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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Punjab: Christian families flee false accusation of blasphemy

by Jibran Khan

The students of a madrassa try to force a child to convert. A relative is attacked for defending him, and accused of blasphemy. A priest: "This is a common practice in the region. Many cases of forced conversions are not made known". The authorities turn a blind eye to the problem.

Lahore (AsiaNews) - Ten Christian families were forced to flee from Chak 68, Arifwala, in Khanewal district, for fear of the consequences of an accusation of blasphemy. A Christian boy of eight years, Ihtesham, nicknamed "Sunny" went to buy ice in a market, and was surrounded and harassed by students of a madrassa, an Islamic religious school. They asked him to recite verses from the Koran, those every Muslim reads the so-called "Kalma", in short the statement that "there is no God but Allah ...." They asked him to renounce his religion and convert to Islam.

An uncle of Sunny, Dildar Masih, seeing that his nephew was in trouble, because of the students, intervened. Sunny explained to him that they were bullying him to renounce his religion. Dildar addressed the boys, he rebuked them and told Sunny to go home. The boys told of the incident to the religious leaders at the madrasas. The latter announced that Dildar Masih had committed blasphemy, making fun of Koranic verses, and the loudspeaker of the madrasa urged all to punish the blasphemer, to set an example. A crowd gathered around Dildar where he was working and attacked him. After the incident, ten families fled from the village.

Father Rufin John, from Khanewal, told AsiaNews: "This is a common practice in the region. Many cases of forced conversions are not disclosed. In many schools it is mandatory for all to read verses from the Koran, it is in the program, and is compulsory for students of all faiths to read them. If students of faiths other than Islam do not read them, they are subject to abuse, or are thrown out of schools. "

Father Afzal Masih of Rahim Yar Khan told AsiaNews: "In Rahim Khan, the madrasa students annoy teenagers of different faiths every day. They do not allow them to play in their playgrounds, they do not want them to pass close to the madrasas, the radical school of thought is at its maximum in this region. They are taught that Christians and people of other religions may be killed if they do not accept Islam. And the authorities turn a blind eye to this problem. "


http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Punjab:-Christian-families-flee-false-accusation-of-blasphemy-21859.html

Half-naked shoppers flock to Desigual to win free clothes

Hundreds of half-naked shoppers braved the rain today dressed in just their underwear eager to bag a free outfit.

A woman clings tenuously to her Islamic faith while
waiting in line for an "Arrive Half-Naked, Leave
Fully Dressed"
offer at a London department store.
    
The first 100 people who turned up to Spanish label Desigual's store on Regent Street won an outfit of their choice.

Fashion fans started queuing up at 11pm last night and lots of people today left empty-handed after more than 300 people showed up.

Desigual's slogan was: 'Arrive half naked - leave fully dressed.'

As the doors opened this morning, shoppers rushed to grab items of clothing.
naked shoppers, Desigual
Shoppers go through the clothes at Desigual (AFP/Getty)
 
One girl told the Evening Standard: 'I have been queuing from 2am this morning, it's been amazing - a little cold but definitely worth it to get some free clothes.'

Shoppers in Stockholm, Amsterdam and Berlin were also treated to a free outfit if they turned up in their underwear.

A similar stunt by fashion shop Joy in 2009 ended in police ordering over 50 semi-naked girls to cover up after they stripped down to their underwear to win free outfits.

Najib's daughter 'do': Who footed the bill?

(Malaysiakini) PKR leader Dr Tan Kee Kwong today raised a query on who footed the bill for the engagement ceremony of Prime Minister Najib Razak's daughter which was held at Seri Perdana last night.

The guests' list which included royalty, politicians and members of the diplomatic corps totaled 810.

Nooryana Najwa Najib and Daniyar NazarbayevThe dinner was held at the Prime Minister's residence in Putrajaya on the occasion of Najib's daughter, Nooryana Najwa's engagement to Daniyar Nazarbayev, who is a relative of Kazakhstan president Nursultan Nazarbayev.

“I understand that the purchase order to a leading hotel was issued in the name of the PM's Department which raises the question of who actually footed the bill for the catering, which came up to RM81,000,” queried Dr Tan.

The former Gerakan MP and deputy minister who is likely to be a candidate for PKR in the fast approaching general election, said his query was justified under any circumstances but more so in these 'belt-tightening times when the rising cost of living burdens the ordinary citizen.”

Bill footed by taxpayers?

Tan said: “Cuts to subsidies on fuel and other items mean a strapped existence for the already struggling rakyat so the question of who defrayed the cost of the prime minister's daughter's engagement dinner must come under scrutiny particularly when the purchase order was issued in the name of the PM's Department.

“An order of this nature would ordinarily mean that the taxpayer is footing the bill which is unjustifiable under any circumstances, more so in these stringent times.”

Tan, who is also PKR disciplinary committee chairperson, said an explanation is called for because “there is no justification that the expenses of an occasion like this be met by anybody else save the prime minister.”

Mufti: Many new converts want out of Islam


Many new converts to Islam in the country have subsequently applied to renounce the religion, lamented Selangor mufti Tamyes Abdul Wahid.

“A majority of them (who sought to renounce Islam) are those who have just converted to Islam,” said Tamyes when asked about the numbers of people seeking to convert out of the religion in the state.

However, Tamyes, who was contacted by Malaysiakini yesterday, said he did not have exact figures on such cases.

NONEHis revelation comes after Islamic Affairs Minister Jamil Khir Baharom (left) said in reply to a written question in Parliament that the Syariah Court received 686 applications to renounce Islam between 2000 and 2010.

The minister, subsequently through national news agency Bernama, denied the Malaysiakini report, which was incidentally based on his written parliamentary reply.

According to Jamil Khir's parliamentary reply, 168 of the said applications had been approved.

However, Bernama reported the minister saying that the Syariah Court had not approved a single such case to date.

'Many were Hindus'

Tamyes said he was concerned with the increase in the number of applications for 'murtad' (apostasy).

“I hope those who wish to convert out of Islam will clarify their true intentions,” he said.

Meanwhile, an officer with the Selangor Mufti Department, M Daruddin Taib, said many of the murtad cases in Selangor involved those who were Hindus.

“The Mufti Department has a panel of former Hindus who are now Muslims (to handle cases involving such converts). I myself cannot speak Tamil,” he said.

Daruddin added that he also encountered numerous cases from a variety of backgrounds.

NONE“Some were born and raised in non-Muslim families,” he explained.

He added that there were those who had converted to marry Muslims, but wanted to revert to their original religions when their marriages ended.

Tamyes (left) said it was everyone's duty to address the issue of murtad, and not just that of the authorities.

He also reminded those who wished to convert to Islam to do so only with genuine intention in order to avoid complications later.

“They have to be committed (to becoming a Muslim),” he added.

Gobind demands police act on missing five

Gobind expressed puzzlement over the police’s lack of alacrity in the matter. — Picture by Jack Ooi
PUCHONG, June 18 — The police must clarify if five men who were snatched off the streets of Seri Kembangan by armed men two and a half months ago are in their custody, Puchong MP Gobind Singh said today.


He said the police have been silent on whether the five, believed to have been seized by men with guns and handcuffs from the car park of Jusco in Equine Park on April 4, were arrested or kidnapped despite repeated requests.

Gobind pointed out that the police have made no headway into the case even after the families of the men — Ari Kumar Manyam, Jayasingam Gopal, Madhan Nadarajah, Dlipan Palanivel and Gobi Krishna Ramasamy — lodged two reports and handed them evidence the families had gathered themselves.

Gobind holds up one of two police reports lodged by the men’s families.
These included photos of the alleged kidnappers taken from the Slim River toll plaza, closed-circuit television footage of Ari Kumar’s car being driven by an unknown person and a “90 per cent intact” fingerprint found on the vehicle, which was later found abandoned with fake licence plates.


A friend of Madhan’s family, who declined to be named, also revealed that Ari Kumar’s family has received several phone calls from the alleged kidnappers demanding RM1 million in ransom, including one from an Indian man and another from someone who “sounded Indonesian”.

Gobind stressed that he was “not casting aspersions on anyone” but said it was hard to believe the police were dragging their feet given that it involved issues of public safety.

“What happened to these five could happen to anyone one of us,” he told reporters at his service centre here.

Gobind said he will march on Bukit Aman police headquarters together with Seri Kembangan residents next week to hand in a memorandum to the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) if the police remain unresponsive.

He added that he will bring the matter up with Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein during the current Parliament sitting.

“The home minister has to be made aware of this problem,” Gobind said.

MP vows to rekindle school issue

A school building has been left abandoned for years, and the authorities pass the buck on who is responsible.

KUALA LUMPUR: Selangor exco and Seputeh MP Teresa Kok has promised to bring up the issue of an abandoned school building SK Danau Desa in Parliament for the second time in recent years.

In 2008, the DAP leader had asked that the school – constructed in 2000 but abandoned in 2003 – be converted into a Chinese primary school as there was a lack of Chinese-language schools in her constituency.

“They (the authorities) gave me a very blur sort of answer. The Education Ministry is suing the contractor, so the situation is tied up in legal work,” said Kok.

However, she did not know who were the contractor or legal counsel involved.

Strangely, no government body had stepped forward to claim responsibility for the abandoned building, which was now a thriving breeding ground for mosquitoes and other pests; and was being used as a rubbish dump.

When both the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) and Public Works Department were contacted, they claimed that the issue was under the Education Ministry.

However, representatives from the Education Ministry claimed that the building was not under their jurisdiction.

As a result, the building contractors or the cost of construction could not be ascertained.
Staff of what was formerly SK Danau Desa which was moved to a new building just down the road and renamed Danau Perdana, refused to comment.

Located on Jalan Jalan 1/109 F, Taman Desa, Off Old Klang Road, the building was only used for a few months in 2003 before students were evacuated due to safety concerns.

‘Building was sinking’

“Apparently the building was sinking,” said William Chan, president of the Taman Desa Residents Association.

“I was told it was due to tunnelling work for the SMART tunnel. We asked the government to repair the building and turn it into a Chinese school, but that didn’t materialise.”

Chan said that because of the huge amount of land used, the building should be revamped into a multipurpose hall or perhaps transformed into a large police headquarters.

Joe Lee, who owned a salon directly opposite the school, called the place “an eyesore”.

Whereas, Natasha Karim, who works as a waitress in a restaurant nearby and also lives in the area complained of drug addicts who purportedly camp out in the abandoned building.

“Even (former works minister S) Samy Vellu couldn’t help,” added another resident, Jack Lew.
In 2004, Samy Vellu had commented on the site, promising to get Ikram (the Malaysian Public Works Institute) and PWD to resolve the matter.

He said the building had been handled by a project management consultant appointed by the Finance Ministry. However, no action was taken.

Temple worker charged with murder of lawyer

R. Narayanan being escorted from the Klang magistrate’s court yesterday. — NST picture by Roslin Mat Tahir The New Straits Times

KLANG: A 24-year-old temple worker was charged at the magistrate’s court yesterday with the murder of lawyer Datuk R. Anpalagan.

R. Narayanan, an Indian national, was alleged to have hacked Anpalagan, 58, to death with a parang at the Sri Ramalingeswarari temple at 9.30pm on Monday.

Clad in a yellow T-shirt with blood stains and spotted with bruised eyes, Narayanan nodded indicating that he understood the charge.

No plea was recorded.

Magistrate Nadia Othman fixed July 20 for mention pending a postmortem report.

Deputy public prosecutor Shahrul Ekhsan Hasim prosecuted while the accused was not represented.

It was reported that Narayanan was arrested the next day at an oil palm plantation in Jalan Bukit Kapar.

It was learnt that Anpalagan was murdered over unpaid wages.

Anpalagan was a prominent corporate lawyer specialising in land matters. It was also reported that he sat on the board of several listed companies locally and in Australia.

Ketika rakyat susah jom kita tinjau apa Menteri dapat ?


Ini apa yang Menteri dapat ? betul ke ? renungkan lah .....

1. Bercuti keluar negara sekali setahun terutama selepas persidangan Dewan Negara
- semua perbelanjaan ditanggung oleh kerajaan termasuk tiket penerbangan, hotel, duit poket sebanyak RM50,000.00. Kalau tidak bercuti keluar negara seorang menteri boleh menuntut sebanyak RM50,000.00 tanpa resit.

2. Bil letrik percuma ditanggung oleh kerajaan Malaysia

3. Bil Air percuma ditanggung oleh kerajaan Malaysia

4. Bil telefon percuma ditanggung oleh kerajaan Malaysia

5. Peruntukan perkakasan dapor/perhiasan rumah dll boleh dituntut setahun sekali sebanyak RM40,000.00

6. Sebuah kereta Mercedes S320, di lengkapi dgn telefon bimbit,satu pemandu,minyak percuma.Kalau guna khidmat pemandu kementerian, dapatlah duit percuma.(perdana sebagai kereta rasmi semata-mata)

7. Semua pemberian derma seperti kepada perkahwinan, kematian,atau pemberian kepada badan kebajikan kebajikan boleh dituntut.

8. Boleh mengadakan rumah terbuka setiap hari raya, segala perbelanjaan ditanggung oleh kerajaan. Kebiasaan Menteri menuntut sebanyak RM400,000.00

9. Setiap menteri biasanya tuntutan mereka sebanyak RM45,000.00 semua elaun perbelanjaan tidak termasuk elaun-elaun dalam slip pendapatan bulanan.

Jadi, tunggu apa lagi, semua pakat turun pada 9 Julai ini - ajak semua kawan-kawan dan saudara mara.

Saudi women defy driving ban

Women get into the backseat of a vehicle in Saudi Arabia's capital Riyadh on June 14, 2011.(CNN) -- Women put keys to ignitions Friday in Saudi Arabia to start up a roaring challenge to the conservative Islamic kingdom's prohibition of female drivers.

"It's a disadvantage for us," said Sulafa Kurdi who lived in the United States once and got her driver's license when she was 18.

"It's something that we want to do, and hopefully, it will happen," she said after driving to a Riyadh restaurant with her friends and cousin.

Fueled by "Women2Drive," a campaign demanding the right for women to drive and travel freely in Saudi Arabia, Kurdi and other Saudi women commanded streets and roads normally reserved for men.

Though there are no specific traffic laws that make it illegal for women to drive in Saudi Arabia. However, religious edicts are often interpreted as a prohibition of female drivers. Such edicts also prevent women from opening bank accounts, obtaining passports or even going to school without the presence of a male guardian.

Authorities stopped Manal al Sharif, 32, for driving a car May 21 and detained her the next day. She said she was forced to sign a form promising not to drive again and spent a week in jail.

Al Sharif has not been charged, but the case remains open and she may be called back, according to human rights activist Waleed Abu Alkhair. Her name has become a rallying cry for women demanding their rights.

The "Women2Drive 17th June," Facebook page includes a banner that reads "We are all Manal Sharif," and a quote from King Abdullah stating that "the day will come when women will be able to drive."

In an interview with CNN before her detention, al Sharif said she was determined to speak out.
"We have a saying," she said. "The rain starts with a single drop. This is a symbolic thing."

The Women2Drive campaign was expected to be a test of wills between the government and half of the nation's citizenry. However, campaign organizers were explicit in laying out conditions for participants.

Women were told to adhere to full Islamic dress. Wave the Saudi flag and plaster a picture of the king to show patriotism. It was best to have an international driving license if you planned to drive. And to have a man with you.

The campaign said it would not be responsible for any women who breached a list of 14 such principles. The were asked to show defiance but within societal confines.

A Riyadh man who went out to document what would be an unusual scene in Saudi Arabia said the streets were typically empty for a Friday morning, but that there were many fewer police officers than in March -- when online organizers had called for mass demonstrations.

"I'm thinking that the government is turning sideways," said the man, Ahmad Alafaliq. "They don't want to see it, they don't want to deal with it."

A Saudi woman told CNN her mother drove her and her sisters down Riyadh's main street on Thursday.
The woman, who asked not to be named because she was worried about harassment and possible reprisals, said no one bothered them.

"This is important for women here -- this is one of our rights," she said

Nadya Khalife, a Human Rights Watch women's rights researcher for the Middle East and North Africa, said the freedom of movement is a basic right. Saudi Arabia, she said, is the only country that bans women from driving.

Strict segregation by sex means women in Saudi Arabia can't travel without a male relative or take public transportation. Ironically, many women hire are forced to hire expensive private drivers or taxis to get around, forcing them to be in the company of unfamiliar men, which, said activists, does not make sense from a religious standpoint.

Khalife said what separates the latest campaign from other efforts to get women to drive is the degree to which it has relied on social media. Women who got behind the wheel were encouraged to shoot videos of themselves.

But Saudi women face challenges, Khalife said.

"They're up against society as a whole," Khalife said. "Some women may even face harassment or pressure from their families. Some women have clearly been in support, but others are saying they don't want to 'shame.'"

Osamah Alluaidan, an opponent of female drivers, posted on Facebook, "It is not a sin for women to drive but when women drive and disobey the Kingdom's guardians, that's the problem, this is unacceptable."
Khalife noted that some men have been supportive of their daughters, wives and sisters taking part in the driving campaign.

Alkhair, speaking Thursday from London, said he encouraged his wife to drive in Jeddah on Friday.
"I think after what the police and the interior ministry did to Manal al Sharif, a lot of women became afraid," he said. "The Interior Ministry has put a lot of police on the street. They want to send a message to all women."

But on Friday, Saudi women defied tradition, no matter how bumpy the road.

Seatbelt 'offender' lodges complaint at Bukit Aman

Kenya: Man Defiles Child

Police in Mombasa are still looking for a man who allegedly sexually assaulted his 3 year old daughter. The man who is an Imam is said to have fled after committing the offense.

Doctors at the hospital have confirmed that the girl who is receiving treatment at the Coast general hospital has been sexually assaulted. Meanwhile muslim leaders are now demanding thorough vetting of all religious leaders.

Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims chairman Mudhar Kithamy says they are concerned about the alarming cases of sodomy and rapes taking place in Mosques and Madrasa

http://allafrica.com/stories/201106170233.html

Rapist teacher’s 36-year jail term upheld

High Court dismisses appeal by Adrian Simon, convicted of raping a 11-year-old Singaporean student, in a school lab last year.

KOTA KINABALU: A former teacher who was convicted on two counts of raping a 11-year-old Singaporean student inside a science laboratory of a private school last year will spend the next 36 years behind bars.

Adrian Simon, 23, will also given four strokes of the cane after the High Court here dismissed his appeal against the conviction and sentence meted out by the Sessions Court on Nov 10 last year.

High Court judge Abdul Rahman Sebli dismissed Simon’s appeal after hearing arguments from his counsel Hairul Variyon Othman and DPP Raja Zaizul Faridah Raja Zaharuddin yesterday.

Abdul Rahman held that trial judge Duncan Sikodol made no error and the guilty verdict was fully supported by evidence.

“It is clear to me that all relevant and material evidence had been taken into account by the learned trial judge in deciding whether Simon is guilty of the charge.

“More importantly,  the trial judge had accepted the evidence of the complainant whom he described as a ‘thoroughly credible witness’,” he said.

Abdul Rahman said the trial judge could not have arrived at any other verdict other than a guilty verdict.
“There is no basis for this court to interfere with the decision of the Sessions Court,” he said in dismissing Simon’s appeal against his conviction.

Jail terms to run concurrently

He said that the trial judge had not erred in principle and the sentence was neither grossly excessive nor grossly inadequate.

“There can be no argument that the offence is serious, compounded by the fact that the respondent was placed in a position of trust in relation to the victim.

“The victim was only 11 years at the material time and the respondent was 20 years older,” he said, adding that it was clear that Simon had taken advantage on the girl under his care.

“This sort of criminal conduct is unacceptable. What the respondent did to the victim is repulsive. It is a nightmare to any parents.

“The sentence of 36 years imprisonment and two strokes of the rotan for each charge is therefore appropriate. The appeals against sentence are dismissed,” he said.

Abdul Rahman also dismissed the prosecution’s appeal for the 18 years’ jail sentences for each charge to run consecutively.

Simon, a former teacher of SRS Datuk Simon Fung, was sentenced to 18 years’ jail and ordered to be whipped twice for the first count of raping the girl  between 2.10pm and 3.30pm on a day between February and March, 2010.

On the second count of raping the girl at the same place at 10.25am on March 26, 2010, he received another 18 years’ jail and two strokes of the cane.

Each of the charges under Section 376 (2) (e) of the Penal Code carries a jail term of between five and 30 years and whipping, on conviction.

Sikadol ordered the jail terms to run concurrently from the date of judgment.

Buku kartun Najib tonjol Cina berhidung babi

Penulis buku ialah bekas wartawan Utusan Malaysia dan setiausaha akhbar Perdana Menteri.

PETALING JAYA: Sebuah buku kartun bertajuk ‘Transformasi Najib’ nukilan Akmar Hisham Mokhles merupakan bahan terbaru yang memperkecilkan masyarakat minoriti di Malaysia.

Kali ini masyarakat Cina menjadi sasaran. Watak anggota masyarakat Cina digambarkan sebagai bermata sepet dan berhidung babi.

“Watak Cina dalam buku ini sengaja digambarkan dengan hidung babi. Seseorang tidak sepatutnya sengaja melukis dengan sedemikian rupa sedangkan etnik lain di dalam buku karikatur ini tidak digambarkan sedemikian,” kata Helen Ang kepada FMT.

“Jika anda melihat bahan propaganda berbahasa Melayu dalam Internet, anda akan melihat gambaran masyarakat Cina yang berbaur perkauman ini,” tambah Helen yang juga seorang bekas wartawan yang berpengalaman.

Menurutnya, buku kartun ‘Transformasi Najib’ diedarkan kepada semua peserta yang menghadiri Persidangan Pemblog Malaysia – Rantau Asean pertama dalam bulan April tahun ini.

Buku setebal 109 halaman terbitan Qalif Umar Creative ini mengisahkan kisah hidup Perdana Menteri Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak dan pembaharuan sosio-ekonomi dan politik yang diperkenalkan di bawah pentadbirannya.

Buku terbitan Qalif Umar Creative telah pun dicetak empat kali.
Carian di dalam Internet menunjukkan Akmar merupakan bekas wartawan Utusan Malaysia yang kini bertugas sebagai setiausaha akhbar Najib.

Sementara itu, Helen turut mendakwa bahawa usaha memperkecilkan kaum minoriti ini bukan kes terasing.

“Ia merupakan sebahagian dari trend yang lebih besar,” katanya sambil merujuk kepada kes Ahli Dewan Undangan Negeri Sekinchan Ng
Suee Lim, yang digambarkan dengan hidung babi dalam laman blog pro-Umno, Sungai Rapat Online dan juga Namewee yang turut digambarkan dengan hidung babi oleh Perkasa tidak lama dahulu.

“Trend tersebut membimbangkan saya kerana ia merupakan satu percubaan untuk mendoktrinasi anak muda bahawa kaum minoriti hodoh dan orang asing, seperti mana yang dimuatkan dalam novel kontroversi Interlok edisi murid,” katanya ketika ditanya mengapa perkara baru ini diketengahkan kepada media.
FMT cuba menghubungi Akmar beberapa kali melalui telefon tetapi beliau  gagal dihubungi.

'Use ISA against rally organisers'

The council of ex-elected reps (Mubarak) wants the authorities to use the security law against the brains behind the Bersih rally.

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Council of Ex-Elected Representatives (Mubarak) wants the police to use the Internal Security Act (ISA) against the organisers of the Bersih 2.0 rally on July 9.

Its president Aziz Abdul Rahman said it was time for firmer action to be taken by the authorities against any form of activities that could jeopardise public interest and the country’s security.

“Although we realise that in present circumstances, the authorities may be hesitant to use the ISA to avoid portraying a negatives image of the country at the international level, we opine that public order and the security of the country cannot be substituted with the need to portray a good image,” he said in a statement here today.

According to Bernama, Aziz said that no one could deny that the proposed rally, which would involve a huge crowd, could turn ugly and lead to a riot.

Hence, measures should be taken by the police to stop the rally, he added.

Earlier today, Bersih 2.0 chairman Ambiga Sreenevasan said she would be writing to the Kuala Lumpur police chief on how they can work together in making the July 9 rally a peaceful one.

“We understand their job and at the same time we would like to explain to them why we are holding the rally,” Ambiga told FMT.

She said the organisers of the rally strongly believe that it could be conducted in a peaceful and responsible manner.

Did Felda Lose RM500mil In North America?

Global Food Price Volatility a Fact of Life


Image
They're looking for a place where they will be better fed
(Asia Sentinel) A major new forecast on food through the rest of the decade comes to sobering conclusions

Sudden surges and declines in food prices are likely to remain a fact of life and could well increase, according to an exhaustive new report released jointly by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The 194-page document, released Friday, examines the outlook for food production for the decade through 2020. It contains a special chapter on price volatility that concludes a complex series of factors are involved including the growing effect of climate change, declining stock levels, rising energy prices, currency exchange rates, demand growth as economically rising nations switch from grains to meat, trade restrictions, the entry of financial speculators into heretofore stolid futures markets, competition for water between farmers and urban dwellers, and agricultural land lost to urbanization and others. 

“Many observers have come to believe that extreme price spikes may become more rather than less frequent,” the report notes. “Certainly, the potential for short run price spikes in the cereals market is relatively high with lower world production and stocks in 2010/11.” Although these key drivers of volatility in agricultural markets are well known, “of concern is the extent to which the drivers are, themselves, likely to exhibit greater variability and uncertainty in the future, or to condition market responses in ways that will exacerbate price volatility in the coming decade,” the report notes.
Price volatility is certainly not new to agriculture, the report says. “However, recent periods of high prices and increased price volatility are having significant impacts on food-insecure populations. These events signal the need for responses by all stakeholders which address their concerns.”

In effect, however, the authors skirt gingerly around the issue that drives price volatility and everything else about food production, and that is a population that is rising faster than the earth can adjust.  The report notes that by the end of 2011 global population will rise to 7.7 billion.  It is rising population that strains resources, is driving global warming, diverting water from rural to urban populations and increasing pollution of the world’s rivers and oceans.  

While it is true that in major industrialized nations and even in China, the most populous country – for now – on the planet, birth rates are falling below replacement,  in other areas population is continuing to increase.  According to the latest United Nations report on global population, the number of people will reach 9.0 billion by 2050, assuming even that fertility falls from 2.5 per woman to 2.0.  

As the OECD-FAO agriculture forecast notes, almost all growth will take place in less-developed regions while the developed world will remain largely stable.  India, Pakistan, Nigeria, the Congo, Bangladesh, Uganda and Ethiopia are expected to drive population growth – and the United States, the only industrialized country whose population is still growing steadily. 

One of the major problems, despite the refusal of virtually the entire Republican opposition in the US Congress to believe it, is that climate change is transforming these countries, and not for the better.  Adverse weather conditions, drought and permanently changing climate conditions mean that agricultural productivity will fall inexorably in most of these countries. The International Rice Research Institute has already reported that rice productivity, the major staple for half the world, is falling Gains are expected as production rises in temperate countries such as Canada and the former Soviet countries that make up the major wheat-growing regions.  

But the gains are not expected to offset the losses by far. Like it or not, the report notes, “Climate change is altering traditional weather patterns. The latest findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggest that long-term changes in climate have already been observed, including changes in Arctic temperature and ice, widespread changes in precipitation, ocean salinity, wind patterns and aspects of extreme weather including droughts, heavy precipitation, heat waves and intensity of tropical cyclones. Agricultural impacts are expected to be more adverse in tropical areas than in temperate areas.”

With agriculture consuming some 70 percent of the world’s available freshwater withdrawals, “water use projections to 2050 suggest that the water supply to some 47 percent of the world’s population, mostly in developing countries, will be under severe stress, largely because of developments outside of agriculture.”

The refusal of the United States,   the biggest energy user and the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after China, to seek any solutions is a major stumbling block to any solution. Climate change appears certain to get worse and probably accelerate, with a deleterious effect on global agricultural production at a time when the world’s growing population cannot afford it.   

Although the report doesn’t say it, the inevitable conclusion is that people from overpopulated regions, especially as their agricultural production is curtailed by weather problems, will opt with their feet, heading for the rich nations where agricultural productivity and imports keep everybody relatively well fed.

Three basic reasons govern price instability, the agriculture forecast notes – natural factors such as weather, disease and pests, price “inelasticities” or the responsiveness of supply and demand to price changes, which become more critical when stocks are low. And because production response may take considerable time, supply “cannot respond much to price changes in the short term, though it may do so much more once the production cycle is completed.”

Currently, the report notes, the world is coming off a period of serious supply side volatility that has driven prices upward rapidly, with the weather having played a major role in the 2006-2008 price increases and again in the latter half of 2010. However, the report notes, “This Outlook is cautiously optimistic that commodity prices will fall from their 2010-11 levels as markets respond to these higher prices and the opportunities for increased profitability that they afford.”

Thus rising prices for agricultural commodities have drawn new players into the food production cycle and can be expected to stimulate investment in improved productivity and increased output, the report says. 

Nonetheless,”until stocks can be rebuilt, risks of further upside price volatility remain high. This Outlook maintains its view in recent editions that agricultural commodity prices in real terms are likely to remain on a higher plateau during the next decade compared to the previous decade. Prolonged periods of high prices could make the achievement of global food security goals more difficult, putting poor consumers at a higher risk of malnutrition.” Global agricultural production is projected to fall to a growth rate of 1.7 percent annually on average, compared to 2.6 percent in the previous decade
The land and resources diverted from feeding people to biofuels “can also have indirect effects on the prices of crops which are not widely used as biofuels feedstock, resulting in higher feed prices and have the potential to reduce the supply of feed to the livestock industries at a time when the appetite for meat is growing, particularly China and the rising middle class in India “although the  full effect is somewhat mitigated with the incorporation of biofuels co-products into feed rations (distillers’ grains, oilseed meal).”  

Against this grim scenario, both India and China, the two most populous countries on earth, have largely managed their resources to feed themselves. “The use of cereals in China and India has been relatively stable during the subsequent global financial crisis and continues to grow, the report notes. An account of China’s and India’s wheat trade during the 2006-08 price spikes “does not support the view that these two countries contributed in any significant way to the run-up in prices. 

Next year’s crop is critical, especially for wheat and maize. A strong supply response to positive price signals may result, but unfavorable weather conditions could play a significant role. This continuing uncertain environment calls for coherent international approaches that will help restore confidence in the ability of agriculture and the food economy to meet the rising demands of the future.

 “Recognizing that volatility will remain a feature of agricultural markets, given weather variation and potential adverse consequences of climate change, coherent policies are required to reduce volatility on the one hand, but also to mitigate the impact of volatility on those who are most adversely affected,” the authors write.

Najib's Daughter Engaged

KUALA LUMPUR, June 17 (Bernama) -- Nooryana Najwa, the daughter of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, was engaged to Daniyar Nazarbayev in a ceremony at Seri Perdana in Putrajaya Friday night.

The ceremony was conducted in the presence of family and friends of the couple and dignitaries from Malaysia and abroad.

The Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin and the Raja Permaisuri Agong Tuanku Nur Zahirah, Sultan of Pahang Sultan Ahmad Shah and the Sultanah of Pahang Hajah Kalsom, Tengku Mahkota Pahang Tengku Abdullah and Raja Muda of Perak Raja Nazrin Shah were present.

Also at the ceremony were Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Puan Sri Noorainee Abdul Rahman, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and wife, Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, cabinet ministers, deputy ministers and senior federal and state government officials.

Also present was Najib's mother, Tun Hajah Rahah Tan Sri Mohamad Noah.

The foreign dignitaries present included the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and wife Sheikha Salam binti Hamdan Al Nahyan, and Chairman of the Medina Council of Saudi Arabia Prince Saud bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud.

Nooryana Najwa, 22 years old, graduated from the School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, United States.

Daniyar, 22, completed his studies at Columbia University, New York.

The couple met while studying in the US.