How Millions of Farmers are Advancing Agriculture For Themselves

December 3, 2012 (Un)Sustainable FarmingCommentaries 5 Comments

How Millions of Farmers are Advancing Agriculture For Themselves

by Jonathan Latham

The world record yield for paddy rice production is not held by an agricultural research station or by a large-scale farmer from the United States, but by Sumant Kumar who has a farm of just two hectares in Darveshpura village in the state of Bihar in Northern India. His record yield of 22.4 tons per hectare, from a one-acre plot, was achieved with what is known as the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). To put his achievement in perspective, the average paddy yield worldwide is about 4 tons per hectare. Even with the use of fertilizer, average yields are usually not more than 8 tons.

Sumant Kumar’s success was not a fluke. Four of his neighbors, using SRI methods, and all for the first time, matched or exceeded the previous world record from China, 19 tons per hectare. Moreover, they used only modest amounts of inorganic fertilizer and did not need chemical crop protection.

SRI-grown Rice in China

SRI-GROWN RICE IN CHINA

Using SRI methods, smallholding farmers in many countries are starting to get higher yields and greater productivity from their land, labor, seeds, water and capital, with their crops showing more resilience to the hazards of climate change (Thakur et al 2009; Zhao et al 2009).

These productivity gains have been achieved simply by changing the ways that farmers manage their plants, soil, water and nutrients.

The effect is to get crop plants to grow larger, healthier, longer-lived root systems, accompanied by increases in the abundance, diversity and activity of soil organisms. These organisms constitute a beneficial microbiome for plants that enhances their growth and health in ways similar to how the human microbiome benefits Homo sapiens.

That altered management practices can induce more productive, resilient phenotypes from existing rice plant genotypes has been seen in over 50 countries. The reasons for this improvement are not all known, but there is a growing literature that helps account for the improvements observed in yield and health for rice crops using SRI.

The ideas and practices that constitute SRI were developed inductively in Madagascar some 30 years ago for rice. They are now being adapted to improve the productivity of a wide variety of other crops, starting with wheat, finger millet and sugarcane. Producing more output with fewer external inputs may sound improbable, but it derives from a shift in emphasis from improving plant genetic potential via plant breeding, to providing optimal environments for crop growth.

The adaptation of SRI experience and principles to other crops is being referred to generically as the System of Crop Intensification (SCI), encompassing variants for wheat (SWI), maize (SMI), finger millet (SFMI), sugarcane (SSI), mustard (rapeseed/canola)(another SMI), teff (STI), legumes such as pigeon peas, lentils and soya beans, and vegetables such as tomatoes, chillies and eggplant.

That similar results are seen across such a range of plants suggests some generic processes may be involved, and these practices are not only good for growing rice. This suggests to Prof. Norman Uphoff and colleagues within the SRI network that more attention should be given to the contributions that are made to agricultural production by the soil biota, both in the plants’ rhizospheres but also as symbiotic endophytes within the plants themselves (Uphoff et al. 2012).

The evidence reported below has drawn heavily, with permission, from a report that Dr. Uphoff prepared on the extension of SRI to other crops (Uphoff 2012). Much more research and evaluation needs to be done on this progression to satisfy both scientists and practitioners. But this gives an idea of what kinds of advances in agricultural knowledge and practice appear to be emerging.

Origins and Principles
Deriving from empirical work started in the 1960s in Madagascar by a French priest, Fr. Henri de Laulanié, S.J., the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) has shown remarkable capacity to raise smallholders’ rice productivity under a wide variety of conditions around the world: from tropical rainforest regions of Indonesia, to mountainous regions in northeastern Afghanistan, to fertile river basins in India and Pakistan, to arid conditions of Timbuktu on the edge of the Sahara Desert in Mali. SRI methods have proved adaptable to a wide range of agroecological settings.

With SRI management, paddy yields are usually increased by 50-100%, but sometimes by even more, even up to the super-yields of Sumant Kumar and his neighbors. Requirements for seed are greatly reduced (by 80-90%), as are those for irrigation water (by 25-50%). Little or no inorganic fertilizer is required if sufficient organic matter can be provided to the soil, and there is little if any need for agrochemical crop protection against pests and diseases. SRI plants are also generally healthier and better able to resist such stresses as well as drought, extremes of temperature, flooding, and storm damage.

SRI methodology is based on four main principles that interact in synergistic ways:

  • Establish healthy plants early and carefully, nurturing their root potential.
  • Reduce plant populations, giving each plant more room to grow above and below ground and room to capture sunlight and obtain nutrients.
  • Enrich the soil with organic matter, keeping it well-aerated to support better growth of roots and more aerobic soil biota.
  • Apply water purposefully in ways that favor plant-root and soil-microbial growth, avoiding flooded (anaerobic) soil conditions.

These principles are translated into a number of irrigated rice cultivation practices which under most smallholder farmers’ conditions are the following:

  • Plant young seedlings carefully and singly, giving them wider spacing usually in a square pattern, so that both roots and canopy have ample room to spread.
  • Keep the soil moist but not inundated. Provide sufficient water for plant roots and beneficial soil organisms to grow, but not so much as to suffocate or suppress either, e.g., through alternate wetting and drying, or through small but regular applications.
  • Add as much compost, mulch or other organic matter to the soil as possible, ‘feeding the soil’ so that the soil can, in turn, ‘feed the plant.’
  • Control weeds with mechanical methods that can incorporate weeds while breaking up the soil’s surface. This actively aerates the root zone as a beneficial by-product of weed control. This practice can promote root growth and the abundance of beneficial soil organisms, adding to yield.

The cumulative result of these practices is to induce the growth of more productive and healthier plants (phenotypes) from any given variety (genotype).

Variants of SRI practices suitable for upland regions have been developed by farmers where there are no irrigation facilities, so SRI is not just for irrigated rice production any more. In both settings, crops can be productive with less irrigation water or rainfall because taking up SRI recommendations enhances the capacity of soil systems to absorb and provide water (‘green water’). SRI practices initially developed to benefit small-scale rice growers are being adapted now for larger-scale production, with methods such as direct-seeding instead of transplanting, and with the mechanization of some labor-intensive operations such as weeding (Sharif 2011).

From the System of Rice Intensification to the System of Crop Intensification
Once the principles of SRI became understood by farmers and they had mastered its practices for rice, farmers began extending SRI ideas and methods to other crops. NGOs and some scientists have also become interested in and supportive of this extrapolation, so a novel process of innovation has ensued. Some results of this process are summarized here.

The following information is not a research report. The comparisons below are not experiment station data but rather results that have come from farmers’ fields in Asia and Africa. The measurements of yields reported here probably have some margin of error. But the differences seen are so large and are so often repeated that they are certainly significant agronomically. The results in the following sections are comparisons with farmers’ current practices, showing how much more production farmers in developing countries could be achieving from their presently available resources.

This innovative management of many crops, referred to under the broad heading of System of Crop Intensification (SCI), is also sometimes aptly referred to in India as the ‘System of RootIntensification,’ another meaning for the acronym SRI.

The changes introduced with SCI practice are driven by the four SRI principles noted above. The first three principles are usually followed fairly closely. The fourth principle (reduced water application) is relevant for irrigated production such as for wheat, sugarcane and some other crops. It has less relevance under rainfed conditions where farmers have less control over water applications to their crops. Maintaining sufficient but never excessive soil moisture such as with water-harvesting methods and applications corresponds to the fourth SRI principle.

Agriculture in the 21st century must be practiced differently from the previous century; land and water resources are becoming relatively scarcer, of poorer quality, or less reliable. Climatic conditions are in many places becoming more adverse, especially for smallholding farmers. More than ever, they need cropping practices that are more ‘climate-proof.’ By promoting better root growth and more abundant life in the soil, SCI offers millions of insecure, disadvantaged households better opportunities.

Wheat (Triticum)
The extension of SRI practices to wheat, the next most important cereal crop after rice, was fairly quickly seized upon by farmers and researchers in India, Ethiopia, Mali and Nepal. SWI was first tested in 2008 by the People’s Science Institute (PSI) which works with farmers in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand states. Yield estimates showed a 91% increase for unirrigated SWI plots over usual methods in rainfed areas, and a 82% increase for irrigated SWI. This has encouraged an expansion of SWI in these two states.

The most rapid growth and most dramatic results have been in Bihar state of India, where 415 farmers, mostly women, tried SWI methods in 2008/09, with yields averaging 3.6 tons/ha, compared with 1.6 tons/ha using usual practices. The next year, 15,808 farmers used SWI with average yields of 4.6 tons/ha. In the past year, 2011/12, the SWI area in Bihar was reported to be 183,063 hectares, with average yields of 5.1 tons/ha. With SWI management, net income per acre from wheat has been calculated by the NGO PRADAN to rise from Rs. 6,984 to Rs. 17,581, with costs reduced while yields increased. This expansion has been done under the auspices of the Bihar Rural Livelihood Promotion Society, supported by the International Development Association (IDA) of the World Bank.

About the same time, farmers in northern Ethiopia started on-farm trials of SWI, assisted by theInstitute for Sustainable Development (ISD), supported by a grant from Oxfam America. Seven farmers in 2009 averaged 5.45 tons/ha with SWI methods, the highest reaching 10 tons/ha. There was a larger set of on-farm trials in South Wollo in 2010. SWI yields averaged 4.7 tons/ha with compost and 4.9 tons/ha with inorganic nitrogen (urea) and phosphorus (DAP). The 4% increase in yield was not enough to justify the cost of purchasing and applying fertilizer. The control plots averaged wheat yields of 1.8 tons/ha.

In 2008-09, farmer trials with SWI methods were started in the Timbuktu region of Mali, where it was learned that transplanting young seedlings was not as effective as direct seeding, while SRI spacing of 25cm x 25cm proved to be too great. Still, obtaining a 10% higher yield with a 94% reduction in seed (10 kg/ha vs. 170 kg/ha), a 40% reduction in labor, and a 30% reduction in water requirements encouraged farmers to continue with their experiments.

In 2009/10, the NGO Africare undertook systematic replicated trials in Timbuktu, evaluating a number of different methods of crop establishment, including direct seeding in spacing combinations from 10 to 20 cm, line sowing, transplanting of seedlings, and control plots, all on farmers’ fields. Compared to the control average (2.25 tons/ha), the SWI transplanting method and 15×15 cm direct seeding gave the greatest yield response, 5.4 tons/ha, an increase of 140%.

SWI evaluations were also done in 2010 in the Far Western region of Nepal by the NGO Mercy Corps, under the EU-FAO Food Facility Programme. The control level of yield was 3.4 tons/ ha using local practices with a local variety. Growing a modern variety with local practices added 10% to yield (3.74 tons/ha); however, using SWI practices the same modern variety raised yield by 91%, reaching a yield of 6.5 tons/ha.

Mustard (Rapeseed/Canola)
Farmers in Bihar state of India have recently begun adapting SRI methods for growing mustard (aka rapeseed or canola). In 2009-10, 7 women farmers in Gaya district working with PRADAN and the government’s ATMA agency started applying SRI practices to their mustard crop. This gave them an average grain yield of 3 tons/ha, three times their usual 1 t/ha.

The following year, 283 women farmers who used SMI methods averaged 3.25 tons/ha. In 2011-12, 1,636 farmers practiced SMI with an average yield of 3.5 tons/ha. Those who used all of the practices as recommended averaged 4 tons/ha, and one reached a yield of 4.92 tons/ha as measured by government technicians. With SMI, farmers’ costs of production were reduced by half, from Rs. 50 per kg of grain to just Rs. 25 per kilogram.

Sugarcane (Saccarum officinarum)
Shortly after they began using SRI methods in 2004, farmers in Andhra Pradesh state of India  began also adapting these ideas and practices to their sugarcane production. Some farmers got as much as three times more yield, cutting their planting materials by 80-90%, and introducing much wider spacing of plants, using more compost and mulch to enhance soil organic matter (and control weeds), with sparing use of irrigation water and much reduced use of chemical fertilizers and agrochemical sprays.

By 2009, there had been enough testing, demonstration and modification of these initial practices, e.g., cutting out the buds from cane stalks and planting them in soil or other rooting material to produce healthy seedlings that could be transplanted with very wide spacing, that the joint Dialogue Project on Food, Water and Environment of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Hyderabad launched a ‘sustainable sugarcane initiative’ (SSI). The project published a manual that described and explained the suite of methods derived from SRI experience that could raise cane yields by 30% or more, with reduced requirements for both water and chemical fertilizer.

The director of the Dialogue Project, Dr. Biksham Gujja together with other SRI and SSI colleagues established a pro bono company AgSRI in 2010 to disseminate knowledge and practice of these ecologically-friendly innovations among farmers in India and beyond.

The first international activity of AgSRI has been to share information on SSI with sugar growers on the Camilo Cienfuegos production cooperative in Bahia Honda, Cuba. A senior sugar agronomist, Lauro Fanjùl from the Ministry of Sugar, when visiting the cooperative to inspect its SSI crop, was amazed at the size, vigor and color of the canes, noting that they were ‘still growing.’

Finger Millet (Eleusine coracana)
Some of the first examples of SCI came from farmers in several states of India who had either applied SRI ideas to finger millet (ragi in local languages), or by their own observations and experimentation devised a more productive cropping system for finger millet that utilized SRI principles.

The NGO Green Foundation in Bangalore in the early ’00s learned that farmers in Haveri district of Karnataka State had devised a system for growing ragi that they call Guli Vidhana (square planting). Young seedlings are planted in a square grid, 2 per hill, spaced 18 inches (45 cm) apart, with organic fertilization. One implement they use stimulates greater tillering and root growth when it is pulled across the field in different directions; and another breaks up the topsoil while weeding between and across rows. In contrast with conventional methods, which yield around 1.25 to 2 tons/ha, with up to 3.25 tons using fertilizer inputs, Guli Vidhana methods yield 4.5 to 5 tons/ha, with a maximum yield so far of 6.25 tons.

In Jharkhand state of India in 2005, farmers working with the NGO PRADAN began experimenting with SRI methods for their rainfed finger millet. Usual yields there were 750 kg to 1 ton/ha with traditional broadcasting practices. Yields with transplanted SFMI have averaged 3-4 tons/ha. Costs of production per kg of grain are reduced by 60% with SFMI management, from Rs. 34.00 to Rs. 13.50. In Ethiopia, one farmer using her own version of SRI practices for finger millet is reported by the Institute for Sustainable Development to have obtained a yield of 7.6 tons/ha.

Maize (Zea mays)
Growing maize using SRI concepts and methods has not been experimented with very much yet; but in northern India the People’s Science Institute in Dehradun has worked with smallholders in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh states to improve their maize production with adapted SRI practices.

No transplanting is involved, and no irrigation. Farmers are planting 1-2 seeds per hill with square spacing of 30×30 cm, having added compost and other organic matter to the soil, and then doing three soil-aerating weedings. Some varieties they have found performing best at 30×50 cm spacing. The number of farmers practicing this kind of SCI went from 183 in 2009 on 10.34 hectares of land, to 582 farmers on 63.61 ha in 2010. With these alternative methods, the average yields have been 3.5 tons/hectare. This is 75% more than their yields with conventional management, which have averaged 2 tons/hectare.

Because maize is such an important food crop for many millions of food-insecure households, getting more production from their limited land resources, with their present varieties or with improved ones, should be a priority.

Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
Farmers in Thambal village, Salem district in Tamil Nadu state of India were the first to establish an SRI Farmers Association in their country, as far as is known. Their appreciation for SRI methods led them to begin experimentation with the extension of these ideas to their off-season production of turmeric, a rhizome crop that gives farmers a good income when sold for use as a spice in Indian cooking.

With this methodology, planting material is reduced by more than 80%, by using much smaller rhizome portions to start seedlings. These are transplanted with wider spacing (30×40 cm instead of 30×30 cm), and organic means of fertilization are used (green manure plus vermicompost, Trichoderma, Pseudomonas, and a biofertilizer mixture known as EM, Effective Microorganisms, developed in Japan by T. Higa). Water requirements are cut by two-thirds. With yields 25% higher and with lower costs of production, farmers’ net income from their turmeric crop can be effectively doubled.

Tef (Eragrostis tef)
Adaptations of SRI ideas for the increased production of tef, the most important cereal grain for Ethiopians, started in 2008-09 under the direction of Dr. Tareke Berhe, at the time director of theSasakawa Africa Association’s regional rice program, based in Addis Ababa. Having grown up in a household which raised tef, and then written theses on tef for his M.Sc. (Washington State University) and Ph.D. (University of Nebraska), Berhe was thoroughly knowledgeable, both practically and theoretically, with this crop.

Typical yields for tef grown with traditional practices, based on broadcasting, are about 1 ton/ha. The seed of tef is tiny — even smaller than mustard seed, about 2500 seeds making only 1 gram — so growing and transplanting tef seedlings seemed far-fetched. But Berhe found that transplanting young seedlings at 20×20 cm spacing with organic and inorganic fertilization gave yields of 3 to 5 tons/ha. With small amendments of micronutrients (Zn, Cu, Mg, Mn), these yields could be almost doubled again. Such potential within the tef genome, responding to good soil conditions and wider spacing, had not been seen before. Berhe is calling these alternative production methods the System of Tef Intensification (STI).

In 2010, with a grant from Oxfam America, Dr. Berhe conducted STI trials and demonstrations at Debre Zeit Agricultural Research Center and Mekelle University, major centers for agricultural research in Ethiopia. Their good results gained acceptance for the new practices. He is now serving as an advisor for tef to the Ethiopian government’s Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA), with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

This year, 7,000 farmers are using STI methods in an expanded trial, and another 100,000 farmers are using less ‘intensified’ methods based on the same SRI principles, not transplanting but having wider spacing of plants with row seeding. As with other crops, tef is quite responsive to management practices that do not crowd the plants together and that improve the soil conditions for abundant root growth.

Legumes: Pigeonpeas (Red Gram – Cajanus cajan), Lentils (Black Gram – Vigna mungo), Mung Beans (Green Gram – Vigna radiata), Soya Beans (Glycine max), Kidney Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), Peas (Pisum sativum)
That SRI principles and methods could be extended from rice to wheat, finger millet, sugarcane, maize, and even tef was not so surprising, since these are all monocotyledons, the grasses and grass-like plants whose stalks and leaves grow from their base. That mustard would respond very well to SRI management practices was unexpected, because it is a dicotyledon, i.e., a flowering plant with its leaves growing from stems rather than from the base of the plant. It is now being found that a number of leguminous crops, also dicotyledons, can benefit from practices inspired by SRI experience.

The Bihar Rural Livelihoods Support Program, Patna, has reported tripled yield from mung bean (green gram) with SCI methods, raising production on farmers’ fields from 625 kg/ha to 1.875 tons/ha. With adapted SRI practices, the People’s Science Institute in Dehradun reports that small farmers in Uttarakhand state of India are getting:

  • 65% increase for lentils (black gram), up from 850 kg/ha to 1.4 tons/ha;
  • 50% increase for soya bean, going from 2.2 to 3.3 tons/ha;
  • 67% increase for kidney beans, going from 1.8 to 3.0 tons/ha;
  • 42% increase for peas, going from 2.13 to 3.02 tons/ha.

No transplanting is involved, but the seeds are sown, 1-2 per hill, with wide spacing – 20x30cm, 25x30cm, or 30×30 cm for most of these crops, and as much as 15/20×30/45cm for peas. Two or more weedings are done, preferably with soil aeration to enhance root growth.

Fertilization is organic, applying compost augmented by a trio of indigenous organic fertilizers known locally as PAM (panchagavya, amritghol and matkakhad). Panchagavya is a mixture of five products from cattle: ghee (clarified butter), milk, curd (yoghurt), dung and urine, which particularly appears to stimulate the growth of beneficial soil organisms. Seeds are treated before planting with cow urine to make them more resistant to pests and disease.

This production strategy can be considered ‘labor intensive’ but households seeking to get maximum yield from the small areas of land available to them find that the additional effort and care give net returns as well as more security. The resulting crops are more robust, resistant both to pest and disease damage and to adverse climatic conditions.

Vegetables
The extension of SRI concepts and practices to vegetables has been a farmer-led innovation, and has progressed farthest in Bihar State of India. The Bihar Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society (BRLPS), working under the state government, with NGOs such as PRADAN leading the field operations and having financial support from the IDA of the World Bank, has been promoting and evaluating SCI efforts among women’s self-help groups to raise their vegetable production.

Women farmers in Bihar have experimented with planting young seedlings widely and carefully, placing them into dug pits that are back-filled with loose soil and organic soil amendments such as vermicompost. Water is used very precisely and carefully. While this system is labor-intensive, it increases yields greatly and benefits particularly the very poorest households. They have access to very little land and water, and they need to use these resources with maximum productivity and little cash expenditure.

A recent article on using SRI methods with vegetables concluded: “It is found that in SRI, SWI & SCI, the disease & pest infestations are less, use of agro chemicals are lesser, requires less water, can sustain water-stressed condition; with more application of organic matter, yields in terms of grain, fodder & firewood are higher.” (from a background paper prepared for the National Colloquium on System of Crop Intensification (SCI), Patna, India, March 2, 2011).

Trials in Ethiopia conducted by the NGO ISD have also shown good results. Readers can learn more about how these ideas are being adapted for very poor, water-stressed Ethiopian households in Tigray province here (Brochure at:http://www.isd.org.et/Publications/Planting%20with%20space%20brochure.pdf).

Conclusion
Philosophically, SRI can be understood as an integrated system of plant-centered agriculture. Fr. Laulanié, who developed SRI thinking and practice during his 34 years in Madagascar, in one of his last papers commented that he did this by learning from the rice plant; the rice plant is my teacher (mon maître) he wrote. Each of the component activities of SRI has the goal of maximally providing whatever a plant is likely to need in terms of space, light, air, water, and nutrients. It also creates favorable conditions for the growth and prospering of beneficial soil organisms in, on and around the plant. SRI thus presents us with the question: if one can provide, in every way, the best possible environment for plants to grow, what benefits and synergisms will we see?

Already, approximately 4-5 million farmers around the world are using SRI methods with rice. The success of SRI methods can be attributed to many factors. They are low risk, they don’t require farmers to have access to any unfamiliar technologies, they save money on multiple inputs, while higher yields earn them more. Most important is that farmers can readily see the benefits for themselves.

SCI Yield Increases Reported

SCI YIELD INCREASES REPORTED

Consequently, many farmers are gaining confidence in their ability to get ‘more from less’ by modifying their crop management practices. They can provide for their families’ food security, obtain surpluses, and avoid indebtedness. In the process, they are enhancing the quality of their soil resources and are buffering their crops against the temperature and precipitation stresses of climate change.

Where this process will end, nobody knows. Almost invariably SRI results in far greater yields, but some farmers go beyond others’ results to achieve super-yields for reasons that are not fully clear. Although experience increasingly points to the contributions of the plants’ microbiome, it also suggests that the optimization process is still at the beginning.

 

References
Sharif A (2011). Technical adaptations for mechanized SRI production to achieve water saving and increased profitability in Punjab, Pakistan. Paddy and Water Environment 9: 111-119.
Thakur AK, Uphoff N and Antony E (2009) an assessment of physiological effects of system of rice intensification (SRI) practices compared with recommended rice cultivation practices in India. Experimental Agric. 46: 77-98.
Uphoff N (2012). Raising smallholder food crop yields with climate-smart agricultural practices. Report accompanying presentation on ‘The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) and Beyond: Coping with Climate Change,’ made at World Bank, Washington, DC, October 10.
Uphoff N, Chi F, Dazzo FB , Rodriguez RJ (2012) Soil fertility as a contingent rather than inherent characteristic: Considering the contributions of crop-symbiotic soil biota. In Principles of Sustainable Soil Systems in Agroecosystems,, eds. R. Lal and B. Stewart. Boca Raton FL: Taylor & Francis, in press.
Zhao LM, Wu LH, Li Y, Lu X, Zhu DF and Uphoff, N (2009) Influence of the system of rice intensification on rice yield and nitrogen and water use efficiency with different N application rates. Experimental Agric. 45: 275–286.

Further Reading: What lies beyond ‘Modern Agriculture’ the Bunting lecture of 2007 given by Norman Uphoff at Reading University, UK

Agricultural Review of 2012: Dr. J. Venkateswarlu

Dr. J. Venkateswarlu, former director, CAZRI

Brief Note for 2012 on Selected Topics
A) 
      Crop production

Even though we had an anxiety on the monsoon rainfall, pattern, there was considerable improvement by first week of August. The overall deficit of the rainfall in the SW monsoon was only 5.0%.

The skewed distribution of SW monsoon rains lead to a sharp decline in the area under pearlmillet (-24.8%) and a significant loss in the area under pulses (-7.8%) as well as sunflower (-13.2%) and groundnut (-10.1%). However soybean area was satisfactory (+3.7%).

The projected production in kharif 2012 is less by 9.6% in cereals and 14.6% in pulses over 2011-12. In the case of groundnut it is deficient by 25.0%.

Thus we are still rain dependent in the kharif crop production, inspite of several efforts of the GoI through focusing on rainfed area development programme (RADP) and on pearlmillet, maize and pulses and a regional thrust on NE India. We must closely examine the reasons for these results, in view of the fact the total rainfall was almost normal with small deviations of 5% (whole country), 4% (NW), 2% (central), 2% (south) and 11% (NE&E). Is it the spatial and temporal variations of the rainfall? Or is it because the soil is not able to hold adequate water to mitigate the intermittent stress or is it the technology? Finally is it because the ‘doles’ provided in the above said programmes are not effectively used?

(B)        Nutrient management

 

It is a happy augury to see that GoI and the Planning Commission are now planning to focus on improvement of soil health through organics alongwith limited use of external inputs. This is unlike the XI FYP where the thrust was more on use of external inputs. We must thank several of the civil societies who could transform the thinking at the GoI level in the ways to improve the soil health, so necessary for the very survival of our nation.

(C)       Global efforts

Soils are back on the agenda, thanks to Global Soil Partnership of FAO (November 2011) and the first Global Soil Week (November 2012). Earlier, ISRIC made a valiant effort to bring back soils on the agenda. All emphasize the soils are finite and a vital resource for sustainable development and human well being. Hence soil resources need to be preserved. The target set is ‘zero net soil and land degradation’ with an agenda for action to ‘improve the sustainable management of soils and their restoration for sustainable development through an international network.

There is a revisit to the watershed development programmes by FAO, IFPRI, World Bank and other international agencies. Earlier, based on experiences from APRLP, KAWAD, WORLP (all DFID funded) and others we evolved new common guidelines in the Integrated Watershed Management Programme (IWMP). We are also implementing the IWMP on a mission mode with monitoring and evaluation by the stakeholders as well as external agencies for mid-course corrections, if any. We are now moving to participatory annual plans with a net plan.

Based on International experiences now we have to have further paradigm shifts to include (i) revisit to geohydrology on a larger area basis for conservation of the natural resources and for rainwater harvesting, (ii) payment for environmental services (e.g. mitigating effects of climate change by biomass generation, adopting low external input systems in production and in minimizing use of fossil energy).

 

వ్యవసాయ బడ్జెట్-2013-14 కు రైతు స్వరాజ్య వేదిక, సుస్థిర వ్యవసాయ కేంద్రం, అఖిల పక్ష రైతుసంఘాల ప్రతిపాదనలు

అనేక సంవత్సరాల పోరాటం తర్వాత, ఆంధ్ర ప్రదేశ్ రాష్ట్ర ప్రభుత్వం ప్రత్యెక వ్యవసాయ బడ్జెట్ ప్రవేశ పెట్టడానికి సుముఖత వ్యక్తం చేసింది.  అయితే ఈ వ్యవసాయ బడ్జెట్ కేవలం నిధులు కేటాయింపు గా మాత్రమే చూడకుండా, వ్యవసాయానికి దిశానిర్దేశం చేసే విధంగా వుండాలి అని కోరుతూ, సుస్థిర వ్యవసాయ కేంద్రం, అఖిల పక్ష రైతు సంఘాలు, ఏ.పి. రైతు స్వరాజ్య వేదిక ఆధ్వర్యం లో చర్చించి చేసిన ప్రతిపాదనలు.

121227 AP Agricultural Budget Proposal చదవండి.

Impact of Climate Change on Marginalized Women – An exploratory study across 6 districts in Assam

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Inline image 1
 
This Report has been prepared by the Centre for Environment, Social and Policy Research (CESPR), and Rashtriya  ramin Vikas Nidhi (RGVN) in collaboration with Indian Network on Ethics and Climate Change (INECC). CESPR is a Guwahati based organization engaged in research and advocacy on various social and environmental issues, which includes climate change, across the North East of India. RGVN is a development support organization, and over the years it has been able to groom and support small organizations involved in various livelihood enhancement programmes. INECC is a loosely structured national network comprising of individuals and organization representatives interested in the climate issue from a micro-macro perspective. It connects the issues of climate change to larger sustainable development and social justice concerns.
The outcome of this research work, which was carried out in six locations across the state of Assam portrays how climate change is impacting the lives of marginalized women in the rural areas in the state. Though there has been a lot of debate regarding climate change and its impacts on several issues such as food security, water shortage etc, attention has not been paid on the impacts of climate change on some very critical issues which includes impacts on marginalized women in the rural areas. This study shows that impacts of climate change has already started taking place and it is predominately visible at various locations across the state, and unknown to many among the policy makers and at the government level, there has been impacts of climate change on the social security, education, health etc of marginalized women in the rural areas in the state.
The study also shows that people are shifting from their traditional livelihood source, which is usually agriculture to other means of livelihood which includes working as a daily wage labour as there has been a decline in the agricultural production and other traditional practices. Besides this, in many households, women who were earlier home makers have now started working to supplement the family’s income as there has been a decline in the income through agriculture. In several households the families have also asked their daughter to quit her studies and spend time at the house for the household chorus.
The insights and findings from the research work, which was conducted in three phases gives an indication of the challenges that is ahead, and should also be able to convince everyone about the need to give a thought on this issue.
Please do go through the report and do give your feedback to Dr. Amarjyoti Borah, Co-Convener, CESPR, [cesprindia.research@gmail.com].

Integrated Chemical and Organic Fertilizer Management on Rice growth and yield under System of Rice Intensification (SRI)

This is a concise paper on Integrated Chemical and Organic Fertilizer Management on Rice growth and yield under System of Rice Intensification (SRI). Brought forward by Agricultural Research Education and Extension Organization (ARREO) based in Iran, the experiments were conducted in the Caspian Sea Coastal Area. The results show that, rice nutrition under SRI is one of the key factors for increasing yields, specially at poor soil fertility conditions. However, the kind of compost/organic material and rate of application is crucial for increasing soil productivity under SRI.

Reviving the lost legacy

 

Rice is life for thousands of people. At a time when the country debates a second green revolution in the eastern states, here is a story of a farmer, Ghani Khan, who is shrugging off modern hybrid rice seeds to return to more nutritious and health traditional rice seed.

The lane to Bada Bagh is muddy, accost by trees. The whole farm is hidden with shrubs, trees, sugarcane, so you donot realize that lies ahead. Bada Bagh orchard, managed by Syed Ghani Khan’s family at Kirugavulu in Malavalli taluk of Mandya district is very popular among the city dwellers for its flavoured mangoes from the trees that have a legacy of 250 years, but now the bagh is popular for a different reason. Bada Bagh was a gift received by Syed Ghani Khan from Tipu Sultan himself. Four generations later, the farm is now with Ghani Khan, a young and energetic farmer, who has completely changed the outlook of the ancient farm by combining the mango crop with traditional rice varieties, all of 567rice strains of different combinations are grown here.  Bada Bagh is now an essential museum of traditional rice strains is drawing in farmers from far and near.

Old aid

Ghani the eldest among the four sons says that it is the quest for alternative seeds and farming practices that brought the family together. The once separated brothers are back and they owe much to the traditional rice strains. Ghani just like many young farmers operated the farm adopting all modern agricultural practices.  Though initially all was well, very soon he witnessed deterioration of his fertile farm. With the help of a fellow farmer he began to discover alternate methods to rejuvenate the soil. His experimenting started in 2000 by trial and error method using only organic compost.  The hybrid rice, the IR series of rice varieties did not respond well to organic compost, so he had to find a rice variety that would suit the traditional cultivation methods. With the Kaveri river flowing through the district, there was wide spread hybrid cultivation and the region had lost almost all the traditional rice diversity that existed.

The region had very distinct drought resistant rice varieties like raja bhog batha, coimbatur sanna, kadi batha, bangaru sanna, bangaru kaddi and doddibatha, as there was no water in these villages before the ‘Kannambadi’ dam was built. Ghani says while hybrids have outstanding qualities, the ability to reproduce themselves is clearly not one of them. You may expect a good yield from hybrids with a sufficient input, but the main drawback is the you cannot save seed, as they may not even germinate, since it may be sterile. If it does sprout, the young plants will probably not have many of the characteristics of the parent plant, nor will it look anything like the plant you got the seeds from. But the traditional seeds have developed resistance to certain pests and diseases and are hardier and healthier than hybrids. Their original genetic material is intact and they have unique reproductive and immunity is preserved. Each variety has distinct flavors, and come in many different and unique colors, sizes, and shapes.

As the region had lost much of its traditional rices, search for the traditional seeds proved difficult. He came across a fine rice variety, Rathnachudi, and his experimentation began with only one variety. The variety performed well under organic farming and he continued cultivating the variety for about 6 years, before he realized to test some more of the traditional varieties. He says his hunt for traditional seeds took initiation with a that he was able to collect handful of seeds of about six paddy varieties in 2006. All the varieties were successful as they did not use chemicals and required less water.  Later varieties increased from six to twenty-six in the consecutive year and again to seventy-five in 2008 and now he has as many as 146 varieties. He says he vows a lot to Sahaja Samrudha, an organic farmers association, stationed at Bangalore, for continuously guiding him technically and helping him collect seeds from different regions. His collection is from five different states and also few from another country. He has a wide diversity of wetland, dryland, medicinal, aromatic, irrigated rices. The whole 20acres is a rich verdant tapestry in all hues of red, gold, brown and black. All the 146 traditional rices are maintained in a single, largest experimental restoration plot, an individual farmer can maintain. Each variety is evenly spaced with straight rows that are distinctly visible on the plot. A portion of the experimental plot is covered with high-yielding dwarf varieties that are planted for comparative study with the predominant expanse distinctively taller traditional rice plants.

Though he has irrigation facility, he feels that it is important to limit water usage so he is cultivating his farm by following System of rice intensification (SRI) method. SRI unlike conventional methods of raising productivity through genetic improvement and increasing inputs relies on providing an enabling environment for the rice plant to express itself fully. The plot has been designed and about 146 varieties are sown following the system that involves a combination of several principles, including the use of organic inputs, alternate wetting and drying, increased spacing between plants, and transplanting the plants while they are young.

Ghani says it is essential to conserve the different traits of rice varieties that have evolved through the combined process of natural selection and farmer selection that are so adapted to different eco-climatic conditions with their fragrance, taste, medicinal and high yielding properties as frequent floods and prolonged droughts are the order of the day and the modern high yielding rice varieties and hybrids have drastically reduced performance and suffer a partial or total loss of crops. Switching over to traditional crop varieties is the need, as it not only maintains biodiversity but will definitely offset the hurdles posed with climate change.  “For thousands of years farmers have been breeders and developed and nurtured crop genetic diversity. With their careful insight of selecting plants and developing varieties with suitable traits and improve on the existing one. This system of selection and improving on the plants is what has  led to an astounding diversity of landraces, which still exists with some farmers. Though most of the rice diversity has been eroded there are some farmers, who are working towards reviving and maintaining the rice diversity that Karnataka has been a host and Ghani is one among them”, says Shanta Kumar, Coordinator of ‘Save our Rice’ campaign.

Prized Collections

Ghani is maintaining different paddy strains to keep alive the evolutionary processes and also to sustain a continual supply of germplasm. He has developed skills in the art of seed production and has the ability to select the best seeds. The whole plot of 567 rice varieties has been dedicated for seed production. Some of the diversity maintained on his field are Rajabhog, which is a  weed suppresser, Anandi a variety from Dharwad has a high yielding capacity, Jeeriga samba is a very popular variety among the farmers and is aromatic, non lodging and good grain yielding variety and Parimalasanna is a fine variety appropriate for making festoons. Two varieties of Burma black rice, both grains are black in colour and one variety has less fibre and the other has high fibre content. Chinnaponni, Kempudoddi, Halublu, Rajakayame, Rasakadam,Gamgadale, Burmablack, Kagisali, Ambimohar, Gamsale, Kottayane, Bilinellu, Gandhasale, NMS2, Rajmudi, Ratnachudi, Gowrisanna, Jeerigesanna, Bilidoddi, , Gambatha, Jeerigesale. Some of the varieties from Orissa that are performing well are kalakali, baingan mangi, govindbhog is a sacred variety used as an offering to God Krishna, of Orissa. Some from Maharashtra like sagvad an upland variety used for pooha, maladi a medicinal rice used in bone fracture treatment, HMT a farmer developed variety and Katte HMT a variety that has awns, Kasubai a scented variety, Raj gudiyapa a dry land medicinal rice variety used for weakness and Dharisal, Tulasiya, Sheerabathi, Thamadisala, rathbath.

Mr. Krishna Prasad,sahaja samrudha  says “ On-farm conservation of rice diversity is carried out only by farmers who are interested and willing to do so. It cannot be imposed on them. A farmer who conserves inter and intra specific diversity has to have an understanding as to how, what and why he does it. Organizations can only technically support and provide opportunities for the farmers in continuing their efforts at conserving crop diversity”. He further adds that on-farm conservation of crop diversity is important. This form of managing diversity of crops is easy to implement and links farmers’ economic concerns with conservation. Management for crop diversity can promote on-farm conservation of rice, and potentially other crops too, in a feasible and sustainable way.

Ghani’s concern for conservation of biodiversity has infact got many farmers interested in traditional varieties. His farm in the outskirts of his village has grown into one of the largest experimental restoration plots, drawing visitors from villages near and far. His experiment has enthralled Scientists and Officials, who have applauded his venture.

India is presently facing a rice crisis due to erosion of its biodiversity and increase of monocropping in agriculture. Reliance on a narrow spectrum of cultivars grown in monoculture have increased pest problems and India being a mega diversity country has a plethora of traditional varieties which are nutritious and developed over centuries. The traditional strains are more resistant to drought and could be an answer to the climate change. So saving them is important lest we lose it.

Contact: Ghani- 09901713351 for more details

Did ICAR try to protect seniors?

http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-12-18/nagpur/35890003_1_icar-bn-bt-nrcpb

Snehlata Shrivastav, TNN Dec 18, 2012, 06.53AM IST

Though the Sopory committee report is apparently very fair and extensive and has pointed out lacunae at each level, there are many facts that have not come in the report.

It is really surprising that scientists involved in the project, who had been working in the ICAR for a long time, could continue to work irresponsibly and the administration too could overlooked a lot of serious lapses.

ICAR authorities seem to have been also protecting some of its seniors. The council’s former deputy director general of crop sciences, P L Gautam was aware of the MON531 gene in the BN Bt but he ignored the information and gave a nod for commercialization. After leaving as DDG, he worked as the chairman of the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Authority (PPV&FRA) and chairman of Biodiversity Authority of India. ICAR sources say that the council waited for his retirement until December 12 and put the report on the website the next day.

Sources say that NRCPB was given the council’s institute award for developing the NRCPB construct and leading the BN Bt development. Also B M Khadi was brought to Nagpur as CICR director as a reward for development of an indigenous Bt cotton variety.

But these very sources also say that Ananda Kumar who was aiming at a much higher post in the ICAR has already been punished indirectly as he has not been allowed to continue as the director before the report was made public.

Experts are questioning the very working of the ICAR. “How were scientists with no expertise in a particular field given work of such national importance, putting the credibility of entire ICAR on stake? This can happen only in India where scientists can work without following the basic international norms of doing science,” said a senior retired ICAR scientist.

“In this specific case, the findings of the report have come as a setback to ICAR scientists, but truly speaking, it has put a question on the credibility and integrity of entire scientific community of India as Indian scientists will always be under cloud of doubt internationally,” said a non ICAR scientist.

Essential Oils for Controlling Insect Pests

http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/essential-oils-controlling-insect-pests
Posted on:

Tuesday, December 11th 2012 at 5:00 am

Essential Oils for Controlling Insect Pests

Once you start enjoying the fruits and vegetables in your organic garden, it’s not long before you start receiving visitors.  Meet the arthropods.  Those freeloading vegetarians who come swinging their many limbs and whose intent it is to share the bounties of your hard labor.

Organic gardeners have a few options. Ignore them — pray for some leftovers.  Physically remove them, or, murder.  If you choose the last option, why not try a lethal whiff or contact with some killer herbs and spices.

Research into the effectiveness of plant essential oils as botanical pesticides continues and is being confirmed. Several products have been formulated and commercialized.

In the US, these products bypass the regulatory control of scheduled poisons or registered pesticides as they are considered food safe products.

What are they and how do they work?

Plants produce essential oils

There is a long history of our oriental friends enjoying the therapeutic benefits of essential oils, particularly in Egypt, Persia and India.

The process of producing essential oils is generally via steam distillation. The end result is a volatile oil containing 100’s of compounds, some identifiable, many not.

Terpenoids play a major role in repelling insects says Canadian entomologist and toxicologist Dr Murray Isman, who has been investigating the development of pesticides for 30 years.

Contact and fumigant

His particular interest is in discovering how the compounds in essential oils affect insects and their fate in the environment.

Isman says that while some of the pure essential oils compounds are slightly toxic (to humans) i.e.carvacrol and pulegone, a proprietary mixture of essential oil constituents fed to rats at a high dose were not lethal.

“Essential oils have several modes of action against insects and mites including repellent and antifeedant deterrence, inhibition of molting and respiration, reduction in growth and reproduction, and cuticle disruption.”

Many of these effects result from interference on the invertebrate octopamine pathway.  Octopamine is a neurotransmitter unique to invertebrates.

The advantages of these many modes of action is that they may delay resistance development in the target pest.

“Essential oils may have minimal direct and/or indirect effects on pest enemies, although bees appear to be sensitive,” says Isman.

Any plant essential oils containing eugenol or thymol, ie thyme (Thymus vulgaris) rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and clove (syzygium aromaticum) are effective pesticides.  They can be applied as a contact or fumigant.

Insecticides

Whitefly

The Greenhouse whitefly Trialeurodes vaporariorum, is a major pest of greenhouse vegetables, especially tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and ornamentals. This insect has also developed immunity to many conventional insecticides.  Several essential oils have been found to be effective against all insect stages, including eggs, nymphs and adults.

Try

  • Bay
  • Caraway seed
  • Clove leaf
  • Lemon eucalyptus
  • Lime
  • Pennyroyal
  • Peppermint
  • Rosewood
  • Spearmint
  • Tea tree

Spider Mites

A big eater of greens are the small spider mites (Tetranychus sp).  Their feeding on chlorophyll in plants cells interferes with the plant’s ability to grow.  When bronzing occurs under leaves, you can guarantee numbers are high.  So voracious are their appetites they can kill the plant.

Did you know some mites live in the gills of edible mushrooms?

the oil of oregano, (Origanum vulgare) or thyme (Thymus vulgaris) or Mint (Mentha spicata) where the Carmine spider mites, (Tetranychus cinnabarinus) are feeding.  These minute acarides will go on a hunger strike, stop growing and procreating.

Isman and a colleague, studied the effect of rosemary oil (Rosmarinus officinalis) against the two spotted spider mite (Tetranychus urticae Koch) on tomato plants.  The oil was effective on contact and even high doses did not harm the tomato plants. Other researchers have also found it useful as a fumigant.

The problem with any form of lethal control is the effect on pest predators.  In the study above it was found that when both spider mites and predatory mites (commonly used for biological control) were sprayed with different pesticides containing rosemary oil, no mortality was found among predators, but up to 60% mortality was observed in the two spotted mites.

The researchers believe this might be due to the differences in the way rosemary oil is metabolised by predatory and phytophagous mites.

Moths and aphids

Through Isman’s research with rosemary essential oil, it was illustrated that camphor was the most toxic compound to larvae of Pseudaletia unipuncta, a noctuid moth larva, followed by d-limonene and p-cymene.  Against the larvae of Trichopulsia ni, (cabbage looper) α-terpineol was the most toxic followed by p-cymene and β-pinene.  Rosemary oil also had good toxicity to aphids.

Many of the Eucalyptus species are potent for insect control (E. alba, E. camaldulensis, E. citriodora, E. deglupta, E. globulus, E. Rob) (See Appendix 1.)  Eucalyptus globulas– Blue Gum, offers very good control of many insect pests.

The oldest tree on earth, Ginkgo biloba has been investigated as a pest deterrant with lab tests showing snails were repelled from eating lettuce leaves to which Gingko extract had been applied.

 

ICAR REPORT ON BNBt Cotton EXPOSES INCOMPETENCE OF GM SCIENTISTS AND REGULATORS TO REGULATE GMOs IN INDIA

Coalition for GM Free India demands withdrawal of Supreme Court affidavit of Ministry of Agriculture that gives clean chit to GM regulators.

Reacting to the Prof.Sopory Committee Report1 that investigated the Bt Bikaneri Narma case, the Coalition for a GM-Free India said that, “We congratulate the Committee for its thorough investigation which exposes one of theworst cases of scientific fraud within the Indian Council for Agriculture (ICAR) institutions. The indictment of the agricultural research establishment and the transgenic regulatory system is a shame to the country and onceagain points out to the wastage of taxpayers’ funds. We demand stringent action against all people involved in the affair, including senior ICAR people and retired officials, some of who have even been shielded from thisenquiry.

It expressed dismay that the ICAR seems to be protecting its errant officials; apparently the establishment waited for the retirement of a senior official before making the report public. It also observed that another seniortechnocrat, Dr Bansal, was repeatedly protected by the establishment even though he was the Coordinator of this project; he does not figure either in the enquiry or the report. The long delayed report dated August 2012 wasmade public yesterday, which means it has been with the Ministry of Agriculture for the last 4 months.

PSC and TEC concerns proved right: The Coalition spokesperson added , “The report underscores and provides evidence that support the serious concerns raised both by the Parliamentary Standing Committee(PSC) reportas well as the interim report of the Technical Expert Committee (TEC) of the Supreme Court, during the last few weeks , about the inability, incapability and unpreparedness of the Indian GM research establishment to deal withthis risky and irreversible technology and the gross inadequacy and incompetence of the Indian GM regulatory apparatus to regulate this technology and ensure biosafety.

Failure of GM crop regulation: A notable failure in the whole incident is that the BNBt contamination had happened prior to commercialisation but went undetected by the regulatory system! The committee also pointed to theconflict of interest in the developers of BNBt sitting in GEAC as regulators and approving their own product. This same regulatory mechanism with its inadequacies had cleared the Bt brinjal dossier. There was virtually nooversight, the raw data had not been even read by the GEAC, there was complete ignorance of the data and the event – again which has happened with BNBt. Clearly the GM regulatory mechanism in the country is eitherincapable of, or deliberately unwilling to deal with the intricacies of biosafety testing in a rigorous manner and function transparently with the highest standards of governance. How can the country afford to do open air releasesof such a risky, irreversible technology when scientists and regulators dealing with it have shown lack of competence and care compounded by absences of ethics and internal checks and balances?”asked the Coalitionspokesperson.

MOA commits perjury: “It is a travesty of honest governance and ethics that the Ministry of Agriculture filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court of India (in the GMOs PIL), arguing that open air field trials were absolutely essentialand the regulatory system is robust and world class, even as it had this damning report, datelined August 2012 lying with it. This amounts to perjury as the affidavit filed in 8th November, 2012 claims that, “no part of the affidavitis false and nothing material has been concealed”.” It said that the Ministry of Agriculture has completely lost its credibility, and India’s farmer livelihoods, consumers’ food safety and the country’s biodiversity is in grave dangerdue the unjustified promotion of GM crops at the behest of private corporate interests and some public sector agricultural scientists.

Contamination is inevitable and Supreme Court orders violated: The fact that the whole incident emerged from contamination of BNBt by the Monsanto gene, is incontrovertible evidence that contamination is inevitable andunavoidable. The Supreme Court had in its orders of 2007 clearly directed the GEAC to have zero tolerance for contamination in/through trials. This case has demonstrated that contamination did happen at that time and that nocontamination testing ever happens and/or the regulator has no means to even check or detect contamination post the event. In this case contamination finally came to light only when Mahyco complained about the illegal use ofMonsanto’s gene.

The Coalition feels that given the high stakes in terms of profits and control of India’s huge seed market by private corporations, the entire episode of BNBt seeds raises serious questions on how and why this blatant and easilydiscernible contamination occurred. At least, this being a public sector seed, the release of data from the agricultural establishment could be ensured and the failure was subjected to thorough investigation.

The Coalition is extremely concerned at the manner in which the international patent protection laws are used by multinational seed companies to prevent access to their seeds for independent research and testing and thereliance on their testing to provide clearance to GM crops without rigorous independent testing facilities being available in India.

We demand that the Ministry of Environment & Forests immediately take cognisance of this, in addition to the reports from the PSC and TEC and immediately stop all field trials and put all applications forcommercialisation of GM crops under abeyance until all these issues are dealt with.

We demand that the affidavit submitted by the MoA to the Supreme Court be withdrawn. We are deeply concerned that the Agriculture Minister has written letters to Chief Ministers to permit open air field trials despite therepeated failures of the GM research and regulatory mechanisms. We demand that MoA support the many safe methodologies that are available instead of going all out to support a technology whose need and safety have beenshown by independent scientists across the world to be highly debatable if not downright risky.

For more details contact: Kavitha Kuruganti, Ph : 09393001550

Sridhar Radhakrishnan, Ph : 09995358205

Appendix

Background: The Bt cotton in question is the Bikaneri Narma (BN) Bt (variety) and the Bt NHH-44 (Bt hybrid) touted as the “first indigenous public sector-bred GM crop in India” developed by the Central Institute for CottonResearch, Nagpur (CICR) and University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad (UAS) along with Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI). It was approved by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), the apexregulator in 2008. The developers had claimed that the event engineered into BNBt and Bt NHH 44 is a distinct event called BNLA106. After a year of commercialisation and without any explanation BNBt and Bt NHH44 werewithdrawn from the market. It was found to have the event (MON531) originally patented by Monsanto, this came to light after Mahyco complained about it. The Indian Council for Agriculture Research (ICAR) was compelled toinstitute an enquiry to examine the matter, when it came to light that BNBt was contaminated by a gene patented by Monsanto- whether deliberately or otherwise.

The highlights of the report: The Prof.Sopory committee has strongly and unequivocally indicted the agriculture research establishment for failing on scientific, technical, institutional and ethical fronts and has stated that, “Allbiosafety studies and field trials conducted with BNBt and Bt NHH 44 are invalid” This report clearly states that contamination has happened, maybe through “out-crossing or admixtures” and states that the possibility of it beingaccidental is remote. It has also cast doubts on other GM research taking place in the establishment using this or similar constructs.

Technical issues: The committee pointed out that the fundamental flaw on the technical front was that the whole BNBt project rested on a single event and there were no other events to carry out an event selection process. Itpointed out that, “Event specific primers were not developed for BNBt” and more worryingly rearrangement of DNA was found –which raises critical questions on stability – particularly problematic in a commercialised event.Questions were raised about the characterisation of the so-called purified BNBt.

Research issues: On the research front the committee has laid bare the lack of processes and absence of due diligence within the ICAR establishment in how project proposals are written and tasks delegated and finally theproject executed. The report has pointed out how the ICAR lacks capabilities on many fronts but pretends to have them; for example in this case a scientist who admitted to not having a certain capability was allocated thatcritical task, thereby jeopardising the safety of the product. The committee also pointed out that the project was “poorly planned” and lacked supervision from the project head and the institution heads despite this beingconsidered “a project of national importance”.

Institutional and other issues: Equally egregious were the failings on the institutional and ethical fronts. ICAR blatantly disregarded the Material Transfer Agreement (MTA) signed by its scientists and claimed somebody else’smaterials. In addition it compelled its own scientists to remove the name of the original developer of the construct disregarding the MTA. The committee suggested that, “ICAR should think about not taking policy decisions ofthis nature that would compromise the ability of its scientists to take ethically correct decisions.” While the motives for such action remain murky, there cannot be a clearer indictment of the lack of ethics in the functioning of theICAR system.

Regulatory issues: On the GM crop regulatory front instances of regulatory failure are piling up. The report has pointed out the clear conflicts of interest. Developers were sitting in the GEAC meeting as regulators and approvedtheir own product! The committee expressly recommended that conflict of interest of this kind should be weeded out from the system. Molecular characterisation is a crucial and primary component of the biosafety testingregime – the scientists here got away undetected with the Monsanto event in their product!

1 Full report at this link http://www.icar.org.in/en/node/5511

Indian scientists found guilty of marketing contaminated GM cotton seeds

Indian scientists found guilty of marketing contaminated GM cotton seeds Dinesh C Sharma | New Delhi, December 14, 2012 | 10:40 A farmer in a cotton farm. In what appears to be a case of serious scientific fraud and subsequent cover up, Indian scientists have been found guilty of commercialising contaminated genetically modified(GM) cotton seeds despite knowing about contamination for several years. The GM cotton variety in question- Bikaneri Nerma Bt or BN Bt- was developed by the Nagpur-based Central Institute for Cotton Research(CICR) of the Indian Council of Agriculture Research(ICAR). It was commercialised in 2009 and was touted as an alternative to GM cotton marketed by Mahyco. Two years back, Mahyco complained to ICAR that BN Bt, in fact, contained a gene developed by its partner Monsanto. Now, an expert panel which was asked to investigate the contamination has submitted its report. The report reveals how the contamination took place and scientists at various levels tried to cover it up. The five-member panel was headed by leading biotechnologist and JNU vice-chancellor S K Sopory. Not only has the panel confirmed contamination with Monsanto gene, it has hinted that the contamination may not be “accidental”. “Accidental contamination would be difficult to explain”, the report says citing several technical reasons. After Mahyco complained, the seeds were tested at two labs once again. Certain tests conducted in 2004 at the National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology, New Delhi showed it was indeed BN Bt while different batch of the same material taken to and tested at CICR in 2005 showed extensive contamination. “Thus, assuming only accidental contamination can not explain what has happened”, the report notes. The Indian variety was originally developed at the University of Agricultural Sciences(UAS), Dharwad and then further work was carried out at CICR Nagpur. The report says the variety got contaminated at Dharwad itself, where Monsanto variety was also being field tested. The most shocking part of the episode is the fact that scientists knew about the contamination and yet they went ahead with regulatory approvals and comercialisation of seeds. “There were indications prior to commercial release in 2009 that BN Bt was contaminated. These were not formally brought to the attention of relevant authorities. Neither these indications were followed up appropriately by the scientist who observed them nor was any attention paid by others who came to know of them”, the report has concluded. “There seemed to extreme hurry to come up with public sector Bt cotton”, it adds. CICR director Dr Keshav Kranthi knew there was something wrong with seeds brought by his predecessor Dr B.M. Khadi from UAS in 2005 itself. He kept silent for four years, participated in all bio-safety and other ICAR meetings, distributed seeds to farmers and even published papers in scientific journals. At UAS, the panel said, Dr Khadi and Dr I S Katageri were lax in maintaining purity of seeds. “Dr Khadi should have been more careful, as he got the information from Dr Kranthi about the contamination in 2008”, the report said. On the role of Dr Kranti, it says: “Dr Kranthi conducted analysis which gave him enough reasons to suspect about contamination in 2005 and 2008. Although these were crucial observations, he did not give written reports to his seniors.” ICAR has been blamed for faulty planning and poor oversight of the project. Desi Bt cotton trail ICAR’s Bt cotton variety ‘Bikaneri Nerma’ was approved by regulators in 2008 Seeds were distributed to farmers in 2009 and the variety commercialised It was found in 2010 that variety’s performance was poor and it contained Monsanto’s GM cotton gene ICAR set up committee to find out if the scientists have really made a distinct Bt cotton variety and how it got contaminated The panel has found that while an independent variety different from that of Monsanto does exist in lab, but it got contaminated in 2004-2005 Though scientists noticed contamination in 2005, they went ahead with seed multiplication and commercialization