable year for them”, he stressed. As well as being sold on the internal market Portuguese chestnuts are exported to countries such as France, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Canada and the USA.
Francisco Tavares, Mayor of Valpaços Town Hall estimates that chestnut production is a business worth in the region of “€20 million in direct sales”. Chestnuts, according to Valpaços Mayor, are the “gold of the mountain” which the local population “knows how to make the most of”. They represent 50 percent of all agricultural production in that region, where other major products include almonds, olive oil and wine.
However, producers have complained about a drop in production this harvest, a consequence believed to have been caused by the recent weather conditions with summers being very hot and dry which has stumped the fruit’s growth. Nonetheless, according to Flávio Sousa, “the quality is better”, which has caused a rise in the price and currently sell at an average of €2/kg.
This year it is thought that production will total at around 7 500 kg. According to the Northern Regional Board for Agriculture and Fisheries (DRAPN), 30 percent of the “Transmontana” region’s chestnuts are produced in Padrela.
However, with advances in technology it seems the future of traditional chestnut-picking could be in jeopardy. Some producers from Terras de Montenegro are swapping man-power for machinery with the technology to pick in one hour the equivalent of what 20 hand-pickers can do in a day. Flávio Sousa explained, “Man power is expensive compared to the income that we get and on top of that, there are not even people to do the groundwork”. A local producer added: “There is a big lack of man power around here. Sometimes even foreigners come to pick chestnuts”.
Last weekend Valpaços was once again host to the fourth consecutive Castmonte 2010 fair, which took place in Carrazedo Montenegro. Featuring around 60 exhibitors all relating to the chestnut, this year’s star of the show was a 600kg chestnut cake which was distributed amongst Sunday’s visitors.
Some €25 000 was invested in the fair, which saw an estimated 20 000 visitors.



  • Rwanda: Bamboo use promoted in Musanze communities

Source:, 19 November 2010

A local organization, “Bamboo promotion for soil conservation and improved livelihoods in the surrounding zones of the Volcanoes National Park (BASOLI/PNV),” is set to build the capacity of communities on the sustainable utilization of bamboo, and increase awareness and reinforce bamboo use around the park.
BASOLI/PNV, promotes bamboo planting and processing for sustainable conservation of the Park. At a workshop organized by the Musanze District, local authorities were urged to sensitize farmers to engage in large scale bamboo planting for commercial gains."The project will increase the product's quality and value, through the development of new bamboo handcraft products like baskets, mats, furniture and weaved art which will be produced locally for sale," Bernard Byiringiro, one of the officials said.
It was revealed that 13 000 bamboo shoots will be bought from local communities and planted in nursery beds developed in 13 beneficiary cells.These will produce at least 5 000 bamboo seedlings in each cell, and 50 representatives of local communities will receive training on handcraft making.
Speaking at the workshop, Prosper Uwingeri, the Chief Warden of the Volcano National Park, said illegal collection of resources from the park — like bamboo cutting, honey collection and poaching — are some of the human induced threats to the endangered gorillas. “BASOLI/PNV responds to the park's concern of developing alternative resources and income generating activities outside the park. The lack of these resources make people rely on park resources, increasing the conflict between the park and surrounding communities," Uwingeri said.
The workshop was attended by stake holders who included park officials, Sector and Cell Executive Secretaries, and conservation associations working in the park.
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  • South Africa: The rhinoceros is under threat yet again

Source: The Economist, 18 November 2010

Contrary to widespread belief in China and South-East Asia, the rhinoceros horn has no proven medicinal or aphrodisiac qualities. Its effect, some scientists say, is the same as chewing your fingernails. It is made of the same stuff, agglutinated hair. Yet rhino horn is currently worth more than gold, selling for up to US$60 000/kg. That is why a beast that has been on earth for some 60 million years is fighting for its existence.
So far this year, at least 260 South African rhinos have been illegally killed, a rate of nearly one a day and well over double last year’s total. Almost all were shot for their horns; these days, few are taken for bushmeat. South Africa is home to more than 90 percent of the world’s white rhinos (the adjective is a corruption of the Dutch word wijde, meaning wide, a reference to the species’s broad mouth) and around a third of the rarer black one.
Until 1970 all had been reasonably well. Then oil prices soared, resulting in a seven-fold increase in income per head in Yemen, where elaborately carved rhino-horn dagger handles are prized as a sign of status and wealth. Yemenis rapidly became the world’s biggest importers of rhino horn. By 1980 half the world’s rhinos, by some estimates, had disappeared.
Conservationists tried to fight back. In 1976 trading in rhino horn was banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), to which 175 countries have signed up, including the four that were doing most of the importing: China, Japan and Vietnam as well as Yemen. But the trade simply moved onto the black market. By the mid-1990s, 90 percent of the world’s rhinos had disappeared, compared with the 1970 tally, and all of the five main rhino species were either threatened with extinction or endangered. In the whole of Africa, fewer than 2 500 black rhinos and around 7 000 white ones managed to survive.
Since then, thanks to better security and conservation methods, numbers of both species have begun to pick up again, to around 4 500 blacks and nearly 20 000 whites, concentrated in less than half a dozen countries in southern Africa. But those gains are in danger of being reversed by a new surge in poaching in South Africa, Kenya and Zimbabwe. Demand for the horn has risen along with prices, since it is now also peddled as a cure for cancer. Powerful international syndicates, using helicopters, night-vision goggles, tranquillizer darts and silenced heavy-calibre guns have got into the game.
A South African law enacted in 2008 required a permit for anyone hunting rhinos or even possessing a rhino part. But it has not deterred criminals. Nor has the average ten-year jail sentence handed down to poachers. Over the past couple of months, more than two dozen people have been arrested in South Africa for suspected rhino poaching, including 11 members of a syndicate said to be linked to big figures in President Robert Mugabe’s ruling party in Zimbabwe.
South African National Parks, one of the world’s leading conservation bodies, has now asked the government to send in the army. Calling for an immediate end to a "cruel and brutal crime", Lindiwe Sisulu, the defence minister, says the government is working on it. President Jacob Zuma has promised to take the matter up with the Southern African Development Community, a regional club. But South Africa’s authorities, along with the rhinos, face an uphill battle.
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  • Uganda: How beekeeping offers a new way of life for villagers

Source:, 22 November 2010

With a lack of formal employment opportunities, the government's National Development Plan focuses on the need for entrepreneurial and vocational development. However, in rural areas such as Kyempara (Uganda district) where nine out of 10 people survive on subsistence farming, the majority are left unsupported. That is why people are taking community development into their own hands.
A small group of men and women gather in a dingy hut, paper charts hang from the walls. A large white plastic container of honey sits on the uneven red-earth ground. On top of the container is a record book with "Kyempara Beekeepers' Association" written neatly on the cover.
The association, which started 12 years ago with just seven local beekeepers, now has 63 members who collectively sell their honey locally and manage the profits. Their success has allowed them to fund and run Kyempara school, an investment they feel strongly about. "Most of our 63 members are not educated; we have only one policeman and a nurse, but mainly farmers," says one member. "We are building the foundation for our children so in the future we will have graduates, MPs, a president."
The scheme is supported by NGO Hives Save Lives Africa (HSLA), which provides beehives on a microcredit scheme. The beekeepers are given ongoing training and support, paying back the cost of the hives over a number of years through the profits of their honey sales.
HSLA operations manager, Patrick Ayebazibwe, was born and bred in the area, and is treated with reverence in the villages he visits. He has a firsthand encyclopaedic knowledge of beekeeping and traditional values of hard work, commitment and pride, which he expects from the people he supports. He believes it is important that they take charge of their own futures. "People talk about political development, people talk about economic development, people talk about social development," he says emphatically. "But they neglect personal development, which is the key foundation for development. Seriousness, love for something, persistence — all those things are personal."
One man who embodies these qualities is the chairman of the beekeeping co-operative, Alex Thabulenga. His smooth skin belies the many hours spent working in the harsh Ugandan sun, building his business from four beehives to 59, with five acres of land. He is also studying for his O-levels, and hopes his determination to invest in himself and his community will pay off for future generations. "I need these children to be like me, or more than me," he says as he gestures towards his six children and 11 nieces and nephews.
In the school, each child is fed a meal of porridge every morning and a dose of honey every week to boost their immune system and improve school attendance. However, despite the advances that have taken place, Kyempara village still does not have access to water. Most of the children at the school have to take a daily one-and-a-half-hour round trip to collect water from the nearest source. Uganda is on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal for water, with 65 percent of the rural population having access to an improved water source (the aim is 72 percent by 2015). However, that still means that one in three people —such as those in Kyempara village — do not.
As Thabulenga discusses ways to bring water to the village — the merits of solar pumps versus boreholes — it is clear that he only lacks the funds and infrastructure to get started. Despite the lack of help from the government, he still believes in the political system and has clear ambitions for himself and his community. "If I bring water they will vote for me as MP," he says with conviction. "Then I can make big changes." And if he cannot make these changes, maybe, in the future, the schoolchildren can.
Muhereza is a beekeeper and hivemaker, employed by the Nyabubale Foundation for Rural Development in Fort Portal, western Uganda. He is still in school but works three days a week tending to his one hive and honing his carpentry skills. Since his father died three years ago he has worked hard to support his mother and three younger brothers, without giving up on his education. "They look at me and say: 'He is doing well, I want to be like him'," he says proudly. "These skills I am learning, they can never be taken away."
Muhereza wants to study business and management at university so he can understand the market and be the first in the area to export his honey. Despite earning just 3 000 shillings a day (86p), he saves 1 000 shillings (29p) a week towards his future.
When I ask him whether he is ever tempted to spend it elsewhere, he replies seriously: "No, I am very firm. In business you must plan until your dreams are realised."
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  • UK: The chestnut that conquered the world

Source: The Independent (UK), 12 November 2010

It is curious that the horse chestnut tree, whose nuts are useful only to small boys playing conkers, is so much better known in Britain than the sweet chestnut, whose nuts have supported whole societies.
Perhaps that is understandable, as horse chestnuts, introduced into Britain only about 400 years ago, have now been planted all over the UK as ornamental trees, and magnificent ornaments they are, come late April or early May, lofty and majestic and lit up by their foot-high creamy white blossoms, their "Roman candles". They are one of the events of the spring.
Sweet chestnuts flower later and less dramatically, and they are not really public show trees, of parks and playing fields and avenues, in the way horse chestnuts are; they are trees of the woodland, that blend in. They are quite unrelated to horse chestnuts, being members of the extended beech family, while conker trees are in a family of their own. But they are not wholly dissimilar; the quick way of telling the difference is that the big long leaves of the horse chestnut are rounded at the ends, while those of the sweet chestnut are pointed.
The Romans are thought to have brought the latter to Britain, as food for the legions. But they were not eating the nuts. They were eating chestnut flour, baked into bread.
The little town of Collobrières, France is apparently the chestnut capital of the world.
For hundreds of years, its hilly topography made the cultivation of cereals impossible, offering no basic sustenance other than chestnuts to its people. Their staple was bread baked out of chestnut flour, but they made all sorts of other things, from polenta to marrons glacés, the candied chestnuts we sometimes encounter at Christmas, and chestnut ice cream, chestnut purée, chestnut syrup, chestnut liqueur. In October in Collobrières, they have a chestnut festival.
In fact, in many parts of southern Europe, from France through Italy to Greece and across to Turkey, sweet chestnuts have historically played a huge role in the local diet and the local economy, and still do, as a storable carbohydrate; whereas in Britain people encounter them merely as a mildly exotic, warming treat in autumn and winter, roasted on a brazier in the street. But Britons rarely gather the nuts themselves, and perhaps that is the reason why few are familiar with the tree. The plump round chestnuts now in UK shops are imported, mainly from Italy.
The end result is that in Britain there is ignorance of sweet chestnut trees. This autumn the Woodland Trust is asking people to record more examples of sweet chestnuts as part of its Ancient Tree Hunt. They can live for thousands of years: the giant Tortworth Chestnut in Gloucestershire, for example, was already a landmark in the reign of King John.
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  • Vietnam: Bamboo and rattan industry develops sustainably


Source: Voice of Vietnam, 22 November 2010

Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development identified bamboo as one of the key export products, helping reduce poverty and developing the rural economy sustainably in the 2011-2015 period.
At a seminar on the development of the bamboo industry on 22 November, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Ho Xuan Hung said if the bamboo industry grows by 10-15 percent, Vietnam will require about 100 000 tonnes of rattan and 1 million bamboo trees every year. Currently, Vietnam imports around 33 000 tonnes of rattan.
Therefore, to develop the industry sustainably, the ministry will protect around 1.6 million ha of rattan and plant an additional 165 000 ha by 2020.
The Ministry proposed many measures to develop rattan materials and support cultivation and protection of both bamboo and rattan.
In Vietnam, bamboo and rattan are important forestry products with high value. Exports of these products increased from US$48 million in 1999 to US$224.7 million in 2008 and are expected to reach US$300 million 2010. The products are now available in 120 countries and territories.
Around 270 villages with 340 000 workers are involved in the industry.
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  • Ande’s slow rise helped shape Amazon rainforest, scientists say

Source: Our Amazing Planetin, 11 November 2010

The extraordinary biodiversity seen in the Amazon rainforest — one of the most species-rich ecosystems on Earth — may have evolved mainly due to the rise of the Andes, research suggests.
The Amazon, the world's largest river basin, is home to the largest rainforest on Earth, covering about 6.7 million km² in nine countries. This area, known as Amazonia, holds a mind-boggling array of life, harbouring one in 10 known species in the world and one in five of all birds.
The origin of the amazing level of diversity seen in Amazonia has been debated for decades. It was long held that isolated patches of forest served as safe havens during cycles of aridity during the Pleistocene epoch (beginning about 2.5 million years ago and ending 12 000 years ago), refuges that served as incubators for diversity over the past 2.5 million years. However, in the 1990s, support for this idea crumbled after evidence for it was revealed to be a mistake based on how species were analyzed.
Now, recent findings regarding the timing of changes in Amazonian diversity coupled with research into the slow rise of the Andes Mountains suggests the growth of this mountain range had a profound effect on Amazonia, with the area's diverse nature emerging well before the Pleistocene era — far earlier than previously thought.
The Andes began their rise about 34 million to 65 million years ago, when the tectonic plate diving under the Pacific edge of South America caused uplift. The rising mountains that resulted from the uplift blocked humid air from the Atlantic, eventually increasing rainfall along the eastern flank of what became the Andes. That eroded nutrient-loaded soils off the mountains. The Andes also kept water from draining into the Pacific, helping form vast wetlands about 23 million years ago that were home to a wide range of mollusks and reptiles.
The global drop in sea levels and temperatures that started roughly 10 million years ago led the wetlands to dry up some 7 million years ago, after which point their rich soil became open to colonization by rainforests and a rapidly diversifying collection of trees and other plants. Further uplift of the Andes in the last 2.5 million years or so shifted river patterns and helped create varied landscapes that fostered even more diversity of life.
The emergence of the Panama isthmus connecting North America and South America 3.5 million years ago also led new mammals and birds to immigrate, completing the picture of Amazonia we have today, researchers suggest.
The immense rainforest still holds many secrets, said paleoecologist Carina Hoorn of the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. "Comparative work between modern and fossil forests is still needed to fully comprehend the evolution of the tropical rainforest," she told Our Amazing Planet.
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  • Call it a DNA digital Dewey Decimal System for all life on Earth

Source: Reuters (Canada), 1 November 2010

Every species, from extinct to thriving, is set to get its own DNA barcode in an attempt to better track the ones that are endangered, as well as those being shipped across international borders as food or consumer products.
Researchers hope handheld mobile devices will be able to one day read these digital strips of rainbow-colored barcodes — much like supermarket scanners — to identify different species by testing tissue samples on site and comparing them with a digital database.
The International Barcode of Life Project (iBOL), which says it is the world's first reference library of DNA barcodes and the world's largest biodiversity genomics project, is being built by scientists using fragments of DNA to create a database of all life forms."What we are trying to do is to create this global library of DNA barcodes — snippets  little chunks of DNA —that permit us to identify species," Alex Smith, assistant professor of molecular ecology at the University of Guelph's Biodiversity Institute of Ontario, about 90km west of Toronto, Canada.
So far DNA barcoding has helped identify the type of birds that forced last year's emergency landing of a flight on the Hudson River in New York. The researchers also discovered nearly one in four fish fillets are mislabelled in North America after referring to the library, which has 7 000 species of fish DNA barcodes, allowing the scientists to identify fillets that have been stripped of scales, skins and heads.
To get the barcodes, scientists use a short section of DNA extracted from a standardized region of tissue. Once the barcode is created, it is filed in the iBOL library. Within a week, the barcode can be viewed publicly, online, by signing up for a free account at, the site for Barcode of Life Datasystems (BOLD). Smith describes it as being like a label on a filing cabinet.
Just as the barcode scanner at a grocery store can identify lettuce, milk or steak, the DNA barcode sequence can be used to identify different species so that anyone who is not a specialist — from an elementary school student to a border patrol inspector — can identify the species, once technology to read the library is available.
The library has more than 87 000 formally described species with barcodes filed and more than 1 million total barcoded specimens.
Smith said humans live among at least 1.9 million named species, with total diversity within all those species adding up to millions more. Scientists estimate iBOL will have barcodes for all 10 million species of multicellular life within the next 20 years.
While the library is based in Canada, which led the early stages of DNA barcoding, 25 other countries are also involved.
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  • Community Forestry: Growing a forest, and harvesting jobs; the example of Ixtlan, Mexico

Source: New York Times, 23 November 2010

As an unforgiving midday sun bore down on the pine-forested mountains here, a half-dozen men perched across a steep hillside wrestled back mounds of weeds to uncover wisps of knee-high seedlings.
Freeing the tiny pines that were planted last year is only one step of many the town takes to nurture the trees until they grow tall, ready for harvesting in half a century. But the people of Ixtlán, Mexico take the long view.
“We are the owners of this land and we have tried to conserve this forest for our children, for our descendants,” Alejandro Vargas said, leaning on his machete as he took a break. “Because we have lived from this for many years.”
Three decades ago the Zapotec Indians here in the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico fought for and won the right to communally manage the forest. Before that, state-owned companies had exploited it as they pleased under federal government concessions.
They slowly built their own lumber business and, at the same time, began studying how to protect the forest. Now, the town’s enterprises employ 300 people who harvest timber, produce wooden furniture and care for the woodlands, and Ixtlán has grown to become the gold standard of community forest ownership and management, international forestry experts say.
Mexico’s community forest enterprises now range from the mahogany forests of the Yucatán Peninsula to the pine-oak forests of the western Sierra Madre. About 60 businesses, including Ixtlán, are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council in Germany, which evaluates sustainable forestry practices. Between 60 and 80 percent of Mexico’s remaining forests are under community control, according to Sergio Madrid of the Mexican Civic Council for Sustainable Forestry.
“It is astounding what is going on in Mexico,” said David Barton Bray, an expert on community forestry at Florida International University who has studied Ixtlán.
The Mexican government plans to showcase its success in community forestry at the global climate talks in Cancún in December.
In developing countries, where the rule of law is weak and enforcement spotty, simply declaring a forest off-limits does little to prevent illegal logging or clearing land for agriculture or development. “Unless local communities are committed to conserving and protecting forests it’s not going to happen,” said David Kaimowitz, a former director of the Center for International Forestry Research, or CIFOR. “Government cannot do it for them.”
A recent CIFOR study reported that more than a quarter of the forests in developing countries are now being managed by local communities. The trend is worldwide — from China to Brazil.
In Ixtlán, under Zapotec traditions, all decisions about the forest and its related businesses are made by a (mostly male) general assembly of 390 townspeople. These “comuneros” are required to contribute their labour as needed to the forest and its enterprises. “You can see the harmony,” said Francisco Luna, the secretary of the committee in charge of the forest and its businesses. “For us to live in peace, we have to respect all the rules.”
Many of the problems that beset other forests in Mexico, like illegal logging and deforestation, rate barely a shrug here. Pedro Vidal García, a longtime forester in Ixtlán who now works for the Rainforest Alliance, laughed when he was asked about illegal logging in the 48 000 acres of forest the community owns. “Anybody who tries their own illegal business is harshly judged,” he said. “The assembly is very tough.” A comunero who dares to work as a guide to illegal loggers or hunters is branded a traitor and could lose all property rights.
Last year, the community’s businesses made a profit of about US$230 000. Of that, 30 percent went back into the business, another 30 percent went into forest preservation and the final 40 percent went back to the workers and the community where it pays for things like pensions, a low-interest credit union and housing for students studying in the state capital. Most of the enterprise’s foresters and managers are the university-educated sons and daughters of the older comuneros.
“Things are working,” said Francisco Chapela, an agronomist who first came to Oaxaca 30 years ago and now works for the Rainforest Alliance in Mexico. “Forest management is a big success,” he continued. “If you look at old aerial photographs and compare it with what is now, the forest is increasing here.
“A lot of jobs have been created and a lot of money has come to the communities.”
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  • Tunza’ Children’s Conference Makes Declaration on Biodiversity

Source: TTKN, 3 November 2010

Participants attending the Tunza International Children’s Conference on the Environment culminated in a Declaration on Biodiversity presented at the high-level segment of the Conference of the Parties of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan.
They stressed that as children their action plan to make the habitat of living things a better place would be to plant trees, become more familiar with nature in order to realize its importance and endeavour not to litter. Furthermore, they declared that in order to sustainably support biological resources, they would use food wisely, recycle daily and use paper resourcefully.
And in response to this the adults were asked to make a more significant commitment to the enforcement of laws which limit the amount of fishing and protect the environment from the pollution through the use of more protected areas. In the case that any nations or people do not observe these laws, adults were asked to set the rules and with strict penalties.
The conference, which was hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in cooperation with the Aichi Prefectural Government and the City of Nagoya, brought together over 220 children and chaperones from around 40 countries and took place simultaneously with the UN conference on the protection of biodiversity.
Organized to give youth opportunities to share their experiences concerning the environment, climate change and environmental protection, the conference also gave them the chance to discuss the state of biodiversity and what they can do to protect species worldwide in their own lives.
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  • US$5,000,000,000,000: The cost each year of vanishing rainforest

Source: Independent (UK), 3 October 2010

British scientific experts have made a major breakthrough in the fight to save the natural world from destruction, leading to an international effort to safeguard a global system worth at least US$5 trillion a year to mankind.
Groundbreaking new research by a former banker, Pavan Sukhdev, to place a price tag on the worldwide network of environmental assets has triggered an international race to halt the destruction of rainforests, wetlands and coral reefs.
With experts warning that the battle to stem the loss of biodiversity is two decades behind the climate change agenda, the United Nations, the World Bank and ministers from almost every government insist no country can afford to believe it will be unaffected by the alarming rate at which species are disappearing. The Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan, shifted from solely ecological concerns to a hard-headed assessment of the impact on global economic security.
The UK Government is championing a new system to identify the financial value of natural resources, and the potential hit to national economies if they are lost. The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (Teeb) project has begun to calculate the global economic costs of biodiversity loss. Initial results paint a startling picture. The loss of biodiversity through deforestation alone will cost the global economy up to US$4.5 trillion each year — US$650 for every person on the planet, and just a fraction of the total damage being wrought by overdevelopment, intensive farming and climate change.
The annual economic value of the 63 million ha of wetland worldwide is said to total US$3.4 billion. In the pharmaceutical trade, up to 50 percent of all of the US$640 billion market comes from genetic resources. Anti-cancer agents from marine organisms alone are valued at up to US$1 billion a year.
Last month, a study by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, the Natural History Museum in London and the International Union for Conservation of Nature suggested more than one-fifth of the world's plant species are threatened with extinction. The coalition hopes that linking the disappearance of biodiversity to a threat to economic stability will act as a "wake-up call".
Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, believes the UK has a crucial role in bringing countries together to agree on action. In an exclusive interview with The Independent on Sunday, Mrs Spelman warned: "We are losing species hand over fist. I would be negligent if I did not shout from the rooftops that we have a problem; that the loss of species will cost us money and it will undermine our resilience in the face of scientific and medical research. We are losing information that we cannot re-create that we may need to save lives and to save the planet as we know it."
In many parts of the world, the survival of the natural environment is a matter of life and death for the people who live there. Forests contribute directly to the livelihoods of 90 percent of the 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty. Half of the population of the developing world depends indirectly on forests.
But for many, the environmental and economic damage is already done. More than a quarter of the world's original natural biodiversity had gone by 2000, and a further 11 percent of land biodiversity is expected to be lost by 2050. According to some estimates, the rate of extinction is up to 1 000 times that expected without human activity and, now, climate change.
"The way we are doing things is not sustainable," Mrs Spelman added. "Biodiversity is where climate change was 20 years ago — people are still trying to understand what it means and its significance. Things that we thought nature provides for free, actually if you lose them, cost money."
The scenario is already being played out in China, where the demise of its bees has led to workers climbing ladders to cross-pollinate plants. "We have to do everything we can to stop that happening here and elsewhere," said Mrs Spelman, who last month addressed the environmental event at the United Nations. Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, had demanded urgent action. "Too many people still fail to grasp the implications of this," he said. "We have all heard of the web of life. The way we live threatens to trap us in a web of death."
The breakthrough in the battle to persuade countries worldwide to sign up to the biodiversity agenda is the development of Teeb, part-funded by the British, German and Norwegian governments, which calculates the value of nature and the cost of its loss. Developed by Mr Sukhdev, an Indian banker turned environmental economist, its data will be broken down by countries and regions. "
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  • CIFOR Vacancy: Post Doctoral Fellow

From: CIFOR, 10 November 2010

The Center for International Forestry Research advances human wellbeing, environmental conservation and equity by conducting research to inform policies and practices that affect forests in developing countries. They are one of 15 centres within the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), with headquarters in Bogor, Indonesia, and offices in Asia, Africa and South America.
CIFOR is looking for a Post Doctoral Fellow, GCS-REDD. The Post Doctoral Fellow will be responsible for measuring the effectiveness of REDD project sites in reducing emissions of carbon. The post is a joint appointment with Component 2 (REDD project sites) and Component 3 (monitoring and reference levels) in the GCS-REDD. The work will be largely based on field measurements at 20 project sites in Brazil, Cameroon, Tanzania, Indonesia and Vietnam. The Fellow will work with local partners to undertake these measurements. Comparisons will be made before and after implementation of REDD incentives, and between intervention and control sites.
The Fellow will report to the Leaders of Component 2 (REDD project sites) and Component 3 (monitoring and reference levels) in the GCS-REDD project.
Minimum Qualifications: (a) Doctorate in forestry, ecology, natural resource management or  a related field; (b) excellent researcher with strong background in GIS/remote sensing of forest cover charge and analysis of the underlying causes of land cover change; (c) experience in the analysis of forest carbon flux is preferred; (d) experience in monitoring, reporting and verification systems (MRV) is preferred; and (e) fluency in English is required. Fluency in other languages used in countries where CIFOR works will be appreciated.
For more information, please contact:
Dr. Louis Verchot
Principal Scientist – Climate Change
Center for International Forestry Research
P.O. Box 0113 BOCBD
Bogor 16000
Tel: +62-251-8622-622
Fax: +62-251-8622-100




Rencontre Nationale Des Apiculteurs du Cameroun
Ngaoundal, Adamaoua, Cameroun
5-7 Août, 2011
La Rencontre Nationale des Apiculteurs du Cameroun en abrégé RENAC est la
première édition du genre, organisée en Ngaoundal dans le Département du Djérem,
Région de l’Adamaoua Cameroun du 05-07 août 2010, par les apiculteurs. Elle visait
la résolution des problèmes de la filière apicole camerounaise en devenant la plate
forme pour l’apiculture camerounaise actuellement en construction
Pour plusiers d’information, contacter:
Tel: + 237 - 22 67 61 22 / 22 66 40 33/ 99 48 78 81
E-mail: [email protected]



UN Forum on Forests: Ninth Session
24 January-4 February 2011
United Nations Headquarters, New York, USA
In accordance with its multi-year programme of work for the period 2007-2015, the overall theme for the Ninth Session of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF9) is “Forests for people, livelihoods and poverty eradication” with the following sub-themes: (a) community-based forest management; (b) social development and indigenous and other local and forest-dependent communities, including forest and land tenure; and (c) social and cultural aspects.
The General Assembly, moreover, proclaimed 2011 as the International Year of Forests (IYF) and further requested the secretariat of the United Nations Forum on Forests of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs to serve as the focal point for the implementation of the year in collaboration with Governments, the Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF), regional and sub-regional organizations and processes, as well as relevant major groups. IYF will be launched during the high-level segment of the Forum’s ninth session.
For more information, please see:
The United Nations Forum on Forests Secretariat
DC1-1245, One UN Plaza
New York, NY 10017, USA
Tel: +1-212-963-3401
Fax: +1-917-367-3186




  • IUFRO, FAO and RECOFTC release publication on Asian forests

Source: IISD, 23 November 2010

The World Forests, Society and Environment Special Project of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), FAO and the Centre for People and Forests (RECOFTC) have released a publication titled "Asian Forests: Working for People and Nature."
The report highlights key concerns and presents recommendations on how to optimize the opportunities of forests in the region. It outlines various opportunities and incentives that can contribute to realizing the potential of Asian forests, including: reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries (REDD); payments for environmental services; increasing demand for recreation and ecotourism; integration of national and global supply chains; and forest law enforcement and governance and sustainable forest management as requisites for international market access. The authors advocate improving the enabling environment by improving land-use planning and through tenure and public sector reform. They also call for better management of human and natural resources by, inter alia investing in science, technology and human resources. [
For more information, please see:



42.       Other publications of Interest
From: NWFP Programme

Barber-Meyer, S.M. 2010. Dealing with the clandestine nature of wildlife-trade market surveys. Conserv. Biol. 24(4):918-923.

Bunn, W.A., et al. 2010. Change within and among forest communities: the influence of historic disturbance, environmental gradients, and community attributes. Ecography 33(3):425-434.

Janzen, David H. et al. 2009. Integration of DNA barcoding into an ongoing inventory of complex tropical biodiversity. Molecular Ecology Resources 9:1-26. Link:

Kirkby CA, Giudice-Granados R, Day B, Turner K, Velarde-Andrade LM, et al. (2010).
The Market Triumph of Ecotourism: An Economic Investigation of the Private and Social Benefits of Competing Land Uses in the Peruvian Amazon. PLoS ONE. 5(9).

Rist, Lucy R., Shaanker, U., Milner Gulland, E.J. and Ghazoul, J. 2010. Combining TEK and conventional scientific data in forest management. United Nations University-Institute of Advanced studies.
Abstract: Many forest communities possess considerable knowledge of the natural resources they utilize. This knowledge, by providing a source of baseline data or by filling information gaps that cannot be addressed through research, can inform scientific approaches to forest management, or provide novel management alternatives. Although the integration of TEK with conventional scientific sources of information has been well validated, there remains little attention to quantitative forms of knowledge or to identifying specific benefits and challenges arising in this integration. An emerging management challenge in a Wildlife Sanctuary in Southern India represented an ideal opportunity to assess the role of TEK in forest management. The infection of a fruit tree by a native mistletoe poses significant livelihood and biodiversity impacts. Specifically the authors considered the efficiency of deriving information from TEK compared to scientific field studies, the potential of TEK to provide novel solutions to a management problem, the degree to which TEK could provide quantitative information, and the biases that might be associated with information derived from TEK. TEK complemented previously gathered ecological data by providing concordant and additional information, but also contradicted some results obtained using a scientific approach. TEK also gave a longer-term perspective with regard to NTFP harvesting patterns further suggesting that the use of diverse information sources may provide a more effective approach to assessing the status of harvested resources.

Vanthomme, H., Belle, B. and Forget, P.M. 2010.Bushmeat Hunting Alters Recruitment of Large-Seeded Plant Species in Central Africa. Biotropica. 42(6). 672–679.



43.       Web sites and E-Zines
From: NWFP Programme

UN International Year of Forests 2011
The International Year of Forests, 2011 (Forests 2011) Web site is a global platform to celebrate people’s action to sustainably manage the world’s forests. The United Nations General Assembly declared 2011 as the International Year of Forests to raise awareness on sustainable management, conservation and sustainable development of all types of forests.
The website contains information regarding events being organized throughout the International Year as well as interactive web tools and resources to promote dialogue on forests.

Think to Sustain
This web site is a knowledge portal for sustainable development initiatives taken by Industry, Institutions and Individuals worldwide. The team consists of environmentalists, industry professionals, knowledge management experts, researchers and consultants, whose aims are: to bring out the best initiatives that have the potential to significantly impact our environment in positive ways; to highlight the consequences of development models, lifestyles and institutional frameworks; and to build a platform for mutual discussions, sharing of ideas and efforts on issues related to global warming, climate change, energy efficiency, biodiversity and anything related to nature.

Barcode of Life Datasystems
The Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) is an online workbench that aids collection, management, analysis, and use of DNA barcodes.




44.         Controversial pesticides linked to “total ecological collapse” of insects and birds
Source: The Ecologist, 16 November 2010

A new book is blaming the significant decline of bird and bee numbers across Europe on the use of certain pesticides in agriculture.
In The Systemic Insecticides: A Disaster in the Making, toxicologist Dr Henk Tennekes suggests that dangerous insecticides known as neonicotinoids are seriously affecting bird and insect life, and their continued use could result in an “environmental catastrophe”.
Neonicotinoids are often used as seed-dressing for maize, sunflower and rapeseed. However, Tennekes says as well as spreading throughout the entire plant and into the nectar and pollen, they also have a high leaching potential and seep into soils and groundwater. Even low concentrations of the pesticide may be more deadly then previously thought due to their high persistence in soil and water, he adds.
In a study published in the journal Toxicology earlier this year, Tennekes had suggested this could be a factor behind declining bee numbers across Europe. He now believes bees are not the only victims.
“Any insect that feeds on the crop dies. Any bee or butterfly that collects pollen or nectar from the crop is poisoned. Neonicotinoids behave like carcinogens, and easily contaminate ground and surface water. There could be dire long-term consequences of environmental pollution with these insecticides, and my fears were confirmed by extensive research,” says Tennekes.
In his book, Tennekes writes that even minute traces of these pesticides could be fatal to insects, as continued use affects food availability for birds, a lack of weeds resulting in a loss of insects, as well as seeds. This decline is also linked to a lack of larger insects upon which chicks depend for their survival, which in turn affects breeding.
“An ecological collapse is already taking place before our eyes,” Tennekes told the Ecologist. “Numerous bird species do not find enough food for their chicks as insects are being exterminated by pesticides. Insects are vital in ecosystems. In fact, we need them for human survival.”
The Soil Association, which along with Buglife and Pesticide Action Network UK has previously called for neonicotinoid pesticides to be banned, says the decline in bee numbers alone should serve as an early warning.
“In the UK alone, beekeepers [have in the recent past] reported a loss of one in three bee colonies,” said a spokesperson. “This has serious consequences for worldwide food security, because bees are our most important pollinators and play a vital role in the food chain — it is estimated that one-third of human food supplies depend on bee pollination. Bees are therefore like the "canary in the coal mine” — their deaths are a warning to us all that the health of the planet is under threat.”
For full story, please see:




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last updated:  Thursday, May 3, 2012