Monday, November 10, 2008

No more rubber for Luang Namtha

There will be no more rubber plantations in Luang Namtha province until the government assesses the socio-economic impact and profitability of rubber, provincial authorities said on Monday.

Rubber plantations in the province now account for a total of 21,600 hectares and provincial authorities want to provide for other crops to ensure food security in the province.
“Now nobody knows whether the rubber is good for our economy and poverty reduction so we will stop it to study the impact,” said provincial administration office Deputy Head, Mr Bounma Phandavong.

Forestry officials said rubber plantations were approved in the past in response to requests from investors who claimed rubber was good for poverty reduction, but there was no proof of this claim.

China is the biggest market for Lao rubber, but the price of rubber in China has plummeted from 870,100 kip (700 yuan) per kg in February to only 372,900 kip (300 yuan) recently.
Commerce officials said there was no agreement about price guarantees between companies and villagers in Luang Namtha and they were concerned about the lower prices at a time when rubber trees were mature enough for extraction.

Luang Prabang provincial authorities also said they would try to stop rubber plantation development and focus on growing beans that feed lacquer-producing insects. These insects produce resin, which is then processed into lacquer and used in the production of handicrafts.
Villagers could earn 13 million kip a year from producing lacquer from one hectare, compared to only nine million kip from planting rubber in the same area, according to authorities. Officials also said it took only six months to produce lacquer but rubber needed at least six years.

In February, the government issued a notice to suspend the approval of new rubber plantation projects to study the positive and negative impacts of rubber in terms of the environment, socio-economic impact and profitability, according to Deputy Director General of the Forestry Department, Mr Thongphat Vongmany. He said the suspension aimed to ensure that rubber plantations were truly beneficial to local villagers.

At the moment, it is still in doubt whether rubber can bring wealth to villagers.
Two months ago, Xekong provincial authorities announced a rubber plantation project in the province had been stopped after local villagers sold their land to investors because the villagers feared that local authorities would take their land for this purpose.
Another reason for the stoppage was to save land for other crops after 6,000 hectares of the trees had been planted.

National Land Authority President, Mr Kham-ouan Boupha, said he was concerned there were not enough Lao labourers to meet the needs of the rubber industry. During the plantation process one person is needed to work per hectare, but during the extracting period five people per hectare are needed.

Mr Kham-ouan was also concerned about environmental problems because, in the past, rubber plantations had been approved without adequate study to determine land use and which crops are best suited to certain areas.

“I think that we need to study three things about rubber: one is the economic return, second is the environmental impact and the third relates to social issues,” he said.

“If the rubber project is not suitable based on these three things then we will not approve land for investment.”

Calcium-rich diet lowers heart disease

A new study shows that adopting a calcium-rich diet and regular exercise can reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.

According to the study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion, regular exercise and a calcium-rich diet lowers the risk of metabolic syndrome, linked to heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

The study reported that metabolic syndrome is more prevalent among elderly, underprivileged and less educated individuals along with those suffering from hypertension and hypercholesterolemia and those who exercise less and consume less calcium-rich foods.

Findings revealed that while a sedentary lifestyle doubles the metabolic syndrome risk, consuming foods low in calcium is associated with a 1.5 times higher risk of the condition.

The metabolic syndrome, characterized by abdominal obesity, dyslipidemia, high blood pressure and glucose intolerance, places individuals at an increased risk of coronary heart disease and other related ailments such as stroke, peripheral vascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Alternative medicine: Coconut

Coconut is not only an active ingredient in many hair and skincare products, but is also an essential component in weight loss diets.

Botanical: Cocos nucifera Family: Arecaceae (palm family) Habitat: The coconut tree grows throughout the tropics; its origin, however, remains unknown due to its ability to naturally pollinate over distances of thousands of miles.

Description: The Coconut tree is a large palm-like tree that grows up to 30 meters tall, with pinnate leaves and a smooth trunk. The fruit is a simple dry nut known as a fibrous drupe. When young, it has fruit-like properties and becomes nutty after maturing.

Constituents: Coconut meat is rich in fat. Approximately 90% of the fat found in coconut meat is saturated; its fat, however, is less than that of other dry nuts such as peanuts and almonds. It also contains low amounts of sugar along with high amounts of protein and minerals including iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc.

It is also a good source of vitamins such as thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), B6 and C, and folates. Parts used medicinally: Seed tissue (endosperm), coconut water (the sour liquid inside young seeds), and coconut meat.

Medicinal Uses: For years, coconut has been known as a valuable source of food and medicine. It has antiviral and antibacterial properties; therefore, it can be used to tackle as influenza, herpes, measles, hepatitis C, SARS and AIDS.

Coconut is also effective in treating ulcers, throat infections, urinary tract infections, gum disease and cavities, pneumonia, and gonorrhea. It helps in fighting harmful bacteria such as listeria monocytogenes and heliobacter pylori, and harmful protozoa such as giardia lamblia along with fungal infections including candidiasis, ringworm, athlete's foot, thrush and diaper rash.

Considered a quick source of energy, coconut is used to improve physical performance. It also promotes weight loss by increasing the metabolic rate. It improves the absorption of calcium and magnesium and therefore results in stronger bones and teeth.

Coconut also has anti osteoporosis properties. Coconut is effective in improving digestion and increases the absorption of certain nutrients including vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. It is effective in treating malabsorption and cystic fibrosis. It can alleviate symptoms associated with gallbladder disease, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, and stomach ulcers.

Coconut has anti inflammatory and antioxidant properties and helps improve the immune system responses. The fruit can protect the body against various cancers including breast and colon malignancies.

Due to its effects on insulin secretion, coconut can help reduce diabetes-related symptoms. Coconut is also heart tonic, fights atherosclerosis and helps reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Coconut is also effective in treating periodontal disease and tooth decay. It also protects the body against kidney and liver diseases. It helps dissolve kidney stones. It boosts thyroid function and fights hypothyroidism. Coconut oil Because of its high lauric, capric and caprylic acid content, coconut oil has antimicrobial, antioxidant, antifungal and antibacterial properties.

Coconut oil is one of the best natural nutrition for hair; it helps hair look healthy and shiny. The oil also helps in the re-growth of hair. It is commonly used as hair care oil effective in nourishing damaged hair, conditioners and dandruff relief creams.

The oil is also used in massage therapy because of its stress relieving effects. It is also commonly used in skin care oils. Coconut oil is an effective moisturizer on all types of skins.

Unlike mineral oil, however, its use is not associated with any side effects. Due to its antioxidant properties, coconut oil helps prevent premature aging and degenerative diseases. It softens the skin and prevents from wrinkles and other signs of aging.

Coconut oil also forms a chemical layer on different wounds and bruises and protects against infection while speeding up the healing process. The oil not only protects the skin against infections and diseases such as psoriasis, eczema, and dermatitis, but also helps with the natural chemical balance of the skin.

Using coconut oil as cooking oil helps improve digestion and fight diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome and peptic ulcer. It is also effective in weight loss diets. Because of its low calorie content, it is preferred by athletes and body builders.

Friday, November 7, 2008

It's time to rethink ideas on urban planning

BEIJING, Nov. 5 -- MailPaul Farmer, chief executive officer of the American Planning Association, once summarized his planning concept as "honor history, celebrate the present, and choose the future."

In reality, especially at the current development stage in China, we seem to have too many "celebrations" of the present at the expense of historical heritage and future generations' well-being.

This pattern of unsustainable development has been challenged in recent years worldwide. It was once again refuted at the Global Planners Network Congress held in Zhenjiang of East China's Jiangsu province. The event preceded the Fourth United Nations World Urban Forum (WUF4) scheduled for November 3-7 in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu.

In the Zhenjiang Communique adopted by the Congress on Sunday, more than 80 planners from some 40 countries and regions agreed that "today's ailing settlements are the price for failures to plan." They urged governments to "embrace and implement strategic and integrated approaches to the planning of cities, metropolitan areas and regions."

This notion gives people a new vision of planning, which I understand is no longer an alien matter for us ordinary citizens.

The world today is confronted, as we know, with rapid urbanization of poverty and the hazardous impact of climate change. Planning therefore has become an important tool for healthy urban development and environmental management to halt the formation of slums and mitigate hazards.

In other words, planning is a means to realize the social harmony we have been pursuing.
To reach that goal, planning should be made an integrative and inclusive process, in which voices of different stakeholders can be aired and interests of different groups can be balanced.

The pity is, quite a few decision makers, including some planners themselves, don't treasure the value of planning as a process but often reduce it to the drawing of a physical blueprint. They simply turn planning into drawing pictures of their own liking, without consulting any stakeholders.

For instance, some officials are impressed by broad ways and thoroughfares. So they have big and wide highways built inside the city, making things so inconvenient for pedestrians that they find it hard to walk along the sideway, not to mention crossing the street.

As a result, very few of such big and wide highways could hold people on to build a bustling downtown atmosphere. The entire space is used for a single function, which is to facilitate smooth running of vehicles. The spacious, broad ways are often empty. This is not only a waste of resources but also affects the city's outlook.

Effective planning should steer toward harmonious settlements, putting places in harmony with nature and between people, as the Zhengjiang Communique highlights. It should alleviate poverty and reduce inequality.

That calls for higher requirements from planners. A qualified planner will have the journalist's capacity to be good at listening to all kinds of views, an economist's capacity to be skilled in calculating the input-output costs, the social worker's capacity to work with the communities, and a politician's capacity to balance various groups' conflicting interests.

Not many Chinese planners have come to value their profession this way, and the result is dissatisfying urban sprawls featuring inadequate services and inconvenient settings, which are particularly unfavorable to the low-income families.

A harmonious society should witness a narrowing rather than expanding gap between different social groups. And it is evident that planning has a growing role to play in getting every member of society to benefit from economic growth.

With the revaluation of their profession, planners will enhance their links with other professionals, communities, formal and informal sectors as well as the government to choose the best possible future for us and for our future generations.

The author is a media consultant with the Global Environmental Institute.

Chinese model of development suits 21st century

BRUSSELS, Nov. 6 (Xinhua) -- It's amazing that China, with 20 percent of the world's population, managed to accomplish tremendous economic feats through relatively smooth reforms in three decades, former Dutch cabinet junior minister Annette Nijs told Xinhua in a recent interview.

"It's intriguing that China carried out far-reaching reforms without serious upheavals," said Nijs, who was recently named Executive Director Global Initiative of the China Europe International Business School in Shanghai.

The Chinese model of development, which favors prudence in market opening-up and maintains state regulation, has been increasingly recognized as a better alternative in this century to the Washington Consensus which champions free trade, she said.


Nijs praised the Chinese government for introducing reforms in a steady and stable way.
"Often you see an opening-up of a country after a war. But in China it is a well-planned shift rather than a shock, which is gradually carried out with sufficient control," she said, noting the remarkable balance China developed between its political system, the market economy and the social stability.

"Although there are internal clashes sometimes, China on the whole is a stable country. We all thank China for that because if China is not stable, the rest of the world will see unrest," said Nijs, who was the Dutch state secretary for education, culture and science between 2002 and 2004.

Nijs also spoke highly of China's ability to maintain a coherent policy in the pursuit of prosperity. "China is one of those countries which are very clear in their long-term planning. It planned and set targets far more clear than most European economies," she said.
"Most countries have a budget for a few years and they don't look beyond those years. But China has long-term and short-term planning. All the national five-year plans are moving towards the long-term targets. That is a very practical approach," said Nijs, who made numerous visits to China since 1987.

Although some people complain that China is not opening its market fast enough and the country is still asked to go further in its system reforms, Nijs said she believes China has done a good job.

China has delivered many fundamental reforms including introducing nine years of free education, she said.

The country aims to increase its per capita income from 2,000 U.S. dollars to 5,300 dollars by 2020 and raise the percentage of rural population with health care from a quarter to 80 percent. "If all those targets are met, China is going really fast," she said.


In Nijs' view, China has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and enriched the middle class, which are its biggest achievements in the past 30 years. "Millions of Chinese now have a living standard similar to the Europeans," she said.

Nijs is also impressed by the fact that almost 40 percent of China's GDP are generated in the science and technology sectors. "This means China has been able to make the shift from 'made in China' to 'created in China' which is a remarkable achievement," she said.

Another positive sign is China's decreasing dependence on energy consumption for its growth. In 2005, China had to retain a double-digit GDP growth with double-digit energy consumption growth. But now the annual growth of energy consumption has been reduced to 4-5 percent.

"China may still has a long way to go to increase the energy efficiency, but what it has done is a big shift," she said.

Meanwhile, a growing number of Chinese companies are going global and some 30 have listed in the renowned Fortune Global 500 rankings, which Nijs considered a major accomplishment.

She said these companies are taking stakes in or acquiring other companies especially in the energy and the financial sectors across the world. In some sectors Chinese companies are having a large market share in the world, such as container transportation, steel production and kitchen appliances. Chinese automotive companies are even reaching to the United States.

"This shows that Chinese companies have moved from trade to production, logistics, marketing and sales in foreign countries. That is a major achievement in merely three decades," she said.


Nijs believes that the Chinese model of development, the so-called Beijing Consensus which emphasizes prudence in market reforms and national sovereignty, has its advantages.

"The West are used to telling African countries that if you are liberalized, privatized and become more democratic, we will help you. But China treats African countries as equal partners -- the partnership rather than conditional relationship," she said.

"More and more economists, including me, are considering the Beijing Consensus a better model in this century than the Washington model," Nijs said.

China should not be forced to change its characteristics. "People sometimes make the mistakes that modernization equals Westernization. It's not the case. We cannot force the Western model on anything in the world," she added.

Instead, the West should see China as a stakeholder in its own right, and a co-maker of a new world order. "China's rise lies on the changing of geo-economy which is tilting towards the East, not the financial crisis in western countries. China is expected to represent 15 to 20 percent of global GDP in 15 years. It's not wise to close eyes to it," she said.


China has been affected by the current financial crisis, but Nijs does not expect China's economy to make a sharp downturn. Compared with those of the United States and the Europe, Chinese stock markets experienced less volatility in recent weeks and so did the Renminbi exchange rate. Inflation in China is far less a cause of concern than that in Iceland, she said.

"I think we will see China as the motor of world economic growth in the next few years with its growth rate of 8 percent maybe," she said.

Nijs said major challenges for China are from internal rather than from external.
China has to secure the main resources it needs, such as energy, steel, clean water and soya beans. "The society will be under pressure if such needs are turned down, which could lead to social unrest," she said.

Another challenge is to continue the system reforms, including enhancing the rule of law, fighting corruption and further developing the private sector.

Nijs said the Chinese government has taken initiatives to tackle the problems by putting into place programs to meet international accounting standards and efforts to improve the rule of law.

China is also trying to bring back traditional ethical standards, such as Confucianism, to counter the influence of materialism, she said.

The Chinese government, Nijs said, is trying hard to keep what she called "five balances": the urban vs. the rural; the western region development vs. that of the eastern regions; the nature vs. the human needs; economic growth vs. stability in the society; and the internal development vs. going global.

"These five balances are essential to China's long-term development," she said.
With the rise of China as a trading power comes increasing frictions between China and its major trading partners. Nijs suggested that China handle them carefully, such as the issues concerning anti-dumping and safety of productions with the European Union.

In Nijs' opinion, Europe and China should favor each other in order to improve their relations. "It is time for Europe to recognize China as a market economy and on the other hand for China to start creating jobs in Europe," she said.

When Chinese companies set up production lines or open research and development centers in Europe, like what Chinese auto industry is doing in North America, Europeans will treat China more positively, Nijs said.

"Like Germans who are proud to work for the American company of Opel, more and more Europeans will be proud to work for big Chinese multinationals such as the China National Offshore Oil Corporation, Haier and Bao Steel. It will demonstrate that the rise of China is an opportunity for the world," she said.