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Dutch Pitch In to Help Hurricane Victims, Applaud US Aid 

Hollywood celebrities may have been the first to host a telethon to raise money for Hurricane Irma victims, but the idea is not theirs alone.

Dutch TV and radio stations also are banding together for an evening-long broadcast aimed at showing solidarity and gathering donations for victims on the island of St. Martin, Netherlands Ambassador to the U.S. Henne Schuwer told VOA in an interview.

“We don’t have as many [radio and TV] stations as you have here in the United States,” so it’ll be easier to arrange, Schuwer said with a smile.

​A cherished exotic part of the whole

Asked how the Dutch people on the mainland feel about the disaster happening half a world away, Schuwer insists that his nation is firmly united with all its citizens.

“It’s part of our kingdom that has been hit, the smallest part, but it’s the Netherlands, the kingdom, that has been hit; they’re part of us.” The ambassador describes the island as “an exotic part of us” but one that the Dutch are happy to have.

The Caribbean island, divided between Dutch St. Martin and French St. Martin, is less than 64 square kilometers located roughly 241 kilometers southeast of Puerto Rico. The island got its name when Christopher Columbus spotted it in 1493 on the feast day of the eponymous Catholic saint.

An island that prides itself as a destination where one’s limits “are the sky in one direction and the bottom of the sea in the other” now finds itself struggling to survive.

​Daily crisis meeting

The Dutch government conducts a crisis meeting every day in The Hague, chaired by the prime minister, and the initial focus is on the basic necessities.

“Get the sewage system back working again, hopefully that can be done quite quickly; the drinking water system, that needs to be back on line again very, very quickly; luckily, that’s not as heavily damaged as could have been, as far as we can see,” Schuwer said.

Addressing health care issues, preventing outbreaks of infectious diseases and getting St. Martin’s hospital up and running again, are also high on the agenda.

Schuwer says reported looting on St. Martin is now under control.

“All looting is bad,” he said, but there’s a difference between taking a bottle of water from the store because one needs it, versus walking off with a television set for which he says “there’s no excuse, under any circumstances.”

An enhanced military presence, with a target number of around 550 total, is being deployed to St. Martin.

​Friend in need

Schuwer said his country is grateful for the help the United States immediately offered and almost just as immediately provided, after the hurricane hit the island.

“It was wonderful to see that in a moment like this, you’re here as an ambassador, and one of the first phone calls you get is from your colleague in the State Department, with a very simple message: If you need something, just ask.”

Schuwer credits close bilateral ties, including strong military cooperation, as having laid the foundation for the show of support in time of crisis. 

“The U.S. military also asked immediately: Can we help?” he said.

Schuwer said the U.S. has assets in the Caribbean which “we either don’t have or only have in smaller numbers,” such as military transport planes. He credits the Americans with helping clear the runway for the main airport on the island.

“We asked them for help on Saturday, on Sunday we got our reply and they were there, that was fantastic; they’re there now helping us with air traffic control,” he said, which is crucial as planes arrive to evacuate individuals with medical conditions, followed by tourists, and then local permanent residents.

Now the difficult part starts

Dutch authorities hope the majority of St. Martin’s permanent residents will decide to stay and begin rebuilding the island quickly, Schuwer said, but added: “If they want to get out, we cannot stop them, but we’ll talk to them, and say that this is your island, now the difficult part starts.’”

The ambassador said the Dutch government understands that tourism, the island’s main source of income, will probably be paralyzed for months, so it is considering incentives to encourage residents to stay on and rebuild.

King Willem-Alexander has visited the Dutch half of St. Martin and chose to stay there overnight to demonstrate his commitment and support for the rebuilding effort. Above all, the ambassador said, there is solidarity linking all Dutch people in other parts of the kingdom with the “Sint Maarteners.”

Schuwer said the message is: “You’re part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. We are with you. You have suffered very badly; we will get you through the first few days and, more importantly, we will remain with you after the television cameras are gone.”

The Latin phrase Semper progrediens, always progressing, is St. Martin’s official motto. The island’s residents may have cause to recall that sentiment in the weeks and months ahead, as they weather the aftereffects from Hurricane Irma.

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WADA Clears 95 Russian Doping Cases, Still Pursuing Others

The World Anti-Doping Agency has dismissed all but one of the first 96 Russian doping cases forwarded its way from sports federations acting on information that exposed cheating in the country.

 

The cases stem from an investigation by Richard McLaren, who was tasked with detailing evidence of a scheme to hide doping positives at the Sochi Olympics and beforehand.

 

The 95 dismissed cases, first reported by The New York Times , were described by WADA officials as not containing enough hard evidence to result in solid cases.

 

“It’s absolutely in line with the process, and frankly, it’s nothing unexpected,” WADA director general Olivier Niggli told The Associated Press on Wednesday at meetings of the International Olympic Committee. “The first ones were the quickest to be dealt with, because they’re the ones with the least evidence.”

McLaren uncovered 1,000 potential cases, however, and a WADA spokesperson told AP it is the agency’s understanding that sports federations are considering bringing some of them forward.

Tainted samples missing

 

Niggli cautioned that it will be difficult to pursue some cases, because the Russian scheme involved disposing of tainted samples, and the Russians were not cooperative with McLaren in turning over evidence.

 

“There are a thousand names, and for a number of them, the only thing McLaren’s got is a name on a list,” Niggli said. “If you can prosecute an athlete with a name on a list, perfect. But this is not the reality. There were thousands of samples destroyed in Moscow.”

The revelation of the 95 dropped cases comes with a deadline fast approaching to make a decision on Russia’s participation at next February’s Winter Olympics.

 

Two IOC committees that will decide the matter — one reviewing individual cases and another looking at the overall corruption in Russia — are due to deliver interim reports at the IOC meetings later this week.

270 Russian athletes cleared for Rio 

 

In resolving the case against Russia’s suspended anti-doping agency (RUSADA), WADA has insisted the agency, the country’s Olympic committee and its sports ministry “publically accept the outcomes of the McLaren Investigation.” Track’s governing body put similar conditions in place for the lifting of the track team’s suspension.

 

The IOC, however, has made no such move. More than 270 Russian athletes were cleared to compete in the Summer Games last year in Rio.

“The best we can do to protect clean athletes is to have a really good, solid anti-doping process in Russia,” said WADA president Craig Reedie, who is also a member of the IOC. “That’s our role and our priority. The rest of it, you have to go and ask the IOC.”

IOC president Thomas Bach said the committees are “working hard all the time.”

Russia blames WADA

Meanwhile, Russian officials are showing no signs of acknowledging they ran a state-sponsored doping program.

 

This week, the country’s deputy prime minister, Vitaly Mutko, blamed RUSADA and the former head of the Russian anti-doping lab, Grigory Rodchenkov, for the corruption, and suggested WADA was at fault, too. Rodchenkov lives in hiding in the United States after revealing details of the plot.

 

“We are rearranging the system but it should be rearranged so that WADA could also share responsibility,” Mutko told Russia’s R-Sport news agency. “They should have been responsible for (Rodchenkov) before, as they have issued him a license and given him a work permit. They were in control of him but now the state is blamed for it.”

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Trump Blocks Chinese Takeover of US Computer Chip Company

President Donald Trump has blocked the acquisition of a U.S. computer chip manufacturer by a Chinese company, calling it a threat to national security.

The Chinese-owned Canyon Bridge Fund has sought to take over Oregon-based Lattice Semiconductor Corp.

The U.S. Treasury Department, acting under Trump’s orders, said Wednesday it is prohibiting the deal. It says the president determined that it would put national security at risk and that negotiations would not reduce that risk.

“The national security risk posed by the transaction relates to, among other things, the potential transfer of intellectual property to the foreign acquirer…the importance of semiconductor supply chain integrity to the U.S. government, and the use of Lattice products by the U.S. government.”

Trump acted after both Lattice and Canyon Bridge lobbied the administration hard to allow the deal to go thorough.

China has not yet reacted to the Treasury’s announcement. Trump has vowed to crack down on what he says are unfair Chinese trade practices, including alleged intellectual property theft.

The administration’s perception that China is failing to put enough pressure on North Korea to end its nuclear program has also put a strain in ties between Washington and Beijing.

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Workers on Seasonal US Visas Tell Panel of Abuses

As Congress looks into ways to fix the immigration system, often with the goal of safeguarding job opportunities for U.S. workers, at least one immigration organization argues that current federal regulations fail to protect foreign visa holders from job misrepresentation, recruitment fees, exploitation, fraud and discrimination.

Four women who came to the U.S. on temporary visas were part of a panel discussion Tuesday in Washington to raise awareness of a system they said often treats human beings like commodities.

“In the workplace, there were about 80 of us, women, and we had a hard time,” Adareli Hernandez, a former H-2B worker, said in Spanish during a discussion hosted by the Center for Migrant Rights (CDM), a Mexico-based organization with an office in Baltimore, Maryland.

Hernandez, who is from Hidalgo, Mexico, looked for two years before she was finally able to get a H-2B seasonal non-farm work visa to work at a chocolate packing factory in Louisiana.

Inequality in workplace

While men who worked at the factory earned higher wages by carrying and stacking boxes, women were relegated to packing chocolates on assembly lines with no time off for illness.

“We weren’t able to make complaints, because if we did make complaints, we were threatened by the manager. … We were told we didn’t have a right to file complaints, because we didn’t have rights here in the United States,” she said.

But after four seasons as an H-2B visa worker, Hernandez fought for better labor conditions along with 70 colleagues. She said though work conditions improved, the company decided not to rehire her or co-workers.

Hernandez’s testimony is one of the 34 detailed worker stories featured in a CDM report, Engendering Exploitation: Gender Inequality in U.S. Labor Migration Programs.

Though the report focuses on women migrant workers, CDM policy recommendations say, “All temporary labor migration programs should be subjected to the same rules and protection so that unscrupulous employers and recruiters do not use the patchwork of visa regulations to evade liability.”

According to the Economic Policy Institute, about 1.4 million people are recruited to work in the U.S. each year through temporary work visas, including H-1B (specialty occupations), H-2B, J-1 (exchange visitor program) and TN (Canadians and Mexicans in certain occupations under the North American Free Trade Agreement).

The visas may vary, but immigration and labor organizations report that recruited foreign workers face common patterns of abuses.

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor and Department of Homeland Security cracked down on abuse within the H-2B system, hoping to prevent the exploitation of workers and to ensure U.S. workers’ awareness of available jobs.

Rosa’s story

A licensed veterinarian, who asked to be called only Rosa for fear of retaliation, submitted a statement that was read during CDM’s discussion. Rosa was unable to join the panel because the U.S. government rejected her application for a tourist visa.

“Although the U.S. government had no problem offering me a TN work visa at the employer’s request, it won’t allow me to visit the country as a tourist. Anyway, that’s not going to stop me from sharing my story,” Rosa’s statement said.

Rosa is a former TN visa worker who was hired for an animal scientist position in Wisconsin. She was “thrilled” for the opportunity to work at a place where she would put in practice the skills she acquired as a recent graduate from a top Mexican university.

TN visas were created within NAFTA to allow U.S. employers to hire Canadian and Mexican workers for specialized jobs.

“I was deceived by my employer. They promised me a salary that they failed to pay, a contract they didn’t respect,” Rosa’s statement said.

“The supervisors would yell at us constantly and tell us that our visa was only good for obeying orders. I cleaned animal troughs, unloaded them from trucks. As the only woman, they would also give me jobs they considered ‘women’s work,’ cleaning the bathroom or the kitchen,” she said.

Protecting American workers

Rachel Micah-Jones, CDM’s executive director, said there is a need to ensure workers have basic protections, including the right to understand a contract before entering into an agreement with a U.S. company.

Immigration hard-liners agree about the need to protect visa workers, but they also express concern about the welfare of American workers.

Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, said though she agrees these visa programs “can be beneficial to certain employees for legitimate purposes,” there is a “big problem” with employers abusing the system as a way to bring in “workers who can be paid less, and who end up replacing American and legal immigrant workers.”

“The solution is not necessarily to end the program, but to reform it and for the government agencies that are responsible for these programs to do a better job of oversight to make sure that they are not abused,” Vaughan told VOA.

Vaughan was scheduled to speak about guest worker visa programs at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that had been scheduled for Wednesday. The hearing was postponed because government officials were focused on hurricane response and recovery efforts after two storms struck in Texas and Florida.

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Pittsburgh to Be Site of America’s Largest Urban Farm

Pittsburgh, once a dynamo of heavy industry, will soon become home to the United States’ largest urban farm, part of what advocates say is a trend to transform former manufacturing cities into green gardens.

The Hilltop Urban Farm will open in 2019, consisting of 23 acres (9 hectares) of farmland where low-income housing once stood, two miles (three kilometers) from the city center, designers say.

On top of farmland where winter peas and other fresh produce will be grown by local residents and sold in the community, the farm will feature a fruit orchard, a youth farm and skills-building program. Hillside land will eventually have trails.

The farm is believed to be by far the largest nationwide to be located in an urban area, said Aaron Sukenik, who heads the Hilltop Alliance that is coordinating the initiative.

“The land was just kind of sitting there, fenced and looking very post-apocalyptic,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

After Pittsburgh boomed during the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a center of coal production, steel and manufacturing, it was hit by industrial decline in the 1950s, its population cut by half over the next half century.

Reinventing itself, the metropolis has since regained much of its economic vigor with the health care industry replacing manufacturing as the city’s powerhouse.

But while “all the areas that you can see from downtown really have turned around,” several neighborhoods on the city’s outer ring have yet to see a similar resurgence, said Sukenik.

“It’s those neighborhoods that are the focus of our work,” he said.

Open to local residents, the farm will help bring fresh food to surrounding areas that often lack such options, he said. Pittsburgh has the largest percentage of people residing in communities with “low-supermarket access” for cities of 250,000 to 500,000 people, according to a 2012 report by the U.S. Treasury Department.

And local advocates say much of Pittsburgh’s south side, where the farm will be located, is particularly underserved by supermarkets and other retailers of fresh food.

Rust Belt

The Hilltop Urban Farm embodies a trend in cities across America’s Rust Belt from Detroit to Cleveland and Buffalo where manufacturing has died out, said Heather Mikulas, a farm and food business educator for Penn State Extension, an applied research arm of  Pennsylvania State University.

“You just have blight, just so much blight in Rust Belt cities,” she said.

“So you see the long-standing residents of neighborhoods who are used to trying to find their place in the world looking at this blight and just saying, ‘We can do something different, we can do something better,’ ” said Mikulas, who co-authored a report on the feasibility of the Hilltop Urban Farm project in 2014.

What were once often “guerrilla” operations have morphed into projects working hand in hand with municipal authorities to secure land rights and rezone areas to allow for agriculture, Mikulas said.

A common concern with urban farms is their reliance on grants that eventually dry out, said Stan Ernst, a professor of agribusiness development at Penn State.

The $9.9 million Hilltop Urban Farm is funded by foundations, primarily the Henry L. Hillman Foundation.

“Look for ways that you can operate enough like a business that you can hopefully provide a level of sustainability there,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

No comprehensive national study has yet measured the extent of urban farming in the United States, said Michael Hamm, a professor of sustainable agriculture at Michigan State University.

Globally, city dwellers are farming an area the size of the European Union, a 2014 study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters found.

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В інтернатах України зросла кількість дітей, які мають батьків – офіс дитячого омбудсмена

В Україні зросла кількість дітей, які потрапили до інтернатів за наявності біологічних батьків. Про це повідомляє офіс уповноваженого президента України з прав дитини. Згідно з порівнянням даних, у 2000 році 60% дітей у інтернатах мали батьків, у 2016-му – 92%.

Як повідомили в офісі дитячого омбудсмена, якщо у 2000 році дітей в Україні було майже 11 мільйонів, а в інтернатах число їх було меншим – 99 тисяч (40% – сироти), то у 2016-му загальна чисельність дітей зменшилась до 7 мільйонів, але при цьому дітей в інтернатах налічувалось 106 тисяч (8% – сироти).

Нині в Україні діє 751 інтернатна установа. Як повідомив уповноважений президента України з прав дитини Микола Кулеба, від таких закладів держава хоче відмовитись в ході реформування системи інституційного догляду і виховання дітей, щоб виховувати дітей у дитячих будинках сімейного типу та прийомних родинах.

На сьогодні в Україні функціонує близько тисячі будинків сімейного типу, 150 з яких надані державою.

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Iraq Sentences Russian National to Death for IS Links

Baghdad’s central criminal court sentenced a Russian national to death by hanging for his membership in the Islamic State group, the court said in a statement.

 

The man was arrested as Iraqi forces pushed the extremist group out of Mosul’s western half, according to the statement released late Tuesday. The fight for Mosul’s west was the second phase of the operation to retake Iraq’s second largest city from IS that was launched in October of last year and declared complete in July.

 

The individual was tried under Iraq’s anti-terrorism law and confessed to carrying out “terrorist operations” against Iraqi security forces since 2015, said Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar, spokesman for Iraq’s supreme judicial council.

 

Earlier this week, Iraqi forces announced they were holding more than 1,300 foreign women and children from 14 countries at a camp for displaced people in northern Iraq. The individuals from 14 countries surrendered to Kurdish forces at the end of August after an Iraqi offensive drove the extremist group from the northern town of Tal Afar, near Mosul, Iraqi security officials said.

 

The women and children will not be charged with crimes and will likely be repatriated to their home countries, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

 

In 2016, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi attempted to fast-track death sentences as his government faced growing anti-government protests demanding reform.

 

However, he United Nations warned the move would likely result in “gross, irreversible miscarriages of justice… given the weaknesses of the Iraqi justice system,” according to a statement from U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein.

 

Rights groups criticize Iraq’s widespread use of the death penalty. In 2016, Iraq executed more than 88 people, topped only by Saudi Arabia, Iran and China, according to Amnesty international.

 

 

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Кабмін дозволив переселенцям отримувати пенсії та соцвиплати через будь-які банки

Кабінет Міністрів України ввів можливість виплати пенсій і соціальних виплат внутрішньо переміщеним особам з отриманням готівкових коштів і проведенням безготівкових операцій через будь-які банки, а не лише через «Ощадбанк». Відповідне рішення було ухвалене на засіданні уряду в середу.

Відповідне рішення прем’єр-міністр Володимир Гройсман зачитав серед ухвалених без обговорення.

Згідно з проектом рішення, яке отримала агенція «Інтерфакс-Україна», виплата пенсій, інших соцвиплат переселенцям проводиться через рахунки і мережу установ «Ощадбанку» як у готівці, так і через безготівкові операції, а також через мережу установ будь-яких банків на підконтрольній українській владі території.

Доставку пенсій і соцвиплат за місцем проживання особам з інвалідністю першої групи здійснюватиме не «Ощадбанк», а «Укрпошта».

У серпні цього року в Управлінні верховного комісара ООН у справах біженців заявили, що 586 тисяч людей на сході України втратили доступ до пенсії та соцдопомоги. В ООН заявляли, що тисячі літніх людей, які проживають у зоні конфлікту, втратили доступ до своїх пенсій через «верифікаційні процедури», запроваджені урядом України».

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With Ginseng Festival, Wisconsin Growers Aim to Cultivate Broader Taste for Root

In this upper Midwestern state known for dairy, beer and Harley-Davidson motorcycles, ginseng growers want to make sure that the bitter root also gets its due.

So they’ve organized the first International Wisconsin Ginseng Festival. Set for Friday through Sunday in this mid-state river town, it will feature the root’s role in culinary, health and beauty products and local history. The event, just before the fall harvest, is expected to draw at least several hundred ginseng aficionados from Asia and from U.S. cities with large ethnic Asian populations.

Organizers hope the visitors’ appetite for Wisconsin ginseng will catch on with a broader consumer base. Even state residents, mostly of northern European descent, have limited experience with the plant beyond seeing vast “gardens” shaded with black fabric canopies.

With the festival, “we’re creating awareness,” said Tom Hack, the Ginseng Board of Wisconsin’s international marketing director for several years ending last month.

Leading U.S. production

The state produces about 700,000 pounds or 317,500 kilos a year of cultivated ginseng – roughly 95 percent of the entire U.S. crop, which still totals less than 10 percent of the global yield. The vast majority goes to China and Hong Kong, where it has been used for thousands of years as a tonic to reduce stress, boost energy, focus attention and even treat male sexual dysfunction. A 2012 Mayo Clinic study found American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) eased fatigue among cancer patients.

American ginseng has alleged “cool” or restorative properties. The Wisconsin-grown root, considered especially potent, last year commanded a wholesale price ranging from the low $30s to $55 a pound – roughly double that of Chinese-grown root, Hack said. American wild ginseng root, the most prized, can command hundreds of dollars per pound.

But growers like Will Hsu worry that consumers may not be familiar enough with the root to differentiate.

“It’s global competition,” said Hsu, whose family’s ginseng farm and sales operation near Wausau is among the country’s largest. “If you do not educate consumers on the difference in taste and yield from Wisconsin, they’ll view it as a commodity that’s interchangeable.”

Accommodating climate

The area’s long, cold winters and mineral-rich topsoil provide favorable conditions for ginseng, which takes at least three years to mature. It took off as a commercial crop in 1904 when four brothers – the Fromms – started cultivating the root as well as collecting it in the wild. Production peaked in the early 1990s, when 1,500 growers – mostly hobbyists with full-time jobs – produced over 2.2 million pounds or almost 100,000 kilos.

But some growers sold seed to Canada and China, setting up competition that flooded the market, depressed prices and drove out many Wisconsin growers. Their numbers have dwindled to fewer than 200 today. Their 317,500-kilos yield is dwarfed by output abroad, Hack said. “Canada is, like, 4.5 million pounds” or just over 2 million kilos. “China’s at least 5 million” pounds or 2.26 million kilos.  

“Seeds that came from our industry came to really haunt us,” added Hack, a hobbyist himself.

Growers face two related problems: product fraud and trademark infringement. Shady dealers misrepresent foreign-grown ginseng as American, Hack said. His board introduced a seal in 1991 to certify roots or products made entirely of Wisconsin ginseng, but “we’ve got companies using our logo that are not authorized to do that. Our industry has now started taking legal action” and alerting various regulatory agencies.  

The commodity group also reviews international shipping records and has its handful of worldwide distributors look out for suspect products.

“We have a monitoring program in place in China,” Hack said, “so we can address infringers there.”

Educating consumers

The more challenging task, Will Hsu argues, is cultivating discerning consumers of ginseng root, berries, and the resulting teas, powders, extracts and herbal supplements.

“The biggest problem for our industry, not only with labeling, is now you’re going to have some countries like Taiwan where [there’s] a whole generation of consumers who really only consume Canadian ginseng or Chinese-grown,” he said.

“They don’t even know Wisconsin ginseng,” lamented his father, Paul Hsu.

The Hsus and Hack discussed that quandary last October at the headquarters of Hsu’s Ginseng Enterprises Inc., where workers in the adjoining processing facility sorted and packaged freshly harvested roots. Paul Hsu, who emigrated from Taiwan, began the business in the 1970s. Now Will Hsu, in his early 40s, oversees daily operations.

A marketing ground game  

Armed with a Harvard MBA and sales experience at food giant General Mills, the son promotes the concept of “terroir,” which links an agricultural product to the land on which it’s grown. Just as the French province of Champagne is known for fine sparkling wine, he wants to ensure that central Wisconsin retains global recognition for premium ginseng. The company’s 2017 calendar and other printed materials showcase “Terroir at N45th Parallel” – the area’s latitude.

Wisconsin’s dark loam lends the ginseng a distinctive, earthy taste, Will Hsu said: “It’s bitter, it’s herbal. That is not a taste kids look fondly upon.”

As with beer, it’s an acquired taste, he added. For the festival, the Hsus are partnering with the local Bull Falls Brewery to make a limited-release ginseng brew.

Festival vendors will peddle other items made with ginseng – such as wine, macaroons, teas, muffins and stir fries – and offer cooking demonstrations to show the plant’s versatility.

Visitors also will be able to dig their own roots at certain gardens.

Generational issues

The generational challenge affects both labor supply and consumer demand.    

On a mild day early last October, three dozen workers harvested ginseng, some kneeling in freshly turned soil to gather ginseng roots, others lugging filled buckets to a waiting truck. Almost all were Hmong, who began emigrating from Laos and Thailand to the state four decades ago, after the Vietnam War, and many were advanced in years.

“People in my age group don’t want to do the work,” said Aaron Kaiser, 28, whose family owns the garden. A third-generation grower, he fits in ginseng duties – including as a director on the marketing board – around his job as a math teacher. 

As for demand, young ethnic Chinese don’t necessarily share their forebears’ enthusiasm for the herb.

“It’s not good for young people, it’s for old people,” said Yongcheng Kuang, a student at the nearby University of Wisconsin-Marshfield/Wood County campus who hails from Shenzhen in China’s Guangdong province. Nonetheless, it was among the gifts he brought home to relatives during summer break.

Hack, the marketer, acknowledged that “the younger generation has different buying trends. But there are 1.3 billion people in the country of China, and the majority do recognize TCM – traditional Chinese medicine.”

While the board continues its focus on international markets, “we’ve never taken into consideration the market potential right here in the United States,” Hack added.

With the festival, Wisconsin growers hope to make inroads.

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Under EU Attack, Top Palm Oil Producers Rethink Trade Strategy

Facing a backlash in Europe over palm oil’s environmental toll, the world’s top producers are scrambling to find new markets and even striking unusual barter deals, such as exchanging Sukhoi jets for the edible oil.

The European Union is the second-largest palm oil export destination after India for both Malaysia and Indonesia, which dominate production in a global market worth at least $40 billion.

But palm has come under increasing fire in Europe over its impact on forest destruction, encouraging producers to look at new markets ranging from Africa to Myanmar.

Threatened by crumbling demand in Europe, the industry is waging a public relations battle and pushing producers to enter more price-sensitive markets, where Indonesia should have an advantage over Malaysia due to its lower production costs.

“Our principle is we will not let go of even one tonne of trade contract or potential demand palm has globally,” Indonesia’s deputy Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Musdhalifah Machmud told Reuters.

Machmud said palm oil sales were being brought up in “every trade negotiation” Indonesia conducts.

Palm oil is used in thousands of household products, from snack foods to soaps, as well as to make biodiesel. 

But the demand boom has spread plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia across an area of more than 17 million hectares — an area greater than the size of Portugal and Ireland. They are mostly carved out of rainforests, which critics say has lead to an increase in the greenhouse gases that warm the planet.

Environmental activists have pressured consumer companies into demanding that their palm suppliers adopt more environmentally sustainable forestry practices. But in Europe, politicians say the industry’s standards on sustainability do not go far enough.

So far, palm oil sales to the European Union have held up. 

Indonesian exports rose about 40 percent to 2.7 million tons in the first half of 2017 from a year earlier.

Indonesia’s overall palm exports were worth $18 billion last year, with EU sales accounting for 16 percent, the Indonesian Palm Oil Association (GAPKI) said. For Malaysia, the EU made up nearly 13 percent of exports, government data showed.

‘Imported deforestation’ 

Europe is particularly concerned about the soaring use of oils, including palm, as a biodiesel fuel. Once regarded as a green alternative, an EU-commissioned report now says it creates more emissions than fossil fuels.

France said in July it will reduce the use of palm in biofuels over concerns of “imported deforestation”, prompting concerns from Indonesia that other European countries could follow suit.

In Germany, the environment ministry said it will press to amend an EU renewables directive to take account of the study showing “palm oil and soyoil caused, in comparison to other biofuels, very much higher greenhouse gas emissions per energy unit through indirect land use change.”

The European parliament In April voted to phase out unsustainable palm oil by 2020. The resolution endorsed a single Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) plan for Europe-bound palm and other vegetable oil exports to ensure they are produced in an environmentally sustainable way.

In addition to environmental damage, the industry has come under fire over frequent reports of land grabs, child labor and harsh working conditions. Some of the annual forest fires that send shrouds of smoke over parts of Southeast Asia have broken out on palm oil concessions that burn forests to clear land.

Indonesian Trade minister Enggartiasto Lukita in May warned his EU counterparts that he might ask Jakarta not to buy Airbus planes in retaliation, the Jakarta Post reported.

GAPKI Chairman Joko Supriyono told a United Nations sustainability meeting in New York last week that Indonesian palm oil plantation governance met international standards.

Meanwhile, Indonesia is looking at new palm oil markets in Africa offering barter trades with palm oil. Lukita told reporters on a visit to Nigeria he had proposed to swap palm oil for crude oil.

Indonesia signed a preliminary deal last month with Russia’s Rostec to exchange commodities, including palm, as part of a $1.14 billion payment for 11 Sukhoi jets.

Indonesia’s Vegetable Oil Association executive director Sahat Sinaga said palm oil producers will open a marketing and research company in Russia, aiming to increase exports of 920,000 tons in 2016 by 4-5 percent per year up to 2023.

The group is also planning to open a storage facility in Pakistan, which imports 1-2 million tons of palm from Indonesia a year, anticipating further growth in demand.

Malaysia more vulnerable

The Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) says it will increase efforts to diversify into new markets such as Myanmar, the Philippines and West Africa regardless of the EU Resolution.

Malaysia’s plantation industries and commodities minister Mah Siew Keong said in June he met EU commissioners and members of parliament for talks. The ministry did not respond to a request for further comment.

Malaysia is more reliant on palm oil exports than Indonesia, shipping out more than 90 percent of its palm oil last year, compared to about 70 percent in Indonesia.

Production costs in Malaysia are also 10-15 percent higher than in Indonesia, analysts estimate.

“If EU doesn’t take up palm for biodiesel, demand for palm oil globally will fall and prices will be affected on the downside . . . which will impact everyone equally,” said Ivy Ng, regional head of plantations research at CIMB Investment Bank.