Oct 8, 2010

Liu Xiaobo Wins Nobel Peace Prize - WSJ.com

Associated Press - In this Oct. 23, 2009 file photo, pro-democracy activists hold pictures of Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.

BEIJING—The 2010 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded Friday to Liu Xiaobo, a jailed Chinese democracy activist, in a move certain to infuriate China's government by re-focusing international attention on its controversial human rights record.

The Nobel Committee's decision to give the prize to Mr. Liu—a former literature professor who was most recently jailed for 11 years in December—is the latest sign that after several years of prioritizing commercial ties, Western countries are growing increasingly frustrated with Beijing's treatment of dissent.

The decision also comes amid broader tensions between China and other major countries over areas such as trade and territorial disputes as Beijing becomes a bigger, more assertive force on the international stage.

Mr. Liu was convicted on charges of "state subversion" more than a year after his detention as lead author of Charter 08, a manifesto issued by Chinese intellectuals and activists calling for free speech and multiparty elections.

In what was widely interpreted as an intentional rebuke to foreign critics, Chinese authorities announced his sentence on Christmas Day.

The veteran activist, who also helped lead student protests on Tiananmen Square in 1989, became the favorite for the prize after he was backed by international supporters including Vaclav Havel, the Czech dissident turned President who helped pen the 1977 manifesto Charter 77, which inspired Charter 08.

He is the first Chinese dissident to be awarded the prize, although it did go to the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, in 1989, after the Chinese government crushed the Tiananmen Square protests.

Mr. Liu's wife, Liu Xia, told The Wall Street Journal: "He would be very surprised as he never imagined receiving such a prize. He just felt he had a responsibility to fight for the rights of the people who have no voice."

She said she was permitted to visit her husband once a month in his prison in Jinzhou, a city in the northeastern province of Liaoning, where she said he was sharing a cell with five other inmates and allowed to exercise twice a day.

When she last visited him, on Sept. 7, he seemed in good physical and psychological condition, she said. She added that local officials came to her home Thursday to ask her to go to Jinzhou to see her husband again, but she decided to stay in Beijing to be among friends when the Nobel decision was made.

"I hope this will allow him to come home a little earlier," she said. "I'm sure it won't happen immediately, but maybe it will help his case a little," since foreign countries might put more pressure on the Chinese government, she said.

There was no immediate reaction from China's government, but it has repeatedly warned the five-member Nobel Committee against giving the prize to a Chinese dissident.

Geir Lundestad, the head of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, said last month that he had been told by China's Deputy Foreign Minister, Fu Ying, in June that awarding the prize to a Chinese dissident would affect relations between Oslo and Beijing.

Ms. Fu has denied exerting such diplomatic pressure, but a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said last month that Mr. Liu's actions were "diametrically opposed to the aims of the Nobel prize."

Wen Jiabao, China's premier, also defended his government's record on human rights—especially freedom of speech—in an interview ahead of a visit to Europe this week.

"I believe freedom of speech is indispensable for any country," Mr. Wen told CNN, adding that China had about 400 million Internet users and 800 million mobile-phone subscribers. "They can access the Internet to express their views, including critical views. I often say that we should not only let people have the freedom of speech; we, more important, must create conditions to let them criticize the work of the government," he said.

The award is a setback for China's efforts to burnish its reputation in the two decades since the 1989 crackdown.

China has invested billions of dollars and enormous energy in recent years on efforts to improve its image as a modern international power—from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to a new international satellite news channel launched this year to Confucian Institutes that teach Chinese language and culture in schools overseas.

China's human rights record had slipped lower on the international agenda in recent years, as the Obama administration and other Western governments focused on commercial relations with Beijing.

In February 2009, soon after taking office, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on a trip to China that Washington continued to press the Chinese government on human rights but that "our pressing on those issues can't interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate-change crisis and the security crisis."

Since then, the attention of the U.S. and others has grown, as China's government has stepped up already substantial controls over the Internet and issued a series of harsh sentences to dissidents and foreign citizens.

Just days after Mr. Liu's sentence, Beijing infuriated the British government by executing a British national for drug smuggling, despite repeated appeals for clemency on mental-health grounds.

In July, a Chinese court sentenced an American geologist to eight years in prison for trying to buy data about the Chinese oil industry, spurning a personal appeal from U.S. President Barack Obama. Write to Jeremy Page at jeremy.page@wsj.com

Good for you, Sweden and Nobel Prize Committee! ... Monte

Oct 7, 2010

Ginger - Innovations Newsletter

An ancient crop in the new world

Melissa Bahret of Old Friends Farm in Amherst, Massachusetts saw that her greenhouse was sitting idle in the late spring and summer, after her vegetable starts were in the ground or sold to customers. She and business partner, Casey Steinberg, were looking for new ways to use the space and to complement the flowers, salad greens, garlic, and shiitake mushrooms raised and sold at farmers' markets, restaurants, to florists, and for weddings.

They settled on trying ginger because it was not available locally, was in high demand as a kitchen staple, and commanded a good price. Better still, the transportation costs were nil when compared to ginger flown in from far away--this appealed to them and to their customer base. Bahrat got a 2006 Farmer Grant to study this new crop, and then a second award in 2007 to refine its cultivation.

Her high-quality organic mother roots came from Biker Dude Organic Ginger Farm in Pahoa, Hawaii, and harvest began 152 days after planting--roughly the end of August--and continued for six weeks. She harvested plants in the young-stalk stage, not the mature root; in this stage ginger is white with pinkish streaks, tender in comparison to mature roots, and can be used in teas and soups much like lemongrass. Young ginger also offers more saleable components, so little is wasted. The ginger sold for $20 a pound at the market, and in the first year they produced 209 pounds and made $4,180.

During that first season, they also offered tours that attracted 40 people; one of them was Elizabeth Schwab, a food writer for the Boston Globe, who then did a story on their new ginger endeavor. After the second year of funding, Bahret and Steinberg also wrote an article for Growing for Market called "Spice it up! Grow Ginger!", where they shared the cultivation details.

While the investment of $6,391 was more than income during the first year, the increase in new customers was priceless. But for the crop to be viable, they had to find ways to reduce costs, so they spent the second Farmer Grant comparing the greenhouse system to an in-ground hoop house practice.

"Using high tunnels was a drastic profit improvement over growing in the greenhouse," Bahret says. In fact, the greenhouse ginger lost money while the hoop house ginger earned almost $3,000 in income over expenses, mostly because of differences in heat and labor. In the unheated high tunnel, Bahret says, "we prepare the soil beds just like preparing for potatoes."

Though still learning about the best ginger cultivation practices, the Old Friends Farm owners continue to plant a crop each year: "People love the ginger," says Bahret, and customers are willing to pay extra for it: "It's a much higher grade than typical store ginger," she says, adding that they are still working on streamlining their production methods to increase profits.

"SARE helped us curb the costs of trying out an initial idea, which was really helpful for this endeavor," she says. "Many people still call responding to the SARE article, although some of the methods we used then we don't use now. We'll be creating a Northeast Ginger Growers website group this winter for more active sharing of ideas and information."

To learn more about this Farmer Grant, search the SARE online database for FNE06-564 and FNE07-596. You can also go to www.oldfriendsfarm.com.

--Carol Delaney

Blog for Iowa :: Sustainable Iowa Farm Energy & Francis Thicke

by Paul Deaton

Francis Thicke, candidate to be Iowa's Secretary of Agriculture, was in Solon, Iowa this week discussing his vision for Iowa food and agriculture with a group of local residents and the media. He said, “The reason that I am running is that I am seeing that Iowa agriculture is facing some major challenges today and we are not really addressing those challenges. We also have some great opportunities that we are not taking advantage of.” What he said was relevant to Iowans and reflected a common sense approach to improving our agricultural system. He also talked about the end of the era of cheap oil and its impact on Iowa agriculture.

During the interview with the Solon Economist, Francis Thicke said that Iowa agriculture's operations are tied to oil prices and in the current environment, farmers are “held hostage” to price spikes. The organic dairy farmer said reliance on “cheap fossil fuels” is not sustainable and that farmers must become more energy independent to remain viable. In a state where organic agriculture represents a small percentage of cropland, Thicke believes it is time for Iowa to move towards some of the lessons he has learned in his business despite resistance from agribusiness concerns and row crop farmers. He said energy prices will be the game changer as the era of cheap oil comes to an end.

His vision is that Iowa agriculture will make an orderly transition from current energy sources rather than reacting during the inevitable oil crisis. He said, “If we don't have a vision for where we want to go, we don't know where we are going.” Thicke's vision is outlined in his book A New Vision for Iowa Food and Agriculture: Sustainable Agriculture for the 21st Century which has been reviewed by BFIA.

One of the key issues regarding energy is that farmers sell corn to produce ethanol, but then the ethanol is used primarily to fuel automobiles rather than to produce energy on farms. Likewise, the growth of wind turbine electricity generation has been a boon for Iowa, but farmers continue to buy electricity from the grid at retail prices, even though a turbine may be situated on their property. In both cases, the revenues from these renewable energy sources go primarily to large corporations rather than to farmers. Thicke would change that.

Thicke favors transitioning how the Iowa Power Fund is used to support agricultural energy production. While Iowa should protect its investment in ethanol production, Thicke says that no further public funds should be used to build new ethanol capacity in the state. Against the advice of some economists, ethanol capacity was over built compared to the market, resulting in the bankruptcy of some ethanol plants. Ethanol plays a role in Iowa agriculture and Thicke supports maintaining the current level of federal subsidies for corn ethanol. With respect to long term change, his position represents common sense, seeking to stabilize ethanol production, with which Iowa farmers are familiar, and simultaneously to move to the next generation of farm energy sources.

New investments from the power fund should go towards farmer owned, small scale electricity production. Smaller sized wind turbines and the next generation of biofuels represent opportunities for farmers to own some of the energy sources and to use energy generated at cost. At present, farmers buy from the electrical utility companies at retail prices. Farmer owned, small scale electricity production represents an opportunity for farmers to become more energy independent, reduce their operating costs and generate revenue as excess electricity is sold to the grid. Farmer owned electricity production would be more sustainable than constantly buying from the grid.

Thicke understands the challenges and opportunities of agriculture, but is also pragmatic about how to bring about needed change in a state where many farmers like things the way they are now. It is time for Iowa agriculture to begin to address some of the challenges on the horizon, something Francis Thicke is ready to do if elected as Secretary of Agriculture.

~Paul Deaton is a native Iowan living in rural Johnson County and weekend editor of Blog for Iowa. E-mail Paul Deaton

Missouri Beginning Farming: Planting and Growing Giant Miscanthus as a Bioenergy Crop in Missouri

SARE Farmer/Rancher Grant Recipient FNC07-692 Kingsville, MO – Steve Flick Objective: To determine the commercial viability of giant miscanthus as a bioenergy crop. Results: Interest in developing energy from biomass continues to grow. Giant miscanthus (Miscanthus x giganteus) is a vigorous perennial grass that can grow as tall as 14 feet. It has tremendous potential for bioenergy because it recycles nutrients, has a significant yield, has little or no need for chemical weed control or fertilizer, and will produce for many years.
I decided to develop fieldscale plots of giant miscanthus and gather data to identify the suitability of Missouri soils for the grass and evaluate the production potential for our region.
In 2007 I began by handplanting 5,000 plants, covering 15,000 square feet on my farm. Later, I modified a bermudagrass sprigger to plant rhizomes. Giant miscanthus thrives in hot, wet conditions. Our two harvests so far were 6.7 tons in 2008 and 11.7 tons in 2009, more than the harvest from traditional switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) grown in the area. We processed one crop of round bales into biomass pellets, which were used at a local utility to create electricity. Planting giant miscanthus is very labor intensive, and I believe most farmers who grow it will plant it in small fields (less than 10 acres). If purchased from a local grower, the rhizomes will cost about $5,500 per acre to establish. I believe giant miscanthus is most likely to be of interest to young, beginning farmers; displaced tobacco farmers; and truck gardeners. Small-city farmers might also be interested.
Future success will depend on building more biorefineries that can process giant miscanthus. These plants can provide jobs in rural America. Missouri has one biorefinery, the Show Me Energy Cooperative, which licenses technologies to other producer groups so they can emulate our model. With today’s tight capital markets, I see these plans being developed on a small scale – fewer than 150,000 tons per year. Processing biomass is not easy, but the demand for renewable fuel is growing, especially for European export.