~ Archive for Asia Pacific ~

The one plant crop that might tide us over this period of energy and food uncertainty

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Hemp, commonly known as industrial hemp, is a plant of the Cannabaceae family that is typically grown for its bast fiber or edible seeds. The plant is commonly mistaken with cannabis plants, which are used to make marijuana and the narcotic preparation hashish.

 

Although all three products—hemp, marijuana, and hashish—contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a chemical that causes psychoactive effects in humans, the strain of cannabis grown for hemp contains far less THC than that grown for marijuana or hashish.

 

In the public eye, the line drawn between “hemp” and “cannabis” might be a bit murky, but hemp and cannabis aren’t as similar as they may appear.

 

THC is the psychoactive element in cannabis that causes a ‘high,’ according to scientific study. The concentration of THC in a cannabis plant determines whether it is hemp or marijuana. Hemp is defined as having a THC concentration of 0.3 percent or below. Marijuana is defined as having a THC concentration more than 0.3 percent.

 

People do smoke hemp, according to what I’ve learned from asking around. It is quickly becoming one of the most common methods of taking Cannabidiol (CBD). CBD is a substance present in trace amounts in hemp.

 

Although it does not make the smoker high, the user may smoke hemp for a multitude of reasons such as anxiety, depression, pain, inflammation, and overall health and wellbeing.

 

But the focus of my writing is not on smoking it but rather, utilizing this plant for other types of practical and industrial uses.

 

As many of us already know, the majority of the plastic we use today is manufactured from cellulose derived from petroleum. Petroleum is derived from oil, which means that the end-product that is plastic, is highly persistent, very difficult to break down therefore very harmful to our environment.

 

Hemp can be used to create polymers that are both stronger than ordinary plastic and completely biodegradable.

 

Apart from using hemp to replace plastic-based products, we can also rely on hemp as a source of food. Hemp used to be widely recognized as an excellent source of nourishment all across the world. In fact, the plant is still used in some places in Asia today, even though it has become less popular.

 

Hemp seed has an ideal combination of essential fatty acids, amino acids, and oils such as Omega-3 and Omega-6.

 

It is also extremely rich in protein, to the point that some people consider hemp seeds to be a far superior option to high protein sports beverages. These proteins assist to maximize nutrient intake, maintain organs, and even build muscle.

 

Best of all, hemp is also a highly hardy plant that can thrive in harsh environments such as those found all over the world. It does not require pesticides or as much water as other crops. During the nineteenth century, the Australians survived two unusually protracted famines only on hempseed. These are important attributes to finding suitable crops to replace popular grains like rice in the context of Asia, especially when climate change threatens to destroy many types of food crops.

 

Hempseed cake is a food that may be fed to both pets and animals. It is essentially a by-product of pressing hemp for its oils, and it includes all of the nutrients that the animal need. It enables for maximal weight increase while being less expensive than regular feed.

 

Another advantage is that because hemp can be cultivated without pesticides or other dangerous chemicals, and there was research to show that it does not enter the food chain if fed to cattle.

 

When it comes to the built environment sector, you might be mildly surprised that the plant could be used to produce concrete solutions as well. Hempcrete is a hemp-based concrete solution that might be the most helpful of them all.

 

It has seven times the strength of concrete, half the weight, and three times the pliability of hemp. It is also permeable, which means it helps the structure to breathe, reducing moisture buildup and, eventually, mould and other terrible things.

 

Hempcrete also hardens over time and absorbs carbon, so offsetting the carbon impact of the construction project. If the average house were constructed with hempcrete, it could store up to more than 20,000 kilogrammes of carbon.

 

Plus, hemp also has the potential to be a carbon-neutral fuel, or something close to it. During growth, the plant collects CO2 from the environment, and when the fuel is burned, the same amount is released back into the atmosphere.

 

Because hemp-based bio-diesel is biodegradable, accidents and oil spills will not inflict the same amount of environmental harm as conventional oil does. In fact, most diesel engines can still be run on bio-fuel with minimal conversion nowadays.

 

This crop could be used as a short-term replacement to fossil fuel when the entire world attempts to switch over to other forms of renewable and clean energy.

 

On top of that, hemp can also be used to replace cotton that is obtained from harvesting from cotton crop.

 

Hemp contains two types of fibers: lengthy bast fibres found in the stem and hurds, which are the shorter inner fibres of the stem. The bast fibres are the most valuable, accounting for 20-30% of the hemp plant.

 

According to Stockholm Environment Institute study, hemp uses half the acreage of cotton, less chemical fertilisers, and less water than cotton.

 

Finally, hemp can also be used as a material to produce paper.

 

Hemp paper has several advantages over wood paper. For instance, its composition is far superior to that of wood paper. Hemp paper is rich in cellulose and has just 4-10% lignin. Wood pulp, on the other hand, includes 18-30% lignin, which must be chemically removed during the papermaking process.

 

This reduction in chemical treatment means that it consumes less water and generates less waste; the creamy colour also means that it does not require as much bleaching.

 

Hemp paper is also considerably easier to grow and requires far less resources. The quantity of paper that trees can generally create over a 20-year cycle over 4+ acres is the same as the amount of paper that hemp can make in one acre.

 

Like what I mentioned earlier, the entire world would face an onslaught of agriculture and energy crisis if climate change continues to disrupt our traditional ways of life. The switch over to renewable and clean energy is not going to be clear-cut and there will be hiccups during the transition. One way to ease the switch might be to rely on short term methods like bio-fuel.

 

Asian food staples like rice might also be affected by climate change. No matter how much Asians like their rice, it is important to explore other types of more resilient food sources.

Closing the gap between Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) reporting and implementation, and the impact of expanding ESG criteria to include more risks

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This week, I encountered three new ideas for inclusion into Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) ratings, namely mental wellness, responsible use of artificial intelligence (AI) and Multi-National Companies’ (MNC) contributions to the stakeholder communities’ social well-being, the workforce’s professional development and other positive initiatives for the countries in which they operate in.

 

On one hand, the media has reported that there is a large gap between the companies’ ESG reports and on-site implementations. The current narrative is that companies are signing a lot of MOUs and pledges, committing to a lot of sustainability goals and submitting a lot of ESG reports with beautiful graphs, plots, charts and content, but these are not translated into real action.

 

We need a lot more capabilities in recognizing, measuring and assessing ESG risks. ESG risks already manifested in many forms such as environmental impacts, workplace safety, fair consideration for employment, diversity and inclusion issues, proper mechanisms for grievances, stakeholder community management, etc.

 

All these combine to increase substantially the workload of the front-line staff. I see that we currently have three ways to go about solving this.

 

First, hire more people with ESG measurement and assessment skills to perform worksite inspections, outsource ESG measurements and assessments to external consultants or inspectors, train existing staff on ESG-related skills and/ or enhance technology capabilities in recognizing, monitoring and assessing ESG risks. These options are not mutually exclusive and can merge to create a variety of additional solutions.

 

Second, we will need the expertise of domain specialists to help with mitigating the identified ESG risks. When I bring up domain specialists, it is not just the technical experts in the area of carbon emissions, waste reduction, sustainable procurement, etc, but also the people who can contribute their skills in improving gender diversity, workplace safety, corporate and community grievances mechanisms amongst others.

 

Third, the entire organization has to be regularly trained to maintain awareness of such issues. The training could be delivered via on-site workshops, video meetings, and online training modules with or without quizzes or a hybrid of all of the above. Additionally, someone must be responsible for keeping the lines in check. It could be the Chief ESG Officer or Chief Sustainability Officer, together with one or more board members or directors with clear sight on these metrics.

 

Without a proper system in place, the entire exercise could become a one-off event and eventually fade into nothingness.

 

Now, we already have a lot on hand and that is just to satisfy reports and audit requirements. Moving forward, we need to put forth a whole lot more effort towards implementation. In reality, true transformation takes time and changing habits requires discipline. This means that we need to focus a lot more peoples’ attention towards this target for a longer period and it is definitely going to be draining.

 

There is going to be even more work if we include mental wellness, responsible use of AI, and MNC’s contributions to the countries that they operate in.

 

At this point of writing, I only have five thoughts about this.

 

One – anyway we already have so much work going on so we might as well pile on these considerations and strike while the iron is hot.

 

Two – adding more considerations at this time when we are not even executing well, could lead to widening the gap between reporting and implementation.

 

Three – increasing the workload at this moment when the supply of ESG expertise clearly lags far behind the demand for ESG expertise, is a sure-fire way to further stress the system and staff.

 

Four – we need more software capability to augment current workforce and ease the burden that is fueling the Great Resignation.

 

Five – public and private sector will need to work hand-in-hand to reach an acceptable equilibrium.

 

Among these five broad elements that I can think of right now, it is clear that they are more or less within the domains of the proposed inclusions i.e. mental wellness, responsible use of AI and MNC’s contributions to the countries that they operate in.

 

Going overboard with the implementations might actually foul up the proposed inclusions. Why? We might disturb the mental well-being of staff if we add on more criteria without considering carefully the additional workload. We could be the cause of more staff layoff during the pandemic because it is cheaper to deploy software capabilities. MNCs might find themselves in a tougher business landscape and may delink themselves from the countries that impose increasingly stringent criteria for business operations.

 

So, should the new criteria be included or not?

 

In short, this is the chicken and egg paradigm whereby we will be stuck in an infinite loop if no actions are taken. As usual, the way to break through the chicken and egg paradigm is to simply focus on one key path, to forge the way forward, with mechanisms in place for future adjustments and calibrations.

 

Some governments would not care less about MNC’s positions at all. Already I see that there is a trend in many countries to deleverage from MNCs; increasingly requiring them to work with local partners, surfacing issues like the treatment of tax and profits, stipulating better data protection within the local R&D community and others. This is not new, but the trend is definitely stronger now and the new policies reflect that.

 

In fact, there are already some that are placing more chips on local enterprises so that they could square off with the MNCs in the future. Policies are being shaped at the highest level to favor local enterprises to build self-resiliency.

 

Some of these MNCs are also facing increasing regulatory pressures from their countries of origin. I observe these patterns with great interest.

 

At the other spectrum, others are encouraging MNCs to establish presence and work in their respective countries. So, there is certainly going to be more shifts of investments and human resources, and this certainly calls for attention as consideration for shaping ESG frameworks.

 

Aside from this, the responsible use of AI is an equally critical topic. To be honest, most of us are already well-aware of how software capabilities can augment human workers and to some extent, replace some workers as well. Especially when work is increasingly translated to digital format, and this makes it so much easier for automation.

 

Digitalization is the perfect pathway for automation in the future, and to reduce reliance on human workforce.

 

One of my friends used to work with labor unions in the United Kingdom and she often surfaces this experience as one of her trump cards when discussions touch on life achievements. Even then, she never wants to find work in this area anymore.

 

Societies are carefully propped up by myriad of intricate constructs, one of which is for people to be gainfully employed with meaningful work that pays enough for daily expenses, mortgages, other debt commitments and some more. Integration of AI without proper consideration on its impact on the larger ecosystem, can lead to unbalancing the society’s pillars.

 

We need more transparency and to encourage greater participation in crafting and co-creating this future that is jointly owned by all people.

 

Gamification of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education

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Photo by Christina Morillo

 

Our educational system, as well as the way our society has evolved, has conditioned people to become more disinterested in science and technology education. Fewer individuals desire to study engineering and mathematics, which I strongly believe will be a major issue in the future.

 

In fact, many governments have already identified this issue and started working on it for quite some time.

 

Social media platforms have influenced our attention span and modified the way we receive information. Fewer people are reading books. Some merely read the headlines of articles and may skim through a portion of the piece before quitting halfway through.

 

In fact, it is recommended that content creators limit their pieces to no more than three paragraphs and no more than 500 words.

 

Video commercials must be no more than one minute long and must be able to capture people’s attention within the initial three seconds.

 

Professional development books are increasingly shorter, and many are encouraged to pepper pages with condensed summaries throughout the book, which is why the very popular Idiot’s Guide series have those little summary pop ups every few pages.

 

This loss in attention changes how information is collected and consumed and, as a result, affects how teaching and learning take place.

 

How often has your focus wandered during a meeting or a conference, and a phone check has become the norm? Most things receive only a fraction of my attention.

 

Students who listen while texting divide their focus between where their bodies are and where their brains are. The most recent adaption of short attention span instruction may be found in videos that are now available on Tik Tok and Instagram.

 

There is only one notion, one idea, and one instruction and no reading required, which is why these social media platforms are huge hits with the younger generation.

 

In a recent ranking survey done by an East Asian country, they ranked South Korea has having the best mathematics education system, followed by Singapore and the third place goes to Japan.

 

This East Asian country used to consider themselves as the best in providing mathematics education, but they’ve determined that their ranking has fell. They considered this a major issue and are putting their best people to work with the private sector, to develop a proposal to rectify it.

 

Still, research is being done by the best to further improve their position and one of the latest ideas is to introduce gaming to teach science, mathematics and programming.

 

I saw the latest research on teaching with games, and it allows players to immerse themselves in a Role-Playing Game (RPG) with attention-grabbing storyline that’s paired with beautiful graphics. Players will be able to solve interesting puzzles and fight fantastic battles with enemies throughout the game, and somehow all these actions are performed by solving programming scenarios.

 

By the end of the game, you are supposed to be able to understand the logic flow of programs and how to sew together the different syntaxes to achieve your desired programming outcomes.

 

It’s really quite fun and research is being done to quantify its relationship to improving users’ programming proficiency while keeping their attention on the game.  I think that the research results should be released in about two to three months’ time.

 

I believe that within a few more years, we will no longer need to type syntaxes in order to program. Long gone will be the days whereby you’ll feel cool to be able to type in long strings of words, press “Enter” and then strings upon strings of neon green colored fonts on black background scrolls endlessly down the computer screen. Think Matrix opening and ending scenes.

 

Anyway, if you think that’s cool, you’ll most likely might be considered as outdated by the younger generation.

 

Graphical programming is unquestionably on the rise, and more parts of Artificial Intelligence (AI) will eventually be merged with programming languages, making it easier to program in the long run.

Smart grid and renewable energy must support the agricultural sector, not destroy it

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Photo by Sippakorn Yamkasikorn

 

A smart grid is a digitally enabled electrical system that collects, distributes, and works with data on all electricity providers and consumers’ behaviour in order to enhance the efficiency, reliability, and sustainability of power delivery.

 

Smart grids generate massive amounts of data, which may be examined using data analytics and with machine learning, converted into valuable insights. Weather conditions, demand and supply records, and location are all examples of data metrics. 

 

With this data, operators may make smarter judgments about the transfer of energy from one location to another, proactively ensuring supply and minimising waste.

 

Southeast Asia is definitely a rising smart grid industry that is making tremendous progress and offers big advantages for customers as well as significant potential for suppliers by the end of this decade. 

 

Countries in Southeast Asia are growing rapidly and extending their web of electrical grid to more communities. With more foreign capital inflow and a growing middle-class, it makes perfect sense for governments to build smart grid roadmaps with implementation strategies. 

 

Outside of China and India, Southeast Asia has the greatest expected GDP growth rate of any emerging smart grid market. These strong GDP growth rates, however, are not assured and might pose structural, political, and social difficulties to Southeast Asian countries.

 

According to Global Climate Scope, Southeast Asia would invest up to $14 billion by 2030 to achieve universal power access, with distant microgrid systems serving 75 percent of the off-grid population.

 

Already, there are significant hurdles to crafting policies to tackle connection costs, network costs, maintenance cost while ensuring a healthy amount of return of investments for investors, suppliers and operators. 

 

Actual construction is another set of obstacles as some of the Southeast Asian countries might have to cough up the manpower and expertise to undertake huge infrastructure projects to lay underwater cables between islands, provinces and states.  

 

In the roadmap of some Southeast Asian countries, the administration had planned for the smart grid to enable single proprietors and individual business owners to sell a small quantity of power generated by their own entrepreneurship to the grid via a smart meter.

 

This can potentially be another issue if the pricing is not done right and could impact the agriculture industry. 

 

Agriculture is critical to the economy’s survival and growth. It’s the foundation of everything that motivates humans to survive. It not only produces food and other basic resources, but also presents job opportunities. Yet in many countries, agricultural workers are leaving the sector. 

 

According to the Indonesian National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas), their projections show a steady drop of agricultural workers. It revealed that in 1976, 65.8 percent of Indonesian employees were employed in the agriculture sector. 

 

However, in 2019, it fell dramatically to only 28%. Part of this reduction might be attributed to agricultural employees moving to other industries, particularly to the service sector. The service sector workers accounted for 23.57 percent in 1976 and 48.91 percent in 2019.

 

When farm owners are able to sell the power generated by their own renewable energy devices such as solar panels, windmill, etc to the grid, they might consider giving up farming entirely. These farm owners might find it financially feasible to install more renewable energy devices and sell the electricity instead of rearing animals, performing soil maintenance and taking care of agriculture produces. 

 

In other parts of the world, a growing number of farmers and ranchers are supplementing their income by capturing the wind that blows over their land and converting it into electricity. In addition, new renewable alternatives are becoming accessible.

 

NPR reported in the United States that farmers in the Midwest both support and oppose major solar generating ventures on farms. Some people make significantly more money leasing land than they do cultivating crops. Others are concerned about the loss of productive land.

 

Leaving the situation entirely to market forces, will have the farm owners to simply choose the option that yields the highest return, but this might further jeopardise the agriculture sector in years to come.

 

Renewable energy sources and smart grid must be able to support core sectors like agriculture, not destroy it. 

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