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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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From Milan to Glasgow, Young Moroccans Commit to Fighting Climate Change



A new way to recycle large amounts of coffee grounds; a platform connecting young African activists; technology to produce electricity from ocean waves or recycle plastic. A new energy-efficient construction method – an innovative carpooling app. 

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Health Workers Lauded for Role in Leprosy Treatment During Pandemic



Yohei Sasakawa, WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination and Chairperson of the Nippon Foundation, thanks participants at a webinar ‘Raising Awareness about Leprosy, Role of Health Professionals at the Grassroots Level’ organized by the Sasakawa Leprosy Initiative. He is with other participants from Japan, India and Nepal in the “Don’t Forget Leprosy” campaign event. by Joyce Chimbi (nairobi, kenya)Thursday, January 20, 2022Inter Press Service

Sasakawa, the WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination and Chairman of the Nippon Foundation, was speaking at a webinar ‘Raising Awareness about Leprosy, Role of Health Professionals at the Grassroots Level’ organized by the Sasakawa Leprosy Initiative.

A leprosy-free world was one where “patients and those cured of leprosy live free of discrimination and, people around them will be free of the misunderstanding, ignorance and fear that perpetuate discrimination”, he told the webinar.

Sasakawa Leprosy Initiative is a strategic alliance between WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, the Nippon Foundation and Sasakawa Health Foundation for achieving a world without leprosy and problems related to the disease. The initiative spearheaded a campaign, “Don’t Forget Leprosy”, to raise awareness about the condition in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

The WHO Goodwill Ambassador envisions a post-COVID world where those affected by leprosy will be liberated from such stigma and discrimination in keeping with human rights.

Sasakawa says this world is now at risk of delaying leprosy elimination due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as there was a 37 percent drop in reported new cases and leprosy programs in many countries have stalled or scaled back.

Participants heard about the role of health professionals in combating leprosy, recognition of this role and the successes and challenges faced in addressing leprosy during the ongoing health pandemic.

Their role, Sasakawa said, was a central pillar to the vision of a leprosy free world as it helps reduce transmission and disability.

An estimated three to four million people live with some form of disability caused by leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease.

“The ‘Don’t Forget Leprosy’ is a global campaign because our voices alone are not enough. Stopping leprosy requires (the involvement of) all of us, from India and Nepal to all other countries around the world,” he said.

Dr Rashmi Shukla outlined efforts in India to identify and treat patients with leprosy. He was speaking at a webinar ‘Raising Awareness about Leprosy, Role of Health Professionals at the Grassroots Level’ organized by the Sasakawa Leprosy Initiative. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

Dinesh Basnet, Central President of the International Association for Integration, Dignity and Economic Advancement (IDEA) in Nepal, said he was happy to see progress in recent years.

“More so Nepal’s efforts to track and eliminate leprosy. Even during the pandemic, detection and treatment interventions were uninterrupted, and this has been possible due to government commitment and unrelenting efforts of health professionals,” said Basnet.

“People affected by leprosy were not forgotten as communication continued through WhatsApp groups, and this was critical during the lockdown.”

Dr Indra Napit, a senior Orthopedic Surgeon at Anandaban Hospital, Nepal, spoke about innovative technology in the trial of Autologous Blood products to promote ulcer healing in Leprosy. He added that a new drug was on trial to manage reactions to this form of treatment at this leprosy mission.

In a video message, Birodh Khatiwada, Nepal’s Minister of Health and Population, spoke of Nepal’s undisrupted program to address leprosy, including the continued supply of leprosy medication despite the pandemic.

He says Nepal has already prepared the National Leprosy Roadmap, 2021-2030, National Leprosy Strategy 2021-2025, in line with the Global Leprosy Strategy, Neglected Tropical Diseases Roadmap and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Sasakawa emphasized that it was indeed the ultimate goal for India and other affected countries worldwide to reach zero leprosy cases by 2030.

Despite challenges in the fight to eliminate leprosy, a ray of hope shines through, with Anju Sharma sharing good practices in case finding in India amid the ongoing health pandemic.

Sharma is an accredited Social Health Activist and is considered a driving force behind India’s public health system and an essential link between the community and the public health system.

“Screening for leprosy during the pandemic is much more difficult. As COVID-19 cases increase, so does my responsibilities because I have to strictly follow COVID-19 protocols, and this takes a lot of time,” Sharma explained.

“Due to the pandemic, people are hesitant about getting screened. But I reassure them that protocols will be observed and remind them that failure to detect and treat leprosy can lead to disability.”

Dr Venkata Ranganadha Rao Pemmaraju, acting team leader, WHO Global Leprosy Programme, emphasized that discussing the role of health workers was critical, and hearing from those in the frontlines helps efforts to eliminate the pandemic move forward.

WHO, he said, subscribes to the Don’t Forget Leprosy campaign. He lauded ongoing efforts to sustain counselling for those affected by leprosy and those who tracked and managed Nepal-India cross border leprosy cases despite challenges COVID-19 protocols like restrictions on movement and lockdowns.

Dinesh Basnet, a person affected by leprosy thanked health care workers and others for their efforts in eliminating the disease. He was talking at a webinar ‘Raising Awareness about Leprosy, Role of Health Professionals at the Grassroots Level’ organized by the Sasakawa Leprosy Initiative. Credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

Similarly, Dr Rabindra Baskota, the Leprosy Control and Disability Management Section director in Nepal’s Ministry of Health and Population, confirmed that health workers had been relentless to find new cases, raising awareness on leprosy and treating patients despite ongoing challenges.

“Still, there is a need to train community health workers to detect new cases and manage reactions to leprosy treatment even as older and more experienced health workers retire,” he said.

Dr Anil Kumar, the deputy director-general (Leprosy) in India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, who spoke about good practices in combating leprosy said that a leprosy-free India was not very far off.

Despite a notable decline in screening and detecting cases due to COVID-19, he said critical interventions were nonetheless rolled out, and that leprosy-related services continued at the grassroots level.

“Migrant labourers were screened for leprosy at point of return to home districts and patients on treatment tracked. Treatment defaulters were cross notified based on the address in treatment record,” Kumar said.

“A WhatsApp group titled Leprosy Action Group was created for cross notification, and members included state leprosy officers and partners. Supportive supervision and monitoring up to sub-district level using virtual platforms continues.”

Executive Director of the Sasakawa Health Foundation, Dr Takahiro Nanri, moderated a panel discussion that included a session to further shed light on additional support needed to achieve leprosy elimination milestones.

Sasakawa suggested that health workers’ training included human rights, and the panel lauded health workers for their passionate and proactive steps to eliminate the disease.

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

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Ominous History in Real Time: Where We Are Now in the USA



US President Joseph R. Biden Jr. addresses the general debate of the UN General Assembly’s 76th session last year. In his inaugural address to the annual gathering of world leaders at the UN, Biden called for a new era of global unity against the compounding crises of COVID-19, climate change and insecurity. Credit: UN Photo/Cia PakOpinion by Norman Solomon (san francisco, usa)Monday, January 17, 2022Inter Press Service

Dollar figures can look abstract on a screen, but they indicate the extent of the mania. Biden had asked for “only” $12 billion more than President Trump’s bloated military budget of the previous year — but that wasn’t enough for the bipartisan hawkery in the House and Senate, which provided a boost of $37 billion instead.

Overall, military spending accounts for about half of the federal government’s total discretionary spending — while programs for helping instead of killing are on short rations at many local, state, and national government agencies. It’s a nonstop trend of reinforcing the warfare state in sync with warped neoliberal priorities. While outsized profits keep benefiting the upper class and enriching the already obscenely rich, the cascading effects of extreme income inequality are drowning the hopes of the many.

Corporate power constrains just about everything, whether healthcare or education or housing or jobs or measures for responding to the climate emergency. What prevails is the political structure of the economy.

Class war in the United States has established what amounts to oligarchy. A zero-sum economic system, aka corporate capitalism, is constantly exercising its power to reward and deprive. The dominant forces of class warfare — disproportionately afflicting people of color while also steadily harming many millions of whites — continue to undermine basic human rights including equal justice and economic security.

In the real world, financial power is political power. A system that runs on money is adept at running over people without it.

The words “I can’t breathe,” repeated nearly a dozen times by Eric Garner in a deadly police chokehold, resonated for countless people whose names we’ll never know. The intersections of racial injustice and predatory capitalism are especially virulent zones, where many lives gradually or suddenly lose what is essential for life.

Discussions of terms like “racism” and “poverty” too easily become facile, abstracted from human consequences, while unknown lives suffocate at the hands of routine injustice, systematic cruelties, the way things predictably are.

An all-out war on democracy is now underway in the United States. More than ever, the Republican Party is the electoral arm of unabashed white supremacy as well as such toxicities as xenophobia, nativism, anti-gay bigotry, patriarchy, and misogyny.

The party’s rigid climate denial is nothing short of deranged. Its approach to the Covid pandemic has amounted to an embrace of death in the name of rancid individualism. With its Supreme Court justices in place, the “Grand Old Party” has methodically slashed voting rights and abortion rights.

Overall, on domestic matters, the partisan matchup is between neoliberalism and neofascism. While the abhorrent roles of the Democratic leadership are extensive, to put it mildly, the two parties now represent hugely different constituencies and agendas at home. Not so on matters of war and peace.

Both parties continue to champion what Martin Luther King Jr. called “the madness of militarism.” When King described the profligate spending for a distant war as “some demonic, destructive suction tube,” he was condemning dynamics that endure with a vengeance.

Today, the madness and the denial are no less entrenched. A militaristic core serves as a sacred touchstone for faith in America as the world’s one and only indispensable nation. Gargantuan Pentagon budgets are taken for granted, as is the assumed prerogative to bomb other countries at will.

Every budget has continued to include massive outlays for nuclear weapons, including gigantic expenditures for so-called “modernization” of the nuclear arsenal. A fact that this book cited when it was first published — that the United States had ten thousand nuclear warheads and Russia had a comparable number — is no longer true; most estimates say those stockpiles are now about half as large.

But the current situation is actually much more dangerous. In 2007, the Doomsday Clock maintained by The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists pegged the world’s proximity to annihilation at five minutes to apocalyptic Midnight.

As 2022 began, the symbolic hands were at one hundred seconds to Midnight. Such is the momentum of the nuclear arms race, fueled by profit-driven military contractors. Lofty rhetoric about seeking peace is never a real brake on the nationalistic thrust of militarism.

With the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the third decade of this century is shaping up to unfold new wrinkles in American hegemonic conceits. Along the way, Joe Biden has echoed a central precept of doublethink in George Orwell’s most famous novel, 1984: “War is Peace.”

Speaking at the United Nations as the autumn of 2021 began, Biden proclaimed: “I stand here today, for the first time in twenty years, with the United States not at war. We’ve turned the page.” But the turned page was bound into a volume of killing with no foreseeable end.

The United States remained at war, bombing in the Middle East and elsewhere, with much information withheld from the public. And increases in U.S. belligerence toward both Russia and China escalated the risks of a military confrontation that could lead to nuclear war.

A rosy view of the USA’s future is only possible when ignoring history in real time. After four years of the poisonous Trump presidency, the Biden strain of corporate liberalism offers a mix of antidotes and ongoing toxins. The Republican Party, now neofascist, is in a strong position to gain control of the U.S. government by mid-decade.

Preventing such a cataclysm seems beyond the grasp of the same Democratic Party elites that paved the way for Donald Trump to become president in the first place. Realism about the current situation — clarity about how we got here and where we are now — is necessary to mitigate impending disasters and help create a better future. Vital truths must be told. And acted upon.

This article is adapted from the new edition of Norman Solomon’s book “Made Love, Got War,” just published as a free e-book.

Norman Solomon is the national director of and the author of a dozen books including Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with America’s Warfare State, published in a new edition as a free e-book in January 2022. His other books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He was a Bernie Sanders delegate from California to the 2016 and 2020 Democratic National Conventions. Solomon is the founder and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

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