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ADB President Commits More Than $5 Billion to Support New Strategy for Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation

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Today the 16th Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) Ministerial Conference was held in Dushanbe. Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon made the keynote address. Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Takehiko Nakao made the special address.

The meeting was chaired by Minister of Economic Development and Trade Nematullo Khikmatullozoda. CAREC Ministers from 11 member countries[1] unanimously endorsed CAREC 2030, a new long-term strategy that will take the CAREC program to its third decade of operations.

The strategy is anchored on the mission to connect people, policies, and projects. It envisages scaling up and broadening CAREC’s mandate, including supporting regional economic and financial stability, and regional initiatives in the areas of tourism, agriculture and water resources, and health and education. At the same time, CAREC will maintain focus and its comparative advantage in the existing priority areas of transport, energy, trade, and economic corridors development.

Adoption of the CAREC 2030 strategy will also help countries in the region achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and climate change targets under the Paris agreement, while aligning with national development priorities.

In his speech, Mr. Nakao announced that ADB will commit more than $5 billion to supporting CAREC 2030 in the next 5 years. This is about a quarter of the total ADB financing for projects in CAREC countries except the People’s Republic of China.

As part of ADB’s commitment, it has just approved a new $800 million Multi-Tranche Financing Facility for CAREC road corridor development in Pakistan. Next year, ADB will finance the first phase of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) transmission line project for $150 million. ADB has already begun discussions for regional projects in the areas of agribusiness, tourism, and railways covered in CAREC 2030.

ADB functions as the secretariat of the CAREC program. Cumulatively, the CAREC program has mobilized more than $30 billion of investments since it was set up in 2001. Over a third of this amount, or $10.5 billion, has been financed by ADB, and the rest by member governments and other development partners.

To date, CAREC financing has been used to build or rehabilitate 8,592 kilometers (km) of road and more than 5,103 km of rail across 6 transport corridors, strengthening connectivity and trade within and outside the region. Over 9,041 km of power transmission lines have been constructed, supporting the expansion of energy trade between energy surplus Central Asian countries and energy deficit countries in South Asia, including Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Besides investments through projects, CAREC has contributed to trade facilitation, and capacity building and knowledge generation and sharing across CAREC countries. The CAREC Institute which is spearheading knowledge efforts is now operating as an intergovernmental organization.

In a joint statement titled the “Dushanbe Declaration,” CAREC Ministers highlighted that regional cooperation has become even more critical to meet their development goals. Ministers stressed the need to engage with the private sector, civil society, development partners, and other stakeholders in regional projects; and strengthen linkages with other regional cooperation programs including the Belt and Road Initiative.

ADB, based in Manila, is dedicated to reducing poverty in Asia and the Pacific through inclusive economic growth, environmentally sustainable growth, and regional integration. Established in 1966, ADB is celebrating 50 years of development partnership in the region. It is owned by 67 members—48 from the region. In 2016, ADB assistance totaled $31.7 billion, including $14 billion in cofinancing.

[1] The 11 members of CAREC are Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, the People’s Republic of China, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

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India rejected the collective West’s destructive attempts to polarise the world order

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Indian external affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. Photo credit PTI

Taken together, the speeches made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar at the Voice of Global South Summit in New Delhi herald a new thinking in foreign policy. India is deftly adjusting itself to the decline of the West and greeting the emerging multipolarity and multilateralism. In the historic transition underway in the world order, India views the Global South as its ‘natural constituency,’ stresses Indian Ambassador and prominent international observer M.K. Bhadrakumar in his new article “Hopes for a New World Order”.

The thought processes reflected in the speeches by Modi and Jaishankar are bold and progressive, the speeches by the PM and the EAM have signalled that India intends to push back western attempts to hijack the G20 summit scheduled to take place in Delhi in September.

The main themes can be summarised as follows:

– India’s disquiet over the increasing geopolitical fragmentation of the international landscape and the iniquities of the UN system where ‘some powers have been singularly focused on their own advantage’;

– the urgent need for fundamental reform of major international organisations, especially the Bretton Woods institutions, with focus on giving voice to the concerns of the developing world and ‘reflecting the realities of the 21st century’;

– ‘the burdens of a colonial past, even as we face the inequities of the current world order’;

– ‘more multipolarity and reformed multilateralism’;

– ‘greater diversification and localisation of capabilities’;

– and, the lop-sided composition of the G20 that is weighed against the Global South.

Jaishankar rejected the collective West’s destructive attempts to polarise the world order — ‘us vs them mindset’ — and asserted: “From decolonisation movements to resisting alignment in the face of a deeply polarised world, the Global South has always shown the middle path. The path where diplomacy, dialogue and cooperation take primacy over competition, conflict, and divisions.”

Such a vision is being expounded from New Delhi after a long time. Since the early 1990s, when Indian diplomacy incrementally began turning its back on the Global South, it preferred to work with the western agenda to reset the norms of global governance.

Essentially, the so-called ‘Washington consensus’ aimed at preserving the domination of the rich western bloc through an ingenious way of coalition-building with a clutch of developing countries that played a subaltern role. The G20 epitomises the paradigm under the rubric of the ‘rules-based order.’

Our elites were led to believe that India’s interests are best served by acting as a ‘bridge.’ But it has become crystal clear from Washington’s confrontation with Russia (and China) that there is no willingness for a broad-based equitable world order.

G7 is once again imposing its diktat — even on the global oil market. Meanwhile, the epochal confrontation in Ukraine exposed that the ‘rules-based order’ in reality translates as the West’s hegemonic position in the world.

Brazil’s newly elected socialist president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has said his foreign policy priorities include plans to rekindle integration processes in Latin America and highlight the role of BRICS and the G20. The bottom line is that most of the ideas that found expression at the Voice of Global South Summit are rooted in the BRICS deliberations.

India is circling the wagons to avoid a repetition of the G20 summit at Bali where the western countries acrimoniously demanded that the ‘rules-based order’ be front-loaded thematically in the deliberations. Surely, the Modi government is going to annoy the ‘collective West.’

Be prepared for shenanigans from the West’s toolbox to superimpose a different backdrop for the September event, writes M.K. Bhadrakumar.

International Affairs

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February 19: An anti-interventionist coalition to March to White House from Lincoln Memorial

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On February 19, Washington, DC, will witness a protest against the war in Ukraine that marks a sharp departure from past demonstrations. The lead demand is simple and direct, “Not One More Penny for war in Ukraine.”

It is a demand that emphasizes what we in the US can do to end the war, not what others can do. After all, the only government we have the power to influence is our own.

The potential power of this unique and promising movement arises from the nature of the sponsoring organizations – The Peoples Party, a progressive new Party, and the Libertarian Party. It is in fact what much of the press would term a “Right-Left Coalition”, spanning a spectrum broad enough to actually bring the proxy war in Ukraine to an end.

Fittingly, the organizers are calling the protest “Rage Against the War Machine.” With the war in Ukraine putting us the precipice of nuclear Armageddon, “rage” might be considered a mild reaction.

A New Right-Left Coalition to Oppose the War. The Peoples Party is probably the lesser known of the two sponsoring organizations, because it’s newer. Its founder and National Chair is Nick Brana, a lead organizer of the protest. Brana was National Coordinator of the Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign, but has turned his back on the Democrats in disgust over the failure progressive Democratic pols to fight for the promises they made.

The Libertarian Party is better known. It has been around longer and, though small, is the third largest political party in the US by voter registration. The present National Chair, Angela McCardle, is the other lead organizer of the DC protest. In American political life, probably, the best known representative of libertarian values, most notably a principled anti-interventionist stance in foreign policy, is Ron Paul.

A call for ending US support for the proxy war in Ukraine is realistic; a substantial and growing segment of the American people support this demand.

The lead demand “Not one more penny for war in Ukraine” is finding ever more support among Americans. A survey in November by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs showed that 35% of Americans oppose sending more arms to Ukraine and 34% oppose sending more economic aid. When it comes to sending US troops, 68% are opposed!

These numbers in grew from the previous survey in July 2022, revealing a growing anti-interventionist sentiment. While this is not a majority, over one third of the populace is a base substantial enough to build an antiwar majority. Only 16% more needs to be won over to reach a majority. The number one demand of the February demonstration is not utopian – it is realistic!

The Demands of the Demonstration:

– Not one more penny for war in Ukraine.

The Democrats and Republicans have armed Ukraine with tens of billions of dollars in weapons and military aid. The war has killed tens of thousands, displaced millions, and is pushing us toward a nuclear WW3. Stop funding the war.

– Negotiate Peace.

The US government instigated the war in Ukraine with a coup of its democratically elected government in 2014, and then sabotaged a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine in March. Pursue an immediate ceasefire and diplomacy to end the war.

– Stop the war inflation.

The war is accelerating inflation and increasing food, gas and energy prices. The US blew up Russian gas pipelines to Europe, starving them of energy and deindustrializing their countries. End the war and stop increasing prices.

– Disband NATO.

NATO expansion to Russia’s border provoked the war in Ukraine. NATO is a warmongering relic of the Cold War. Disband it like the Warsaw Pact.

The demonstration will gather at Washington DC on February 19at the Lincoln Memorial and then march to the White House.

Time is running out as the threat of nuclear war grows with each day and each new escalation in Ukraine. A broad coalition can end it.

ENOUGH OF THE FOREVER WARS!

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Mushrooms emerge from the shadows in pesticide-free production push

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By Ali Jones

Mention La Rioja in northern Spain and most people will picture majestic sun-drenched vineyards nestled in the hillsides. But, hidden from the sunlight, the region is also home to a very different crop that happens to be at the heart of efforts to make European food production more sustainable.

Three small villages in La Rioja house the vast, dark, humid growing sheds that produce its 77 000 tonnes of mushrooms each year. Almost half of Spain’s cultivated mushroom crop is grown in the region, making Spain the third-largest producer in Europe, behind Poland and the Netherlands.

New world

‘Mushrooms are a whole different world than we are used to, from growing plants or rearing animals,’ said Pablo Martínez, an agronomist who worked in wineries before being drawn to the specialist mushroom sector after a chance conversation with a former colleague.

Based at the Mushroom Technological Research Centre of La Rioja (CTICH), Martínez manages a Europe-wide project to tackle the environmental challenges faced by the industry.

Many people know very little about how mushrooms are grown. While it’s easy to buy a starter kit online to have a go at home, growing on a commercial scale is very different – managing humidity, temperature and light to produce a regular, quality crop while contending with pest control.

Cultivated mushrooms can double in size in a day and consumer demand for them is mushrooming too.

The global market is projected to grow from around 15 million tonnes in 2021 to more than 24 million tonnes over the next five years. Packed with nutrients, they deliver a protein-rich umami kick that is well suited to the soaring trend for plant-based foods.

To meet demand, growers need to fail-safe their crop from pests and, for now, they rely on pesticides. Tighter regulations are limiting available products and concerns over the impact on the environment and human health mean growers are looking to researchers to come up with answers.

CTICH is coordinating the BIOSCHAMP project, which works with researchers, commercial partners and mushroom growers in six European countries. In addition to Spain, they are Belgium, the Netherlands, Poland, Serbia and the UK.

Peatland protection

Mushrooms are grown on a substrate, or base layer, made of straw and animal manure, then covered with a thick blanket of peat known as the casing. Made up of partially decayed vegetation, peat perfectly mimics nature’s forest floors that so readily yield mushrooms.

The depletion of precious finite peatlands is a global concern. These wetlands store more carbon than all other vegetation types in the world combined and their conservation is ever more important for countering climate change.

‘Mounting restrictions on peat extraction in European countries threaten the long-term continuity of peat supplies,’ said Martínez. ‘We’re looking to develop a new product for growing mushrooms that could cut pesticide use by 90% while reducing the industry’s reliance on peat.’ 

Most of Europe’s peat comes from the Baltic countries, traveling first by boat to the Netherlands, where it is treated ready for commercial use, before being distributed to growers across Europe, amassing transport costs and a heavy carbon footprint.

BIOSCHAMP aims to create a low-peat sustainable casing for cultivated mushrooms made from renewable materials sourced close to existing mushroom production.

While the exact details are under wraps, it will combine with a substance known as a biostimulant to enhance the natural growing processes and strengthen the mushroom mycelium in their early phase, protecting them against disease without the need for chemical pesticides.

Fertile waste 

In Norway, two mushroom enthusiasts have pioneered a project to explore whether the crop could be cultivated in food waste. The EU-funded initiative is called VegWaMus CirCrop.

Dr Agnieszka Jasinska, who completed her postgraduate research on mushroom substrates, has led the research in partnership with Dr Ketil Stoknes, senior project leader of research and development at waste-management company Lindum and himself once a specialist mushroom grower.

The project has demonstrated that organic residue from food waste – usually used to feed anaerobic digestors, devised to capture methane and divert it from problematic greenhouse gas to useful fuel – can be a successful starter for mushrooms.

The European Food Information Council (EUFIC) estimates that a whopping one third of all food produced for human consumption is wasted. Anaerobic digestion, also known as biogas, allows the nutrients from waste to be reused for growing plants in greenhouses.

‘It enables a climate-efficient, resilient, urban food production system based entirely on waste,’ said Stoknes.

Tomatoes, lettuce and herbs had been chosen as the initial candidates. But Stoknes said that mushrooms are degraders, breaking down fibres and so on, and are a necessary part of an integrated biosystem. Inspired by the natural cycle in the forest, the project set out to combine mushrooms and plants in one circular system.

The biogas system is explained as ‘food to waste to food’ and it’s a movement that is growing in popularity.

While mushroom cultivation ceased on a commercial scale in Norway in the early 2000s, unable to compete with other countries, VegWaMus CirCrop has proved there could be a sustainable future for Norwegian mushroom production after all.

Side hustle

The project has hatched a start-up company called SOPPAS with ambitions to scale up the process commercially. In the meantime, it’s embarking on a raft of new ideas, including expanding production at the food waste biogas facility from button mushrooms to oyster mushrooms.

‘The new company will produce starter blocks for growing mushrooms for farmers, plant producers and greenhouse owners who might want to diversify to mushrooms in their low season,’ said Jasinska. ‘They can put their existing pickers, packing line and cold-storage facilities to good use in idle times and sell the produce locally.’

Against the backdrop of growing momentum for producing food from waste and an interest in keeping production local, both EU-funded projects look set to give mushrooms their moment in the sun.

Research in this article was funded via the EU’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA). ). This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.

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