Salvaging Tai O in Hong Kong

Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO

By Lorie Ann Cascaro

HONG KONG — One of the city’s tourist attractions for its centuries-old stilt houses and salt pans, dried fish and seafoods, Tai O screams out for salvaging.

Despite a decreasing population of nearly 3,000, Tai O had survived typhoons, landslide and big fire in 2000.

Such oldest existing fishing village in Hong Kong has remained steadfast, as villagers thrive to beautify the old and rubbish.

Since fishing ceased to be the villagers’ primary livelihood, tourism has provided a source of income for vendors and business owners. In 2000, the village had a total of 300,000 visitors, 90 percent of which were Hong Kong citizens, according to a 2010 study.

But, massive influx of tourists and development projects in the village have caused the destruction of habitat for marine plants and animals.

The big motors in their modern boats tell how far they need to sail to catch fish.

Garbages found under the stilt houses, in small canals and vacant lots show the persisting problems of solid waste disposal and household discharges.

As their backyards and street corners gather up scrap metals and old appliances, their traditional architecture and implements have slowly been eroded from their daily lives.

An old woman cycles along the salt pans in Tai O village on a Wednesday afternoon. The village once had a salt-making industry for export that ended in 1970s. The government wanted to restore a few thousand square meters of the pans but the salt makers are already over 70 years old.
An old woman cycles along the salt pans in Tai O village on a Wednesday afternoon. The village once had a salt-making industry for export that ended in 1970s. The government wanted to restore a few thousand square meters of the pans but the salt makers are already over 70 years old. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
A fisherman in Tai O starts up his motorized boat on a Wednesday afternoon. The village had been flooded many times by storms but despite the threat of coastal flooding, it has not fully developed a strategy for coastal flood management, according to a 2013 research[1]. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro
Some Tai O villagers buy fish from the fishermen to put salt and dry in the sun and sell in the market for a meager income. Most tourists from Hong Kong visit the village for dried fish and seafoods. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
The stilt houses in Tai O, locally called Pang O, have existed since 200 years ago [2] to respond to the practical need of fishing people to have a land-based residence. They are designed to protect them from high tides, but the impacts of climate change pose coastal flood risk[3]. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Amid the cracked walls and dilapidated buildings in Tai O, villagers thrive to beautify the façade of their houses, especially that tourism helps them earn income. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Amid the cracked walls and dilapidated buildings in Tai O, villagers thrive to beautify the façade of their houses, especially that tourism helps them earn income. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
The traditional hats, which have a round brim and crown that distinguish the Tanka people[4], the major ethnic group in Tai O, have almost lost touch in their daily lives. Only seen being used by street sweepers, the hats can be bought at HK$40 from a store owned by two old women who made the hats themselves. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Old boats, like other unused implements in Tai O, found their places, unmoved and unintentionally serving as an artifact of a fading culture of the village. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
The people in Tai O continue to pass on the skills in boat-making to the young generation, especially crafting the traditional dragon boats that also provide a source of income. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
The Dragon Boat Festival is a parade of Tai O’s dieties in long traditional boats made by the villagers to drive away “water ghosts” that caused epidemics hundred years ago. Today, they continue to make boats also for dragon boat racing that has been a popular water sport event, not only in Hong Kong, but also in other Asian countries. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Tai O, Hong Kong PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO
Villagers keep scrap metals and other old items in their yards either to find new usage or make money by selling them. They bring life to their places by planting flowers and vegetables in used boxes and pots. PHOTO BY LORIE ANN CASCARO

[1] Chan, Faith Ka ShunView Profile; Adekola, Olalekan A; Ng, Cho NamView Profile; Mitchell, GordonView Profile; McDonald, Adrian TView Profile. Environmental Practice15.3 (Sep 2013): 201-219.

[2] Dryland and Syed. 2013. Tai O Village. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/217565/Tai_O_village_vernacular_fisheries_management_or_revitalization

[3] Chan, Faith Ka ShunView Profile; Adekola, Olalekan A; Ng, Cho NamView Profile; Mitchell, GordonView Profile; McDonald, Adrian TView Profile. Environmental Practice15.3 (Sep 2013): 201-219.

[4] Dryland and Syed. 2013. Tai O Village. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/217565/Tai_O_village_vernacular_fisheries_management_or_revitalization

Cooking hot to keep the climate cool

By Lorie Ann Cascaro on October 16 2013 4:00 pm

VIENTIANE, Laos (MindaNews / 16 Oct) – Buying a new cookstove is not easy. Sellers offer heaps of different models that look alike and as a buyer, how do you know how it performs at home? Not to mention that the human brain does not like to make decisions. The problem is apparent in Dongmakind market, along Road Number 10 to Thangon. All outlets offer a wide array of models.

But, if you believe the saleswoman, Ms Sai, 35, choosing has now become easy. She sells something that the others don’t have yet – the improved tao payat (fuel-saving cookstove). A prominent, blue sticker distinguishes the stoves and a tarpaulin poster states that these stoves are “quality-tested and more efficient” than traditional stoves.

“They are better,” Ms Sai, who had sold two out of a first batch of five cookstoves a week after she began displaying them, tells Vientiane Times on a Friday afternoon. She promotes the stoves to customers, saying they are fuel-saving, long lasting, and friendly to health and the environment.

She is among Vientiane’s first five retailers of a new, improved tao payat model, which resulted from a project of SNV Netherlands Development Organisation and the local Non-Profit Association Normai. It was paid for by the European Union, Oxfam and the Blue Moon Fund.

The project started in Savannakhet in 2011, where in 2012 about 1,500 stoves already have been sold. Sales will reach 5,000 in 2013 and go up to 20,000 in 2014. Now, the first stoves are being sold in Vientiane. They are also going to be promoted at a special booth during the upcoming boat racing festival.

Mr Bastiaan Teune, Sector Leader of Renewable Energy of SNV in Laos, says the project tries to connect the private and the public sector and to improve the lives of the people as its main purpose. It focuses on making the traditional stove more efficient and durable. By replacing the old tao dam with the improved tao payat, a household can save about 20 percent of fuel, which is equal to 300 grams of charcoal per day. It also boils water faster.

This might not look like much, but quickly becomes so when scaled-up. In total, Laos can save at least 30,000 kilograms of charcoal per day with the 100,000 improved cook stoves that the project aims to produce by 2016. About 50,000 cookstoves of them will be distributed in Vientiane capital and province, 25,000 each in the provinces of Savannakhet and Champasak.

Mr Teune explains that the roughly 100kg charcoal that one new cookstove saves per year results in greenhouse gases equal of one ton of carbon dioxide (CO2). The total greenhouse gas emissions reduced by the project during the period of 2014-2016 will be 150,000 tons, he says. “This is equal to the emissions of 20,000 passengers flying from Vientiane to Amsterdam and back,” Mr Teune explains.

The reduced greenhouse gas emissions could theoretically also be sold on the international carbon market in the future. Unfortunately, they’re not worth that much nowadays. “The ‘market price’ to sell one ton used to be US$10, but is now at an all-time low at US$1 only due to the low international commitment to the Kyoto Protocol,” adds Mr Teune. The greenhouse gases saved by the improved cookstoves would have a total market value of about US$150,000.

While it is true that the use of the improved tao payat reduces carbon emissions from cooking, it does not stop suppliers of charcoal to cut trees and char wood. But wood and charcoal can be considered as renewable sources of energy only if another tree is planted after cutting one, says Mr Teune. This is beyond the scope of this particular project, and he has made steps to do so.

The producer of the first cookstoves in Vientiane is Mr Loth, 35, whose workshop lies in Oudomphone village. On the ground, hundreds of grey tao payat stoves wait to be baked in the kiln. While his employees are crafting stove after stove in the back, he says that he doesn’t expect to earn much more from supplying the new-designed stoves instead of the old ones, due to the longer durability. “But after using three of these stoves at home, I knew then that they would quickly sell out in the market”, says Mr Loth. An improved cookstove costs 10,000 kip more than a traditional cookstove but it lasts a year and a half longer, he adds.

Around the world, 1.6 billion people depend on charcoal and wood for cooking. In Laos, over 80 percent of the households still use traditional stoves for cooking, at least twice a day. Cookstoves are “detrimental to the livelihood of people,” according to Mr Teune, and their use also brings certain risks. Firewood takes time to collect, for example, and smoke creates a lot of health problems. Worldwide, about four million people die per year from smoke-induced diseases. Increasing the efficiency of the cookstoves lessens all these troubles.

Another long-term impact of the project, Mr Teune says, is the introduction of quality standards: “Let producers agree on quality standards with retailers. Consumers will distinguish a good stove from a traditional one by the blue label. The government can take part in quality assurance, using better methods to check the efficiency of stoves.”

Testing is done by the Institute of Renewable Energy and New Materials of the Ministry of Science and Technology, where staff tests the efficiency and characteristics of different models. For the first time ever a quality standard is introduced to the cookstove market in Lao PDR.

The second outlet that features the tao payat in Dongmakind market is the one of Ms Khek, 29. The new model is lined up together with old ones like the tao dam (black stove) or stoves made of cement. She points to a small wood-fired stove when asked which one sells best. Why? “It’s the cheapest and costs only 20,000 kip each. But it can only last for seven to eight months.” She notes that although the improved tao payat costs 45,000 kip, it can last up to two years. On her shelf, a quite special one, the first ever produced cookstove with the serial number 001, produced by Mr Loth, waits for his new owner.

[Lorie Ann Cascaro of MindaNews is one of the fellows of the FK Norway (Fredskorpset) exchange program in partnership with the Vietnam Forum of Environmental Journalists. She’s currently in Laos and hosted by the Vientiane Times.]

Read more http://www.mindanews.com/feature/2013/10/16/cooking-hot-to-keep-the-climate-cool/

Lao farmers need no ‘magic’ to adapt to climate change

By Lorie Ann Cascaro on September 24 2013 4:20 pm

VIENTIANE, Laos (MindaNews/24 September) — The sky is still dark when 48-year old Ms Kham Phanyavong leaves her house at 3:30 AM on Saturday. She has to be at That Luang organic market before the customers arrive. She pays 40,000 kip to transport four baskets of vegetables from Nontae village in Xaythany district here. In her baskets are long beans, onions, morning glory, cucumber, papaya and carrots, all from her garden.

Earning four million kip a month, cash comes in regularly from selling vegetables and not from her two rai (0.32 hectare) of rice farm.

Her land that she tills along with her husband and six children produces 35 sacks or about 3,500 kilos of khao niaw (a variety of sticky rice) every year. But, everything is enough for her kith and kin. “Our farm doesn’t have irrigation,” she tells MindaNews. She says rain comes less frequent nowadays, causing the rice paddies to store less water. When it rains, flood destroys the plants and washes away essential nutrients from the soil.

Her farm yields enough to feed her own family. She doesn’t know if it can yield more with proper irrigation and fertilization. She does not blame “climate change” but rather talks about adjusting her farming period to the changing weather patterns. Learning from experiences in the past, she has to replant rice seedlings to the paddies two or three weeks before the yearly “big rain” so that the plants will not be uprooted by the flood that happens after two days of heavy downpour.

Vientiane is one of the six major flood-affected provinces in Laos, including Savannakhet, Bolikhamxay, Khammouane, Attapeu and Champasak.

“Climate change” is not a common term for most farmers in Laos. But, the Lao government recognizes the impacts of climate change by signing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1995 and the Kyoto Protocol in 2003. The government developed its National Adaptation Programme of Action to Climate Change (NAPA) with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

In the NAPA 2009, Deputy Prime Minister Chair of National Environment Committee Mr Asang Laoly says Laos has seen in recent years “more frequent and severe floods and droughts which are alternately occurring each year.” “Temperature is continuously increasing and the rainfall is erratic, resulting in a number of adverse impacts to the economic system, environment and the livelihoods of people of all ethnic groups.”

Over three decades, from 1966 to 2009, Laos has felt the impacts of climate change through the increase in temperature with an average of 0.1 degrees Celsius (C), between the northern and central part, and between the central and southern part. As observed in the rapid assessment, the average temperature in eight northern provinces increased from 23.0 to 23.2 C; 26.3 C to 26.6 C in five central provinces; and, 26.9 C to 27.3 C in four southern provinces.

Data from the Department of Meteorology and Hydrology (DMH) show that drought occurred in Laos from 1995 to 2005 “characterized by higher and irregular increases in temperature.” The country also experienced large floods, including flash floods in the northern and eastern regions as recorded in 1995, 1996, 2000, 2002 and 2005. More recently, experiences with typhoons have been made in the south of the country.

In an earlier interview, UNDP technical advisor to the National Agricultural Forestry Research Institute (NAFRI) of Lao PDR Mr. Manfred Staab said farmers can tell their stories of climate change events. As an example, he cited that previously a farmer grew enough number of seedlings in a single batch at the start of rainy season, but now the start of the rainy season is interrupted by dry periods. “When the second of third sequence of rain comes after the dry intervals, they don’t have any seedling anymore and have to try starting the whole process again.”

“Let the farmer fully understand what is actually happening to help them becoming aware that they need to change their livelihood, too. Either you may decide to move to another area if you can afford to do so, or you adapt to this changing environment,” said Mr. Staab.

Improving the Resilience of Agricultural Sector to Climate Change Impacts (IRAS), which is a project of NAFRI funded by the UNDP, has introduced alternatives to the farmers in two vulnerable districts each in Savannakhet and Xayaboury provinces. These areas are identified by the project as prone to flood and drought, and have a high percentage of poor farming households.

As a pilot project, IRAS has catered to nearly 500 households until 2015. In their latest results of agriculture and water management activities, significant improvements can be seen in some villages.

He says the strategies and adaptation practices that they taught to rice farmers are “not really new” and “not surprising ideas, but solid and demonstrated activities”. Aside from introducing new rice varieties that are adaptive to rainy and dry seasons, he cites proven alternative farming practices such as raising chickens, ducks, fish, pigs and frogs, and storing of water in reservoirs and large containers. He hopes that Lao people will learn from the project and replicate the activities in their own villages.

“It’s not anything magic here. The farmers know how to grow rice but they just have to deal with it differently with the farming system, opening up options for diversification of crops, fruits, vegetables, livestock. Just opening their viewpoint for existing choices with economic benefits.”

Back to the village in Vientiane, Ms Kham is unknowingly becoming resilient to climate change by doing crop diversification as she is also planting vegetables aside from rice. Thanks to her organization, the Vientiane Organic Farmers Group, that provides her seeds and trainings. The farmers sell their vegetables on Wednesday and Saturday morning in That Luang esplanade, and Monday afternoon at the Chao Fa Ngum Park here.

(Lorie Ann Cascaro of MindaNews is one of the fellows of the FK Norway (Fredskorpset) exchange program in partnership with the Vietnam Forum of Environmental Journalists. She’s currently in Laos and hosted by the Vientiane Times.)

Read more http://www.mindanews.com/environment/2013/09/24/lao-farmers-need-no-magic-to-adapt-to-climate-change/