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UNIDO to provide emergency assistance to China to help contain the outbreak of coronavirus

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The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) will provide emergency response assistance to China to help fight the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19). A related project document was signed today by Ambassador WANG Qun, Permanent Representative of China to the United Nations in Vienna, and LI Yong, Director General of UNIDO.

UNIDO will quickly deliver 100,000 medical masks and 20,000 protective suits to China. It will also provide medical waste decontamination equipment, with capacity to deal with four tonnes of medical waste per day, for a newly established hospital. Videos and other remote training materials will educate staff in hospitals and disposal centres in both cities and in rural areas on the safe management of medical waste.

“The coronavirus disease was first detected in Wuhan, China, and continued to expand to other cities and countries. It has a significant impact on people’s lives, health, and overall socioeconomic development. The Chinese government has made great efforts to prevent and control the epidemic, adopted an open and transparent attitude towards the epidemic information, implemented comprehensive, positive and correct preventive and control measures, and the standards even exceeded the relevant requirements of the International Health Regulations. It has not only effectively protected the people’s health and safety of life, but also contributed to the maintenance of global public health security,” said Wang. “The project is urgently needed in China to protect medical staff and to prevent further spread of the coronavirus through medical waste. We thank UNIDO for its strong support and are willing to work with UNIDO and the international community to promote the development of world health.”

“The outbreak of Covid-19 brings new challenges to China, as the confirmed and suspected cases are still increasing,” said UNIDO’s Li. “New infections need to be minimized, including among medical staff who are the backbone of the fight against Covid-19. For this, protective equipment for medical staff is needed; but also ways to manage safely the hazards posed by medical waste. This is where UNIDO will make a difference with the support agreed today.”

Since 2008, UNIDO has assisted China in managing medical waste in a safe, environmentally sound manner. “Our transformative activities, implemented in cooperation with the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, have systematically enhanced capacity on medical waste in more than 170 disposal centres and over 1,500 hospitals across the whole country,” said the UNIDO Director General.

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Futuristic fields: Europe’s farm industry on cusp of robot revolution

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By Sofia Strodt

In the Dutch province of Zeeland, a robot moves swiftly through a field of crops including sunflowers, shallots and onions. The machine weeds autonomously – and tirelessly – day in, day out.

“Farmdroid” has made life a lot easier for Mark Buijze, who runs a biological farm with 50 cows and 15 hectares of land. Buijze is one of the very few owners of robots in European agriculture.

Robots to the rescue

His electronic field worker uses GPS and is multifunctional, switching between weeding and seeding. With the push of a button, all Buijze has to do is enter coordinates and Farmdroid takes it from there.

‘With the robot, the weeding can be finished within one to two days – a task that would normally take weeks and roughly four to five workers if done by hand,’ he said. ‘By using GPS, the machine can identify the exact location of where it has to go in the field.’

About 12 000 years ago, the end of foraging and start of agriculture heralded big improvements in people’s quality of life. Few sectors have a history as rich as that of farming, which has evolved over the centuries in step with technological advancements.

In the current era, however, agriculture has been slower than other industries to follow one tech trend: artificial intelligence (AI). While already commonly used in forms ranging from automated chatbots and face recognition to car braking and warehouse controls, AI for agriculture is still in the early stages of development.

Now, advances in research are spurring farmers to embrace robots by showing how they can do everything from meeting field-hand needs to detecting crop diseases early.

Lean and green

For French agronomist Bertrand Pinel, farming in Europe will require far greater use of robots to be productive, competitive and green – three top EU goals for a sector whose output is worth around €190 billion a year.

One reason for using robots is the need to forgo the use of herbicides by eliminating weeds the old-fashioned way: mechanical weeding, a task that is not just mundane but also arduous and time consuming. Another is the frequent shortage of workers to prune grapevines.

‘In both cases, robots would help,’ said Pinel, who is research and development project manager at France-based Terrena Innovation. ‘That is our idea of the future for European agriculture.’

Pinel is part of the EU-funded ROBS4CROPS project. With some 50 experts and 16 institutional partners involved, it is pioneering a robot technology on participating farms in the Netherlands, Greece, Spain and France.

‘This initiative is quite innovative,’ said Frits van Evert, coordinator of the project. ‘It has not been done before.’

In the weeds

AI in agriculture looks promising for tasks that need to be repeated throughout the year such as weeding, according to van Evert, a senior researcher in precision agriculture at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

‘If you grow a crop like potatoes, typically you plant the crop once per year in the spring and you harvest in the fall, but the weeding has to be done somewhere between six and 10 times per year,’ he said.

Plus, there is the question of speed. Often machines work faster than any human being can.

Francisco Javier Nieto De Santos, coordinator of the EU-funded FLEXIGROBOTS project, is particularly impressed by a model robot that takes soil samples. When done by hand, this practice requires special care to avoid contamination, delivery to a laboratory and days of analysis.

‘With this robot everything is done in the field,’ De Santos said. ‘It can take several samples per hour, providing results within a matter of minutes.’

Eventually, he said, the benefits of such technologies will extend beyond the farm industry to reach the general public by increasing the overall supply of food.

Unloved labour

Meanwhile, agricultural robots may be in demand not because they can work faster than any person but simply because no people are available for the job.

Even before inflation rates and fertiliser prices began to surge in 2021 amid an energy squeeze made worse by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine this year, farmers across Europe were struggling on another front: finding enough field hands including seasonal workers.

‘Labour is one of the biggest obstacles in agriculture,’ said van Evert. ‘It’s costly and hard to get these days because fewer and fewer people are willing to work in agriculture. We think that robots, such as self-driving tractors, can take away this obstacle.’

The idea behind ROBS4CROPS is to create a robotic system where existing agricultural machinery is upgraded so it can work in tandem with farm robots.

For the system to work, raw data such as images or videos must first be labelled by researchers in ways than can later be read by the AI.

Driverless tractors

The system then uses these large amounts of information to make “smart” decisions as well as predictions – think about the autocorrect feature on laptop computers and mobile phones, for example.

A farming controller comparable to the “brain” of the whole operation decides what needs to happen next or how much work remains to be done and where – based on information from maps or instructions provided by the farmer.

The machinery – self-driving tractors and smart implements like weeders equipped with sensors and cameras – gathers and stores more information as it works, becoming “smarter”.

Crop protection

FLEXIGROBOTS, based in Spain, aims to help farmers use existing robots for multiple tasks including disease detection.

Take drones, for example. Because they can spot a diseased plant from the air, drones can help farmers detect sick crops early and prevent a wider infestation.

‘If you can’t detect diseases in an early stage, you may lose the produce of an entire field, the production of an entire year,’ said De Santos. ‘The only option is to remove the infected plant.’

For example, there is no treatment for the fungus known as mildew, so identifying and removing diseased plants early on is crucial.

Pooling information is key to making the whole system smarter, De Santos said. Sharing data gathered by drones with robots or feeding the information into models expands the “intelligence” of the machines.

Although agronomist Pinel doesn’t believe that agriculture will ever be solely reliant on robotics, he’s certain about their revolutionary impact.

‘In the future, we hope that the farmers can just put a couple of small robots in the field and let them work all day,’ he said.

Research in this article was funded by the EU. This material was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.   

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Greek shipowners do not care about the boycott of Russian oil

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European sanctions against Russian oil will only lead to higher prices, it will hit the pocket of the end consumer, says Nicolas A. Vernicos, the largest Greek ship owner and president of the International Chamber of Commerce. He made this statement in connection with the decision of the European Union to impose a price cap on Russian oil.

The French ‘Liberation’ published an interview with N. Vernicos under the title “Russian oil: Greek shipowners, in whose hands half of the world’s  tankers, do not care about the boycott.”

Vernicos says: “Transportation costs, which are already skyrocketing, will rise even faster, but the embargo on the transportation of Russian oil by sea will have a positive effect on shipowners, because we will become richer.”

At the same time, he warns that Greece will comply with the new conditions. The European decision on sanctions will bring a net benefit only to maritime carriers. Nicolas A. Vernicos recalls: “The Greek shipping community is the strongest in the world… Nothing can be done without it, and the Greeks will definitely find a way around the sanctions.”

And on the fact that prices will rise, Russia will also earn.

‘Liberation’ writes that in the hands of the Greeks 21% of the world’s shipping tonnage and 40% of the world’s tonnage in the transportation of oil, their trade cooperation with Russia has existed since the 19th century, and they do not intend to stop it.

The EU countries have already agreed on the issue. An agreement was reached to set the price limit at $60 per barrel. The decision came into force on 5 December.

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Uzbekistan’s Artel joins UN’s ‘Orange The World’ campaign against gender-based violence

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Artel Electronics LLC (Artel), Central Asia’s largest home appliance and electronics manufacturer, has teamed up with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) on a public information campaign against gender-based violence.

The campaign is in line with the UN’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, which utilizes the color orange to symbolize a brighter future. Artel’s green branding turned orange for several days in advertising material throughout Uzbek capital Tashkent, and public figures made statements to raise awareness.

Artel joins an international movement that kicked off on 25th November and lasts for 16 days. Since 1991, it has been used by individuals and organizations to call for the prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls.

This is the second year the company has ‘gone orange’. Artel Electronics HR Director, Lazizbek Mamatov, also took part in a panel discussion about Gender Equality in the Workplace hosted by the UNFPA at Westminster International University in Tashkent in line with the campaign.

Shohruh Ruzikulov, CEO of Artel, said “It is a privilege to once more work with the UN in raising awareness about the issue of Gender Based Violence. In Uzbekistan, this conversation is at a relatively young stage. We are proud to stand against domestic violence and continue Artel’s work in all areas to contribute to a better society.”

Mr. Yu Yu, Country Representative of the United Nations Population Fund, said “We are delighted to partner with a company like Artel on such an important issue. The public reach of the private sector is vital in ensuring our message to stand against domestic violence can be heard across all segments of society. We are grateful to Artel for taking leadership on this important issue in Uzbekistan. Together, we can make the change.”

The true rate of domestic violence in Uzbekistan is not known. However, the government alongside diplomatic partners and aid organizations are prioritizing the issue. In recent years the Presidential Administration has issued decrees targeted at domestic violence prevention, the government has adopted laws guaranteeing equal rights for women, and funding has been provided for information campaigns and rehabilitation centers.

Support for this campaign is just one of Artel’s initiatives to support women’s empowerment. Internally, the company has introduced whistle-blowing mechanisms, and is implementing an internal legal clinic to improve the legal literacy of employees. Over the last year, the proportion of women in the company’s 10,000 employees has risen by 5%, to 35%. The global average for the manufacturing industry is thought to be around 30%.

In 2021, Artel became a full participant of the UN Global Compact (UNGC), the world’s largest business community focused on sustainable development. In doing so, the company committed to promoting ten principles covering human rights, labor rights and environmental protection.

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