The Environmental Impact Of The Cordyceps Business

The living standard of the country’s highlanders has improved through Cordyceps business every year, but it comes at a high cost, both social and environmental, a survey conducted by the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment (UWICE) revealed.

Despite the stringent monitoring in place with strict rules and regulations, officials from the agriculture department agree that there is high pressure on environment.

Director of the department of agriculture and marketing cooperatives (DAMC) Dorji Dhradhul said, “It is a serious concern for us and also for the ministry, but it is not possible to monitor with foresters in the field outnumbered by collectors.”

“We are trying to create awareness through educational program, but only a few seem to be convinced. If the issue gets serious then the ministry might have to revisit the rules and regulations like reducing the number, from three collectors from each household to one, in order to have less impact on the environment. Less collectors mean less impact,” the director added.

This problem is further compounded by growing problems of littering and it is felt that, if not unregulated and unmonitored, the impact from the collection of this highly priced fungus while helping improve livelihood will leave some of the last pristine alpine ecosystems of this planet transformed for the worse.

Every year, from mid May to mid June, the collection season for the Cordyceps begins in the high alpine environment and the extend of environment degradation was categorized in four which were degrading shrub lands, littered landscapes, changing grasslands, and associated forest degradation.

A study by UWICE found that more than 78% of collectors interviewed said that they used Rhododendron and Juniper wood for cooking during the period of Cordyceps collection. The extensive use of slow growing Rhododendron and Juniper wood as fuel also pose a risk of such shrub lands from getting decimated completely.

Fuel wood is scarce in the high altitude collection grounds which are above tree line. With just available wood being Rhododendron, Dwarf Juniper and Willow, which are harvested extensively leading to opening of the areas in the fragile environment. Such openings may accelerate the process of mass wasting, thereby leading to many ecological and environmental hazards.

Studies reveal that it takes nearly 169 years for Rhododendron aeruginosum to attain the base diameter of just 8 centimeters, with an annual increment of only 0.6 millimeter. The slow growth of Rhododendron coupled with huge extraction by the collectors is a big concern. It’s, however, known fact to the collectors.

Some of the collectors The Bhutanese talked to said that it should be made compulsory to stop burning wood and go for kerosene and LPG.

Garbage management is another concern as mostly plastic and bottles wastes are not disposed off properly. Collectors throw garbage either by the side of the stream rocks or underneath the rocks, which might be hazardous to both fresh water biodiversity as well as to the people living downstream.

To address this problem, some collectors have come up with suggestions to have a proper designated disposal site. Some also said that temporary shops at the site should be discouraged.

Changing grasslands was another issue affecting the environment. Cordyceps collection coincides with the time when the young shoots of grass start to grow and with people collecting Cordyceps trampling on the grasses, the grass quality decreases and so does the feed for the yaks.

Digging for Cordyceps at the site is also a concern since it not only disturbs the grassland ecosystem, but may also accelerate soil erosion.

The amount collected from the sale of the Cordyceps has increased the purchasing power of the highlanders. There is a trend of buying power chains in the communities, and this may lead to harvesting of more of timber for construction of house and roofing, and fire wood.

Chencho Dema/Thimphu

Protests over Bangladesh coal-fired power plant near Sundarbans

Sun, 4 Aug 2013

Author: Syful Islam

DHAKA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Environmentalists and activists are protesting the Bangladesh government’s plan to build a massive coal-fired power plant close to the Sundarbans, the world’s biggest mangrove forest and a World Heritage Site.

They say the authorities have not considered the impact of the plant on the Sundarbans’ ecosystem and the forest’s role as a valuable coastal defence against extreme weather – such as the two cyclones that battered the area in 2007 and 2009, affecting millions of people and severely damaging buildings and cropland.

Coal-fired power also is a heavy contributor to climate change, and Bangladesh is considered one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to impacts of climate change, including sea level rise, changes in weather patterns and more severe storms.

The 1,320 megawatt power plant, to be built within 14 km (9 miles) of the Sundarbans, will be jointly funded by Bangladesh and India under agreements signed last April. The Sundarbans lie mainly along the southwest coast of Bangladesh but a small portion is in Indian territory.

The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, the Ramsar Convention, has said it believes the biodiversity of the Sundarbans will face tremendous challenges once the plant goes into operation, and has expressed its concern and asked the government for detailed information on its plans.

The 1971 Ramsar Convention is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for “the conservation and wise use of all wetlands” and their resources.

Bangladesh has sizeable coal reserves, and a consultant for the project said the government had no option but to go for coal-fired plants to meet the growing demand for electricity in this impoverished nation because the alternatives were more expensive.

COAL CHEAPER

“Electricity generation with fuel oil or gas is much costlier than coal. Besides, the country’s gas reserve is very nominal. So we have no other scope but to use coal for power generation,” said consultant Azizur Rahman.

Efforts will be made to minimise the impact of the project on the environment and on the Sundarbans, he said. “With modern technologies, many developed countries nowadays even have coal-based power plants inside their cities,” he said.

The government meanwhile announced a 15-year tax waiver to attract private companies interested in bidding for coal-fired electricity production contracts. Companies will enjoy the waiver if they sign contracts with the government by June 30, 2020, provided they start generating electricity by June 30, 2023.

The initial environmental examination of the Sundarbans project was carried out by a government organisation, the Water Resources Ministry’s Centre for Environmental and Geographic Information Service, which the environmentalists charge is not an impartial body.

This was followed by an Environmental Impact Assessment, but before this had been completed authorities evicted 2,500 families from the 1,830 acres of land acquired for the plant and began filling in 250 acres of the land.

Sushanto Kumar Das, president of the Farmland Protection Committee in Rampal, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that people evicted from the project area had lost their incomes.

“The farmlands were producing both paddy (rice) and fish. More than 3,500 families were dependent on the lands,” he said.

Das said the mangrove forest had saved the coastal area during fierce storms, but would be at risk from smoke and ash fallout from the plant. If it is lost, “the area, close to the sea, will be hard hit by storms,” he said. He said he also feared that water use for the plant from the Pashur River would leave less drinking water available for people living in the area.

Abdullah Harun Chowdhury, an environmental science professor at Khulna University, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone that the government had ignored the impact of the power plant on the ecosystem and wildlife of the Sundarbans.

INDIA’S ROLE

He said that India, facing massive protests and legal barriers, had failed to build two coal power plants planned for the states of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. “So India has arranged for Bangladesh to build a coal-fired plant in Rampal as an experiment, to set an example for those (it wants to build) in 2017,” he said.

The Bangladesh government did not consider the impact of the plant on the environment and the forest in this case, Chowdhury claimed. The forest, he said, may be vulnerable to ‘acid rain’ from chemicals released by the plant, and chemicals could also cause human health problems.

Chowdhury suggested setting up several tidal power plants in coastal areas instead of a coal-based plant, taking into account the environmental and climate impact.

Abdul Matin, member secretary of the ‘National Committee to Protect Sundarbans,’ said the government’s decision to build a coal power plant was self-destructive.

“The government is setting up a coal power plant and shipbuilding industry near the Sundarbans which will destroy the forest – a shield during cyclones and other storms. The government should immediately cancel the decision,” he said.

Syful Islam is a journalist with the Financial Express newspaper in Bangladesh. He can be reached at: youths1990@yahoo.com

Cordyceps Face A Threat Of Extinction

The increased number of the Cordyceps collectors every year poses a threat to the sustainability of the resource.

A survey conducted by the Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment found that the collectors were ignorant about the threat and also seemed least bothered by it.

An official from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests (MoAF) said,” The collectors are living with the notion that Cordyceps has been there before and will continue to be.”

“With such a notion, it could mean either the collectors are not concerned or they are trying not to voice concerns fearing the consequences of government policies banning its harvest in the future,” he added.

Only a few of the collectors have expressed concerns like the need to introduce a system which allows Cordyceps collections on an alternate years’ basis.

A 39-year -old man from Sephu, Wangdue Phodrang said, “Year by year we are not able to collect the amount of Cordyceps which we used to collect in the earlier years. I think government should intervene before the fungus vanish.”

Prior to 2004, harvesting of Cordyceps was allowed only in Lunana, but later on June 17, 2004, a Royal Decree allowed the yak herders stationed in high pastures to collect a limited amount of Cordyceps. There were also various measures in place to restrict the overall harvest which included a ban on collection during the months of Mid May to Mid June.

The policy of allowing only one person from a household was lifted in 2008, allowing three people from a household to engage in collections during the specified season.

Some of the collectors The Bhutanese talked to said illegal harvesting of the Cordyceps by the poachers from across the border is one factor posing as a threat to the sustainability of Cordyceps in Bhutan.

With many of the harvest sites of the Cordyceps being near the porous northern border areas of the Tibetan plateau, people from across the border were reportedly harvesting Cordyceps illegally in Bhutan.

Sighting of such poachers is not a surprise for the local collectors. Despite strict monitoring by the forestry and army officials, the trend seems to continue. In 2008, 13 Tibetan poachers were apprehended.

Cordyceps collection was legalized in 2004, and ever since then, the collectors have earned substantial income from the sale of the valuable and high in demand fungus. Government’s role has been found to be vital, especially in terms of creating awareness for sustainable harvesting practices.

Records with the Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCB) shows a total of 235.89 kilograms of Cordyceps worth Nu 169.60mn were transacted in seven different auction sites across the country in 2012.

The government earned a total royalty of Nu 1.65mn last year.

The highest price fetched per kilogram of Cordyceps was about Nu 1.2mn from Lunana while the lowest price was fetched from Tshento gewog in Paro which was Nu 51, 000 last year.

A total of 38 buyers were registered with the FCB to participate in the Cordyceps auction in 2012 after depositing Nu 50, 000 as security amount.

Should we turn deserts into carbon-sucking tree plantations?

To fight climate change, some scientists think we should vegetate the hell out of deserts. The latest such idea calls for large plantations of a hardy species of Central American tree to be planted in near-coastal desert areas and irrigated with desalinated water.

While forests soak up carbon dioxide, deserts do comparatively little to help with climate change. So should these seas of sand be planted and watered out of existence in a bid to reduce CO2 levels?

Some say yes. The approach would be like geoengineering, but rooted in a more natural system. Scientists call it bioengineering or carbon farming.

Continues at Grist … http://grist.org/news/should-we-turn-deserts-into-carbon-sucking-tree-plantations/

Could Sri Lanka get irrigation boost from ancient reservoirs? – IRIN

One way Sri Lanka can better manage its water resources in the face of changing monsoon patterns is through centuries-old water reservoirs, experts say.

Experts at the Colombo-based International Water Management Institute (IWMI) say one way to ease fluctuating rice harvests (due to increasingly erratic monsoon seasons) is to use thousands of ancient small irrigation reservoirs spread out in the Northern, North Central, Eastern, North Western and Southern provinces. – http://www.irinnews.org/report/98503/could-sri-lanka-get-irrigation-boost-from-ancient-reservoirs

Outbreak Of The Invasive Giant African Land Snail In Gyelpozhing Frustrates The Residents

The residents of Gyelpozhing seem to be frustrated about the appearance of the Giant African Land Snail (GALS), despite collecting repeatedly and dumping them. The outbreak of GALS, an exotic species native to Africa was reported in Gyelpozhing since 2010.

Many residents in Gyelpozhing are frustrated about the snails and some people have resorted to killing the snails but all in vain.

Among the frustrated lot is a 29-year-old housewife who said that every morning she collects about more than 20 to 30 snails, and dumps it in a nearby forest, but the very next day it reappears around her house. “I have been repeating the process for some time,” she said.

While a 47-year-old businessman said that it is dangerous for the children, as they just pick and eat it, especially toddlers. “One has to be careful,” he said.

The matter being reported to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests, a campaign to control and contain the GALS population by manually picking and destroying was carried out. However, it has come to notice that some individuals collected the snails for shell to be used for decorative purposes both inside and outside Gyelpozhing.

The ministry said that this was of grave concern as it can have negative implications on environment, farming communities, and also on human health.

The snail feeds on a wide range of vegetation such as trees, vegetables, and crops and also calcareous substance such as concrete. In the presence of abundant vegetations it can multiply very fast. GALS is known to harbor nematode that causes meningitis, if it is not handled properly.

Its length can reach 20 cms or more, and in a year it lays around 1,000 to 1,200 eggs. Its life expectancy is up to 10 years.  GALS is listed as one of the top 100 invasive species in the world, and can adapt to wide-ranging climatic conditions from sub-tropic to temperate regions.

For the affected areas at Gyelpozhing and surrounding areas, dzongkhag administration in collaboration and with technical support from RDC Wengkhar, is already taking up various control measures.

In addition to efforts carried out by the dzongkhag, the MoAF will put in place following management mechanism such as, strict quarantine to be put in place with support of relevant rules and regulations and check points.

Biological pits will be dug at different sites where the snails will be dumped and destroyed, and mobile collection units shall be formed at relevant places for collection of snails.

Surveillance and vigilance team will be formed to monitor snail sightings which will include members from community. Along with it awareness shall also be created.

Communities and individuals are requested not to collect the snail or its shell and transport to other areas, and were asked to render support and co-operate with the campaign.

Some of the control recommendations were to spray common salt or dump the snail in slat solution, manage the surrounding weed using Glyphosate, and properly manage the garbage.

The sightings of GALS should be reported to the nearest RNR center or call toll-free hotline 140.

The snails were first spotted in and around Gyelpozhing Higher Secondary School in Mongar in 2008.

Empowering local communities for tiger conservation

With just about 3,200 tigers left in the world today, very soon the endangered species is likely to vanish from the face of the earth and live only in William Blake’s poem, like the dinosaurs that live only in stories today.
The future of wild tigers is bleak today as the surviving tigers are being poached across the forests of Asia to meet the demands of illegal tiger parts trade.

July 29 is globally marked as ‘Global Tiger Day’ and understanding the importance of the tiger in Bhutan, the Department of Forests & Park Services under the Ministry
of Agriculture and Forests (MoAF) celebrated this year’s Global Tiger Day with the theme, “Empowering Local Communities for Tiger Conservation” at Norbuling Middle
Secondary School, located in the buffer zone of Royal Manas National Park, a place also considered to be a hot spot for wild felids, particularly the tiger.

At a historic event held in St. Petersburg in Russia, the governments of Tiger Range Countries (TRCs) and conservation partners pledged their support to double
the remaining tiger population by the year 2022. TRC designated July 29 of every year as the Global Tiger Day.

In an effort to combat the pressing tiger issues, Bhutan along with 13 TRCs have been engaged to positively double the tiger populations by 2022, since the start of the tiger
year (lunar calendar) in 2010.

The tiger conservation effort is a national responsibility, and cooperation and coordination along similar efforts are made within the TRCs. Department of Forests & Park Services invited the Indian counterparts from across the border of Indian State of Assam, fourteen officials comprising of field director, wildlife managers, and scientist
and forestry officers joined the Bhutanese officials in observing the Global Tiger Day in Bhutan.

A cultural program by NFE and school children, interschool art and skit competition along with display of exhibits on tiger conservation and related activities were
showcased during the event.

The program was funded by the WWF-Bhutan Program, Wildlife Trust of India, and International Fund for Animal Welfare (WTI/IFAW), Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation and Royal Government of Bhutan.

The governments of several TRCs face major challenges in tiger conservation due to habitat destruction and illegal trade in tiger parts. Bhutan’s conservation policy recognizes the co-existence of humans and wildlife with the exception
that this close co-existence is not without conflict, as tigers often prey on livestock, thereby inviting retaliatory measures from subsistence farmers. To protect the tigers, the government have began offering cash compensation to affected farmers through community based livestock insurance and alternative livelihood practices, often in the face of severe resource constraints within the government.

The four subspecies of the tiger, the Bali, Caspian, and Java tiger became extinct in the 20th century, and many scientists believe the fourth, the South China tiger, has also become extinct, leaving only five, the Malayan, Indonesia, Siberian, Sumatran and the Royal Bengal tigers alive today. Of the 3,200 tigers alive today worldwide, about 150 are located in Bhutan.