Building dams that flood land, the beavers have infuriated farmers. Some have obtained permits to kill the animals — setting off outrage among conservationists.
By Stephen Castle
Photographs by Kieran Dodds
EDINBURGH — Wrapped inside a brown hessian sack, the baby beaver wriggled as it was carried to an examination table, but gave up the fight as a veterinarian deftly punched a microchip into its thick pelt and removed clumps of brown fur for samples.
“It’s stressful for the animal,” said Romain Pizzi, a wildlife specialist, as he extracted blood from the scaly flat tail of the male kit captured just a few hours earlier. Nonetheless, he added, this was a lucky young beaver.
“The alternative,” he said, “is that it’s going to be shot.”
But the sanctioned killing of an otherwise protected species has enraged conservationists, prompting a legal challenge and igniting a polarizing debate about farming, biodiversity and the future of Scotland’s countryside.
Although there was an official trial reintroduction of beavers in 2009 in the west of Scotland, the animal’s return is primarily a result of earlier escapes or unauthorized releases of beavers imported privately, mainly from Bavaria or Norway. The growing population is most evident in the streams of Tayside, north of Edinburgh.
The five-month-old kit in the examining room, weighing in around nine pounds, had been caught in a trap in Tayside and rescued from what is called a “conflict area” — where, because of the damage the animals cause, farmers have won licenses to kill them. In 2020, they killed 115 of the animals, about 10 percent of a beaver population that now stands at roughly 1,000 across Scotland.
the new Scottish government’s draft policy program.
In Scotland, beaver territories, which vary in size but typically feature around four animals, have increased steadily — from 39 in 2012 to 251 in 2020-21, according to an official report. In 2019, beavers were given protected status, albeit with farmers able to apply for licenses to cull.
Now, a rewilding charity, Trees for Life, has challenged the Scottish government’s nature agency, NatureScot, in court claiming that it issues licenses too readily.
Bamff estate in Perthshire, where Paul and Louise Ramsay run an eco-tourism operation. The Ramsays brought Scotland’s first recent-era beavers to the site in 2002, when there were fewer restrictions, as part of their own beaver rewilding project.
The idea was to restore natural habitats on their land after centuries of drainage designed to maximize farm yields. A significant transformation can be seen in a wild, scenic stretch of the 1,300-acre estate, which has been in the family since 1232.
Tall trees felled by beavers have crashed into pools of water separated by dams. Along the bank of a small river stood birch trees that were almost gnawed through; a few meters away a beaver could be seen swimming with a large clump of foliage in its mouth.
regulate the water level of their aquatic habitats.
The 20 or so beavers living here have killed many trees, a point of contention for the Ramsays’ critics. But they have attracted otters, allowed water pools to fill with trout, frogs and toads, and given a nesting place in dead trees to woodpeckers, Ms. Ramsay said.
She said the problem was not the beavers, but farmers who think that any land that does not produce a crop is wasted.
“Their motivation is to drain, drain, drain, so a beaver comes along and wants to make a wet bit here or there — which might be a brilliant habitat — that’s against the farmer’s interest,” she said.
Some beavers did escape from Bamff, Ms. Ramsay acknowledged. She claimed that by the time that happened, though, others had already escaped from a wildlife park some distance away.
The Ramsays took over management of the estate in the 1980s. In the late 1990s, Mr. Ramsay said, he became excited by the idea of introducing beavers at a time when he says the farming and fishing lobby had blocked an official trial project. He denies suggestions from critics that he deliberately let beavers escape to speed things up.
At his farm not far away in Meigle, Adrian Ivory was unconvinced. “Those animals have now escaped for whatever reason,” he said, “and the financial burden is not on the person who caused the problem but on us where the issue now is. They’re now being hailed as heroes for getting beavers back in and there is no thought about what damage it’s doing to our livelihoods.”
Beaver dams in a stream on his land must be removed regularly, Mr. Ivory said, because they threaten the drainage system in a nearby field and caused one year’s crop to rot. Burrowing threatens the stability of banks, making it potentially dangerous to use tractors.
Mr. Ivory said the damage may have cost him £50,000, including wrecked crops and labor costs. “If you rewild everywhere, where’s your next meal coming from?” he asked. “Food becomes a lot more expensive, or you have to import it.”
Mr. Ivory declined to discuss whether he had culled the beaver population on his land, but said he allowed the animals to be trapped for relocation, a task undertaken in Tayside by Roisin Campbell-Palmer, the restoration manager at the Beaver Trust charity.
She works with farmers, rising early in the morning to check traps, then relocating animals to beaver projects in England, where more than 50 have been sent. (Scotland does not allow the animals to be relocated within the country.)
Ms. Campbell-Palmer said she found beavers fascinating and admired their dam-building skills, tenacity and single-mindedness. That said, she understands the complaints of farmers and admits that, having seen some particularly destructive tree-felling, has occasionally said to herself, “‘Of all the trees to cut down, why did you do that one?’”
As she inspected a trap filled with carrots, turnips and apples, Ms. Campbell-Palmer reflected on the ferocious debate and concluded that beavers had undeniably achieved one thing in Scotland.
“I think what they are doing,” she said, “is making us ask wider questions about how we are using the landscape.”
To the people of Cuglieri, a small hilltop village on the Italian island of Sardinia, the tree was simply “the Patriarch.”
Over the course of its long life — estimates of its age range from 1,800 to 2,000 years old — the olive tree became a behemoth, with a trunk 11 feet, or 3.4 meters, wide, and an integral part of an ancient landscape in western Sardinia. But after a large area of vegetation and numerous farms and villages in the region were devastated by one of the biggest wildfires in decades, time finally caught up with the Patriarch.
The ancient olive tree was engulfed in flames, and its giant trunk burned for almost two days.
In a fire that reached Cuglieri in late July, the agricultural community of about 2,600 residents lost 90 percent of its olive trees, the main source of income for most. More than 1,000 people were evacuated from the town, which is tucked between a mountain covered in cork and oak trees and the Mediterranean Sea.
Now local residents and the authorities are pinning their hopes for the survival of their ancient olive tree on Gianluigi Bacchetta, a professor at the University of Cagliari and the director of its botanical gardens, who is trying to bring the Patriarch back to life.
“The Patriarch is our identity,” said Maria Franca Curcu, who is responsible for cultural and social policies for the municipality of Cuglieri, her voice breaking. “If we can save him, we can give a message of hope to all the people who have lost everything in the fire.”
When Professor Bacchetta first visited the ancient olive tree in July, soil temperatures had reached 176 degrees Fahrenheit, or 80 degrees Celsius, because of the fire.
“We needed to create an intensive care unit for the tree,” he said in a telephone interview. “It really is a living being that underwent serious trauma,” Professor Bacchetta said. “We are going to do our best and hope that it wakes up from its coma.”
The professor and his team first watered the soil to cool it down and then protected the trunk with jute tarps and the soil with straw. A nearby village gave a water tank for the tree, and a local plumber built an irrigation system that allows the soil to retain crucial humidity.
A local construction company donated equipment and worked for free to build a structure to shade the trunk from the scorching sun, replicating the role of leaves — now gone. Every 10 days, the tree is irrigated with organic fertilizers in the hope of encouraging the tree’s peripheral roots to grow.
“If the peripheral roots restart and manage to transfer materials to the stump,” Professor Bacchetta said, “we can hope for shoots to come out in September or October.”
The professor did not stop with the Patriarch. He visited all of the centuries-old olive groves in the area, advising farmers on how to save fire-damaged plants. His team and local authorities are planning a crowdfunding effort to buy equipment to restore the olive groves and their fields.
Giorgio Zampa, the owner of an olive farm that once belonged to his great-grandfather, lost all of his 500 oldest olive trees, planted over 350 years ago.
“Mr. Bacchetta unfortunately can’t do much for me,” Mr. Zampa said, “but I believe that the work on the Patriarch will psychologically help the entire community.”
Ten of his 14 Sardinian donkeys and almost all of his cattle from an ancient, endangered breed also died in the wildfire as they sought shelter in a nearby forest, which began burning shortly after. Mr. Zampa said he would focus his business on the remaining younger olive trees and start planting new ones.
“The village’s economy got burned to a cinder like the olive groves,” he said. “The fire damaged the landscape, the economy and our incomes in an incalculable way, like nothing we had seen before.”
Wildfires are not new to the Cuglieri area. They are a relatively common summer phenomenon on the arid island of Sardinia, but generally are not as apocalyptic as this season’s. The extraordinarily high flames, propelled by strong winds from the south, reached the village’s homes and burned to ashes everything standing in between, including the cemetery’s ossuary.
In the last big fire, in 1994, the Patriarch was spared, though the flames burned some century-old trees nearby.
“In Cuglieri, we have always felt that there is something sacred about it, and that protected it from the fire,” said Piera Perria, a retired local anthropologist who first contacted Professor Bacchetta to assess the Patriarch. “None of us could imagine that it could not make it this time.”
Giuseppe Mariano Delogu, a retired high-ranking official with Sardinia’s forestry corps, said that in the past 40 years, wildfires followed the same roads on the hill and the mountain near Cuglieri, but the flames never reached the olive groves.
Although civil protection and the response to fires in the area have improved over the years, bureaucratic hurdles aimed at protecting Mediterranean scrubland mean that inflammable vegetation is often not cleared, creating fire hazards, experts say. High temperatures this summer, partly because of hot winds blowing in from Africa, have intensified the risks of wildfires breaking out.
“The only way to extinguish such fires is to prevent them,” Mr. Delogu said. “Technology simply fails when the fire is so strong and so vast, regardless of how many firefighters you have, they will always struggle.”
Mr. Delogu was still hopeful for the Patriarch, though.
“They are incredible trees,” he said. “I am optimistic.”
SAN ANTONIO HUISTA, Guatemala — An American contractor went to a small town in the Guatemalan mountains with an ambitious goal: to ignite the local economy, and hopefully even persuade people not to migrate north to the United States.
Half an hour into his meeting with coffee growers, the contractor excitedly revealed the tool he had brought to change their lives: a pamphlet inviting the farmers to download an app to check coffee prices and “be a part of modern agriculture.”
Pedro Aguilar, a coffee farmer who hadn’t asked for the training and didn’t see how it would keep anyone from heading for the border, looked confused. Eyeing the U.S. government logo on the pamphlet, he began waving it around, asking if anyone had a phone number to call the Americans “and tell them what our needs really are.”
soared in 2019 and is on the upswing once more.
have risen, malnutrition has become a national crisis, corruption is unbridled and the country is sending more unaccompanied children to the United States than anywhere else in the world.
That is the stark reality facing Ms. Harris as she assumes responsibility for expanding the same kind of aid programs that have struggled to stem migration in the past. It is a challenge that initially frustrated her top political aides, some of whom viewed the assignment from Mr. Biden as one that would inevitably set her up for failure in the first months of her tenure.
Her allies worried that she would be expected to solve the entire immigration crisis, irked that the early reports of her new duties appeared to hold her responsible for juggling the recent surge of children crossing the border without adults.
linked to drug traffickers and accused of embezzling American aid money, the leader of El Salvador has been denounced for trampling democratic norms and the government of Guatemala has been criticized for persecuting officials fighting corruption.
Even so, Ms. Harris and her advisers have warmed to the task, according to several people familiar with her thinking in the White House. They say it will give her a chance to dive squarely into foreign policy and prove that she can pass the commander-in-chief test, negotiating with world leaders on a global stage to confront one of America’s most intractable issues.
critics denounced as unlawful and inhumane. Moreover, members of the current administration contend that Mr. Trump’s decision to freeze a portion of the aid to the region in 2019 ended up blunting the impact of the work being done to improve conditions there.
But experts say the reasons that years of aid have not curbed migration run far deeper than that. In particular, they note that much of the money is handed over to American companies, which swallow a lot of it for salaries, expenses and profits, often before any services are delivered.
Record numbers of Central American children and families were crossing, fleeing gang violence and widespread hunger.
independent studies have found.
“All activities funded with U.S.A.I.D.’s foreign assistance benefit countries and people overseas, even if managed through agreements with U.S.-based organizations,” said Mileydi Guilarte, a deputy assistant administrator at U.S.A.I.D. working on Latin America funding.
But the government’s own assessments don’t always agree. After evaluating five years of aid spending in Central America, the Government Accountability Office rendered a blunt assessment in 2019: “Limited information is available about how U.S. assistance improved prosperity, governance, and security.”
One U.S.A.I.D. evaluation of programs intended to help Guatemalan farmers found that from 2006 to 2011, incomes rose less in the places that benefited from U.S. aid than in similar areas where there was no intervention.
Mexico has pushed for a more radical approach, urging the United States to give cash directly to Central Americans affected by two brutal hurricanes last year. But there’s also a clear possibility — that some may simply use the money to pay a smuggler for the trip across the border.
The farmers of San Antonio Huista say they know quite well what will keep their children from migrating. Right now, the vast majority of people here make their money by selling green, unprocessed coffee beans to a few giant Guatemalan companies. This is a fine way to put food on the table — assuming the weather cooperates — but it doesn’t offer much more than subsistence living.
Farmers here have long dreamed of escaping that cycle by roasting their own coffee and selling brown beans in bags to American businesses and consumers, which brings in more money.
“Instead of sending my brother, my father, my son to the United States, why not send my coffee there, and get paid in dollars?” said Esteban Lara, the leader of a local coffee cooperative.
But when they begged a U.S. government program for funding to help develop such a business, Ms. Monzón said, they were told “the money is not designed to be invested in projects like that.”
These days, groups of her neighbors are leaving for the United States every month or two. So many workers have abandoned this town that farmers are scrambling to find laborers to harvest their coffee.
One of Ms. Monzón’s oldest employees, Javier López Pérez, left with his 14-year-old son in 2019, during the last big wave of Central American migration to the United States. Mr. López said he was scaling the border wall with his son when he fell and broke his ankle.
“My son screamed, ‘Papi, no!’ and I said to him, ‘Keep going, my son,’” Mr. López said. He said his son made it to the United States, while he returned to San Antonio Huista alone.
His family was then kicked out of their home, which Mr. López had given as collateral to the person who smuggled him to the border. The house they moved into was destroyed by the two hurricanes that hit Guatemala late last year.
Ms. Monzón put Mr. López in one of her relatives’ houses, then got the community to cobble together money to pay for enough cinder blocks to build the family a place to live.
While mixing cement to bind the blocks together, one of Mr. López’s sons, Vidal, 19, confessed that he had been talking to a smuggler about making the same journey that felled his father, who was realistic at the prospect.
“I told him, ‘Son, we suffered hunger and thirst along the way, and then look at what happened to me, look at what I lost,’” Mr. López said, touching his still-mangled ankle. “But I can’t tell him what to do with his life — he’s a man now.”
After graduating in 1953, Mr. Yuan took a job as a teacher in an agricultural college in Hunan Province, keeping up his interest in crop genetics. His commitment to the field took on greater urgency from the late 1950s, when Mao’s so-called Great Leap Forward — his frenzied effort to collectivize agriculture and jump-start steel production — plunged China into the worst famine of modern times, killing tens of millions. Mr. Yuan said he saw the bodies of at least five people who had died of starvation by the roadside or in fields.
“Famished, you would eat whatever there was to eat, even grass roots and tree bark,” Mr. Yuan recalled in his memoir. “At that time I became even more determined to solve the problem of how to increase food production so that ordinary people would not starve.”
Mr. Yuan soon settled on researching rice, the staple food for many Chinese people, searching for hybrid varieties that could boost yields and traveling to Beijing to immerse himself in scientific journals that were unavailable in his small college. He plowed on with his research even as the Cultural Revolution threw China into deadly political infighting.
In recent decades, the Communist Party came to celebrate Mr. Yuan as a model scientist: patriotic, dedicated to solving practical problems, and relentlessly hard-working even in old age. At 77, he even carried the Olympic torch near Changsha for a segment of its route to the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
Unusually for such a prominent figure, though, Mr. Yuan never joined the Chinese Communist Party. “I don’t understand politics,” he told a Chinese magazine in 2013.
Even so, the Xinhua state news agency honored him this weekend as a “comrade,” and his death brought an outpouring of public mourning in China. In 2019, he was one of eight Chinese individuals awarded the Medal of the Republic, China’s highest official honor, by Xi Jinping, the national leader.
Mr. Yuan is survived by his wife of 57 years, Deng Zhe, as well as three sons. His funeral, scheduled for Monday morning in Changsha, is likely to bring a new burst of official condolences.
The United States Department of Agriculture said on Friday that it will begin making loan forgiveness payments in June to thousands of minority farmers as part of the Biden administration’s $4 billion debt relief program.
The initiative, part of the $1.9 trillion economic relief package that Congress passed in March, has been criticized by white farmers, who claim that it is a form of reverse discrimination, and by banks, which have complained they are losing out on profits from lost interest payments. Delays in implementing the program have frustrated Black farmer organizations, whose members have struggled financially for years and received little help from the Trump administration’s farm bailouts last year.
The U.S.D.A. will initially make debt relief payments for about 13,000 loans that were made directly by the agency to minority farmers. The next phase will apply to the approximately 3,000 loans that were made by banks and guaranteed by the U.S.D.A. That will begin “no later” than 120 days from Friday, the agency said.
“The American Rescue Plan has made it possible for U.S.D.A. to deliver historic debt relief to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers,” Tom Vilsack, the secretary of agriculture, said in a statement. “U.S.D.A. is recommitting itself to gaining the trust and confidence of America’s farmers and ranchers using a new set of tools provided in the American Rescue Plan to increase opportunity, advance equity and address systemic discrimination in U.S.D.A. programs.”
The U.S.D.A has said that it does not have the authority to cover the banks’ lost interest income.
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration’s efforts to provide $4 billion in debt relief to minority farmers is encountering stiff resistance from banks, which are complaining that the government initiative to pay off the loans of borrowers who have faced decades of financial discrimination will cut into their profits and hurt investors.
The debt relief was approved as part of the $1.9 trillion stimulus package that Congress passed in March and was intended to make amends for the discrimination that Black and other nonwhite farmers have faced from lenders and the United States Department of Agriculture over the years. But no money has yet gone out the door.
Instead, the program has become mired in controversy and lawsuits. In April, white farmers who claim that they are victims of reverse discrimination sued the U.S.D.A. over the initiative.
Now, three of the biggest banking groups — the American Bankers Association, the Independent Community Bankers of America and National Rural Lenders Association — are waging their own fight and complaining about the cost of being repaid early.
They also want other investors who bought the loans in the secondary market to get government money that would make up for whatever losses they might incur from the early payoff.
Bank lobbyists, in letters and virtual meetings, have been asking the Agriculture Department to make changes to the repayment program, a U.S.D.A. official said. They are pressing the U.S.D.A. to simply make the loan payments, rather than wipe out the debt all at once. And they are warning of other repercussions, including long-term damage to the U.S.D.A.’s minority lending program.
In a letter sent last month to Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, the banks suggested that they might be more reluctant to extend credit if the loans were quickly repaid, leaving minority farmers worse off in the long run. The intimation was viewed as a threat by some organizations that represent Black farmers.
they wrote to Mr. Vilsack in April.
The U.S.D.A. has shown no inclination to reverse course. An agency official said that obliging the banks would put an undue burden on taxpayers and that the law did not allow the agency to pay interest costs or reimburse secondary market investors. The agency hopes to be able to begin the debt relief process in the coming weeks, according to the official, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on the program.
The relief legislation that Congress passed in March provided “sums as may be necessary” from the Treasury Department to help minority farmers and ranchers pay off loans granted or guaranteed by the Agriculture Department. Most of the loans are made directly to farmers, but about 12 percent, or 3,078, are made through lenders and guaranteed by the U.S.D.A.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the loan forgiveness provision would cost $4 billion over a decade.
While America’s banks have flourished in the last century, the number of Black-owned farms has declined sharply since 1920, to less than 40,000 today from about a million. Their demise is the result of industry consolidation as well as onerous loan terms and high foreclosure rates.
Black farmers have been frustrated by the delays and say they are angry that banks are demanding additional money, slowing down the debt relief process.
“Look at the two groups: You have the Black men and women who have gone through racism and discrimination and have lost their land and their livelihood,” said Bill Bridgeforth, a farmer in Alabama who is on the board of the National Black Growers Council. “And then you have the American Bankers Association, which represents the wealthiest folks in the land, and they’re whining about the money they could potentially lose.”
John Boyd Jr., president of the National Black Farmers Association, a nonprofit, said he found it upsetting that the banks said little about years of discriminatory lending practices and instead complained about losing profits.
“They’ve never signed on to a letter or supported us to end discrimination, but they were quick to send a letter to the secretary telling him how troublesome it’s going to be for the banks,” Mr. Boyd said. “They need to think about the trouble they’ve caused not working with Black farmers and the foreclosure process and how troublesome that was for us.”
Mr. Boyd urged Mr. Vilsack not to let the debt relief stall.
“It’s planting season and Black farmers and farmers of color really could use this relief,” Mr. Boyd said.
Cornelius Blanding, executive director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, said that the letter from the banks appeared to be a veiled threat.
“They are prioritizing profits over people,” Mr. Blanding said, expressing concern that the backlash from banks and white farmers could delay the debt relief. “Debt has been a burden on the back of many farmers and especially farmers of color. Them holding this up really prolongs justice.”
Although the government is paying 120 percent of the outstanding loan amounts to cover additional taxes and fees, banks say that unless they get more, they will be on the losing end of the bailout.
The banking industry groups could not offer an estimate of how much additional money they would need to be satisfied. The Agriculture Department said it would cost tens of millions of dollars to meet the banks’ demands.
In the letter to Mr. Vilsack, the bank lobbyists pointed to one large community bank, which they said had a $200 million portfolio of loans to socially disadvantaged farmers that would lose millions of dollars of net income per year if the loans were quickly paid off. They warned that such a move would “undoubtedly reduce the bank’s ability to retain employees.”
The American Bankers Association defended the request, arguing that lenders have been a lifeline to minority farmers. It said that the matter primarily affects the group’s smaller members that have large portfolios of loans from socially disadvantaged borrowers. Representatives for Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup said that the debt relief program had not been on their radar and that they had not been lobbying against it.
“We recognize the need for U.S.D.A. to carry out this act of Congress, and we support the goal of providing financial relief to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers,” said Sarah Grano, a spokeswoman for the American Bankers Association. “We believe it would be helpful if the U.S.D.A. implemented this one-time action without causing undue financial harm to the very lenders who have been supporting farmers with much-needed credit.”
Danny Creel, the executive director of the National Rural Lenders Association, said he had no comment. An official from the Independent Community Bankers of America said that the group was not currently considering litigation and that it anticipated that the federal government would find a way to accommodate its requests.
Lawmakers who helped craft the relief legislation have expressed little sympathy for the banks and are pressing the agriculture department to get the money out the door.
Senator Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, said: “U.S.D.A. should now take this first step toward addressing the agency’s history of discrimination by quickly implementing the law that Congress passed and moving forward without delay to pay off in full all direct and guaranteed loans of Black farmers and other socially disadvantaged farmers.”
The banks are not the only ones who have been fighting the debt relief initiative. A group of white farmers in Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota and Ohio are suing the Agriculture Department, arguing that offering debt relief on the basis of skin color is discriminatory. America First Legal, a group led by the former Trump administration official Stephen Miller, filed a lawsuit making a similar argument in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas this month.
Mr. Vilsack said at a White House press briefing this month that his department would not be deterred by pushback against its plans to help minority farmers.
“I think I have to take you back 20, 30 years, when we know for a fact that socially disadvantaged producers were discriminated against by the United States Department of Agriculture,” Mr. Vilsack said. “So, the American Rescue Plan’s effort is to begin addressing the cumulative effect of that discrimination in terms of socially disadvantaged producers.”
The road ends, and the old Soviet car I’m in — a Lada Niva — begins to shake on the unpaved lane. In the darkness, Erdni, the driver, somehow manages to maneuver between large gullies and mounds of sand that seem impossible to discern.
After a couple hours of driving east from the Russian city of Elista, I find myself in the heart of the Kalmyk steppe — at the farming spot, or camp, where Erdni lives with his wife, his children and his father.
equivalent of New Year’s Day, is the date on which Kalmyks traditionally add a year to their age — a kind of culture-wide birthday.
“After surviving 2020,” he says, smiling, “we could easily add five years.”
To Dr. Lucey, no one else seemed to be taking the infection of humans with H5N8 as “of any concern.” He added, “I think it’s of concern.”
Other scientists said they were not as worried.
Dr. Florian Krammer, a flu researcher at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai, said he was more concerned about other avian flu viruses like H5N1 that have already shown themselves to be dangerous to people. Another avian influenza virus, H7N9, infected people for the first time in 2013. There have been more than 1,500 confirmed cases and more than 600 deaths since then. Since 2017 there have been only three confirmed cases and the virus does not jump easily from person to person.
It is always possible that any virus can evolve human-to-human transmission, as well as become more dangerous. But H5N8 would have both hurdles to jump. Compared to other viral threats, Dr. Krammer said, “I’m not worried.”
Dr. Richard J. Webby, a flu specialist at the St. Jude Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and director of the W.H.O.’s Collaborating Centre for Studies on the Ecology of Influenza in Animals and Birds, said that all of the H5 viruses are of concern because some of them have infected and killed people. But, he said, “They all have the same sort of binding capacity to human cells, which is limited,” he said. Flu viruses use a slightly different way to attach to cells in birds than to cells in humans and being good at one usually means not being good at the other.
Dr. Webby also said that while seven infections would certainly be of concern, only one infection has been confirmed. The tests of the other six involved nasal swabs and blood antibody tests. In people with no symptoms, he said, nasal swabs can simply indicate that they had breathed in virus. That would not mean it had infected them.
Blood antibody tests also have a potential for error, he said, and may not be able to distinguish exposure to one flu virus from another.
Nor did he see any scientific basis for suggesting that H5N8 is more likely than any other bird flu to evolve human-to-human transmission. But any virus could evolve that ability.
PARIS — A sudden frost, the worst in decades, has ravaged a French wine industry already reeling from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and what is known among winegrowers as the “Trump tax.”
Candles and small fires glittered across vineyards and orchards last week, their pretty flickering belying the disaster, as winegrowers and farmers tried everything to ward off the frost cutting the life from newly formed shoots and buds. A layer of smog from the fires formed over Lyon and areas of the southeast.
But by the time the cold snap ended, destruction had spread across most of France’s winegrowing regions, including the Rhone Valley, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne and the Loire. Jean-Marie Barillère, the head of a major wine industry association, told the French daily Le Figaro the frost had hit “80 percent of French vineyards.”
The frost followed a period of mild weather with the result that plunging temperatures caught rural France by surprise. Vines were the worst hit but almond and fruit trees were also affected, as well as some other crops, including beets and rapeseed.
imposed tariffs on French wines as a result of various subsidy and tax disputes with France. The import taxes contributed to a 14 percent plunge in global French wine and spirt exports last year. With air traffic way down, duty-free wine sales have also plummeted.
French government ministers fell over themselves promising emergency aid to stricken winegrowers and farmers. The French attachment to the land is fierce; no politician can afford to ignore this. Jean Castex, the prime minister, said the ceiling on an agricultural calamities fund would be lifted and “exceptional” assistance given.
Julien Denormandie, the agriculture minister, said the frost was “an episode of extreme violence that has caused very significant damage.” He convened an emergency meeting Monday with winemakers as well as fruit, vegetable and cereal producers to review the damage.
“The government will help us, but probably not to the extent of our losses,” Ms. Colombo said. “Right now, they are spending like there is no tomorrow.”
Since the coronavirus pandemic began, the government of President Emmanuel Macron has decided to spend whatever it takes to compensate people for lost jobs and business. The final cost, and how the debt will be paid back, are unclear. It seemed a similar approach would be taken to the agricultural disaster.
“It’s incredibly hard, very violent,” David Joulain, an almond grower in the south, told Agence France-Presse. “I have the feeling one knee is on the ground. Every tree I have tested is dead, I am afraid that I have lost the whole crop.”
HSINCHU, Taiwan — Chuang Cheng-deng’s modest rice farm is a stone’s throw from the nerve center of Taiwan’s computer chip industry, whose products power a huge share of the world’s iPhones and other gadgets.
This year, Mr. Chuang is paying the price for his high-tech neighbors’ economic importance. Gripped by drought and scrambling to save water for homes and factories, Taiwan has shut off irrigation across tens of thousands of acres of farmland.
The authorities are compensating growers for the lost income. But Mr. Chuang, 55, worries that the thwarted harvest will drive customers to seek out other suppliers, which could mean years of depressed earnings.
“The government is using money to seal farmers’ mouths shut,” he said, surveying his parched brown fields.
already strained by surging demand for electronics, the added uncertainty about Taiwan’s water supply is not likely to ease concerns about the tech world’s reliance on the island and on one chip maker in particular: Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company.
Intel and other big names. The company said last week that it would invest $100 billion over the next three years to increase capacity, which will likely further strengthen its commanding presence in the market.
TSMC says the drought has not affected its production so far. But with Taiwan’s rainfall becoming no more predictable even as its tech industry grows, the island is having to go to greater and greater lengths to keep the water flowing.
In recent months, the government has flown planes and burned chemicals to seed the clouds above reservoirs. It has built a seawater desalination plant in Hsinchu, home to TSMC’s headquarters, and a pipeline connecting the city with the rainier north. It has ordered industries to cut use. In some places it has reduced water pressure and begun shutting off supplies for two days each week. Some companies, including TSMC, have hauled in truckloads of water from other areas.
But the most sweeping measure has been the halt on irrigation, which affects 183,000 acres of farmland, around a fifth of Taiwan’s irrigated land.
project to increase irrigation efficiency.
That Taiwan, one of the developed world’s rainiest places, should lack for water is a paradox verging on tragedy.
2015, and before that in 2004.
“If in another two or three years, the same conditions reappear, then we can say, ‘Ah, Taiwan has definitely entered an era of major water shortages,’” said You Jiing-yun, a civil engineering professor at National Taiwan University. “Right now, it’s wait and see.”
according to the company, or more than 10 percent of the supply from two local reservoirs, Baoshan and Baoshan Second Reservoir. TSMC recycled more than 86 percent of the water from its manufacturing processes that year, it said, and conserved 3.6 million tons more than it did the year before by increasing recycling and adopting other new measures. But that amount is still small next to the 63 million tons it consumed in 2019 across its Taiwan facilities.
government figures show. Most Western Europeans use less than that, though Americans use more, according to World Bank data.
Mr. Wang of the Water Resources Agency said: “Adjusting water prices has a big effect on society’s more vulnerable groups, so when making adjustments, we are extremely cautious.” Taiwan’s premier said last month that the government would look into imposing extra fees on 1,800 water-intensive factories.
Lee Hong-yuan, a hydraulic engineering professor who previously served as Taiwan’s interior minister, also blames a bureaucratic morass that makes it hard to build new wastewater recycling plants and to modernize the pipeline network.
“Other small countries are all extremely flexible,” Mr. Lee said, but “we have a big country’s operating logic.” He believes this is because Taiwan’s government was set up decades ago, after the Chinese civil war, with the goal of ruling the whole of China. It has since shed that ambition, but not the bureaucracy.
Taiwan’s southwest is both an agricultural heartland and a rising center of industry. TSMC’s most advanced chip facilities are in the southern city of Tainan.
The nearby Tsengwen Reservoir has shrunk to a marshy stream in some parts. Along a scenic strip known as Lovers’ Park, the floor of the reservoir has become a vast moonscape. The water volume is around 11.6 percent of capacity, according to government data.
In farming towns near Tainan, many growers said they were content to be living on the government’s dime, at least for now. They clear the weeds from their fallowed fields. They drink tea with friends and go on long bike rides.
But they are also reckoning with their futures. The Taiwanese public appears to have decided that rice farming is less important, both for the island and the world, than semiconductors. The heavens — or larger economic forces, at least — seem to be telling the farmers it is time to find other work.
“Fertilizer is getting more expensive. Pesticide is getting more expensive,” said Hsieh Tsai-shan, 74, a rice grower. “Being a farmer is truly the worst.”
Serene farmland surrounds the village of Jingliao, which became a popular tourist spot after appearing in a documentary about farmers’ changing lives.
There is only one cow left in town. It spends its days pulling visitors, not plowing fields.
“Around here, 70 counts as young,” said Yang Kuei-chuan, 69, a rice farmer.
Both of Mr. Yang’s sons work for industrial companies.
“If Taiwan didn’t have any industry and relied on agriculture, we all might have starved to death by now,” Mr. Yang said.