Archive for February 2012


February 26, 2012


Erle Frayne D. Argonza

The world is going urban and no force whatsoever, save for geological cataclysm of a planetary scale, can wreck the social phenomenon of urbanization. My own country PH is now 70% urban population-wise, which is in far contrast to what it was once during my birthyear of 1958 when 85% of people were rural peasants and fisherfolks.

Cities were the ones that drove the domestic economies to higher growth, industrialization, services expansion, and international trade competencies. True they did manifest the negative sides to urbanization that are human ecology concerns that need to be addressed with determination. But cities overall are citadels of civilation or culture-building and economic development.

As a summary of global urban development, a book was published recently by the United Nations Habitat that deals with the subject of economic role of cities. Below is the update news about the matter.

[Philippines, 10 February 2012]


Economic Role of Cities
Global Urban Economic dialogue series (Series title)
This report examines the economic role of cities. It illustrates the important contributions of cities to national economic development and poverty reduction. It looks at the agglomeration economies, city clusters, city regions and mega city regions.
Other titles in Global Urban Economic dialogue series:
• Economic Development and Housing Markets in Hong Kong and Singapore 2011
• Economic Role of Cities 2011
• Fiscal Decentralisation in Philippines 2011
• Gender and Economic Development 2011
• Impact of Global Financial Crisis on Housing Finance 2011
• Infrastructure for Poverty Reduction and Economic Development in Africa 2011
• Microfinance, Poverty Reduction and Millennium Development Goals 2011
• Organisation, Management and Evaluation of Housing Cooperatives in Kenya 2010
• Public-Private Partnership in Housing and Urban Development 2011
The Sub Prime Crisis: The Crisis of Over-Spending 2011

DOWNLOAD: (2,439 Kb)

ISBN Series Number: 978-92-1-132027-5
ISBN: 978-92-1-132361-0
HS Number: 067/11E
Series Title: Global Urban Economic dialogue series
Pages: 56
Year: 2012
Publisher: UN-HABITAT
Co-Publisher : – Not available –
Languages: English
Themes: Urban Finance, Urban Economy and Financing Shelter
Branch/Office: Urban Economy and Finance


February 23, 2012


Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Global food price index ended up with a general decline, as per report from the FAO. This was a quick reversal of the year-long trend that saw food prices rising as a whole.

The FAO reported in the mid-phase of last year that food prices were rising, and rising alarmingly. Famine struck the Horn of Africa, while calamities damaged to food base of other countries, events that shook the world food terrain.

Last year also saw the raging conflicts in the MENA (middle east & north Africa), political quakes that also affected the supply chain of food production and distribution. As of this writing, a world war prospect looms as Iran has been threatening to close the Hormuz area, and pronouncements have already been leading to speculations in the oil spot markets and food trading.

Will the pattern of declining food price index hold through for 2012?

[Philippines, 09 February 2012]


FAO Food Price Index ends year with sharp decline / But record high prices mark the year as a whole

12 January 2012, Rome – Food prices fell in December 2011 with the FAO Food Price Index dropping 2.4 percent, or five points from November, FAO said today.

At its new level of 211 points, the Index was 11.3 percent (27 points) below its peak in February 2011.

The decline was driven by sharp falls in international prices of cereals, sugar and oils due to bumper 2011 crops coupled with slowing demand and a stronger US dollar. Most commodities were affected.

However, although prices dropped steadily in the second half of 2011, the Index averaged 228 points in 2011 — the highest average since FAO started measuring international food prices in 1990. The previous high was in 2008 at 200 points.

A period of uncertainty

Commenting on the new figures, FAO Senior Grains Economist Abdolreza Abbassian said that it was difficult to make any firm prediction on price trends for the coming months.

“International prices of many food commodities have declined in recent months, but given the uncertainties over the global economy, currency and energy markets, unpredictable prospects lie ahead,” Abbassian said.

Among the principal commodities, cereal prices registered the biggest fall, with the FAO Cereal Price Index dropping 4.8 percent to 218 points in December. Record crops and an improved supply outlook sent prices of major cereals declining significantly. Maize prices fell 6 percent, wheat 4 percent and rice 3 percent. In 2011, the FAO cereal price index averaged 247 points, up some 35 percent from 2010 and the highest since the 1970s.

Oils and fats down

The FAO Oils and Fats Price Index stood at 227 points in December, down 3 percent from November and well below the level of 264 points one year ago. Larger than expected overall supplies of vegetable oil led to a rise in stocks (notably palm and sunflower oil), which, together with poor global demand for soybeans, deflated prices.

The FAO Meat Price Index averaged 179 points, slightly down compared with November. The decline was mainly driven by pig meat, whose price dropped by 2.2 percent, with sheep meat also receding somewhat. By contrast, poultry and bovine meat prices recorded mild gains. On an annual basis, meat prices in 2011 were 16 percent higher than in 2010.

Dairy products mostly up

The FAO Dairy Price Index averaged 202 points, almost unchanged from November. All dairy products were up slightly with the exception of butter, which dropped by 1 percent. Over the whole year, dairy products were on average 10 percent dearer than in 2010, with particularly strong gains witnessed for skim milk powder and casein, which gained 17 percent each. More modest increases were seen for butter and whole milk powder prices, which progressed by 11 percent, and cheese, by 8 percent.

The FAO Sugar Price Index declined for the fifth consecutive month to 327 points in December, down 4 percent from November and 18 percent from its July 2011 peak. The Index’s weakness in recent months mostly reflects expectations of a large world production surplus over the new season, on the back of good harvests in India, the European Union, Thailand and the Russian Federation.


February 22, 2012


Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Can smart farming equalize or even totally reverse the deleterious impact of climate change? What parameters and factors (soil? seeds? water? skills? technology?) need to have some control altogether to see the positive effects of the interventions?

That question is the subject of intense response today by stakeholders in Malawi, Vietnam and Zambia that have embarked on smart farming pilot works. FAO and the European Commission have bankrolled the pilot projects.

It may take at least three (3) years of experimentations and observations before the projects can bear fruit. Smart farming is no new concept actually, as the International Rice Research Institute or IRRI had already introduced similar interventions—applied to rice production—since its launching in 1964 yet.

Let’s see what will happen to these pilot projects.

[Philippines, 08 February 2012]
FAO-EC project to promote climate-smart farming
16 January 2012, Rome – FAO and the European Commission announced today a new €5.3 million project aimed at helping Malawi, Vietnam and Zambia transition to a “climate-smart” approach to agriculture.

Agriculture — and the communities who depend on it for their livelihoods and food security — are highly vulnerable to climate change impacts. At the same time agriculture, as a significant producer of greenhouse gases, contributes to global warming.

“Climate-smart agriculture” is an approach that seeks to position the agricultural sector as a solution to these major challenges.

It involves making changes in farming systems that achieve multiple goals: improving their contribution to the fight against hunger and poverty; rendering them more resilient to climate change; reducing emissions; and increasing agriculture’s potential to capture and sequester atmospheric carbon.

“We need to start putting climate-smart agriculture into practice, working closely with farmers and their communities,” said FAO Assistant Director-General for the Economic and Social Development Department, Hafez Ghanem. “But there are no one-size-fits-all solutions — better climate-smart farming practices need to respond to different local conditions, to geography, weather and the natural resource base,” he added.

“This project will look closely at three countries and identify challenges and opportunities for climate-smart agriculture and produce strategic plans tailored to each country’s own reality,” Ghanem said. “While not all solutions identified will be universally applicable, we can learn a lot about how countries could take similar steps and begin shifting to this approach to agriculture.”

Tailor-made solutions

The EU is providing €3.3 million to support the effort; FAO’s contribution is €2 million.

Working closely with agriculture and other ministries in each of the partner countries, and collaborating with local and international organizations, the three-year project will:
• Identify country-specific opportunities for expansion of existing climate-smart practices or implementation of new ones
• Study the constraints that need to be overcome to promote wider adoption of climate-smart agriculture, including investment costs
• Promote integration of national climate change and agricultural strategies to support the implementation of climate-smart agriculture
• Identify innovative mechanisms for linking climate finance with climate-smart agriculture investments
• Build capacity for planning and implementing climate-smart projects capable of attracting international investments

FAO will take the overall lead on the project, working in partnership with national policy and research institutions, as well as global organizations such as the Global Crop Diversity Trust.

By tackling the urgent need to incorporate climate change concerns into agricultural development planning, this new project represents a concrete step forward, said Ghanem. “The problems of climate change are increasingly being felt on the ground, and thus early actions to address the problem are needed, even as international negotiations continue in the search for a global climate agreement,” he said.


February 18, 2012


Erle Frayne D. Argonza

The government decentralization that has been going on in the Philippines for the duration of the post-Martial Law/Dictatorship era (dictatorship deposed in 1986) seems to have caught the attention of urban observers worldwide.

As a gesture of interest on the Philippine experience, the United Nations recently published a book showcasing the same country’s fiscal decentralization. The series of laws (since the legislation of the local government code) and practices has come a long way since the mid-80s yet, which renders the ASEAN member state as an exemplar for global studies on urbanization, public administration, and taxation economics.

Below is the information about the said publication.

[Philippines, 07 February 2012]


Fiscal Decentralisation in Philippines
Global Urban Economic dialogue series (Series title)
This report examines the fiscal decentralisation experience in Philippines. Since 1991, the central government has devolved significant spending, taxing, and borrowing powers to local governments. This paper discusses fiscal decentralization in the Philippines. It reviews the tax regimes in view of the vertical and horizontal fiscal gaps. Local governments receive intergovernmental fiscal transfer or block grants called the ‘internal revenue allotment’ based on a formula that has population, land size and equal sharing as criteria. In contrast, performance-based grants seem to open pathways for instilling greater accountability on the part of local governments. To make financing more accessible and competitive to local governments, it demonstrates the need to pursue further reforms in credit markets.
Other titles in Global Urban Economic dialogue series:
• Economic Development and Housing Markets in Hong Kong and Singapore 2011
• Economic Role of Cities 2011
• Fiscal Decentralisation in Philippines 2011
• Gender and Economic Development 2011
• Impact of Global Financial Crisis on Housing Finance 2011
• Infrastructure for Poverty Reduction and Economic Development in Africa 2011
• Microfinance, Poverty Reduction and Millennium Development Goals 2011
• Organisation, Management and Evaluation of Housing Cooperatives in Kenya 2010
• Public-Private Partnership in Housing and Urban Development 2011
The Sub Prime Crisis: The Crisis of Over-Spending 2011

DOWNLOAD: (906 Kb)

ISBN Series Number: 978-92-1-132027-5
ISBN: 978-92-1-132414-3
HS Number: 129/11E
Series Title: Global Urban Economic dialogue series
Pages: 52
Year: 2012
Publisher: UN-HABITAT
Co-Publisher : – Not available –
Languages: English
Themes: Urban Finance, Urban Economy and Financing Shelter
Branch/Office: Executive Director


February 16, 2012


Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Another breakthrough news has struck our perception banks recently, with the gladdening news that Asians as a whole have topped both USA and EU spendings on science research & development.

Ten Asian countries are noted to be leading the way for Asians as a whole in sci-tech R & D, to note: China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. The time frame used for the research on sci-tech R&D funding was 1999 through 2009.

The brightening news surely correlates well with the conclusion of Western observers that the East had already surpassed the West technologically in the year 2007. It also ties up with another news, coming from Western observers, that science research publications in Asia have risen by many folds over the last ten (10) years.

The news is truly brightening, as the Asian ethos of sharing will see the East disseminating its sci-tech knowledge to shore up the stagnating West in the coming decades. That is in far contrast to the bellicose and hostile attitudes of the West during their imperious occupation of Asian territories and post-war hegemonism.
[Philippines, 06 February 201]]
Asian countries collectively top US R&D spend
Mićo Tatalović
19 January 2012 | EN
Overall, Asia now invests in R&D as much as the United States
Ten Asian countries, including some developing countries in South-East Asia, have, as a bloc, caught up with the global leader in research and development (R&D) investment, the United States, according to a US report published this week (17 January).
The total science spend of China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam rose steadily between 1999 and 2009 to reach 32 per cent of the global share of spending on science, compared with 31 per cent in the US.
A “major trend has been the rapid expansion of R&D performance in the regions of East/Southeast Asia and South Asia,” according to the biennial report ‘Science and Engineering Indicators 2012’ produced by the National Science Board, the policy-making body of the US National Science Foundation, which drew upon a variety of national and international statistics.
The report also mentions that the share of R&D expenditure spent by US multinationals in Asia-Pacific has increased.
“Asia’s rapid ascent as a major world science and technology (S&T) centre is chiefly driven by developments in China,” says the report. “But several other Asian economies (the Asia-8 [India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand]) have also played a role.
“All are intent on boosting quality of, and access to, higher education and developing world-class research and S&T infrastructures.
“The Asia-8 functions like a loosely structured supplier zone for China’s high-technology manufacturing export industries.
“This supplier zone increasingly appears to include Japan. Japan, a preeminent S&T nation, is continuing to lose ground relative to China and the Asia-8 in high-technology manufacturing and trade,” the report says.
“India’s high gross domestic product (GDP) growth continues to contrast with a fledgling overall S&T performance.”
The figures show that China, while still a long way behind the United States, is now the second largest R&D performer globally, contributing 12 per cent of the global research spend. It has overtaken Japan, which contributed 11 per cent in 2009.
The proportion of GDP that China devotes to science funding has doubled since 1999 to 1.7 per cent and China’s pace of real growth in R&D expenditure “remains exceptionally high at about 20 per cent annually,” the report says.
Overall, world expenditures on R&D are estimated to have exceeded US$1.25 trillion in 2009, up from US$641 billion a decade earlier.
“Governments in many parts of the developing world, viewing science and technology as integral to economic growth and development, have set out to build more knowledge-intensive economies,” it says.
“They have taken steps to open their markets to trade and foreign investment, develop their S&T infrastructures, stimulate industrial R&D, expand their higher education systems, and build indigenous R&D capabilities. Over time, global S&T capabilities have grown, nowhere more so than in Asia.”
A study, published last year in Scientometrics, said South-East Asian science papers have proliferated in the past decade, suggesting a move towards knowledge-based economies in the region.
Asia’s combined production of science and engineering publications is also approaching that of the United States and European Union, and Asia is already a top producer of engineering publications.
“Engineering is vital to knowledge-intensive and technologically advanced economies, and many Asian economies are building their engineering capabilities,” the report digest says.
“China publishes 15 per cent of global engineering articles, and Asia as a whole publishes twice as many engineering articles as the United States and half again as many as the EU [European Union].”
Link to full report


February 15, 2012


Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Myanmar has been mired too long in the rural backwoods of eternal militaristic damnation. So it would be a well appreciated news to learn of scaling up urban development in the struggling country.

Myanmar is juxtaposed next to the ASEAN 5—Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines—that are now citadels of urban development, industrialization and service economies. A member of ASEAN, Myanmar surely has a lot of catching up to do by releasing the innovative grids of its own peoples that congeal in urban development.

A contributor to the creation of High Culture in Southeast Asia, Myanmar’s deterioration across the decades of militarization has truly saddened its own neighbors and Asians. It is fortunate enough to see ASEAN peoples supportive of its efforts at social change, a support that translates to financing and technical reinforcements that Myanmar’s leaders can nil afford to squander.

Let us cross our fingers the urban institute will function as a truly autonomous institution that operate without the machinations of vested military interests there.

[Philippines, 05 February 2012]


UN-Habitat teams up with Myanmar at brand new urban institute
Yangon, 20 Jan 12

The Union Minister of Construction, U Khin Maung Myint Friday opened Myanmar’s first Urban Research and Development Institute (URDI) to help local and national authorities ensure a better urban future for country.
The institute, established with UN-Habitat support within the Department of Human Settlement and Housing Development, will conduct research to strengthen policy formulation and arrange training programmes to build national and local government capacities in inclusive urban planning and management. It will also foster urban-rural linkages.
Officials said the opening of institute marks the beginning of a wider collaboration between the Republic of the Union of Myanmar and the United Nations in the field of urban development, with a view to making the urban sector all inclusive, environmentally sustainable and complementary to rural development.
In his opening remarks the minister expressed his hope that the new institute would help the government’s drive to build a new, modern and developed nation. He added that the urban research and training would facilitate capacity building in the human resource sector that is a basic need for tackling urban issues.
UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Ashok Nigam said the establishment of the new institute represented a clear reflection of one of the United Nations core commitments to build the capacity of national counterparts. Mr. Nigam added that the United Nations and international community were currently witnessing exciting new developments in Myanmar, starting with the installation of the new government which created a clear window of opportunity to promote and strengthen collaboration and action for the country’s socio-economic progress.
UN-Habitat Myanmar Country Manager Srinivasa Popuri said the establishment of new urban institute was an integral part of the agency’s assistance being offered the government in its quest for a better future for the people of Myanmar.
UN-Habitat is cooperating with the relevant ministries in the sectors that are pertaining to Habitat Agenda and implementing several normative and operational activities focusing on basic access of services to settlements, while addressing matters of gender, risk reduction, environment and climate change.
UN-HABITAT and the Union Government of Myanmar, represented by Ministry of Construction, signed a Memorandum of Understanding in September 2011 for various technical cooperation programmes in Myanmar of which establishment of the new urban insitute and the development of national building code projects are supported by Norway.
UN-Habitat Myanmar this year plans to boost its normative programmatic support and technical assistance to several ministries and interest groups in the areas of urban poverty reduction, urban planning and development, urban-rural linkages, research, training and capacity building, land governance, local governance and leadership training and capacity development.


February 13, 2012


Erle Frayne D. Argonza

Kelp off the coast of Chile is being developed into a source of biofuels today. The strategy is aquafarming and not the open biomining of available seaweeds. Which means that biotech can be applied to treble the quantities of yields of the bi-product.

What’s your take of the new development in biofuels? Techno-innovators would surely welcome this development, among whom are budding entrepreneurs eager to cash in on the aquafarming promise? However, this development may not sink in well with hardline greens or eco-fascists who may view the aquafarming as another anamolous engagement to pollute the seas.

The sci-tech news is shown below.

[Philippines, 04 February 2012]
Breakthrough in quest to turn seaweed into biofuels
Paula Leighton
19 January 2012
[SANTIAGO] Brown seaweed’s potential as a vast source of biofuels has been highlighted with the announcement that scientists have found a way of converting all its major sugars into ethanol.
A team reported in Science today (19 January) that it has engineered a microbe that will convert the sugars to ethanol, overturning one of the main obstacles to making the use of brown macroalgae, or seaweed, as a biofuel feedstock competitive.
The prospective ethanol yield from brown seaweed is approximately two times higher than that from sugarcane and five times higher than maize, from the same area of cultivation.
But its full potential cannot be reached because of the inability of industrial microbes to break down alginate, one of the three most abundant sugars in brown seaweed, commonly known as kelp, which is the most widely grown seaweed in the world.
Now, researchers based in Chile, France and the United States say that they have developed the first microbe capable of fermenting all the major sugars found in a common species of brown seaweed (Saccharinna japonica).
“This [development] makes [brown seaweed] a viable biomass for the production of renewable fuels and chemicals,” Yasuo Yoshikuni, co-author of the study and chief science officer at Bio Architecture Lab (BAL) Inc — a US company that has built four seaweed farms off the coast of Chile — told SciDev.Net.
The team engineered Escherichia coli bacteria, which has the natural ability to metabolise glucose and mannitol — the other two main sugars in brown seaweed — and Vibrio splendidus a microorganism containing all necessary genes to metabolise alginates.
As a result, the scientists were able to get a yield of bioethanol directly from seaweed equivalent to 15,000-20,000 litres per hectare per year.
An analysis by the US Department of Energy has previously reported that, if technical barriers were overcome, brown macroalgae could produce 19,000 litres per hectare per year.
Brown seaweed “does not compete with food crops or terrestrial plants for land and fresh water, and seaweed aquafarming can absorb excess nutrients in the ocean [which can cause oxygen depletion]”, said Yuki Kashiyama, head of BAL Chile.
Stephen Mayfield, director of the San Diego Center for Algae Biotechnology at the University of California, San Diego, United States, told SciDev.Net: “This is a great engineering feat but, at least for right now, kelp is not a viable feedstock for ethanol production, and won’t be until we can figure how to grow it and transport it to a processing site in an easy and energy efficient way”.
According to Yoshikuni, to demonstrate “overall process economics more in depth” an experimental pilot facility is being built in Chile and is scheduled to start scaling up the process by July. For this stage BAL has received a grant from CORFO (see Chile is committed to algae-based biofuels, in Spanish), the Chilean agency that promotes innovation.
Link to full paper in Science
Science doi:10.1126/science.1214547 (2012)