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Fighting Loss of the Greater Mekongs Prized Rosewood Forests




Siamese Rosewood trees on a farmland in Lao PDR – Credit_NAFRI, Laosby Catherine Wilson (canberra, australia)Tuesday, November 30, 2021Inter Press Service

Now a strategic partnership of international and national government research organizations is leading an expert endeavour to ensure their survival.

“The Rosewood species are among the most valuable species in the world. They are worth tens of thousands of dollars per cubic metre, but because of illegal logging, they were almost wiped out in the Indochina landscapes,” Riina Jalonen, a scientist working with the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, told IPS. The collaborative research-for-development initiative pursues research and innovative solutions to the major global challenges of land degradation, biodiversity loss and poverty around the world.

For the past three years, the Alliance has joined with national partners in Cambodia, Lao PDR and Vietnam as well as the University of Copenhagen and the Chinese Academy of Forestry to spearhead ways of conserving the genetic diversity of Rosewoods. The project, which is also working to support planting and restoration of Rosewood timbers and galvanize a strong reliable supply of seeds and seedlings, is led by the University of Oxford and funded by the Darwin Initiative in the United Kingdom.

Collecting seed of Burmese Rosewood (Dalbergia oliveri) in Cambodia – Credit_IRD, Cambodia

Chaloun Bountihiphonh at the National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute in Vientiane, Lao PDR, has witnessed a turnaround in the fortune of the species since the project began in 2018. “The status of the Rosewood Dalbergia populations have improved and now cover more than 60 percent of their natural habitat, and a seed network has been established. And communities of the project have been strengthened in their awareness of the importance of Rosewoods and the additional income that they can get from seed collection,” Bountihiphonh told IPS.

The Greater Mekong subregion, comprising the countries of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam and China, boasts immense biodiversity, including 20,000 plant species and 1,200 species of birds. The region’s forests provide the natural habitats for wildlife, but also prevent soil erosion and landslides, create essential levels of atmospheric moisture and combat climate change by reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. And local communities, including many indigenous peoples, depend on the forests for shelter, sustenance, livelihoods and income.

But deforestation, driven by rapid population growth, expansion of infrastructure, agriculture and mining, as well as forest fires and illicit logging operations, has taken a heavy toll. Forest cover in the Greater Mekong declined by 5 percent, while in Cambodia alone it declined by 27 percent, from 1990-2015, reports the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The Rosewood conservation project has focussed on three specific species: Dalbergia cochinchinensis, also known as Siamese Rosewood, is in high demand by furniture makers. Dalbergia oliveri, or Burmese Rosewood with highly fragrant and with a pronounced grain, is popular for woodworking, and Dalbergia cultrata, also named Burma Blackwood, is a blackwood timber characterised by varied hues of burgundy.

The United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reports that 8.3 million kilograms of illegally trafficked Rosewood was seized worldwide between 2005-2015. The top ten source countries included India, Thailand and Cambodia, and the main destination countries included China, Malaysia, Vietnam and the United States. This is also what makes regional collaboration so crucial for safeguarding the species.

“Illegal logging of primary forests has directly destroyed the mature trees and good quality mother trees which produce seeds for natural regeneration and silviculture,” Bountihiphonh said.

The conservation project grew out of discussions with forestry experts in the Mekong countries, who highlighted the issues threatening the valuable timber forests. The Alliance first conducted conservation assessments of the species to analyse and identify the specific threats and conservation needs.

Then, in partnership with Cambodia’s Institute of Forest and Wildlife Research and Development, Lao’s National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute and the Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Sciences, two main conservation approaches were implemented. The ‘in situ’ approach preserves the Rosewood trees in their natural environment, for example, in the form of a national park or community-managed forest. The second ‘ex situ’ strategy promulgates the species in a different designated location, such as a plantation or in a seed production area.

However, restoring and expanding forests requires a vast supply of seeds. And so, seed and seedling production are some of the most important activities carried out in forest-dwelling communities.

“We have been helping farmers to establish seed orchards, where trees are planted specifically for seed production. It is the farmers who are interested in producing seeds and selling them. Especially in Cambodia, they have quite an active network of seed producers and seed collectors, and the Institute of Forest and Wildlife Research and Development has really spearheaded this work to help more and more farmers to participate and benefit” Jalonen said.

Seed orchards make seed collection an easier, safer and less time-consuming process than in the natural environment, and have led to substantial economic benefits for communities.

Some of the largest remaining rosewood populations in Cambodia are found within Community Forests – Credit_Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT

“People in rural areas are increasingly realizing the value of these species. The species provides two sellable products; timber and seed. Timber takes a very long time to produce, but seed is something that the farmers can collect after a few years and Rosewood seed is highly valuable, fetching around US$200-250 per kilogram. It is something that the farmers can harvest every year for annual income,” Jalonen explained.

The work being done by the Alliance and its national partners aims to benefit seven rural forest-based communities in the Greater Mekong region and reduce poverty in 175 households by boosting earnings from the marketing of seeds and seedlings by up to 20 percent.

“Big Rosewood trees are not widely available as before because of the illegal cutting and debarking of the Burmese Rosewood,” Ou Veng, farmer and village leader of O Srao in Cambodia, said. “In the past, people were not interested to protect the forest. But now they worry about losing it because it’s required for their livelihoods. So more and more people are involved in patrolling, tree planting and fire protection. The forest has regenerated significantly.”

In Pursat, Cambodia, the expansion of a local farmer’s nursery for the sale of Rosewood seed and seedlings increased local employment opportunities in the community threefold between 2018 and 2020.

In the village of Kampeng, also in Cambodia, Soeung Sitha, a farmer described how reafforestation efforts had also acquired a heritage purpose. “Many of our community forest members have planted Siamese Rosewood in their home gardens and farms. They don’t want the species to become extinct. They want the younger generation to use them as well,” he said.

Ahead of the initiative coming to an end in December, Jalonen reflected on what is likely to be some of its important legacies.

“A model for farmer-led seed production for Rosewoods now exists. What has been really successful is the establishment of seed orchards by farmers,” she said. “Seeds are providing incomes and job opportunities and, what is also important, is that it generates more opportunities for women because collecting the seeds of these trees from the forest is difficult. You actually have to climb the trees. So when the seed production is done on farms with smaller plants, it is much easier to collect.”

And the new forest growth will be more robust. “By helping to improve the quality of seeds and seedlings in restoration areas and making sure they are genetically diverse, the planted forest will grow to be productive and also resilient. Under the rapidly changing environment, this capacity of the trees to adapt is more important than ever – and not only for the species themselves but also for the global efforts to mitigate climate change through forest conservation and restoration,” Jalonen emphasised.

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© Inter Press Service (2021) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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Attacking Iran Is a Recipe for a Catastrophe




Opinion by Alon Ben-Meir (new york)Monday, January 31, 2022Inter Press Service

Righting the Wrong

Israel’s repeated threats to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities irrespective of any outcome in the negotiations in Vienna between the P5+1 (France, the United Kingdom, Russia, China, the US, and Germany) and Iran is a recipe for disaster.

Prime Minister Bennett’s argument that Israel will not abide by any agreement, not only because Israel is not a party in the negotiations but because Israel alone will determine what’s best to safeguard its national security, is a fallacy.

Given the complexity and the far-reaching implications of a potential Israeli attack, the only proper path to address Iran’s nuclear program is by fully coordinating and developing a joint strategy with the US to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambition to acquire nuclear weapons while seeking an end to the conflict.

It is critical that the Bennett-Lapid government not repeat Netanyahu’s disastrous mistake of opposing the JCPOA, which subsequently Netanyahu persuaded Trump to withdraw from altogether. As a result of the US’ withdrawal from the deal, Iran has only advanced its nuclear weapons program—enriching a significant amount of uranium to 60 percent, which is only a short leap to enriching it to weapons-grade 90 percent, and in enough quantity to produce one nuclear weapon in short order.

White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said recently, “The reason we’re in the situation we’re in right now is because the previous administration pulled out of the Iran deal and we are paying the wages of that catastrophic mistake.”

Bennett’s repeated threats to attack Iran could lead to miscalculation and dire unintended consequences that Israel cannot possibly cope with on its own. Israel must work hand-in-hand with the US to address Iran’s nuclear program now and in the future, and must not resort to a military option without the full support of the US.

The Bennett government must carefully consider the ominous outcome such an attack could precipitate, from which Israel as well as the entire region will suffer unimaginably.

The ominous repercussions of an Israeli attack

Israel’s repeated threats are unwise and do nothing but provide Iran ample time to prepare for any contingency. Mossad director David Barnea recently stated that “Iran will not have nuclear weapons—not in the coming years, not ever. This is my personal commitment: This is the Mossad’s commitment.”

Knowing the Iranian mindset, such a statement is counterproductive and does nothing but stiffen Iran’s position. Even if Israel is planning such an attack, advertising it repeatedly in advance drastically undermines its effectiveness.

Iran is already fortifying its air defenses, especially around its nuclear facilities, and putting in place offensive capabilities that can exact a heavy price from Israel should such an attack materialize. Indeed, Israel can inflict a devastating blow on Iran’s nuclear facilities, but it cannot destroy all of them nor the Iranian knowhow. Such an attack, however overwhelming, would only set back Iran’s nuclear program for two to three years.

It is a given that an Israeli attack would force Tehran to retaliate directly against Israel by firing ballistic missiles that can reach major Israeli cities, potentially causing widespread destruction and thousands of casualties. Iran will also ensure that Hezbollah, which is in possession of 150,000 rockets, will enter the fray and fire thousands of rockets that can reach every corner of the country.

Regardless of how effective Israel’s air defense may be, its Iron Dome and Arrow interceptors cannot possibly intercept tens of thousands of short, medium, and long-range rockets. Moreover, Hamas too may well join the fight, in addition to a third front with Syria, from where Iranian proxies will attack Israel. Israel’s economy will be shattered, and past conflagrations with Hamas alone attest to this fact.

Many Israeli military experts believe that Israel does not have the aerial capability to attack Iran more than once, nor can it destroy all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, as they are scattered around the country and several are built a hundred or more feet underground. It will require several days and multiple attacks, which Israel does not have the capability to conduct.

Although all the Arab Gulf states would like to see Iran’s nuclear facilities eliminated, they want to avoid a war because even a limited Israeli attack could engulf the entire region and beyond. In many conversations I had with officials from the Gulf, nearly all of them prefer containment of Iran’s nuclear program and deterrence spearheaded by the US to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and to ensure that Iran will be unable to threaten or intimidate its neighbors.

Finally, whereas Israeli attacks on Iraq’s and Syria’s nuclear facilities (in 1981 and 2007, respectively) did not spread radioactive material into the atmosphere because no uranium was present, Iran has a stockpile of uranium purified to various degrees. Thus, an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would have disastrous environmental consequences.

From the Iranian perspective, acquiring nuclear weapons would deter any aggressor, including the US, from attacking it. Iran wants to stand on equal footing with Sunni Pakistan to its east and Jewish Israel to its west, both of whom are nuclear powers.

This partly explains why Iran does not bend easily and why it is assuming such a hard position at the negotiations in Vienna, even though it wants badly to have the sanctions lifted to salvage its ailing economy.

The need for a full US-Israeli collaboration

Attacking Iran without the US’ acquiescence, if not outright support, will seriously undermine Israel-US relations which Jerusalem cannot afford. Collaboration and coordination between the two countries is and will remain central in dealing effectively with Iran.

This is particularly important because the Iranian clergy wants to avoid any military confrontation with the US, fearing a disastrous outcome. Indeed, a US military assault on Iran could precipitate regime change, which the Iranian leadership fears the most and wants to prevent at any cost.

For this reason, to deter Iran, it is critical for the Bennett-Lapid government to work closely with the Biden administration and support any new agreement that may be reached between Iran and the P5+1. The Biden administration is committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and Israel must trust the US to do whatever necessary to that end, especially because Israel cannot and must not act alone.

The failure or the success to reach a new agreement

Should the P5+1 fail to reach a new agreement, the US and Israel must develop a joint strategy to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons based on containment and deterrence. This includes the imposition of additional crippling sanctions, cyber-attacks on vital Iranian installations, and sabotaging its nuclear facilities, among other disabling measures.

In addition, the US should make it clear that all options are on the table, including military force, which could pose a significant risk of regime change, which terrifies Iran. In addition, the US should seriously consider a strategic game-changer move by providing a nuclear umbrella to cover Israel and the Gulf states.

Should a new agreement be reached, which seems increasingly likely, it will be expected to include rolling back the number of operational centrifuges and reducing the quantity and the enrichment quality of uranium, while extending the sunset clauses beyond the original dates to prevent Iran from resuming its nuclear weapons program within a few years. In addition, a new deal will obviously restore the most stringent and infallible monitoring system to thwart Iran from cheating.

Beyond these measures, however, the US must strive to end the conflict with Iran on a more permanent basis. The Biden administration ought to initiate back-channel talks to address Iran’s nefarious regional activity, its arming and financially aiding of extremist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, its ballistic missile program, and its hegemonic ambitions.

In addition, due to Israel’s profound and legitimate concerns about its national security, the Biden administration must make it unequivocally clear to Iran that it must end its repeated existential threats against Israel. Iran’s clergy must understand that such threats could precipitate a disastrous conflagration—intentional or unintentional—that could engulf the entire region from which Iran will suffer greatly.

In return, if Iran embraces such a moderate path, the US should promise publicly that it will not seek now or at any time in the future regime change, which for the clergy is a do-or-die proposition. Moreover, the US would embark on a gradual normalization of relations on all fronts.

To be sure, when there is a breakdown in any conflict there is often an opportunity for a breakthrough. Iran does not want to remain a pariah state and always be on the defensive, and the US and Israel will be much better off if Iran joins the community of nations as a constructive player on the international stage.

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a retired professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University (NYU). He taught courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies for over 20 years.
[email protected]

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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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Team From UN Mission in Colombia Attacked, Vehicles Torched




Friday, January 28, 2022UN News

In a statement, the mission condemned the attack suffered by its local team in Puerto Nuevo, Guaviare, when it was carrying out a joint mission with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and a non-governmental organization. 

The joint mission, made up of three vehicles, was heading to the rural area of Guayabero to meet with communities in the area, when they were approached by armed individuals who made them get out of the vehicles.

Two of the three vehicles were incinerated a few minutes later at the scene. 

Bogotá, Colombia’s capital., by Unsplash/Claus Pacheco

The UN Mission reiterated its concern over continuing acts of violence in so-called priority areas for the implementation of the 2016 Peace Agreement with FARC rebels, and condemned any attempts to intimidate UN and humanitarian staff, by armed groups. 

The UN will continue to support Colombians in their efforts to consolidate peace in the country, the mission said.

Security Council

On Thursday, the Security Council reiterated its full and unanimous support for the peace process in Colombia.

In a statement, the Council Members highlighted the fifth anniversary of the Final Peace Agreement, celebrated in November of last year. 

They echoed the Secretary-General’s observation, when visiting the country during the anniversary, that “historic progress” was “taking root” but also that “formidable challenges” remain. 

The members also welcomed the way in which the anniversary “led to renewed focus by all parties on the need to consolidate this progress and address these challenges.”

As Colombia prepares for congressional and presidential elections, the Council stressed the importance of taking the necessary steps to ensure safe, peaceful and inclusive participation, including the full, equal and meaningful participation of women. 

They also reiterated their concern regarding the persistent threats, attacks and killings targeting former FARC-EP members, as well as community and social leaders, including women and those from indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities.

© UN News (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: UN News


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When Will Countries Ever Learn How Well to Do Fuel Subsidy Reforms?




View of downtown Nur-Sultan, the capital of Kazakhstan. Credit: World Bank/Shynar JetpissovaOpinion by Alan Gelb, Anit Mukherjee (washington dc)Friday, January 28, 2022Inter Press Service

Amid alarming reports of deadly violence in Kazakhstan, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Central Asia called for restraint and dialogue. 6 January 2022

Protestors are out on the streets, clashing violently with security forces called in to maintain law and order. They vent their frustration not only with rising fuel prices but also with living costs, lack of social services, crumbling infrastructure, corruption and political repression.

Faced with the prospect of a popular uprising, the government backtracks on reforms and re-institutes subsidies, postponing the hard decisions for a later date.

This is Kazakhstan in 2022. It is also Ecuador in 2019, Nigeria in 2012, Bolivia in 2010, Indonesia in 2005 and several other energy exporters which have tried to end, or at least reduce, fuel subsidies over the last two decades.

The list will grow significantly if we include importers who are more exposed to the vagaries of international energy prices. What is interesting is that the story plays out in almost exactly the same way, and the consequences of both action – and inaction – are very similar as well.

For resource rich countries like Kazakhstan, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nigeria, subsidized energy, especially from fossil fuels, is one of the few tangible ways by which citizens can feel that they have a claim to a national resource.

While the level of subsidies varies, at some $228 dollars per head or 2.6% of GDP in 2020, those of Kazakhstan are high but not the highest among exporters. In a situation where the government is generally perceived to be repressive, incompetent and corrupt, food and fuel subsidies keep a lid on deeper grievances. It is economically damaging but politically expedient, a delicate equilibrium that many countries have sought to manage over the last several decades – with little success.

Our research has shown that there is a better way to do energy subsidy reform. Providing direct cash transfers to compensate for the rise in energy prices can be a “win-win” solution. To put it simply, energy compensatory transfers (ECT) enable households, especially the poor and the vulnerable, to absorb the shock and reallocate resources as per their needs.

By removing the arbitrage between subsidized and market prices, ECTs can also reduce corruption, improve distribution and incentivize efficient use of energy. Countries like Iran, India, Jordan and the Dominican Republic have been relatively successful in this type of reform, and their experience holds lessons for other countries that choose to embark on this path.

Digital technology can help significantly to identify beneficiaries, provide them necessary guidance and information, and transfer payments directly to individuals and households. Three key enablers of ECTs are an identification system with universal coverage of the population, strong communications and wide access to financial accounts.

Multiple databases can be cross-checked to verify eligibility norms and grievance redressal systems can help reduce exclusion of genuine beneficiaries. As shown, for example, by India’s LPG subsidy reform, countries can progressively tighten the eligibility criteria over time to target the poorest sections of the population.

Finally, ECTs can provide the impetus for a more transparent and accountable system of subsidy management, helping improve public confidence and support to the government’s reform agenda over the long run.

So, why don’t more countries follow this approach? For one, most energy subsidy reforms are pushed forward in times of economic crisis. ECTs require political commitment, openness to engage in public dialogue, building consensus among stakeholders and powerful vested interests, setting up implementation systems and working across different government ministries, departments and agencies.

Direct compensation is also more transparent than the frequently opaque systems of price subsidization that favor the rich, with their higher energy consumption, even if justified by the need to protect the poor.

ECTs are not simple solutions and often require time to be put in place. On the surface, it may seem simpler to just raise energy prices overnight through an administrative order. But the payoffs are significant in terms of sustainability, economic outcomes, social cohesion and political stability.

The sooner countries can take a longer term approach, the better will they be able to manage the transition to a more sustainable system that supports those who need it most.

Kazakhstan is the first country in 2022 to see popular unrest due to fuel price hike. It almost certainly would not be the last.

Anit Mukherjee is a policy fellow at the Center for Global Development. Alan Gelb is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development.

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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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