Monday, 28 March 2011

Corn on the Cambodian cob suits Korean farmer

Lee Woo-chang, head of KomerCN, examines corns grown at his farm in Cambodia. Provided by the company

via CAAI

March 28, 2011

Lee Woo-chang, 42, set up a farming company called KomerCN in Cambodia back in December 2008 to grow corn. Lee started out small. His initial farm was on 21 hectares (51.89 acres) of land in Wiwalton Village, Kampong Speu Province. However, he wants to expand the farm to 13,000 hectares.

Lee also formed a corn agricultural cooperative with 1,400 Cambodian farmers who are cultivating 7,000 hectares of land. Lee plans to purchase all the corn produced by the cooperative and export it to Korea, which is heavily dependent on corn imports.

According to Lee, it will be one of the first times that Korea has imported corn from a Korean-managed overseas farm.

Lee is in talks with Daesang, a major local food producer, for the Cambodian corn supplies. “If the corn is tested to be safe from toxins or molds, it may happen,” Lee said.

Daesang buys 500,000 tons of corn a year. KomerCN and Daesang are now doing a field study of the farm.

“This is a feat achieved only two and a half years after we entered Cambodia,” Lee said.

Lee started looking outside Korea in 2007 when the international price of grain began shooting up. Lee was originally a livestock farmer, owning a large cattle farm in Asan, South Chungcheong.

But the price of animal feed, including corn, increased so much that he decided to start his own farm outside Korea. The prices kept raising and the feed was not only expensive but also hard to get.

“I thought if I go overseas and do farming myself, I could at least get a stable supply of grain,” he said.

In May 2008, Lee joined a government program and went to Cambodia to check out farming conditions there. Lee chose Cambodia because of the weather. The area’s average temperature is around 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit). Except for the dry season between November and March, it is possible to have three rounds of harvests a year. “The Russian Far East is too cold. I thought it would be more productive to do farming in Cambodia,” Lee said.

Cambodia covers 181,040 square kilometers (44.7 million acres) of land and is twice as large as South Korea (99,000 square kilometers). However, the population is only 15 million and unlike China and Russia, there is less likelihood that Cambodia may limit grain exports. The fact that teenagers and young adults make up a large portion of its population is also a plus.

“There are a lot of human resources. Because manufacturing has not yet developed much, farming is still a major source of income in Cambodia,” he said.

In December 2008, he invested 2.5 billion won ($2.2 million) including 800 million won he borrowed from the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and founded a company, which he named “KomerCN,” a combination of Korea and Khmer, the old name of Cambodia.

Wiwalton is a remote village with 30,000 people. There is no reservoir or electricity. Lee spent six months of the year there starting to develop the farm. He has imported a total of 69 tons of corn from Cambodia to Korea so far.

Of course, the project is not without difficulties. Because of the high humidity and temperature, corn becomes easily molded. A large amount of corn is wasted because of the toxin from mold.

“We are now building a drying storage facility. When it is completed in June, we’ll no longer need to worry about mold,” he said. South Chungcheong provided 39 million won for the facility.

In July 2009, Lee and local residents formed a farming cooperative association. Lee gave them corn seeds and taught them how to grow corn. The number of cooperative members increased rapidly as Lee promised to purchase all harvested corn. Now it has 1,400 members and the number is expected to reach 3,000 next month.

“Buying and cultivating lands on one’s own can be stable but it costs too much money,” said Cho Rae-cheong, a deputy director at the Agriculture Ministry. “It is a good idea to spread the risks by purchasing from the cooperative.”

“The price of grain surged in 2008 and some 50 companies went abroad to establish overseas food production bases but they have exported only a small amount of grain to Korea,” said a ministry official. “But large exports will help stabilize food prices here.”

By Lim Mi-jin, Limb Jae-un []

Khmer Rouge jailer's war crimes appeal to begin

A Cambodian woman point to a portrait of former Khmer Rouge prison chief (S21) Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch

via CAAI

By Suy Se (AFP) –
PHNOM PENH — Lawyers for former Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch will call for his release on Monday when Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes court begins hearing appeals against his 30-year sentence.

Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, was found guilty in July of war crimes and crimes against humanity for overseeing the deaths of some 15,000 people at the notorious torture prison Tuol Sleng in the late 1970s.

He was the first Khmer Rouge cadre to face an international tribunal.

During his trial, the jailer repeatedly apologised for overseeing mass murder at the detention centre -- also known as S-21 -- but shocked the court by finally asking to be acquitted in November 2009.

In their appeal hearing on Monday, Duch's lawyers plan to argue that the court has no jurisdiction over their client because he was not one of the regime's senior leaders, nor one of those most responsible for the crimes committed.

"The court is not allowed to try a person that does not fall into one of those two groups," defence lawyer Kang Ritheary told AFP, adding that Duch was only following orders.

The 68-year-old was initially given 35 years in jail but the court reduced the sentence on the grounds that he had been detained illegally for years.

Taking into account time already served, Duch could walk free in less than 19 years, to the dismay of many victims of the 1975-1979 hardline communist movement.

Prosecutors, whose appeal will be heard on Tuesday, are hoping to have Duch's sentence increased to life, to be commuted to 45 years for time served in unlawful detention.

They say in their appeal brief that the verdict did "not adequately reflect the seriousness of the crimes or the respondent's role in those crimes".

They also want enslavement, imprisonment, torture, rape, extermination and other inhumane acts to be added to Duch's list of convictions.

The tribunal's Supreme Court Chamber is expected to announce its ruling on the appeals in late June.

Led by "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the Khmer Rouge wiped out nearly a quarter of Cambodia's population through starvation, overwork and execution.

S-21 in Phnom Penh was at the centre of the regime's security apparatus and thousands of inmates were taken from there for execution in a nearby orchard.

Duch has been detained since 1999, when he was found working as a Christian aid worker in the jungle. He was formally arrested by the tribunal in July 2007.

Four more of the regime's former members -- including "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea -- are due to go trial later this year and Duch is expected to appear as a witness in the case.

The zoo of horrors

Photo by: Adam Miller
An emaciated elephant attempts to eat grass by poking her head through the fence of a pen where she is confined at Teuk Chhou Zoo in Kampot province’s Thmei Village.

via CAAI

Sunday, 27 March 2011 21:09 Adam Miller

Kampot province’s Teuk Chhou zoo is a place where no one seems to care about how animals are treated, a place where animals are kept in cramped, roofless shelters and rely largely on food from tourists to survive.

The zoo is privately owned by Cambodia’s National Committee for Disaster Management Vice President Nhim Vanda and staffed by just a handful of people.

It has no roofed-in shelters as the wet season approaches or even any semblance of a natural habitat for the animals as witnessed during a visit over the weekend.

Orangutans and baboons swing restlessly back and forth between the steel bars of their three-metre square enclosures, while eagles and other birds of prey scarcely have enough space to spread their wings, let alone fly – that is if they are one of the lucky few whose wings aren’t badly damaged.

The state of the zoo’s two elephants is heartbreaking, as their emaciated necks stretch through the thick bars of their enclosure in an attempt to eat blades of grass, seemingly one of their few sources of nourishment.

The skeletal bodies of the two animals are hard to ignore and the two have become aggressive, lashing out at visitors who step near their enclosure.

“We feed them bananas and grass,” said a staff member who declined to be named or to comment further.

Yet the elephant enclosure contained only dried-up bamboo shoots, piles of faeces and a pit of stagnant green drinking water that the elephants avoided.

When initially asked about conditions at the zoo last Thursday, Nhim Vanda acknowledged that some of the animals were “thin and sick”, but the zoo would remain “operating as usual”, with an entrance fee of US$4.

Nhim Vanda condemned local NGO Wildlife Alliance today for past criticisms about his zoo and said he paid for the care of his animals out of his own pocket.

“If they know that my animals have gotten thin ... please give me the money to buy food for my animals. They should be proud of me and encourage me because I like my animals more than my own son.”

He also said there was no government policy to provide monetary support to the privately owned facility.

“It is so hard for me to find food and clean water to provide to the animals because in one day I get money from tourists totalling about 20,000 riel (US$5) to 100,000 riel but I pay much more than that for food,” he said.

Nick Marx, wildlife rescue director at Wildlife Alliance, said yesterday that his organisation had previously assisted the zoo.

“We have helped out in Teuk Chhou zoo before and have paid money for food and medicine for animals,” Marx said.

“We even paid for treatment for one of their elephants when it was seriously injured … the problem is that we
don’t have the money to help extensively.”

He said some members of Wildlife Alliance’s rapid-rescue team went to the zoo last week to assess conditions and he concluded that it was “the same as it has always been”.

“Nhim Vanda I’m sure loves his animals, but apparently doesn’t have enough money to support them is what we’re told,” Marx said.

“If it was a question of helping the animals, we would take what we can [to Phnom Tamao zoo], but I can’t give thousands of dollars, I just do not have the money to give.”

There has been some conjecture about the number of animals who may have died at Teuk Chhou zoo over the years.

Marx said it remained unclear what happened to the tiger cubs once at the zoo and that a few years ago there were five bears there.

An otter photographed by a visitor and posted on local website Khmer 440 on March 9 shows the mammal in a sickly state, struggling to breathe while covered in green scum from its only source of water.

On Friday there was merely an empty enclosure where the otter once lived.

“Before there were a lot of animals to see, now they’re all gone, I don’t know why,” said Sokna, a nearby resident.

His girlfriend, Chanthy, concurred, saying: “We came to look at all of the animals but there is nothing left.”

In a four-hour period on Friday, they were the only two visitors to the zoo.

The Ministry of Tourism’s website describes the zoo as “a wonderful place to spend a fun-filled afternoon with your family; children especially love the experience”, adding that the zoo featured lions and tigers and their cubs.

Yet only one tiger remains in a small cage bereft of any cubs, while no lions could be found in the larger enclosed space designated for them.

It also said that the zoo included “bears, including a couple of sun bears”, yet only one bear remains at the zoo.

Jack Highwood, head of the NGO Elephants Livelihood Initiative Environment who runs the Elephant Valley Project sanctuary in Mondulkiri province, told The Post on Friday that “elephants aren’t meant to walk the streets of Phnom Penh, or circle Angkor Wat, or live in a zoo”.

A place like his sanctuary in Mondulkiri is more like “their natural habitat. We have a huge area of land here. This is where they are meant to be”.

With regard to the Teuk Chhou zoo, Highwood said: “While I can’t comment on the specifics of this case, here at the EVP we welcome any elephants from any zoo.”

Alma Robinson, a volunteer at the EVP who spent three months working with elephants in Mondulkiri earlier this year, gave a first-hand account of what she had seen in February on a trip to the zoo in Kampot.

“It is now six weeks since I last visited Teuk Chhou Zoo and I am still haunted by what I saw,” she said on Thursday.

“In the midst of all of the surrounding green and beautiful natural habitat I was shocked to find what I can only call ‘a concrete prison’ not only for the two elephants but for all of the animals.

“Small, dirty enclosures – cages lacking clean water – in some cases no water at all and no sign or even remnants of food. My heart went out to these poor, suffering and traumatised animals.”

She said the state of the elephants was of particular concern and their struggle to survive on a day-to-day basis was horrific.

She described their enclosure as “a pathetic, distressing, shocking scene indeed which needs to be brought to the attention of the Cambodian people”.

If the zoo management does not have the financial stability to maintain the facility and the animals in its care, then a high-level investigation must be undertaken by the government and drastic action is warranted.