Sustainable Tree Farming Means Better Lives for Kenyan Farmers

Wood consumption — including logging and the production of charcoal — is a leading cause of forest degradation in Africa. In some of Kenya’s coastal regions, recurring droughts have made the problem even worse.  Now, farmers in those regions are planting trees, putting their once-barren land to use in a venture that enables them to earn a living and conserve the environment at the same time. 

At Be Sulubu Tezo, in Kilifi county, Kenya, Kanze Kahindi Mbogo tends to her tree farm. She thins out the trees whose wood is now strong enough for her to sell for home-building and making fences.  

The money she makes is for her six children. 

A better life

Kahindi says she has been able to educate her children, pay a couple of debts and do lots of other things. She adds she was also able to take one of her sons to college and right now he is a driver.

Before growing trees, putting food on the table was difficult in this land where droughts are common and crops often fail.

With the help of NGOs and entrepreneurs, farmers are learning how agroforestry can make them money and at the same time save the environment. One of those firms is Komaza, a Kenyan firm that is working with 14,000 farmers to plant drought-resistant trees for harvest, reducing the drive to deforest. 

Help with the harvest

“Farmers are able to nurture the seedlings into trees, and then the trees become fully grown trees ready to harvest,” said Allan Ongang’a, a manager at Komaza.  “Once they are ready for harvest we have the operations team from the forestry department that identify trees that are ready for harvest, agree with the farmers on a fair price, the trees are marked and harvested.”

The firm trains farmers on cultivation and selective harvesting.  

But not all farmers have the resources to plant a tree and wait for it to grow, so some farm subsistence crops among the trees.  Researchers say this arrangement counters the effects of climate change. 

Everybody benefits

“Trees end up absorbing carbon dioxide when they making their food and therefore essentially the trees are actually getting to bring carbon from the atmosphere into the tree stem and therefore on land,” explained researcher John Recha with the Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security Program, a private entity in Nairobi.. “That means there is the benefit of reducing greenhouse gas emission through more enhanced agroforestry systems.”

For these Kenyan farmers, environmentalism begins to make sense when it starts to translate into a sustainable income. 

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Malaysian Ex-PM Slapped with New Charge Over 1MDB Scandal

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak was charged Wednesday with tampering with the final audit report into a defunct state investment fund, adding to a long list of corruption allegations against him since his ouster in May elections.

Najib was charged along with Arul Kanda Kandasamy, the former head of the 1MDB fund, which is being investigated in the U.S. and other countries for alleged cross-border embezzlement and money laundering.

Najib pleaded not guilty to abusing power to order the modification of the report in February 2016 before it was presented to the Public Accounts Committee, in order to protect himself from disciplinary and legal action. Kandasamy, who was detained overnight by anti-graft officials, pleaded not guilty to abetting Najib.

​The charges came after the auditor-general revealed last month that some details had been removed from the 1MDB report. Kandasamy led 1MDB from 2015 until he was terminated in June. The two men were released on bail, and face up to 20 years in prison if found guilty.

Najib set up 1MDB when he took power in 2009 to promote economic development, but the fund amassed billions in debts. U.S. investigators say Najib’s associates stole and laundered $4.5 billion from the fund, including some that landed in Najib’s bank account. 

Public anger over the scandal led to the defeat of Najib’s long-ruling coalition in May 9 elections and ushered in the first change of power since Malaysia gained independence from Britain in 1957.

The new government reopened the investigations stifled under Najib’s rule. Najib, his wife and several top-ranking former government officials have been charged with multiple counts of corruption, criminal breach of trust and money laundering. 

Najib, 65, has accused the new government of political vengeance.

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Avianca Brasil Airline Declares Bankruptcy

Cash-strapped Avianca Brasil, the country’s fourth-largest airline, on Tuesday sought bankruptcy protection from creditors but reassured passengers that flights will continue.

“Due to resistance from the lessors (of their aircraft) to reaching a friendly settlement, we have filed seeking protection from creditors, to protect clients and passengers,” a company statement said.

Operations are not expected to be affected and “passengers can have complete peace of mind to make reservations and buy tickets, since all sales will be honored and flights will be operating,” it said.

The airline has debts of almost 493 million reais ($127 million) with multiple creditors, the business daily Valor reported.

Avianca Brasil, a brand of Oceanair Linhas Aereas SA (Oceanair), is not part of the group Avianca Holdings S.A, based in Colombia.

But both are parts of a holding company led by the same investor, German Efromovich.

Brazilian media said the carrier is in debt to creditors including state oil giant Petrobras and Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos Airport.

Avianca Brasil serves domestic and international routes with 60 jets. The company is facing lawsuits for the return of 26 planes and 52 engines, Valor said.

The airline recorded net losses in the first half of the year of 175.6 million reais, up 24.4 percent from the same period last year.

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Protesters Disrupt US Fossil Fuel Event at Climate Talks

Protesters disturbed a U.S.-sponsored event promoting fossil fuels on the sidelines of U.N. climate change talks on Monday.

The event called “U.S. innovative technologies spur economic dynamism,” touting the benefits of burning fossil fuels more efficiently, infuriated campaigners and many government delegations who want the talks to focus on moving away from coal, oil and gas.

Some 100 protestors in the audience at the event seized a microphone and interrupted opening remarks by Wells Griffith, the man President Donald Trump appointed as senior director for energy at the National Security Council.

They waved banners and chanted: “keep it in the ground.”

“I’m 19 years old and I’m pissed,” shouted Vic Barrett, a plaintiff in the “Juliana vs U.S.” lawsuit filed in 2015 by 21 young people against the government for allowing activities that harm the climate.

“I am currently suing my government for perpetuating the global climate change crisis… Young people are at the forefront of leading solutions to address the climate crises and we won’t back down.”

Before the interruption, Griffiths said it was important to be pragmatic in dealing with climate change in a world still heavily reliant on fossil fuels.

“Alarmism should not silence realism… This administration does not see the benefit of being part of an agreement which impedes U.S. economic growth and jobs,” he said.

The conference, in Katowice, Poland, aims to work out the rules for implementing the Paris Agreement, the global pact on combating climate change.

The United States, the world’s top oil and gas producer, is the only country to have announced its withdrawal from the accord.

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Global Stocks Buoyed by US-China Trade Talks

Stock markets around the world spiked higher Tuesday after Wall Street rebounded amid hopes the U.S. and China are back negotiating over their trade dispute.

KEEPING SCORE: In Europe, Germany’s DAX was up 2 percent to 10,831 while France’s CAC 40 was up 2 percent at 4,837. Britain’s FTSE 100 was up 1.7 percent at 6,834. Wall Street was set to open higher too, with Dow futures and the broader S&P 500 futures up 0.9 percent.

 

U.S.-CHINA RELATIONS: U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He have spoken by phone about “the promotion of the next economic and trade consultations,” a statement by China’s Commerce Ministry said Tuesday. It did not elaborate. This indicates that the detention of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, in Canada may not derail trade talks. Meng is wanted in the U.S. for allegedly misleading banks about the company’s business dealings in Iran. China has protested her arrest and a bail hearing for Meng is underway in Vancouver, British Columbia. Still, traders fear a 90-day tariffs cease-fire may not be enough for the countries to resolve deep-seated issues.

 

ANALYST TAKE: “We’re now seeing daily commentary it seems about the progress of talks between the U.S. and China but the reality is that this is going to be a process that moves at a glacial pace but the fact that talks are happening are a reason to be optimistic,” said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at OANDA.

 

BREXIT AND THE POUND: A day after the pound tanked to 20-month lows against the dollar after British Prime Minister Theresa May pulled a vote on her Brexit deal with the European Union, the currency recovered somewhat after figures showed wages rising at their fastest rate in a decade. The pound was up 0.3 percent at $1.2610.

 

IPHONE BAN IN CHINA: On Monday, U.S. chipmaker Qualcomm said it won an order in a Chinese court banning sales of some Apple phones in China. This is part of a lengthy dispute over two Qualcomm patents allowing users to format photos and manage phone apps using a touch screen. Although Qualcomm said the ban applies to models of the iPhone 6S through X, Apple said all iPhones will remain available for customers in China. Qualcomm shares jumped 2.2 percent to $57.24 on the news.

 

ASIA’S DAY: Softer economic data from Japan and China weighed on some Asian indexes on Tuesday. Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 lost 0.3 percent to 21,148.02 and South Korea’s Kospi dropped less than 0.1 percent to 2,052.97. But Hong Kong’s Hang Seng edged 0.1 percent higher to 25,771.67. The Shanghai Composite rose 0.4 percent to 2,594.09.

 

ENERGY: Oil prices recovered a sharp decline overnight that erased gains from news of a production cut by OPEC countries and other major oil producers. U.S. benchmark crude was up 67 cents at $51.67 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, used to price international oils, rose 59 cents to $60.56 a barrel.

 

CURRENCIES: The euro was up 0.2 percent at $1.1378 while the dollar dropped 0.2 percent to 113.12 yen.

 

 

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EU Will ‘Follow Closely’ French Deficit after Macron Measures

EU economics affairs commissioner Pierre Moscovici on Tuesday said Brussels will keep close watch over France’s new spending plans, a day after President Emmanuel Macron unveiled new measures to quell violent protests.

“The European Commission will closely monitor the impact of the announcements made by President Macron on the French deficit and any financing arrangements,” Moscovici told AFP.

“We are in constant contact with the French authorities,” added Moscovici, who was attending a plenary session of European Parliament in Strasbourg.

Meeting the EU’s three percent deficit limit has been a centrepiece of Macron’s European strategy in order to win the trust of powerful Berlin and its backing for EU reforms.

Before the “yellow vests” protests, the 2019 public deficit was expected to reach 2.8 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), just below the threshold.

Among the potentially costly measures Macron announced on Monday was a 100 euro ($113) monthly increase in the minimum wage as of next year paid for by the government, not employers.

The 40-year-old centrist also announced he would roll back most of an unpopular increase in taxes on pensioners introduced by his government.

And he called on all businesses “that can afford it” to give employees a one-off “end of year bonus” which would be tax free.

The EU rules on public spending are “binding for everybody that is clear,” said senior German MEP Manfred Weber, when asked by reporters about France’s new expenditure.

But he added that “what we should not do as the European Union is intervene in domestic policies so when a government in Italy is presenting its budget it is an Italian budget and in France it is the same.”

Italy’s budget for 2019 was the first in history to be rejected by Brussels for breaking bloc rules on spending.

 

 

 

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Study: Illegal Gold Rush Destroying Amazon Rainforest

A rise in small-scale illegal gold mining is destroying swaths of the Amazon rainforest, according to research released on Monday that maps the scale of the damage for the first time.

Researchers used satellite imagery and government data to identify at least 2,312 illegal mining sites across six countries in South America – Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Venezuela.

The maps show the spread and scale of illegal mining and were produced by the Amazon Socio-environmental, Geo-referenced Information Project (RAISG), which brings together a network of nonprofit environmental groups in the Amazon.

“The scope of illegal mining in the Amazon, especially in indigenous territories and protected natural areas, has grown exponentially in recent years, with the rise in the price of gold,” said Beto Ricardo, head of the RAISG.

Soaring prices in the decade to 2010 sparked a gold rush and hundreds of thousands of illegal miners poured into the Amazon rainforest hoping to strike it rich.

The mercury they use to separate gold from grit is poisoning the rivers, the report said. Mercury seeps into soil, rivers and the food chain and can cause serious health problems.

“Illegal mining can kill us,” Agustin Ojeda, an indigenous leader of Venezuela’s Shirian indigenous people, is quoted as saying in the report.

“The mining wells allow for the reproduction of mosquitoes that bring diseases, such as malaria. The effect of mercury on water isn’t taken seriously either. It not only contaminates water but also the fish we eat.”

Environmentalists fear Brazil’s President-elect Jair Bolsonaro will open up more protected land for mining and other projects when he takes office on January 1, placing further pressure on the Amazon.

Right-wing Bolsonaro has said he plans to stop recognizing new native reservation lands, and he also favors a relaxation of environmental licensing processes for infrastructure projects and other businesses.

“The concern is enormous,” said Ricardo, who is also an anthropologist at Brazil’s Socioenvironmental Institute (ISA), one of the six groups that produced the report.

“The public narrative is to clear the area (of forests), weaken those institutions that monitor and control in favor of agribusiness and mining for the production and export of commodities, which will hasten the deterioration of the forest,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Brazil is home to the world’s largest rainforest in the Amazon, whose preservation is seen by climate experts as critical to avoiding higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that have been blamed for global warming.

In one of the worst hit areas, stretching between Brazil and Venezuela and home to the Yanomami indigenous people, the study showed there were 55 illegal mining sites in protected areas.

“Illegal mining is a serious threat to the Amazon rainforest and the indigenous peoples who call it home,” said Moira Birss, spokeswoman for Amazon Watch, a U.S.-based non-profit group.

“This report provides important new data and clearly demonstrates the scope of the problem, and as such is a call to action to regional governments and the companies that purchase the illegally-mined minerals to take bold, concrete action to stop the destruction.”

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Puerto Rico Overhauls Tax Laws to Help Workers, Businesses

Puerto Rico’s governor signed a bill Monday to overhaul the U.S. territory’s tax laws in a bid to attract foreign investment and help workers and some business owners amid a 12-year recession.

The bill creates an earned income tax credit, reduces a sales tax on prepared food and eliminates a business-to-business tax for small to medium companies, among other things.

Officials say the bill represents nearly $2 billion in tax relief at a time when the island is struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria and restructure a portion of its more than $70 billion public debt load.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done to completely transform the tax system … but we see it as a good first step,” said Cecilia Colon, president of Puerto Rico’s Association of Public Accountants.

Governor Ricardo Rossello said the earned income tax credit will result in benefits ranging from $300 to $2,000 for each worker, representing a total of $200 million in annual savings. He also said an 11.5 percent sales tax on processed food will drop to 7 percent starting in October 2019.

The bill also eliminates a business-to-business tax for businesses that generate $200,000 or less a year, representing $79 million in savings in five years, Rossello said. Nearly 80 percent of businesses in Puerto Rico will benefit from that measure, added Treasury Secretary Teresa Fuentes.

In addition, the new law reduces the tax rate for corporations from 39 percent to 37.5 percent.

“Today marks an important day for maintaining Puerto Rico’s competitiveness,” she said.

The measure also legalizes tens of thousands of slot machines, but also limits the number of machines owned, with legislators estimating they will generate at least $160 million a year. Up to $40 million of that revenue will go to the government’s general fund, with the remaining funds directed to help municipalities and police officers.

However, Natalie Jaresko, executive director of the federal control board that oversees Puerto Rico’s finances, has repeatedly said the island needs a much broader tax reform that improves revenue collection and promotes economic development. She said in a statement the board also is concerned that the government and legislature have not proved that the changes will not “cannibalize” revenues.

Antonio Fernos, a Puerto Rico economics and finance professor, questioned the effectiveness of the new law, which appears to generate less overall revenue.

“It doesn’t make sense,” he said. “Why are they doing this, especially on an island that is insolvent and needs more sources of revenue?”

Fernos also argued that the earned income tax credit is not enough to lure people out of the informal economy: “I don’t foresee anyone abandoning tax evasion schemes.”

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