ON March 8, we were again reminded of our vulnerability to natural disasters with a 5.2 magnitude earthquake in Sabah. Although there was no casualty, more than 100 climbers on their way to Mount Kinabalu were temporarily halted.
Professor Felix Tongkul of Universiti Malaysia Sabah identified it as a new quake, not an aftershock of the 6.0 magnitude earthquake in 2015 which killed 18 people and left many others injured.
Natural disasters are becoming more frequent and intense, contributing to the displacement of people leading to humanitarian crises, with the poor most severely impacted.
Between 2001 and 2006, middle-income countries with rapidly expanding assets have borne the largest burden of such disasters, with losses equal to about one per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) — 10 times the losses inflicted on developed countries, relative to the economy.
In the Pacific’s small island developing states, climate change-related losses reach as high as eight per cent of GDP, with worse yet to come.
In Asia generally, climate change-related hazards increasingly will impact human health, security, livelihoods, and poverty. Rising coastal, riverine and urban flooding leading to widespread damage to infrastructure and settlements has been identified as one of the region’s 10 critical risks, gradually challenging Asia’s resilience and development gains.
Malaysia’s main climate change-related hazards are floods, landslides, thunderstorms, forest fires, and haze.
In 2014, we experienced unprecedented flooding with more than 500,000 people affected, 21 lives lost, more than 3,000 houses destroyed, and over RM2.8 billion in damage to public infrastructure.
Last October, extreme rainfall triggered a landslide at a Penang construction site, killing 11 people.
In 2015, this and neighbouring countries were enveloped in a severe episode of transboundary haze, presenting serious health risks.
Disaster risk reduction has been integrated into Malaysia’s overall national development plans over many decades, with science and technology applied in regulations, policies, guidelines, standards, procedures and early warning systems operated at state and local levels. Involved agencies include the Meteorology, Drainage and Irrigation, Minerals and Geoscience, Public Works, and Environment Departments. The private sector and scientists from academia are also deeply involved.
Concerns about the increasing frequency and impact of disasters, however, have prompted several new national initiatives. One of these is the establishment of a Scientific Expert Panel (SEP) to provide timely and evidence-based advice to the National Disaster Management Agency (Nadma).
This panel has been officially endorsed by the National Science Council, chaired by the prime minister, and is complementing and enhancing Nadma’s efforts as a national coordinating agency.
Fostering relevant scientific and technological innovation and capabilities is a vital contribution to mitigating the impact of catastrophes, as is strengthening the science-policy interface and robust evidence-based reporting.
We need to carefully harness this potential to reduce disaster-related harm to people both directly and to our economy, with a specific focus on protecting the poor in vulnerable situations.
To quote former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, “Climate change harms the poor first and worst — the poor are the most vulnerable and have the least resources with which to adapt”.
SEP members are helping formulate the National Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Plan for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) — identifying and prioritising actions to build resilience and to reduce the exposure and vulnerability of communities.
This includes, for example, how to promote sustainable food production systems and resilient agricultural practices, thereby strengthening adaptation to extreme weather, drought, floods and other disasters.
To be effective, we need to promote public-private and civil society partnerships, and to build capacity to innovate and to share information at local levels to enhance recovery processes.
There is no single approach for reducing risks across all settings and there is an urgent need to understand specific disaster risks in national and local level contexts.
Effective measures must consider the dynamics of vulnerability and exposure, and their linkages with socioeconomic processes, sustainable development and climate change.
FOR disaster prevention: big data and analytics, in conjunction with improved weather and flood forecasting modelling, will allow future disasters to be accurately predicted;
FOR disaster mitigation: advanced flood walls can contain waters, preventing damage to infrastructure and assets,;
FOR disaster preparedness: drones can provide real-time, on- site situation information linked to public warning systems;
FOR disaster response: robotics can support relief and clean-up efforts, accessing areas too dangerous for humans; and,
FOR disaster recovery: reusable ecohomes can provide quick, easy way to build temporary housing, using waste from the disaster zones.
It is primarily in cities and towns that the most effective disaster resilience can be built. National, state and local governments, academia, civil society, business and other stakeholders will each play a significant role translating science into action.
It is our hope that the STI Plan for DRR enhances cooperation between stakeholders, improves information, communications and knowledge sharing, and empowers our greater use of technology to protect lives and our hard won economic progress.
The writer, Zakri Abdul Hamid is a science adviser to the prime minister, co-chairs the SEP with the director-general of Nadma. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org
News Straits Times.
Retrieved from https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2018/03/346768/harness-science-reduce-impact-catastrophes
Protecting nature is no longer deemed a whimsical luxury. It is an economic, cultural and ecological necessity.
Increasingly, conservation is accepted as part of mainstream policymaking because nature provides us with so many essential services — pollination, pest control, food security, medicine and preventing the spread of diseases.
Think about the importance of pollination, for example. Most of the world’s food crops and wild flowering plants depend on pollination by bats, birds, bees and butterflies, which are, therefore, guarantors of human food security.
Intensive agriculture, pesticides, pollution, invasive species and climate change pose threats to pollinators and, therefore, to human wellbeing. In addition to pollination, bats consume large numbers of harmful insects, thereby reducing damage to crops, the need for chemical pesticides, and the spread of malaria, dengue fever and other diseases.
Growing awareness of these animals’ vital role, thanks in no small part to a landmark Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) assessment report on pollinators launched in Kuala Lumpur in 2016, has encouraged nations to take steps. The United Nations even recently declared May 20 as World Bee Day.
In addition to their vital services, animals are also the bedrock of a multi-billion-dollar global ecotourism industry.
Animals are simply beautiful and fascinating, and their contribution to national economies is considerable. Tourism is booming worldwide with more than 1.1 billion foreign trips made in 2014 and one of the most vibrant sectors is eco-tourism, the branch that includes wildlife watching.
Ours ranks among the world’s most biodiverse countries with large numbers of endemic species, part of internationally renowned hotspots such as the Coral Triangle and Sundaland — home to elephants, monkeys, orangutans, tigers, tapirs and rhinoceroses.
Naturally, Malaysia’s share of the tourism business is big — around 25 million tourists every year, many of them attracted by this country’s aquatic and terrestrial wonders.
Studies have shown that wild animals can generate far more income alive than dead. The meat and gills of a Manta Ray, for example, might bring US$500 (RM2,000). A living specimen can, however, contribute tourist revenue of millions of dollars over its lifetime.
To protect our natural heritage, and corresponding economic interests, we must not only act at home but must also engage internationally.
There are five international conventions working towards the protection of biodiversity: the Convention on Biological Diversity, the World Heritage Convention, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS).
Malaysia is a party to the first four, but, curiously, not to CMS. Negotiated by world governments in the late 1970s, CMS coordinates global action to conserve land-based, aquatic and bird wildlife that cyclically and predictably crosses international borders.
Migratory species are an integral part of the world’s fauna, but are threatened due to climate change, pollution, habitat loss, illegal trade and poaching.
CMS has 124 parties, including Brazil, India and other G20 countries and the list continues to grow with the United Arab Emirates being one of the newest recruits. These countries recognise that conserving migratory species is the responsibility of all Range States and that the convention provides a platform through which to collaborate.
Malaysia, notwithstanding its rich wildlife, has yet to join, despite having signed the regional instrument for marine turtles of the Indian Ocean concluded under CMS.
Certainly, Malaysia is committed to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed at a United Nations summit in September 2015 and attended by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak. Among the tools at Malaysia’s disposal to turn good intentions into real achievement on the ground is active membership of the biodiversity-related conventions, because a clean and flourishing environment is a prerequisite for sustainable development.
Many of the species in Malaysia occur here and nowhere else. Malaysia therefore bears a duty to ensure their survival. But many species also migrate through Malaysia, and the country has a shared responsibility as one link in the chain of the life cycles of marine turtles, whales, dolphins and dugongs as well as countless birds.
Malaysia succeeded in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the precursors of SDGs, to which the Malaysian government is also committed.
CMS is of direct relevance to the implementation of SDGs, in particular, goal 14, relating to life below water, and goal 15, life on land.
Surely it is time for our country to accede to CMS, to complete Malaysia’s membership in the set of international environmental agreements, and to fill an important gap in the Convention’s global coverage.
Tan Sri Dr Zakri Abdul Hamid, is science adviser to the prime minister and the founding chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).
News Straits Times.
Retrieved from https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2018/03/344196/animals-good-our-health
AS the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) continues to gather steam, Kuala Lumpur hosted one of the most enlightening conferences in recent weeks, one in which experts considered the relevance of an ancient institution to modern challenges.
Sponsored by the Higher Education Ministry, the conference considered the Islamic practice of waqf— the endowment of a charitable foundation or property held in trust and used for a charitable or religious purpose — and its relevance to 4IR.
In the words of the Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh: “Waqf is an economic system led by the people, for the people. It leads to the creation of the third sector that complements the public and private sectors.”
The big question is how this age-old Islamic institution could be engaged to alleviate poverty and advance economic prosperity, in particular among the 57-member countries of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), many of which are among the world’s poorest.
Equally intriguing, is how we might enrich the principles and practices of waqf through technology.
In an eloquent keynote address, Sultan of Perak Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah explained that the concept of waqf preceded trusts and endowments.
A donor endows a waqf with an asset and, in doing so, makes an irrevocable transfer of that asset, while also stipulating the intended charitable use of the funds it generates.
A waqf institution then spends its revenue in perpetuity on the fulfilment of public needs, according to the wishes and conditions established by the donor.
Once registered as waqf under Islamic law, the asset can no longer be inherited, sold or given as a gift, a permanence that reflects the original sense of waqf, which means “to freeze” or “to stop”.
Only generated revenue can be channelled to stipulated beneficiaries.
Islam is the first religion to develop a comprehensive legal framework to promote, guide and foster endowments and charitable trusts and, “waqf undoubtedly stands as one of the greatest contributions of Muslim civilisation”, Sultan Nazrin had said.
“Throughout the Islamic world, and across many centuries, waqf has led to the completion of magnificent works of architecture, and has allowed vital services, including education and healthcare, to be financed, organised and maintained, for the benefit of hundreds of thousands of individuals, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.”
It was intriguing to learn from his remarks that the law governing waqf was borrowed by the English following the Crusades in the Holy Land (1095-1291), when they became acquainted with Islamic jurisprudence and culture.
Sultan Nazrin gave the example of Merton College at Oxford University, established with a financial endowment in 1264.
This endowment, of course, has facilitated centuries of scholarship, learning and teaching, safeguarding and fostering the freedom of thought and expression so essential to the university system today.
On the other side of the Atlantic, one of the world’s most famous university endowments is that of Harvard, which last year paid out US$1.3 billion (RM5.1 billion) — a sum, the sultan noted, larger than the government budgets of Afghanistan, Montenegro and Barbados.
“This endowment, which has facilitated so much discovery and learning, is ultimately modelled on the Islamic waqf system.
“It is a testament to the contribution that the concept of waqf has made to progress and development worldwide, and it also demonstrates the immense potential of the waqf instrument to generate funds for international public good.”
Among the many other excellent points raised by Sultan Nazrin was the need for a better system for the governance of waqf, especially in Malaysia where, we were told, only two per cent of some 13,500ha of waqf land had been redeveloped.
Hopefully, the establishment of a Chair in Waqf Studies at Universiti Malaya, announced by Idris during the conference, will contribute to a better understanding of waqf and how its potential could be harnessed to improve the lives of citizens.
One of the most pressing issues in need of waqf support in today’s world is science and technology. The use of new technological solutions, such as blockchain technology, will enable the prudent tracking and monitoring of waqf donors, beneficiaries and businesses.
Inevitably, 4IR will herald in unprecedented technologies that will revolutionise traditional ways of creating value.
Digital connectivity will be useful to open up new opportunities for innovative business models, as well as research and development-related investments, to unlock the full potential of waqf assets.
As the sultan astutely observed: “Technological advances are being made every day, and emerging breakthroughs, in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, nanotechnology and biotechnology, will no doubt further enhance the potential of the waqf system in ways that we cannot imagine today.”
Tan Sri Dr Zakri Abdul Hamid is science adviser to the prime minister and chairman of board of directors, Universiti Malaya.News Straits Times.
Retrieved from https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2018/03/341460/waqf-can-boost-science
SOME exciting news about our local aerospace industry was shared this month at the Singapore Airshow 2018.
International Trade and Industry Ministry deputy secretary general Datin K. Talagavathi revealed a forecast that Malaysia’s aerospace sector this year would rake in RM1 billion in new investments and generate about RM12.7 billion in revenue, reflecting the upward trend in our manufacturing of aviation-related electronics, aircraft frames and aircraft engine components.
Congratulations are due to the key roles the ministry and many others have played in this development.
Through its National Aerospace Industry Coordinating Office, for example, the ministry has been actively promoting world class industrial aerospace parks, such as the KLIA Aeropolis, Subang Aerotech Park, UMW HighValue Manufacturing Park in Serendah, Selangor, and Senai Airport Aviation Park in Johor Baru to potential investors.
“We are optimistic the aerospace industry will continue to be vibrant and thrive in years to come, given that the Asia Pacific is expected to have the highest growth in new aircraft delivery for the next decade,” Talagavathi said.
Indeed, Airbus foresees the delivery of 35,000 new aircraft, of which 41 per cent are bound for the Asia Pacific, while Boeing targets 41,000 new aircraft, with 39 per cent heading for Asia.
There is clearly a huge demand for aviation services in the Asia Pacific.
In our region to date, the industry has produced more than 200 companies and employed more than 21,000skilled workers, with the creation of another 1,000 jobs this year anticipated.
Major local companies include CTRM Aero Composite, the sole manufacturer and supplier of engine covers (known as fan cowls) for the Airbus A350; SME Aerospace, which offers comprehensive metal fabrication, machining, treatments and assembly of aerospace parts and components; and UMW Aerospace, which makes fan cases for the Rolls-RoyceTrent 1000 engine, further positioning Malaysia as a trusted producer of aero engine parts.
The list of multinational companies that have recently established or expanded their operations in Malaysia includes Airbus Group, Spirit AeroSystems,
Safran Landing Systems, Honeywell Aerospace Avionics, Singapore Aerospace Manufacturing, GE Aviation and UTC Aerospace Systems.
Talagavathi said the ministry, through its agencies, would continue to develop local small- and medium-sized enterprises to be part of the aerospace global supply chain.
“(The ministry) targets to increase the gross national income to RM454 million by 2020 and create 4,100 job openings by 2020.”
The heady news about the aerospace industry does not arise as an afterthought.
It is a calculated move initiated by the Malaysian Investment Development Authority 20 years ago.
It began with the launch of the First Malaysia Aerospace Industry Blueprint in 1997, followed by the formation of the Malaysian Aerospace Council in 2001.
A Second Malaysia Aerospace Industry Blueprint, launched in 2015 and better known as Blueprint 2030, firmly placed the aerospace sector as an important component of the Economic Transformation Programme introduced by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
In developing both plans, the ministry relied substantially on the expertise provided by the Malaysian Industry-Government Group on High Technology (MIGHT).
Blueprint 2030 aims to capture five per cent of the global maintenance-repair-overhaul market share, while striving to make Malaysia the number one manufacturer of parts and components in Southeast Asia.
Given the above, it is incumbent on Malaysia to build and strengthen its human capacity in the aerospace sector.
It is in this context that the Aerospace Malaysia Innovation Centre (AMIC) was formed in 2011 to foster Malaysian aerospace industry competitiveness.
The core business of AMIC is to undertake research and technology projects in collaboration with our industry and universities.
Jointly funded by the government and industry, AMIC is spearheaded by Airbus Group, Rolls-Royce, CTRM, Mara and MIGHT.
A significant feature of AMIC is that the research and development, conducted by a university consortium, will encourage local industry’s participation and base priorities on industry needs.
AMIC will train local talent with aerospace technology courses at the Master’s and PhD levels.
Last year, AMIC achieved a major milestone with its first collaborative project results, delivering for Rolls-Royce what are called “scalable fixtures”, adaptable to variety of fan blade types.
The project, which falls under AMIC’s “Factory of the Future” research, was earmarked for rapid development and began with two key objectives: to improve aircraft fixtures and to develop Malaysia’s capabilities in developing innovative aerospace design and fixtures. It has found success in both goals.
AMIC manifests the aspiration of Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh and the concept of “commonalities and collegiality” — a framework of collaboration and sharing facilities among academic and private sector researchers to improve our economic position by creating and producing products for the world.
When it comes to our place in the world aerospace industry, all Malaysians can proudly share widely-held and well-justified hopes for sky-high results.
Tan Sri Dr Zakri Abdul Hamid is science adviser to the prime minister and joint chairman of the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology. News Straits Times.
Retrieved from https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2018/02/339099/aerospace-industry-soars
GLOBALLY, 800 million out of 7.6 billion people suffer from hunger. Although the number has decreased in recent decades, roughly one in 10 people goes to bed hungry every day, many of them from developing countries.
In a tragic irony, an estimated 30 to 40 per cent of food in developed countries is lost to waste. Malaysia, a prosperous developing country itself, is not spared of this notoriety. We are touted as the most obese country in Southeast Asia. The food left-over during Ramadan every year is evidence enough of our indulgence.
Food security is a concern in Malaysia as it is everywhere. Indeed, it ranks among the world’s greatest challenges. It is ranked second among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals in the United Nations 2030 Development Agenda which proclaims, “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture”.
By 2050, the world population is expected to reach 9.2 billion — meaning an additional 1.6 billion people to feed, 200 million people more than today’s population of China. To ensure food availability for everyone in 2050, the world needs to increase food production by 70 per cent. Faced with dwindling agricultural land, less water for irrigation, rising energy and labour costs, and major grain crops already reaching yield plateau, it will be a daunting task.
Under the Transformasi Nasional 2050 agenda championed by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, economic planners and policymakers have deliberated in great depth a wide range of issues and concerns about our food security status.
Further discussions should be welcome and continue unabated to address all issues and concerns comprehensively.
Last November, Malaysia’s National Professors Council and Indonesia’s Association of Professors convened more than 250 participants in “Forum Pertanian IPIMA 2017” (IPIMA Agriculture Forum 2017) to discuss imminent challenges and collaboration in agriculture, which also highlighted the bilateral food security issues.
Equally commendable, Universiti Putra Malaysia Alumni Association, under the able leadership of Perlis royal Datuk Seri DiRaja Syed Razlan Syed Putra Jamalulaill, organised a seminar on Agriculture and Food Security 2050 last month, engaging distinguished agricultural practitioners, both active and retired, to reflect on our future food security.
Will Malaysia prevail to meet these challenges by 2050? By then, it is expected that Malaysia will have added 9.7 million to its present population of 31 million. In 2015, food import bills hit RM45.4 billion, while exports were RM27 billion, giving a deficit of over RM18 billion. If such a trend persists, Malaysia is likely to face a food crisis in the future.
We may be able to grow or produce food locally at high self-sufficiency levels, but that does not mean the country has attained the desired food security status.
Food security is defined by the Food and Agriculture Organisation as “when all people at all times have physical, social and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food preferences for an active and healthy life”.
In 2013, the International Conference on Food Security deemed food security as a multifaceted issue with four dimensions: availability, access, utilisation and stability. This led to the establishment of the Global Food Security Index (GFSI).
The GFSI informs food systems around the world with a common framework for understanding the root causes and risks of food insecurity, at the core of which are affordability, availability, quality and safety.
Thus, GFSI provides a measure of food security at country level, as influenced by culture, environment and geographic location.
Last year, Malaysia ranked 41st with a GFSI score of 66.2, while Singapore was 4th with 84. Thailand, the Philippines and Myanmar ranked 55th, 79th, and 80th, with scores of 58.5, 47.3 and 44.8, respectively.
About 60 per cent of 113 countries experienced declines in food security scores last year compared with 2016. Malaysia declined by 3.2 points, followed by Philippines, Myanmar, Thailand, and Singapore by 1.0, 0.7, 0.7 and 0.6, respectively.
When natural resources and resilience are factored into the GFSI, Singapore drops 15 ranks, from 4th to 19th (49.2) because of the dependence on food imports and its susceptibility to environment-related events.
However, Malaysia drops only two spots in rank (52.1), largely due to lower dependency on food imports.
Universiti Putra Malaysia Adjunct Professor Dr Heong Kong Luen carried out an analysis of countries with high and low GFSI scores, and pointed out major issues that drag down Malaysia’s and other Asean countries’ scores seem to be related to quality and safety.
The quality and safety index for Malaysia is 71.1, compared with scores of France, Australia, and Singapore of 88.7, 86.4, and 78.3, respectively. Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia and Laos record much lower scores of 56.8, 54.0, 44.1 and 31.0, respectively.
One concern Malaysia and some Asean countries may immediately address is the overuse and misuse of pesticides.
Studies in Indonesia and Vietnam find that heavy use of pesticides in rice production did not translate into yield increases.
It is timely to review our approach to sustainable agriculture using science and modern technologies in addition to taking into account the role of traditional knowledge.
Also, we need to learn and apply valuable lessons from many case studies worldwide of successful efforts to stem and reverse land degradation and biodiversity loss, the subject of major reports to be launched next month by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.
A more environment-friendly agriculture landscape would enhance Malaysia’s score on the global food security index.
The writer is science adviser to the prime minister and chairman,
National Professors Council
News Straits Times.
Retrieved from https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2018/02/336821/sustainability-2050-food-challenge
IT was one of those tragic news moments forever remembered — I was at a conference in Hawaii on Dec 8, 1980 when a bulletin came in from New York that John Lennon had died, shot at the entrance to his Manhattan apartment building.
TIME magazine’s headline said it all: “When the Music Died.” Like many ardent Beatles’ fans, I was dumbfounded and left with a profound sense of loss.
It was déjà vu all over again to be similarly shocked beyond words in recent days by the loss of two long-time friends and colleagues.
Most recent was the death of Fidel Castro’s eldest son, Fidel “Fidelito” Castro Diaz-Balart on Feb 1. Reports said he had killed himself, after suffering from depression in his last few months.
Fidelito, 68, a father of three, was scientific adviser to the Cuban government and vice-president of Cuba’s Academy of Sciences.
He studied in Cuba and Russia (where he received two degrees, including a doctorate in physics, and was fluent in English, Russian, French and Spanish), and was considered an expert in nuclear energy, nanotechnology and the biopharmaceutical industry. He regularly attended global scientific conferences and was involved in the creation of a new nanotechnology research and development centre in Cuba, which became part of an extensive global network. In Kazakhstan just last year, he was promoting renewable energy and Cuba’s innovative technologies.
The internationally-recognised excellence of his and Cuba’s scientific achievements, especially in the field of medical science, is all the more remarkable given the decades-long animosity between Washington and Havana that inhibited collaboration between Cuban scientists and their US colleagues so near.
Three weeks earlier, Kenyan-born Harvard professor Calestous Juma had died after a long battle with cancer. Calestous, 64, was remembered for his contributions to the study of technology and innovation in Africa. In 1988, before embarking on distinguished public service and academic careers, he founded the African Centre for Technology Studies in Nairobi, a pioneering group that married government policy with science and technology to spur sustainable development and foster distinctly African perspectives on science.
He received international recognition for his scholarly work, winning the 2017 Breakthrough Paradigm Award and the 2014 Lifetime Africa Achievement Prize. He also earned induction into the United States National Academy of Sciences, Royal Society of London, World Academy of Arts and Sciences, and African Academy of Sciences, among other honours.
Beyond gratitude for our friendship, I owed much to both men, whose interests converged with mine on a number of international platforms.
I worked closely with Calestous in the late 1990s when he was the founding director of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Montreal and I was elected chair of the CBD’s Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA). It was during this time that I realised the crucial role that scientific consensus and advice could play in informing policymakers to develop sound strategies, plans and programmes in sustainable development.
Increasingly, international relations and diplomacy — once confined to diplomats and career civil servants — now involve academics, corporate figures and civil society leaders. This broadened perspective and engagement is especially important as the global community grapples with the reality of climate change and complex interlinked problems of water and sanitation, energy, healthcare, food security and biodiversity loss.
Calestous was as instrumental in advancing this evolution in policy-making as he was in convincing our then scientific colleagues to elect me and Sir Robert Watson as co-chairs of the governing board of the UN’s Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA). Conducted from 2001 to 2005 and involving 1,360 experts from 95 countries, it remains the largest-ever audit of biodiversity and the condition of and trends in the world’s ecosystem services.
The then UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, in his Millennium Report, hailed the MA as “an outstanding example of the sort of international scientific and political cooperation that is needed to further the cause of sustainable development”.
The MA gave birth to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) in April 2012, which I had the honour of chairing during its first three years.
I became friends with the junior Castro when I was working at the United Nations University in Tokyo. Fidelito had an uncanny resemblance to his famous father. Physically imposing, but, gentle and soft-spoken, he was, like Calestous, a natural “thought leader” who often spoke out on the needs and aspirations of scientists from the developing world. He was also a frequent lead speaker at the annual meetings of the Science for Society Forum in Kyoto, the scientific equivalent to the World Economic Forum conceived by the former Japanese minister of finance, Koji Omi.
It is not unreasonable to conclude that the leadership, friendship and camaraderie extended by these two iconic figures helped to advance the scientific enterprise, fostered international collaboration and promoted world peace through science diplomacy. All of us are left poorer by their unexpected departure.
Tan Sri Zakri Abdul Hamid is science adviser to the prime minister and chairman of the National Professors Council. News Straits Times.
Retrieved from https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2018/02/334720/when-music-died
RECENTLY, there was an uproar in the news about rice production woes faced by local farmers.
Two rice varieties, named MR220 CL1 and MR220 CL2, were introduced about seven years ago to control the menace of weedy rice or padi angin.
The two varieties are unique because they have genes which confer tolerance to herbicide. When sprayed on the rice crop,
a special herbicide named
“OnDuty” will kill the padi angin, but, will spare the rice plants from being affected. “OnDuty” is bundled and sold with the rice varieties in the Clearfield production system.
The emergence of weedy rice is a phenomenon essentially triggered by the recent rise of direct seeding — the uniform scattering of seeds across fields. In the past, rice farmers grew rice by transplanting — a method of weed control for wet or puddled fields. Transplanting requires less seed, but much more labour then direct seeding. Also, transplanted rice takes longer to mature due to transplanting shock.
Farmers started to practise direct seeding in early 1990s and it is now widespread in all our 10 rice granary areas — which feature major irrigation schemes (more than 4,000ha) and are recognised by the government as the country’s main rice producing areas.
Due to heavy infestations, padi angin has now put our rice productivity under siege.
There are several hypotheses which suggest how padi angin originated. However, there is strong evidence to support the hypothesis that weedy rice varieties are actually progenies
of hybrids formed naturally
between cultivated rice and a species of wild rice which is prevalent where rice is usually grown.
Weedy rice resembles cultivated rice. Farmers call them padi angin because the seeds are easily shattered by wind before or during crop harvest, and fall on to the soils. Because the seeds have a strong dormancy, they quickly build up into a potent weed seed bank in the soils, which provides the reserve of viable weed seeds from season to season.
They compete for sunlight, water and nutrients, and quickly dominate the field. They take up most of the fertilisers applied to the rice crop, and the yield loss can reach between 60 and 90 per cent, or, may even result in complete crop failure. In 2004, the production loss due to padi angin was estimated at RM90 million. Now, widespread infestations have drastically reduced farmers’ rice yields and incomes.
Previously, farmers removed padi angin manually or killed them by spot spraying with herbicides. Such practices were time consuming, and are no longer practical and effective.
When Clearfield varieties were introduced, they quickly gained popularity. Farmers, who previously had yields of less than three tonnes per hectare, began enjoying harvests three times greater.
Now, those farmers are seeing an ugly side of the new technology. The same herbicide used before no longer kill padi angin effectively. Padi angin has become kebal or herbicide resistant and yields have plummeted back to between and three and four tonnes per ha.
The Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI) and the multi-national Germany-based chemical company BASF developed the
Clearfield special purpose varieties. They are scientifically proven to be a good solution to weedy rice, but farmers must strictly follow a set of do’s and don’ts for the system to work. For example, seven days after direct-seeding, the herbicide must be applied when the soil is saturated (wet but not flooded).
The varieties were recommended only as a stop-gap measure to combat weedy rice. Farmers were supposed to grow them in only two successive planting seasons in a year, leaving an interval of one planting season. Once the weedy rice is no longer a problem farmers then have the option to grow any other varieties.
Attracted by the high yields, farmers grew the Clearfield varieties more often than prescribed. And, large numbers of farmers also had easy access to
uncertified seeds, planting them without using the required herbicide.
Population of weedy rice in the fields increased drastically. It became prone to cross breed with rice and evolved into hybrids. The process resulted in the transfer of the herbicide-tolerance gene, thus, turning the progenies of the hybrids into super weeds.
Padi angin is not a unique problem to Malaysia. Worldwide, weedy rice affects about 10 per cent of total rice production.
The super weeds have emerged as another new devastating menace to our rice production. Undoubtedly, farmers’ incomes, rice prices, crop yield levels, and our global food security index status will be at stake, sooner rather than later. Therefore, we urgently need to get our act together and review current approaches and come out with new strategies to achieve sustainable solutions for our weedy rice management.
In the final analysis, one thing is for sure: to be progressive, we need to support new technologies such as the Clearfield rice system and others that improve yields and help crops adapt to changing conditions. The point seems to be that the importance of using these technologies properly is as great as the importance of these technologies to our long term ability to feed a growing world population.
The writer is science adviser to the prime minister and founding president of the Genetics Society of Malaysia (1994-2000).News Straits Times.
Retrieved from https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2018/02/332147/rice-crops-under-siege
IN an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, changes are happening at an unprecedented speed.
Therefore, public and private organisations are employing approaches to understand and plan for the future.
This ability to explore the future with imagination and wisdom can be achieved through a structured approach called foresight. Imagine driving a car; the faster you drive, the further ahead you need to see. That ability to look further ahead is foresight.
As a discipline, foresight could be defined as the systematic, participatory, future intelligence gathering part of a medium- to long-term vision-building process.
The effort is conducted to inform present-day decisions and mobilise joint action. Foresight encourages decision-makers — whether in public or private organisations — to think and plan for the long term so that negative futures are avoided (or at least anticipated), as positive alternative futures are identified and promoted.
What futures do we want, do we need, and which do we want to avoid (the “disowned future”)?
With this understanding, we can identify opportunities, risks and threats, thus allowing us to innovate, to capitalise on opportunities, to minimise risks and nullify threats.
The future is not linear, a simple continuation of the past. If we could go back 20, 10 or even just five years, how many of the things we have, of the developments happening now, could most of us imagine?
Such insights require the best understanding of the drivers of change and megatrends. This skill set is needed by policymakers who now have to deal with complex, multi-dimensional issues, many of them interconnected and interdependent.
Despite critical uncertainties, foresight has a vital role in policymaking, where governments are trying to keep up with the growing complexity of their operating environments and the rapidly changing demands of their citizens.
Developed countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Korea, and Japan have emphasised the importance of foresight in strengthening their ability to be agile against the changes and disruptions caused by social, technology, economy, environment and political forces.
Since the 1990s, Malaysia’s use of systematic foresight techniques has been largely in the realm of technology and industrial development, conducted by the likes of Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry and the Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology.
However, to expand the use of foresight approaches, the Malaysian Foresight Institute (myForesight) was created in 2012 to build the national capacity to use these tools and mainstream their use for better decision-making.
Since its creation, myForesight has been involved with various national initiatives and public institutions.
As part of the Public Service Transformation Programme, a joint initiative of the Public Service Department and the United Nations Development Programme, aptly titled “Future of Public Service 2020 and beyond” was conducted to increase the awareness and knowledge about the foresight methodology and its benefits.
A training module was developed at the National Institute of Public Administration to equip the public sector with foresight and futures thinking capacity.
Working with the Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit, a set of guidelines was developed for the public officials on the use of scenario planning.
Today, foresight activities in Malaysia have gained further traction, fuelled by Transformasi Nasional 2050 (TN50) and the global phenomenon of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has also acknowledged the importance of foresight in realising TN50 — providing plausible scenarios after taking into consideration the interplay between major social, technological, economic, environmental and political trends.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is bound to create massive uncertainties and bring many disruptions. Government, business enterprises and educational institutions now looking at how best to respond will be well served by sophisticated foresight methodologies.
Malaysia is one country which has taken serious note of the 4IR and how it would affect our national wellbeing in the future.
Numerous ministries are in various stages of deliberating the kind of actions to be taken to mitigate its impacts. Our efforts have not gone unnoticed.
In a publication released by the World Economic Forum in Davos last week entitled, “Readiness for the Future of Production Report 2018”, Malaysia is listed among 25 “Leading Countries” well-positioned to benefit from Industry 4.0.
All the leading countries are high-income countries except for China and Malaysia.
This assessment corroborates the findings in the 2016 Global Manufacturing Competitiveness Index, a report published by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu and the US Council on Competitiveness.
The latter report predicts that by 2020, Malaysia is expected to pierce the top 15 nations in the index, based on its ability to provide competitive labour, agile manufacturing capabilities, favourable demographic profiles, market and economic growth.
To move the country forward, however, foresight alone is not enough.
To meet the transformative challenges, to grasp opportunity, to realise our preferred future, we must also take many necessary actions to build our national capacity, especially our human capital.
To quote Joel A. Barker, futurist, filmmaker and author: “Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.”
TAN SRI DR ZAKRI ABDUL HAMID is science adviser to the prime minister and chairman of the Malaysian Foresight Institute. News Straits Times.
Retrieved from https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2018/01/329846/policymakers-need-foresight
ON Dec 25, the New Straits Times reported the heartbreaking death of an adult Malayan sun bear, struck by a motorcyclist around dusk on an expressway near Kuala Dungun.
Known scientifically as Helarctos malayanus (sometimes also known as the “dog bear” due to its small size, short snout and ears, and short, glossy fur), it was simply trying to cross a road. Sadly, news about roadkill — animals killed by vehicles — is growing more common.
Roads alter and isolate animal habitats and populations, deterring movement and resulting in extensive mortality. To be sure, roadkill is not unique to Malaysia. It is a global aberration, a consequence of human encroachment on animal habitats in the name of development.
About 2,100 animals were killed in traffic accidents in the past five years, according to a recent report quoting Deputy Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Dr Hamim Samuri, mostly endangered species such as tapirs, sun bears, elephants, mountain goats and tigers.
“Most of the accidents occurred because the animals were trying to cross roads or highways to find shelter, food, mates and habitats,” he said. He advised motorists to be careful and pay attention when driving near forests.
At the rate these animals are being killed due to human callousness, more than advice is needed. A more comprehensive plan to prevent roadkill must be considered in the context of the National Policy on Biological Diversity, launched by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak two years ago during the opening ceremony of the fourth meeting of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in Kuala Lumpur.
As recently suggested by Malay-sian Nature Society president Henry Goh, “a concerted effort, involving government agencies and departments, namely the
Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan), the Forestry Department, police and the Attorney-General’s Chambers, is vital to find a long-term solution to the issue”.
The number of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates and other animals killed by vehicles each day is hard to imagine. The official roadkill numbers in Malaysia surely underestimate the true toll.
Widely reported insurance industry statistics, for example, reveal that United States drivers hit an estimated one million to two million animals every year, the equivalent of a collision every 26 seconds. Note that those are just the incidents reported for insurance purposes, usually involving a large animal and serious vehicle damage. Uncounted are the millions of smaller animals crushed by tyres or hit by windshields.
European authorities estimate that as many as 27 million birds are killed by vehicles each year. A Brazilian study estimates 1.3 million animals die every day under cars and trucks.
The effectiveness of some well-known measures to reduce roadkill has been widely documented. These include animal bridges or tunnels — viaducts for animals to safely cross over or under highways — and other human-made barriers. A recent Canadian tunnel and fencing project reduced by 89 and 28 per cent respectively the number of turtles and snakes venturing onto a road in a Unesco World Biosphere Reserve. Other helpful innovations include solar-powered alert panels that line a highway and help nighttime drivers see animals more easily.
Our authorities are certainly aware of the problem. Just last February, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar directed Perhilitan and the Forestry Department to step up surveillance and preventive measures along highways and roads identified as hotspots for animal crossing. Identified now are 126 roadkill hotspots nationwide, with plans by the ministry to build viaducts at 37 hotspots to facilitate the movement of animals. This is an encouraging start.
Ultimately, however, the rakyat must take collective responsibility. We cannot leave it to the government or “nature champions” like Henry Goh or Datuk Dr Dionysius Sharma, chief executive officer of WWF Malaysia, who rightly opined that Malaysia has failed to sufficiently protect its fauna. A paradigm shift in attitudes is needed immediately.
FIRST, we must accept the right of fauna to coexist with humans. This is not to say that we should regard them as domesticates, but rather that we develop a healthy respect for their continuous survival in this country, one of the most biodiverse areas on Earth;
SECOND, the term “wildlife” or “wild animals” (binatang liar or worse, binatang buas in Malay) has threatening, human-unfriendly connotations. Let’s simply refer to our fauna as animals or haiwan; and,
FINALLY, and most importantly, our deference to animals that find their way onto our roads and highways must be at the same level we would accord a child crossing the street on the way to and from school. Then, and only then, can roadkill be reduced or prevented altogether.
Tan Sri Dr Zakri Abdul Hamid is the science adviser to the prime minister and joint recipient of the 2015 Merdeka Award (Environment). He can be reached via email@example.com and Twitter: @zakriZAH. News Straits Times.
Retrieved from https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2018/01/322831/when-will-animals-get-right-way
BIOECONOMY refers to the production of renewable biological resources for food, feed, chemicals, energy and healthcare wellness products via innovative and efficient technologies. And, in 2005, Malaysia began a drive to make bio-based industry a key economic driver, launching the National Biotechnology Policy (NBP) under the stewardship of then visionary minister of science, technology and innovation, the late Tan Sri Dr Jamaluddin Jarjis.
The ambitious target set for the sector: contribute five per cent to the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 2020. The NBP, a well-crafted, 15-year masterplan, provides a comprehensive roadmap to that destination, one that helps foster a conducive ecosystem for accelerated industry growth.
Since 2005, strategies have been implemented in three five-year phases:
PHASE I — Capacity Building (2005 – 2010);
PHASE II —Science to Business (2011 – 2015); and,
PHASE III — Global Business (2016 – 2020).
We are midway through Phase III, positioning Malaysia’s bio-based industry on the world stage, consolidating our strengths and capabilities in developing home-grown bio-based innovations, boosting commercialisation and penetrating international markets. Malaysia aims to produce at least 20 global companies to spearhead the value creation process for the bio-based industry beyond 2020. Two of them are on the way there:
PURE CIRCLE SDN BHD — manufacturer of stevia sweeteners for the food and beverage industry, and listed on the London Stock Exchange; and,
BIO ALPHA HOLDING BHD — food and supplement products listed on the Bursa Malaysia.
On Bioeconomy Day (Jan 11), Science, Technology and Innovation (Mosti) Minister Datuk Seri Wilfred Madius Tangau revealed some encouraging figures.
As of December last year, the Malaysian Bioeconomy Development Corporation (BioEcorp) has 77 trigger projects under the Bioeconomy Transformation Programme (BTP).
Together, the projects are expected to provide more than 26,700 job opportunities, with cumulative approved investments of more than RM17 billion in 2020. BioEcorp has also implemented 37 Bioeconomy Community Development Programme (BCDP) projects, involving more than 2,800 participants. These projects will impact more than 13,000 residents around the project areas.
The minister pointed out that bio-based companies continued to be the main pillar in catalysing holistic changes encompassing economic, governance, and social development.
From 2016 to last year, there has been an increase of RM150 millions of total approved investments captured by 283 BioNexus companies (from RM6.66 billion to RM6.81 billion). The companies created 10,665 jobs, an increase of 4.2 per cent compared with 2016 (10,238). Furthermore, the BioNexus companies recorded an average annual growth rate of 18 per cent in terms of revenue generation from 2008 to December last year.
Madius said the growing bio-based sector had positioned Malaysia well as an investment destination.
“Biotechnology has been transforming the industry from commodities to value-added products. Malaysia has also been a favoured investment destination due to biotechnology developments, such as the Palm Oil Industrial Cluster in Lahad Datu, Sabah, as well as Bio-XCell Malaysia in Nusajaya, Johor.”
The BioNexus and BTP-status companies will have to establish themselves as pioneers of leading edge bio-based businesses. Malaysia is well-primed to excel by focusing on high-impact, high-growth and high-technology areas capable of driving the continuous development of home-grown technologies.
In the long run, the sector is expected to generate new economic opportunities and create a broad spectrum of novel bio-based sectors in the country. Bioeconomy, being at the heart of many technological advances, has the potential to address some of the most pressing challenges, such as feeding a growing population and offering alternatives to dwindling natural resources. It is a game changer for Malaysia’s economic growth.
Tapping into and sustainably using the country’s vast biodiversity has the potential to increase the country’s economic competitiveness, creating jobs, enhancing health, food security while addressing environmental concerns. With three years to go until 2020, the challenge lies in increasing the number of bio-based industry players and to have a stronger global presence for locally-produced products.
A few notable programmes designed to achieve that are already in place. For instance, the BCDP will focus on enhancing the socio-economic wellbeing of the rakyat by providing opportunities for higher income rural employment.
BTP participants and BioNexus-status companies, meanwhile, will focus more on the downstream industries and using bio-based technologies to manufacture value-added products. Bio-based companies will be supported with mentoring and commercialisation programmes, such as BioNext and BioShoppe that help our bio-based products penetrate the international market. And, BioEcorp will continue to be the lead bioeconomy development agency.
In arguing for the realisation of Transformasi Nasional 2050, which he launched last year, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had this to say: “Bioeconomy — through innovation and technological advancement — has the potential to make a significant contribution towards our country becoming a knowledge-based, high income nation.”
The writer is science adviser to the prime minister and chairman of the Malaysian Bioeconomy Development Corporation (BioEcorp) News Straits Times.
Retrieved from https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2018/01/327513/delivering-bioeconomy-promise