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Banks accused of funding Asian land grabbing
by Staff Writers
Hanoi, Vietnam (UPI) May 14, 2013

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A report by U.K. development watchdog Global Witness accuses Deutsche Bank and International Finance Corp., a member of the World Bank Group, of funding land grabs in Cambodia and Laos.

The report, "Rubber Barons," says privately owned Hoang Anh Gia Lai and state-owned Vietnamese Rubber Group acquired more than 494,200 acres of land for rubber plantations through a series of deals with the Lao and Cambodian governments that lacked transparency.

Deutsche Bank has significant holdings in both Vietnamese companies, while the IFC invests in HAGL, says Global Witness.

"We've known for some time that corrupt politicians in Cambodia and Laos are orchestrating the land grabbing crisis that is doing so much damage in the region," said Megan MacInnes, who heads the land team at Global Witness, in a statement Monday.

"This report completes the picture by exposing the pivotal role of Vietnam's rubber barons and their financiers, Deutsche Bank and the IFC," she said.

The Global Witness report cites "the huge pressure" for land to plant rubber, driven by high prices and soaring international demand, especially from China.

The Vietnamese government aims to grow nearly 2 million acres of rubber by 2020 and reap an export value of $2 billion. Just In the first half of 2010, the country's rubber exports were 239,000 tons valued at $656 million, an increase of 83 percent from the corresponding period in 2009, government trade data show.

Based on testimony from locals included in the Global Witness report, communities have experienced increased food and water shortages, loss of livelihood without compensation and poor employment prospects as a result of the rubber plantations.

"Often, the first time people learn of a plantation is when the company bulldozers arrive to clear their farms," the report states.

"When people have attempted to get their land and forests back, they have been threatened, detained and even shot at by security forces on the payroll of concessionaires," the report continues.

Deutsche Bank, in a statement said it "is not providing financing to Hoang Anh Gia Lai Group [HAGL] ... or Vietnam Rubber Group [VRG]," the Guardian reported Monday.

"The DWS fund shares referred to are held on behalf of investors. Deutsche Bank provides only clerical trustee services to HAGL, as it does to thousands of listed companies globally," the statement says.

In its response to Global Witness seen by the Guardian, the IFC confirmed its shares in HAGL, stating: "IFC works with financial intermediaries, such as funds, because they can contribute to sound, inclusive, and sustainable financial markets that are essential to eradicating poverty and job creation."

The statement continued: "We ensured that [the investment fund used to buy shares in HAGL] ... demonstrated a commitment to environmental and socially responsibility."

Global Witness has called for HAGL and VRG to be prosecuted "for their illegal activities" and for their plantation concessions to be canceled.



Indonesia extends logging ban to protect rainforest
by Staff Writers
Jakarta (AFP) May 15, 2013

Indonesia has extended a logging ban to protect rainforests despite fierce industry pressure, the government said Wednesday, but green campaigners slammed the move as inadequate.

Vast tracts of the sprawling Indonesian archipelago are covered in trees, including some of the world's most biodiverse tropical rainforest that is home to endangered animals such as orangutans, tigers and elephants.

But huge swathes have been chopped down by palm oil, mining and timber companies in Southeast Asia's top economy, which has become the world's third-biggest carbon emitter as a result.

Under a $1 billion conservation deal with Norway, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono two years ago signed the moratorium, which bans new logging permits for primary, or virgin, forest -- defined as forest not logged in recent history.

On Wednesday the government confirmed Yudhoyono had signed a two-year extension and the moratorium would remain in its original form.

"The extension on the moratorium of new permits will be in place for two years from when the presidential instruction is issued," said a statement from the cabinet secretariat.

Yudhoyono signed the extension on Monday, it said.

The ban applies to new permits for primary forest and peatland with the exception of projects already approved by the forestry minister and others considered vital, such as for power production, it said.

But Greenpeace criticised the government for not taking the opportunity to strengthen the ban.

"That is what's really needed if we want to save Indonesia's remaining tigers and orangutans, which are under threat from relentless palm oil and pulp and paper expansion," said the group's forests campaigner Yuyun Indradi.

Indonesia, the world's top producer of palm oil that is used in many everyday items from soap to biscuits, has faced fierce industry pressure over the ban.

"The moratorium has already had negative effects on the economy, not just in the palm oil industry but the timber industry as well," said Fadhil Hasan, from the Indonesian Palm Oil Association.

The government says the moratorium has drastically reduced logging in a country with the world's third largest amount of tropical forest.

Senior forestry ministry official Hadi Daryanto said that between 2000 and 2010, Indonesia lost around 1.125 million hectares (2.8 million acres) of forest each year.

But he said that at the end of 2011 this figure had been reduced to the equivalent of 450,000 hectares annually.

However, green groups say local authorities are using a murky web of local laws to open up new areas for exploitation despite the national ban, and much logging has continued illegally.

A glaring example is a plan in the province of Aceh on Sumatra island, supported by Jakarta, which activists say could open up a million hectares of protected forest for exploitation despite the moratorium.

The plan, which is likely to be approved soon, is possible because it hinges on Aceh's decision to overturn its own deforestation ban at the local level.

"Countries like mine have a right to develop, but not at the expense of our priceless natural patrimony," said Rudi Putra, an activist who started a petition against the Aceh plan that has gathered almost one million signatures.


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