KAUST Signs MoUs with Chinese Academic Institutions and Innovation Centers

A view of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). (KAUST)
A view of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). (KAUST)
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KAUST Signs MoUs with Chinese Academic Institutions and Innovation Centers

A view of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). (KAUST)
A view of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). (KAUST)

The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) signed on Saturday various memorandums of understanding (MoUs) with prestigious academic institutions and leading global innovation centers in the Chinese city of Shenzhen.

The MoUs aim to boost collaboration in the fields of industrial innovation, technology transfer, research, talent exchange, training programs, and entrepreneurship.

The agreements were signed during a visit by a Chinese delegation, headed by Mayor of Shenzhen city Qin Weizhong, to the KAUST on Saturday.

The delegation included 50 representatives from various institutions, including Tsinghua University, Tsinghua Shenzhen International Graduate School (Tsinghua SIGS), Research Institute of Tsinghua University in Shenzhen (RITS), Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen (CUHK-Shenzhen), Shenzhen InnoX Academy, and Shenzhen Research Institute of Big Data (SRIBD).

Such partnerships represent a significant step in supporting the economic transformation efforts in Saudi Arabia, aiming to prepare a new generation of scientific research and innovation leaders while bolstering the higher education system in the Kingdom to unprecedented levels.

Partnerships with the Chinese city of Shenzhen are a pivotal component of KAUST’s new strategy, which was announced last month.

One of the strategy's goals is to solidify scientific collaboration between KAUST and renowned academic institutions and innovation centers worldwide. It also seeks to forge scientific alliances to promote the adoption of promising technologies and encourage research commercialization, thereby raising the Kingdom's economic competitiveness.

Shenzhen city is recognized as one of the world's foremost hubs for technological advancement and is the third-most economically and technologically advanced city in China, following Shanghai and Beijing.

It serves as a significant strategic partner in bolstering the innovation ecosystem in the Kingdom and further facilitates collaboration with leading companies, academics, and experts in the field of innovation in Shenzhen. This will in turn solidify KAUST’s reputation as a global hub for technology and innovation.

President of KAUST Dr. Tony Chan said the university's distinguished partnerships with prestigious institutions in Shenzhen will support KAUST's core objectives.

“These objectives include strengthening the promotion of its global research partnerships, nurturing exceptional talent, and delivering tangible benefits for the Kingdom,” he said.



Tourism Authority Launches Saudi Summer Program 2024

Photo by SPA
Photo by SPA
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Tourism Authority Launches Saudi Summer Program 2024

Photo by SPA
Photo by SPA

The Saudi Tourism Authority (STA) launched the Kingdom's summer program for 2024, in an event held under the patronage of the Minister of Tourism and Chairman of the STA Board of Directors Ahmed Al Khateeb.
The program will run for four months until the end of September across seven destinations and includes over 550 tourism products and more than 150 special offers and packages curated for families and children across different segments such as adventure lovers, those seeking luxury retreats, and culture and heritage enthusiasts.
The Saudi Summer Program 2024 launch event was attended by World Tourism Organization Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili, over 250 key strategic partners from the public and private sectors, significant media, and key opinion leaders.
The summer program will take place in seven destinations: Aseer, Al Baha, Taif, the Red Sea, Jeddah, Riyadh, and AlUla. This year, the program will also see the return of the Jeddah Season and the launch of the Aseer Season, featuring numerous family activities and events.


'Reef Saudi' Celebrates World Bee Day with Notable Achievements in Saudi Honey Sector

On World Bee Day, the program revealed that the Kingdom's honey production in the previous year reached 3,120 tons - SPA
On World Bee Day, the program revealed that the Kingdom's honey production in the previous year reached 3,120 tons - SPA
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'Reef Saudi' Celebrates World Bee Day with Notable Achievements in Saudi Honey Sector

On World Bee Day, the program revealed that the Kingdom's honey production in the previous year reached 3,120 tons - SPA
On World Bee Day, the program revealed that the Kingdom's honey production in the previous year reached 3,120 tons - SPA

The Sustainable Agricultural Rural Development Program "Reef Saudi" has announced significant achievements in supporting the honey sector. Since 2020, the program has provided a total of SAR140 million in support to the sector, benefiting approximately 10,584 individuals across all regions of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The regions of Asir, Hail, Makkah, and Al-Baha have been among the primary beneficiaries of this support, according to SPA.
On World Bee Day, the program revealed that the Kingdom's honey production in the previous year reached 3,120 tons, marking a 41% increase from 2021. The program aims to raise production to 7,500 tons annually by 2026, demonstrating its commitment to achieving self-sufficiency in honey production.
The program has also expressed support for various essential projects in the honey sector, including the establishment of queen bee breeding and package production stations in areas such as Hail, Najran, Jazan, Madinah, Tabuk, and Taif.

Additionally, it has supplied three mobile laboratories for examining and diagnosing bee diseases and pests in quarantine stations, along with four mobile clinics equipped for this purpose (Phase 2). Moreover, the program has provided modern beekeeping tools to promote advanced techniques among beekeepers.


Saudi Arabia Participates in the 10th World Water Forum

Saudi Minister of Environment, Water, and Agriculture Eng. Abdulrahman bin Abdulmohsen Al-Fadley - SPA
Saudi Minister of Environment, Water, and Agriculture Eng. Abdulrahman bin Abdulmohsen Al-Fadley - SPA
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Saudi Arabia Participates in the 10th World Water Forum

Saudi Minister of Environment, Water, and Agriculture Eng. Abdulrahman bin Abdulmohsen Al-Fadley - SPA
Saudi Minister of Environment, Water, and Agriculture Eng. Abdulrahman bin Abdulmohsen Al-Fadley - SPA

Saudi Minister of Environment, Water, and Agriculture Eng. Abdulrahman bin Abdulmohsen Al-Fadley said that the world faces significant challenges endangering water sustainability, particularly the excessive use of water due to economic growth and climate change, which contribute to the threat to water resources.

His statement came during the 10th World Water Forum, as he chaired the Saudi delegation's participation in the forum on behalf of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in Indonesia from May 18 to 25.
In his speech, he also also emphasized the need for international cooperation to ensure the safety of water resources.
Minister Al-Fadley highlighted that the Kingdom has prioritized water issues on the international agenda.

As a G20 member, the Kingdom continuously supports water issues. For instance, the Kingdom has launched the G20 Water Platform to promote international cooperation and encourage the exchange of expertise in the water sector.

Additionally, the Kingdom initiated the Global Water Organization, which aims to unite international efforts to address challenges threatening water security, SPA reported.
He also noted that the Kingdom is dedicated to participating in meetings and activities related to water issues and hosting forums on water security and sustainability. He mentioned that the Kingdom plans to host the sixteenth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP16) of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) next December, and the 11th World Water Forum in Riyadh in 2027, under the theme "Working for a Better Tomorrow," in alignment with the Kingdom's Vision 2030 for addressing water issues.


Forever Fad: Rubik Says His Cube 'Reminds Us Why We Have Hands'

It's what hands are for: Inventor Erno Rubik gets to grip with his famous cube - AFP
It's what hands are for: Inventor Erno Rubik gets to grip with his famous cube - AFP
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Forever Fad: Rubik Says His Cube 'Reminds Us Why We Have Hands'

It's what hands are for: Inventor Erno Rubik gets to grip with his famous cube - AFP
It's what hands are for: Inventor Erno Rubik gets to grip with his famous cube - AFP

The naysayers said the maddening multicoloured cube that Erno Rubik invented 50 years ago would not survive the 1980s.

Yet millennials and Generation Z are as nuts about Rubik's Cube as their parents were, much to the amusement of its 79-year-old creator, who talked to AFP in a rare interview.

In a digital world "we are slowly forgetting that we have hands", Rubik said.

But playing with the cube helps us tap back into something deeply primal about doing things with our hands, he said -- "our first tools", as he calls them.

"Speed cubing" and Rubik's Cube hacks are huge on social media, with youngsters regularly going viral while dancing, rapping and even playing the piano while solving the 3D puzzle.

Rubik said the "connection between the mind and hands" that the cube helps foster has been "a very important" factor in human development.

"I think probably the cube reminds us we have hands... You are not just thinking, you are doing something.

"It's a piece of art you are emotionally involved with," Rubik added.

The unassuming Hungarian architecture professor never thought the prototype he devised would conquer the world -- and set him up for life.

More than 500 million copies of the cult object have been sold -- not counting the myriad of counterfeits.

Rubik's Cube has remained one of the world's top-selling puzzle games, with more than 43 quintillion -- a quintillion being a billion trillion -- ways of solving it.

Even after "hundreds or thousands of years", you would still be finding ways to crack it, Rubik enthused.

Despite the omnipresence of screens, "new generations have developed the same strong relationship with the cube," Rubik told AFP at Budapest's Aquincum Institute of Technology, where he sometimes gives lectures.

It was in the spring of 1974 that he created the first working prototype of a movable cube made of small wooden blocks and held together by a unique mechanism.

The five decades since have been "unbelievable", he said, comparing his relationship with the cube to having a "wunderkind" in the family.

"You need to take a step back because of your 'child' and its fame.... (which) can be very tiring," he said.

In his book "Cubed", published in 2020, Rubik revealed that he had never intended to leave a mark on the world -- he was just driven by a love for building geometric models.

It took Rubik several prototypes and weeks of tinkering to figure out the ideal mechanism -- and a way to solve his puzzle -- before he could file a patent application in 1975.

The colourful "Magic Cube" first sold domestically in 1977 before hitting international shelves three years later.

Rubik recalled his first fairytale-like trip from communist Hungary to the West, on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

Despite being publicity-shy, the inventor has amassed a collection of some 1,500 magazine covers featuring his cube over the years, which has become "a symbol of complexity" to illustrate anything from geopolitical problems to elections.

You either "like or hate it", he said, but you cannot ignore it, AFP reported.

Rubik's Cube legacy lives on strongly in pop culture, having been featured in numerous TV series and Hollywood blockbusters.

It has also remained the centrepiece of puzzle-solving competitions.

Masters of the cube frequently gather across the world, battling with their hands and feet -- sometimes while blindfolded, parachuting or doing headstands -- Rubik said.

The cube has a place in the permanent exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art, and it has also inspired artists, including renowned French street artist Invader.

An educational tool used everywhere from nursery schools to universities, the cube is also popular in retirement homes and helps people living with autism, including American speed-cubing star Max Park, who holds the world record of solving it in 3.13 seconds.

Rubik said the emotional rewards the cube has brought him have been even better than the "retirement money" it has earned him.


Chelsea Flower Show Kicks Off Tuesday amid Climate Change Challenges

Another garden was designed to play an active role against flooding, adaptable to different water levels, with a channel and drainage system, as well as reservoirs to act as water basins - AFP
Another garden was designed to play an active role against flooding, adaptable to different water levels, with a channel and drainage system, as well as reservoirs to act as water basins - AFP
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Chelsea Flower Show Kicks Off Tuesday amid Climate Change Challenges

Another garden was designed to play an active role against flooding, adaptable to different water levels, with a channel and drainage system, as well as reservoirs to act as water basins - AFP
Another garden was designed to play an active role against flooding, adaptable to different water levels, with a channel and drainage system, as well as reservoirs to act as water basins - AFP

Early springs, droughts and floods are influencing this year's Chelsea Flower Show, which is keener than ever to reflect the changing climate and cut its own carbon footprint.

The annual exhibition of horticultural excellence and innovation opens to the public in west London on Tuesday, with more than 150,000 visitors expected.

King Charles III, a lifelong environmentalist who once admitted talking to his plants, got a sneak peek on Monday, in a behind-closed-doors visit with wife Queen Camilla.

The 75-year-old monarch, who is being treated for cancer, visited a garden created by and for children -- a first in the show's 111-year history.

The Chelsea Flower Show, organised by the Royal Horticultural Society, has in recent years become increasingly focused on sustainable development and biodiversity, AFP reported.

This year, the biggest gardens have had to submit their plans in advance, so they could be scrutinised for issues such as water usage, waste and materials.

Adaptations made as a result have led to a 20-percent reduction in their carbon footprint, according to the RHS.

Since last year, all exhibited gardens must be able to be transferred in whole or in part to decorate schools, hospitals or other public spaces throughout the country.

Among the 35 gardens competing in four categories this year is one focusing on water harvesting to combat drought.

An elegantly curved sloping roof pavilion harvests water and redirects it to be stored, while the plants were selected for their resilience to either drought or flooding.

The Water Aid Garden "is like a giant sponge", its designer Tom Massey told AFP.

"All the water is drawn up, it's utilised, all the hard landscaping is open and permeable as well to allow water to pass through and soak into the garden."

Another garden was designed to play an active role against flooding, adaptable to different water levels, with a channel and drainage system, as well as reservoirs to act as water basins.

"A garden more climate- and flood-resilient does not have to be a compromise on either its form or function," said its designer Naomi Slade.

Co-designer Ed Barsley said that increases in extreme weather events such as heavy rain, flooding, drought and wildfire left many people anxious.

"As individuals they can feel powerless to make a difference. But gardens are hugely powerful tools," he added.

One of the gardens on display this year uses only recycled materials from previous editions of the Chelsea Flower Show.

A mild winter and an early spring, followed by a cold snap, has forced some gardens to review their plans.

Designer Anne-Marie Powell said she had given up on local hawthorns as they were already wilted, and certain types of irises.

"Climate change is proving a huge challenge for us," she told AFP. But she added: "There is a massive opportunity to rethink and experiment."

The result is plants that are not normally a feature at the Chelsea Flower Show.

"People really need to adapt, they need to experiment," she added.


More Than a Third of Italian Teens Want to Emigrate

A deserted San Marco square in Venice on Sunday (March 8), the first day of the lockdown. AFP.
A deserted San Marco square in Venice on Sunday (March 8), the first day of the lockdown. AFP.
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More Than a Third of Italian Teens Want to Emigrate

A deserted San Marco square in Venice on Sunday (March 8), the first day of the lockdown. AFP.
A deserted San Marco square in Venice on Sunday (March 8), the first day of the lockdown. AFP.

More than a third of Italian teenagers want to emigrate when they are older, according to a survey by national statistics institute Istat which also found that young people have become more anxious about the future.

The findings add to multiple warnings about Italy's demographic decline. In March, Istat reported that births fell to 379,000 in 2023, a record low, while the total population dropped below 59 million.

Among a sample of people aged 11 to 19, about 34% want to move abroad when they grow up, versus 45% who want to stay in Italy and 21% who are undecided, Istat said.

Its survey was conducted in 2023.

The top destination for wannabe emigrants was the United States, selected by 32% of those who said they wanted to leave Italy, followed by Spain (12.4%) and Britain (11.5%), Reuters reported.

To counter the decline in human capital triggered by the falling birth rate and the desire to emigrate, Istat said Italy should offer young people "adequate life opportunities".

However, data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that real wages in Italy have grown by only 1% over the past 30 years, compared an average increase of 32.5% in the OECD area.

Italy also has the EU's lowest employment rate at around 66%, according to Eurostat.

Istat found that young Italians have become less confident about the future, with one third of those surveyed saying they were fearful, an increase of 5.5 percentage points from a similar study in 2021.


Sour Patch Kids Oreos? Peeps Pepsi? What's behind the Weird Flavors Popping up on Store Shelves

Sour Patch Kids Oreos? Peeps Pepsi? What's behind the Weird Flavors Popping up on Store Shelves
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Sour Patch Kids Oreos? Peeps Pepsi? What's behind the Weird Flavors Popping up on Store Shelves

Sour Patch Kids Oreos? Peeps Pepsi? What's behind the Weird Flavors Popping up on Store Shelves

Van Leeuwen Ice Cream usually draws customers with gourmet takes on classics like vanilla and pistachio. But occasionally, the artisanal ice cream maker headquartered in New York slips in what it calls a “shock flavor,” like Hidden Valley Ranch or pizza.
Surprising flavor combinations – think gravy-flavored Jones Soda or Sour Patch Kids Oreos -- are showing up more frequently in grocery stores and restaurant chains, The Associated Press said.
Hershey recently introduced pink lemonade-flavored Kit Kats, while IHOP and Lay’s brought out Rooty Tooty Fresh n’ Fruity potato chips, designed to taste like strawberry-topped pancakes with a hint of bacon.
While it’s tempting to pass off these limited-time flavors as social media stunts, experts say there’s more to the story. Food companies are responding to the changing and expanding tastes of consumers while also trying to keep brands relevant and distinct to win space on crowded store shelves.
“We’re in a really exciting time of flavor development where consumers are not just one thing. You’re not just a sour lover or a sweet lover. You want a little of this and a little of that,” said Kristen Braun, the senior brand manager for Oreo innovation at Chicago-based food and beverage company Mondelez International. “Companies are finding the freedom to explore a little bit more and get more creative.”
Sour Patch Kids Oreos – vanilla cream-filled cookies speckled with colorful bites of the sour candies – are one of about a dozen limited-edition Oreo flavors that Mondelez plans to release this year. Braun said it takes the company one or two years to develop such products, which stay on shelves for about nine weeks. She’s already thinking ahead to future flavors that blur the lines between sweet, salty and spicy.
Oddball pairings aren’t entirely new in the food and beverage industry. Hubba Bubba released a bubble gum-flavored soda in the late 1980s, for example. But manufacturers and their suppliers have gotten more sophisticated and efficient, making it easier to experiment and put out limited-editions more frequently, said Mark Lang, a food marketing expert and associate professor of marketing at the University of Tampa.
Kyle Shadix, who as the corporate executive research chef for PepsiCo, has worked on beverages like Maple Pepsi and a strawberry shortcake Pepsi sold in Japan, said the members of Generation Z are also fueling innovation. They're diverse, adventurous and pick up on food trends quickly through social media, he said.
“They're every chef's dream to design for,” said Shadix, who is currently experimenting a lot with Mexican, Korean and Japanese flavors. “Gen Z is going to drive us faster. We’re going to start to see even more exploration quicker than in the past because they’re just so open to it.”
Toying with flavors can boost brands in several ways. Sometimes they bring new customers to a brand. They might also nudge buyers to pick up the original flavor, Russell Zwanka, director of the food marketing program at Western Michigan University, said.
“Sour Patch Oreos sound interesting, but nobody wants to risk buying Oreos that don’t taste good, so people buy both,” Zwanka said.
When companies combine brands, they're trying to build an association in consumers' minds. Peeps-flavored Pepsi, which came out last year, sends the message that Pepsi is current and fun, Lang said. Mustard-flavored Skittles, which came out last summer, made the 104-year-old French's brand seem playful.
Enter Kraft Heinz, which approached Van Leeuwen Ice Cream a few years ago about macaroni and cheese-flavored ice cream. Ben Van Leeuwen, the company’s co-founder and CEO, was doubtful at first but found that Kraft’s powder blended well with the Brooklyn-based company's ice cream.
Van Leeuwen's Kraft Macaroni and Cheese ice cream came out to rave reviews in 2021 and was re-released for a short time last fall.
“We will only do a shock flavor if we can make it good and distinct. We will not do a shock flavor where it’s just shock in name but taste like vanilla,” Van Leeuwen said.
But novel flavor combinations don’t always work. Van Leeuwen couldn’t eat more than a few bites of his company’s Hidden Valley Ranch ice cream, which contained onion and garlic powders. And shock flavors typically don’t end up on the permanent menu because of their lower “eat-ability,” he said.
“I think you would taste our mac and cheese and you’d say, ‘Oh, that’s good,’ but do you want to take a pint of that mac and cheese from your freezer when you’re watching whatever show on Netflix and eat the entire thing? Probably not,” Van Leeuwen said.
Candy brand Brach’s ran into that issue with its Turkey Dinner Candy Corn, a 2021 limited-edition version of the fall staple that tasted like turkey, stuffing, green beans, cranberry sauce, apple pie and coffee. Katie Duffy, vice president and general manager of seasonal at Ferrara Candy Co., which owns Brach's, acknowledged there was a “gross-out” factor.
“We have learned from consumers that we don’t want to have something where they eat a few pieces of candy and then they toss it because there’s some things that they don’t want to repeat,” Duffy said. “We want it to be a delicious flavor journey.”
Brach’s recently introduced Easter Brunch-flavored jelly beans, and they hit that mark, she said. The candy beans mimicked the flavors of blueberry maple pancakes, chocolate doughnuts, caramel cold brew, cinnamon rolls, berry smoothies and mimosa cocktails.
Shannon Weiner, senior director of insights and analytics at Ferrara, said the company closely tracks social media to see what flavors are trending. People are increasingly looking for dessert and dairy-flavored candies, she said. They’re also seeking more international flavors like Tajin, a brand of chile-lime spice from Mexico that recently did a collaboration with Pop Tarts.
Lang thinks the more time people spend in restaurants or trying out new foods, the more they seek out unusual flavors.
“We are variety-seeking animals. We constantly are seeking something new and different; it’s in our wiring,” he said. “We like to experiment.”


Black Farmers in Brazil Changing Views on Coffee Production

Many in Brazil still associate coffee production with slavery. Douglas Magno / AFP
Many in Brazil still associate coffee production with slavery. Douglas Magno / AFP
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Black Farmers in Brazil Changing Views on Coffee Production

Many in Brazil still associate coffee production with slavery. Douglas Magno / AFP
Many in Brazil still associate coffee production with slavery. Douglas Magno / AFP

Raphael Brandao beams with pride as he describes the high-end Brazilian coffee he produces with beans sourced exclusively from Black farmers in a country where many still associate the product with slavery.
The 31-year-old buys his coffee beans solely from farms owned by Afro-descendents and says his goal is to "reverse this logic that Black people" like himself "are mere laborers”.
"In my own way, I am trying to make historical reparations," Brandao told AFP at his roastery in Nova Iguacu, a poor suburb of Rio de Janeiro.
Four years ago, he launched his brand Cafe di Preto.
By 2022 he sold 800 kilograms (about 1,700 pounds), the following year 1.4 tons. This year he hopes to increase that to more than two tons following a 20-percent sales increase in the first quarter alone.
The logo for Cafe di Preto is a raised Black fist clutching a coffee branch, and the different flavor lines are each named after important Black women of Brazilian history.
Brazil was the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery, in 1888, and racial inequalities remain high in a country where more than half of people identify as "preto" (Black) or mixed-race.
'Changing the world'
He is also seeking to "break the stigma that Black people do not produce quality."
"So my work also gives light to this," he said. "Today I have six coffees produced by Black people, all of them... of great quality."
Many of his clients, he added, are looking for quality but also for a product that is "changing the world."
Brandao is a leader in the so-called Black Business wave in Brazil that promotes commerce among people of African descent as a tool for social progress.
At first, he had trouble finding Black suppliers given that the overwhelming majority of coffee plantations in Brazil still belong to white families.
"My black suppliers are the first generation to produce on their own land, often only a few hectares," he said.
And Brandao has more than once had to defend his chosen crusade.
"I am sometimes asked: 'What if it was the opposite, if roasteries owned by whites bought coffee from white farmers?' But isn't that what is happening already?"
From farm to cup
About 500 kilometers (311 miles) from Nova Iguacu is the 19-hectare (47-acre) coffee plantation of Neide Peixoto, one of Brandao's first suppliers.
"I have been in contact with coffee since childhood. My parents worked in crops and I often accompanied them," Peixoto, 49, told AFP on her farm in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais, a mecca for coffee production.
Unlike her parents, she grows coffee on land that belongs to her own family, bought by her husband and brothers who are also former laborers.
"It means a lot to me to be a Black producer of special coffee, because... we, Black people, have a very difficult and painful history," Peixoto said.
Most of the farm's production is for export, but the beans reserved for Cafe di Preto have a special significance for Peixoto.
"It's exciting to know that the coffee I produce, which is coffee produced by Black people, is also roasted by Black people," she said.
"I'm very happy to know that we are making this connection, from production here on the farm to the cup."


Blue Origin Flies Thrill Seekers to Space, Including Oldest Astronaut

Jeff Bezos-backed Blue Origin resumes its flights to the edge of space, carrying six people seated in a capsule atop the New Shepard rocket, ending a near two-year pause of crewed operations following a 2022 mission failure in Van Horn, Texas, US May 19, 2024 in a still image from video.  Blue Origin/Handout via REUTERS
Jeff Bezos-backed Blue Origin resumes its flights to the edge of space, carrying six people seated in a capsule atop the New Shepard rocket, ending a near two-year pause of crewed operations following a 2022 mission failure in Van Horn, Texas, US May 19, 2024 in a still image from video. Blue Origin/Handout via REUTERS
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Blue Origin Flies Thrill Seekers to Space, Including Oldest Astronaut

Jeff Bezos-backed Blue Origin resumes its flights to the edge of space, carrying six people seated in a capsule atop the New Shepard rocket, ending a near two-year pause of crewed operations following a 2022 mission failure in Van Horn, Texas, US May 19, 2024 in a still image from video.  Blue Origin/Handout via REUTERS
Jeff Bezos-backed Blue Origin resumes its flights to the edge of space, carrying six people seated in a capsule atop the New Shepard rocket, ending a near two-year pause of crewed operations following a 2022 mission failure in Van Horn, Texas, US May 19, 2024 in a still image from video. Blue Origin/Handout via REUTERS

After a nearly two-year hiatus, Blue Origin flew adventurers to space on Sunday, including a former Air Force pilot who was denied the chance to be the United States' first Black astronaut decades ago, Agence France Presse reported.

It was the first crewed launch for the enterprise owned and founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos since a rocket mishap in 2022 left rival Virgin Galactic as the sole operator in the fledgling suborbital tourism market.

Six people including the sculptor Ed Dwight, who was on track to become NASA's first astronaut of color in the 1960s before being controversially spurned, launched around 09:36 am local time (1436 GMT) from the Launch Site One base in west Texas, a live feed showed.

Dwight -- at 90 years, 8 months and 10 days -- became the oldest person to ever go to space.

"This is a life-changing experience, everybody needs to do this," he exclaimed after the flight.

"I thought I didn't really need this in my life," he added, reflecting on his omission from the astronaut corps, which was his first experience with failure as a young man.

"But I lied," he added, with a hearty laugh.

"You take everything you imagined, you multiply it roughly by 100 and you are still quite far from reality," crewmate and French entrepreneur Sylvain Chiron told AFP.

"I'm not quite back down to Earth yet."

Mission NS-25 is the seventh human flight for Blue Origin, which sees short jaunts on the New Shepard suborbital vehicle as a stepping stone to greater ambitions, including the development of a full-fledged heavy rocket and lunar lander.

Including Sunday's crew, the company has flown 37 people aboard New Shepard -- a small, fully reusable rocket system named after Alan Shepard, the first American in space.

The program encountered a setback when a New Shepard rocket caught fire shortly after launch on September 12, 2022, even though the uncrewed capsule ejected safely.

A federal investigation revealed an overheating engine nozzle was at fault. Blue Origin took corrective steps and carried out a successful uncrewed launch in December 2023, paving the way for Sunday's mission.

After liftoff, the sleek and roomy capsule separated from the booster, which produces zero carbon emissions. The rocket performed a precision vertical landing.

As the spaceship soared beyond the Karman Line, the internationally recognized boundary of space 62 miles (100 kilometers) above sea level, passengers had the chance to marvel at the Earth's curvature and unbuckle their seatbelts to float -- or somersault -- during a few minutes of weightlessness.

The capsule then reentered the atmosphere, deploying its parachutes for a desert landing in a puff of sand. However, one of the three parachutes failed to fully inflate, possibly resulting in a harder landing than expected.

Asked for comment, a Blue Origin spokesperson stressed its system was designed with multiple fail-safes.

"The capsule is designed to safely land with one parachute. The overall mission was a success, and all of our astronauts are excited to be back," the spokesperson said.

In all, the mission lasted around 11 minutes roundtrip.

Bezos himself was on the program's first crewed flight in 2021. A few months later, Star Trek's William Shatner blurred the lines between science fiction and reality when he became the world's oldest astronaut at age 90, decades after he first played a space traveler.

Dwight, who was almost two months older than Shatner at the time of his flight, became only the second nonagenarian to venture beyond Earth.

Astronaut John Glenn remains the oldest to orbit the planet, a feat he achieved in 1998 at the age of 77 aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery.

Sunday's mission finally gave Dwight the chance he was denied decades ago.

He was an elite test pilot when he was appointed by then-president John F Kennedy to join a highly competitive Air Force program known as a Pathway for the astronaut corps, but was ultimately not picked.

He left the military in 1966, citing the strain of racial politics, before dedicating his life to telling Black history through sculpture. His art, displayed around the country, includes iconic figures like Martin Luther King Jr, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and more.


Man Becomes '10 years Younger' after 93 Days at Bottom of the Atlantic

His stem cell count had also skyrocketed - (The AP)
His stem cell count had also skyrocketed - (The AP)
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Man Becomes '10 years Younger' after 93 Days at Bottom of the Atlantic

His stem cell count had also skyrocketed - (The AP)
His stem cell count had also skyrocketed - (The AP)

Retired naval officer Joseph Dituri spent 93 days submerged in the Atlantic ocean and came out 10 years younger.

Dituri emerged from his 100-square-foot pod with extraordinary results.

Not only did he shatter the previous world record for underwater habitation, which was 73 days, but he had also turned back the ageing clock, emerging from his pod 10 years younger, The Mirror reported.

After returning to dry land, medical assessments revealed that Dituri's telomeres, the DNA caps at the ends of chromosomes that typically shrink with age, were 20 per cent longer than before his dive. His stem cell count had also skyrocketed, and his overall health metrics had undergone a remarkable transformation.

Dituri also experienced a significant improvement in sleep quality, with 60 to 66 percent of his nights now spent in deep REM sleep. His cholesterol levels plummeted by 72 points, and his inflammatory markers had been slashed in half. These transformations were attributed to the underwater pressure, which is known to have numerous positive effects on the body.