PTTC working on transgenic variety of groundnut

PTTC working on transgenic variety of groundnut

PTI | 10:06 PM,Jun 27,2011
Hyderabad, Jun 27 (PTI) City-based Platform for Translational Research on Transgenic Crops (PTTC) is working on the first ever transgenic variety of groundnut that would be drought as well as heat resistant. PTTC, an initiative of the International Crops Research Institute for Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) will make available this variety for trials in the next 4-5 years, Dr Sharma, Director of PTTC said. He said this while addressing a press conference here today, on the sidelines of 20th Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC). Sharma said that even though efforts are on to create genetically improved legumes, including Chickpea and Pigeonpea, there is a lot of national interest in the creation of a high-yielding groundnut for its oil. He added that more than half dozen firms have shown interest in the Pigeonpea hybrid being developed by International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) scientists, even as there is lack of interest from private firms in transgenic research in Chickpea. Dr William D Dar, Director General of ICRISAT said that transgenics might hold the key to an increased food production and reduce production costs in dryland tropics in Asia and Africa. He said that there is a need to increase the food by 100 per cent, so that, 9.2 billion mouths could be fed in 2050.But we need a political will to reach that goal. “But the second green revolution must come from cereals,” he said. Reacting to a question on people’s opposition to BT brinjal, the founder of International Services for the Acquisition and Application of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) Dr Clive James said that processes such as irradiation of food and pasteurisation of milk had also faced resistance from people initially.

Indian cow, buffalo breeds give healthier milk: Research

New Delhi, June 26 (PTI) Indian cow and buffalo breeds possess a rich A2 allele gene that provides a better and healthier quality of milk than foreign breeds, according to a new study. “The A2 allele gene in Indian milk breeds of cows and buffalos are 100 per cent, while in foreign breeds, it is around 60 per cent,” scientists of the National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources (NBAGR) have said in a report. Furthermore the frequency of this allele in Indian milk breeds is 1.0 (100 per cent), while in exotic breeds, it has been reported to be nearly 0.6 (60 per cent) or less, they added. Set up in 1984, NBAGR is an arm of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and is based in Karnal, Haryana. The finding was arrived at after screening the status of the A2 allele of the beta casein gene in indigenous cows like Red Sindhi, Sahiwal, Tharparkar, Rathi and Gir etc, NBAGR Director B K Joshi said. “The counter allele to A2 is A1, which is considered to be associated with diabetic, obesity, cardiovascular diseases etc,” added Joshi. “Although the foreign breeds of cows produce more milk than Indian varieties, but due to more concentration of A1 gene in those breeds, the milk is of low quality,” the report said, adding that the long-term use of such milk may cause several health disorders. The scientists scanned 22 breeds of Indian cows and found that in five milk yielding Indian cows — Red Sindhi, Sahiwal, Tharparkar, Rathi and Gir — the status of the A2 allele was 100 per cent, while in other Indian breeds used for farming, its status was around 94 per cent, Joshi added. The scientists also scanned the status of this allele in the two most popular foreign breeds in India, Holstein Friesian and Jersey, in which the status of the A2 allele was 60 per cent only.

GM cotton seeds a threat to Indian farmers: Researchers

Dharwad (Karnataka), June 27 (IANS) Leading agricultural research institutions Monday warned that extensive use of genetically modified (GM) cotton seeds was destroying farming bio-diversity and jeopardising the livelihood of over four million cotton growers inIndia.

‘Indian farmers grow 90 percent of hirsutum (species of cotton), of which 90 percent is GM cotton. Desi cotton will only survive if yields and fibre quality will improve and the maturity period reduced,’ said a joint statement by Karnataka’s University of Agricultural Science, Dharwad, company bioRe India Ltd. and Research Institute of Organic Agriculture,Switzerland.

The statement cautioned farmers and other stake-holders that the supply shortage in organic cotton seeds will even effect the global organic cotton market, as India was the world’s largest producer of organic cotton.

‘The global market for organic cotton is threatened by erosion of conventional varieties by GM cotton,’ the statement said, adding that the voracious use of GM seeds amplified the risk of physical and genetic contamination of organic cotton with GM cotton.

The institutions also urged the government to implement policy changes in the sector to promote organic cotton seeds.

‘The provision for the safeguard of organic farmer from contamination of GM crop has to be included in the seed act,’ said the statement, suggesting that a board for organic cotton with financial and implementation powers be formed.

When paddy turns poison – Farmer kills himself as harvest is rich but no one to buy


Bhandara/Yavatmal, June 26: When he drank poison on January 11, farmer Hargovind Harne’s run-down hut was bursting with freshly harvested paddy. Yet he was neck-deep in debt.

Even the bottle of pesticide that he used to take his own life had been bought on credit, as the bill shows.

His large stock of grain wasn’t the only puzzle in the 47-year-old’s suicide. Vidarbha is infamous for continuing suicides by cotton farmers but Harne grew food, not cotton.

A silent epidemic, however, has gripped food-grain cultivators not just in Vidarbha but across central India’s rain-fed belt. This year, many of them have suffered huge losses despite a good crop, and despite the food inflation in the markets.

There are no buyers for their grain or pulses. The government isn’t buying because its godowns are crammed with the old crop — a fallout of the delay over the food security bill.

Till the bill is spelt out and implemented, the Centre cannot work out how much food stocks it will need. So, it is holding on to what it has and has banned exports.

The big private traders aren’t buying from the farmers, either, because they largely stock their grain in the government silos, which are bulging. So, while inflation rages, the farmers have only managed to sell a little paddy to small-time local traders at Rs 750-850 a quintal, far below the support price of Rs 1,050.

But these traders can buy only a little. The rest of the crop is stashed at the farmers’ homes and might rot in the rain over the next few months.

In Maharashtra’s Gondia district, 25,000 tonnes of rice procured by cooperative societies are lying in the open.

“It’s difficult to carry on,” a distraught Harne, a postgraduate in Marathi literature, scribbled in his signed parting note. “I have unpaid loans.”

Harne was meticulous in keeping records. His ledger showed he had suffered losses of about Rs 10,000 for each of the six acres he cultivated —- Rs 60,000 in all. Together with his outstanding loans of around Rs 2.5 lakh, the going had looked tough.

Five months on, the situation is equally grim for his frail widow, Ashwinibai, at Songaon village in eastern Maharashtra’s Bhandara district. “We had to sell our paddy at a throwaway price,” she said.

House full

The rabi season that ended in April produced a record 84 million tonnes of grain across the country. But data till April 21 suggest that the Food Corporation of India, the country’s main procurement agency, was short by 52 per cent of what it had procured in the same period last year.

Yet, in early June, India had about 67 million tonnes of grain (mostly rice and wheat) in its godowns, more than its storage capacity of 63 million tonnes and far above the buffer of 40 million tonnes.

The food ministry says the government plans to increase its procurement to 80 million tonnes in 2011-12 without any additions to storage capacity.

Ashok Gulati, the chairman of the Commission of Agriculture Costs and Pricing, recently warned the Centre that it needs to clear its grain silos before the kharif harvest arrives in the markets three months from now, else there could be a worse crisis.

One remedy, experts say, is to allow exports. The other is to have the grain distributed among the poor before it rots.

If central India is reeling, even farmers in the grain basket of Punjab and Haryana are struggling to sell their crop. So depressed are the prices that paddy growers in Andhra Pradesh recently declared a “crop holiday” for the pre-kharif season, deciding not to grow the summer crop.

One ray of hope is that a panel headed by Planning Commission member Abhijit Sen is studying the economics and logistical feasibility of building a sufficient number of modern grain silos through public-private partnerships.

M.S. Swaminathan, widely regarded as the father of India’s Green Revolution of the ’60s and ’70s, had long ago recommended a national grid for grain storage, stretching from the farm level to large rural godowns to about 50 regional ultra-modern silos.

Tur paradox

Across central India, thousands of quintals of unsold tur are piled up at farmers’ homes although the country faces a shortage. India is expected to import 3.4 million tonnes of tur this financial year to “plug the demand-supply gap”, the food ministry says.

Even though the retail prices are still high, the farmers are being forced to sell their lower-grade pulses at Rs 1,500 a quintal and the higher grades at Rs 2,450, down from the Rs 5,000 and Rs 6,500-7,000 last December.

“I thought tur prices would go up because we have a shortage,” said Pravin Thakare, a three-acre farmer, in Yavatmal’s Gawara village. He has about 15 quintals of tur left at his home; the entire village is stuck with about 400 quintals.

“I have to now borrow money from private lenders to prepare for the kharif crop since the banks are yet to begin loan disbursements,” Thakare said.

Harne’s widow Ashwini too is struggling amid the debt and distress as she takes to farming to try and rebuild her life. The family had suffered a double blow when, the day after Harne’s suicide, his ailing father Bajirao died of a heart attack.

Ashwini, with daughter Gayatri clinging to her, said she had sold 15 quintals of paddy after setting a little aside for the family. “At Rs 825 a quintal,” she said, about a fifth less than the support price.

This coming season, she hopes, both the monsoon and the markets would be kind. “I would tell my husband not to worry and that the bad days would end,” she said, fighting back tears. “I now try to remind myself of the same thing.”


Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture-Interview with Raidu DV

The Andhra Pradesh agriculture department has decided to join hands with the rural development ministry’s Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) to take the Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture (CMSA)  programme forward. This ushers in good news as it indicates the acceptance of chemical free agriculture by the agriculture department, which is usually known to back chemicals in the name of productivity.DV Raidu, Director, Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture (CMSA) in an interview with Savvy Soumya Misra talks about the success of the programme and its future  with the agriculture ministry.

How do you see the partnership with agriculture department panning out in promoting sustainable agriculture in the state?

With this partnership, we will be looking to build on each other’s strengths. The community based character of the program through decentralized extension model will converge with technical strength of Agriculture Technology Management Agency (ATMA) and take Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and Integrated Nutrient Management (INM) to its logical conclusion. We start working at farm (household) economy comprehensively in addition to production and productivity. Further SERP’s efforts in trying to find out “end to end” solution by integrating dairy, poultry and small ruminants will be a big strength. Already we are working in convergence with the animal husbandry department in a small way; this will further strengthen our programme.


What do you envisage will be the role of the agriculture ministry in the scheme of things?

The ministry of agriculture will bring in the latest technology that will help farmers’ to reduce dependency on external inputs and help them revisit their own traditional wisdom. They will help communities to better implements like neem pulverizer, power weeder, small transplanters, small harvesters to reduce drudgery and improve efficiency of workforce. The ministry of agriculture would facilitate work on empowering farmers by mobilizing them into ‘joint liability groups’ (JLG) or ‘producer companies’. These farmers’ organizations will play critical role in accessing credit, improving marketing facilities and deciding markets for better prices.

How has CMSA changed agriculture in Andhra Pradesh since 2004?

Currently the programme is being implemented in 8033 villages of 503 mandals across 22 districts with 10.47 lakh farmers and 27.05 lakh acres. The emphasis of CMSA has been on reducing the cost of cultivation through non pesticide management (NPM) methods, restoring ecological balance, promoting green manure and dung based inoculants. The emphasis is on reduced dependency on external inputs and using locally available resources and this has improved the profitability of farmers. By preserving beneficial insects we are able to withdraw chemical pesticides. A survey followed by a third party assessment in 2008 showed a 70-80 per cent reduction in cost of pest management and 50 per cent reduction in fertilizer cost. The number of cases of hospitalization due to pesticide poisoning has also reduced. There is growing demand for this kind of agriculture.

Talking of pesticide poisoning, pesticides are also associated with a lot of health problems. Has there been an improvement in health after shifting to NPM?

In areas where NPM is practiced, cases of acute toxicity due to spraying of pesticides have completely gone away. It has also benefited those who weed chili fields, the leaves of which were always covered with pesticides and were prone to skin and breathing ailments. NPM has improved the quality and freshness of vegetables. In our interaction with women, we learn that their health has improved. We need to study the health impacts of the agricultural interventions. There is a plan to do such a study with organizations like IFPRI and the rural development ministry at the centre.

How difficult was it to get farmers to shift from the conventional agriculture to non pesticide management of farming?

Initially it was difficult. They were unsure how pests that were not being killed with powerful pesticides could be killed with botanicals. But they were keen on getting rid of chemicals. They were explained how the life cycle of pest should be observed and non chemical methods like summer ploughing and other nine practices called non-negotiables would be adopted for pest control. They were told about the importance of family labour in monitoring fields and pests. Farmers were encouraged to try NPM farming on a quarter of an acre initially and compare it with the other area for the entire season. It was a slow but a steady process.

What are the key inputs of Non Pesticide Management farming technique?

Locally available natural resources are the inputs for NPM. The only exception is pheromone trap which can be purchased. Communities identified 108 plants from which extracts could be made for controlling pests. The thumb rule is that any leaf which is not eaten by goat or sheep can be used for preparation of botanical extracts. The most prominent inputs are plants like neem, vitex, lantana, dathura and cow dung and cow urine. Moreover, farmer’s knowledge is the basic input here. Harvesting sun light by covering land in several tiers is key to raise productivity and incomes. The technology promoted under Integrated Pest Management (IPM), is followed here also without the option of chemicals as last resort. The availability of community based platform in AP facilitates the decentralized extension in transmission of technology.


CMSA now plans to convert to organic farming. What are the key changes you would bring in to convert to organic farming?

The key element in moving towards organic farming is to bring life back into the soil. And this can be done by using animal dung and urine which will help increase the microbial content of the soil by proliferating native earthworms. Rainwater harvesting has to be encouraged. The farmer has to be trained to shift from mono-cropping to poly-cropping with special emphasis on legumes except perhaps paddy. As leaves are integral to composting and compost is integral to NPM, so trees have become the focus of farming now. Leaves contain 85 per cent of the nutrients removed from the soil. The CMSA model has identified farmers to take this to its logical end. We are overlaying the Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) with the help of the National Centre of Organic farming (NCOF). But the important point is to ensure that there is no reduction of yield and there is access to market premiums for pesticide free produce. It has happened in case of chillies in Guntur, where farmers have produced pesticide free chillies and exported to European markets with a premium of Rs.1800/- per quintal. Some farmers are migrating to organic farming.

Organic cultivation or Non Pesticide Management (NPM) method both are very labour intensive. With more and more people moving out of agriculture, especially the younger generation, do you think that a labour intensive farming method like organic cultivation or NPM is something farmers that would go for?

Organic or CMSA methods are most relevant to small and marginal farmers who are 80 per cent in number and area. Most of the times they are underemployed. With the popularization of ½ acre model under irrigated conditions the farmer’s family is gainfully engaged for 365 days. We have also noticed that a good number of farmers, especially women farmers, are young and they feel excited that they have control on the inputs and processes. These young women bring to the field traditional wisdom. So more and more people are getting attracted towards farming.

CMSA works on the concept of Self Help Groups. Is there a chance that there could be a certain section of the society (class or caste) that could be excluded due to any reason?

It’s an inclusive model. Self Help Groups comprise of four categories of rural house holds- poorest of the poor, poor, not so poor, Above Poverty Line. Further special efforts are made to rope in poorest of the poor women i.e Scheduled Caste /Scheduled Tribes and others who don’t have enough money for monthly savings. Government is supporting –initially to help contributing to their savings. Big farmers in the village are also included in the program. The groups work on two broad categories- one with farmers from SHG’s and the others outside of the SHG’s which also includes poor outside the fold of the self help groups. Thus there are no chances for exclusion of certain sections of farmers.


Have other states approached CMSA for promotion in their states?

They are now approaching us through the ministry of rural development at the centre. For some time we couldn’t take the offer in view of our own heavy engagement in the state; now we are willing to offer services of two to three experts for five days a month basis.


How much can one profit by converting to NPM?

At present, our experience shows, that farmers earn a profit of about Rs 2000- Rs 4000 per acre. There is substantial scope for further enhancement of profits if the farmer implements Rain Fed Sustainable Agriculture model and half acre model in mission mode.


It is always contested by agriculture department that organic cultivation and chemical free agriculture cannot be the solution to the country’s food security problem. Do you agree with this notion that our policy makers have at the centre?

No, we don’t agree. What we are practicing is basically Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and Integrated Nutrition Management (INM) approved by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research. Regarding IPM, we are clear about withdrawing pesticides immediately. About INM, it is a gradual reduction of chemical fertilizer, simultaneously replacing with leaf based organic manure with dung as inoculant. For example, urea will be replaced gradually with azolla in paddy. Subsoil nutrients are recycled through tree based farming and leaves going back to soil. We should not get bogged down by calling it organic farming; this is ‘sustainable agriculture’. Chemicals will get reduced gradually; maintaining or improving the present yield levels, hence food security is not compromised.


How can small and large farmers co-exist?

The discussion on ‘Who will feed the World’ goes on. To achieve global food security food must be redistributed such that it reaches the current mass of undernourished people (925 million people worldwide), food systems must be made resilient to climate change, and productivity must be raised to feed a growing population (an additional 1.4 million in 2030).

How can we achieve this? By building on small or large scale farming, low or high input systems? With surging land acquisitions by foreign investors in Africa, finding answers to these questions, a task taken up by the latest OXFAM research report, “Who will feed the world? The production challenge”, becomes an urgent matter.

The report opens with an empirically grounded list of pros and cons for small and large scale farming. Small scale farms have higher levels of productivity in terms of land and capital, have more biodiversity, have lower green house gas emissions and are more resilient to climate change.

Large scale farmers on the other hand, have higher levels of labour productivity, benefit from economies of scale for processing, packaging and marketing and have better access to markets, information and technology. Evidence however shows that investment projects, which have sought to establish large scale farms, have mostly failed and/or have provided no benefits to the local population. Targeting the, mainly access and scale related, constraints faced by small scale farmers, through for example private investments in technology, infrastructure, market access and institutions and by facilitating collaborative arrangements between large scale investors and local small-scale farmers, is more promising.

In the second part of this paper high external input systems (HEI), which refers to industrial agriculture, and low external input systems (LEI), which refers to sustainable production methods, are compared. Given the diversity of contexts and conditions, it is argued that no one-size- fits-all-model is appropriate. Nevertheless, it is argued that adopting LEI farming methods, which can be applied to both small and large scale farming, is crucial in achieving food security and climate change goals and that “successful LEI agriculture practices already in place could provide useful lessons for developing countries and in Africa in particular.” (p.38)

The research report withstands the temptation of declaring one mode of farming superior to the other. Instead the authors argue that food security and environmental policies should co-existence acknowledge and build on their co-existence. A four-pronged approach that addresses three types of farms and their complementarities is proposed.

  1. Small scale subsistence farmers are chronically poor and risk-averse smallholders and wage labourers. They mainly produce for their own subsistence. Policies should help move them to higher-risk/higher-return activities through insurance programmes, input subsidies and improved regulations to protect wage labourers.
  2. Small investor farmers have better access to assets, are less restricted by their production environment and produce for the market as well as for their own consumption. Policies should facilitate these farmers to engage more in high value agriculture through the expansion of local and regional markets; they should empower farmers’ organizations, provide training in new technologies and improve access to finance.
  3. Large scale farmers have access to assets, are situated in a favourable production environment and produce mainly for the market. Policies should ensure that the wealth created by these farms is widely shared. This means ensuring that investors’ proposals are consistent with local visions, that local land rights, particularly those of women, are secured, that land suitable for these farms is mapped together with local actors, that land acquisitions are transparent, that local governments can tax this land, that human rights are respected during land acquisition and that labour standards and sensible environmental safeguards are in place.
  4. Policies should moreover build on the complementarities between large and small scale farms through for example inclusive out-grower schemes.

While providing a rich empirically grounded overview of small and large scale farms and providing fresh insights into how to go further, the report could have been more comprehensive if pathways towards food security, other than farmer integration into global markets, were considered. It could for example have touched upon the concept of “food sovereignty”, introduced by La Via Campesina, the largest small scale farmer network organization in the world. From this perspective local and regional markets are not a transitional step towards global markets but are a means of achieving regional food security and autonomy.

Similarly, what the report refers to as risk averse behaviour, would not be considered as hampering growth but as a ways of reducing dependency and increasing farmer control over the production process. Whether farmers are always willing to give up this control, even if safety nets such as insurances are in place, is the question.

As a whole, the report makes a strong case to shift attention from the small scale versus large scale debate towards a debate on how co-existence between different forms of agriculture can take shape. This means a shift from a focus on productivity (with often an emphasis on “proving” that one form of agriculture is more productive than the other) towards a focus on collaborative arrangements and “improving”: how can we make collaboration work?

This shift is welcome and timely. There are still some major challenges ahead though. The report states: “The key question is whether large and small farms can build on complementarities instead of one displacing the other.” This is a good starting point for further debate, as well as for building new practical experience in inclusive agricultural development.


The Monsanto/Bill Gates Plot: Genetically Engineered Rice Threatens Asian Countries

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has approved $20 million in new monies toward the development of “golden rice” — an untested, highly controversial GE (genetically engineered) crop that threatens biodiversity and risks bringing economic and ecological disaster to Asia’s farms.

The leader of the Golden Rice project is Gerald Barry, previously director of research at Monsanto.

Sarojeni V. Rengam, executive director of Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP), has called the rice a “Trojan horse.” According to Rengam, the rice is “… a public relations stunt pulled by the agri-business corporations to garner acceptance of GE crops and food. The whole idea of GE seeds is to make money.”

Food Freedom reports:

“Golden rice is a Trojan horse for pushing through GE-friendly biosafety regulations under the guise of humanitarian aid. Once in place, these regulations open the door for the biotech industry to bring in commercial, patented GE crops; USAID and Monsanto accomplished exactly this in Kenya with their sweet potato project.”

In Thailand at least, however, a little known and unpublicized agricultural policy protects Thai rice from the risks of GMO’s. The Thai Ministry of Agriculture’s “Rice Strategy” is a master plan committed to strengthening the nation’s rice production while promoting farmers’ livelihoods and consumer confidence — which includes keeping Thai rice GMO (genetically modified organism)-free.

Adding to the risks of GE crops is Monsanto’s Roundup, the world’s best-selling herbicide that is made to be partnered with GE Roundup Ready crops. According to a new report, regulators have known for years that Roundup causes birth defects.


Regulators were apparently aware as long ago as 1980 that glyphosate, the active chemical ingredient of Roundup, caused birth defects in lab animals. However, the information was not made public. Instead, regulators misled the public about glyphosate’s safety.

According to the Huffington Post:

“… [A]s recently as last year, the German Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety, the German government body dealing with the glyphosate review, told the European Commission that there was no evidence glyphosate causes birth defects …

Although glyphosate was originally due to be reviewed in 2012, the Commission decided late last year not to bring the review forward, instead delaying it until 2015. The chemical will not be reviewed under more stringent, up-to-date standards until 2030.”

By Dr. Mercola, June 21, 2011
Straight to the Source