Organic farming caught in ‘quality vs. quantity’ debate

Despite growing clamour for pesticide-free produce, doubts persisit about the capability of organic farming to generate high yields.

Debate on health: At the centre of the debate over organic farming are the growing public health concerns triggered by high morbidity and lifestyle diseases in the State. An organicv vegetable orchard in Kakkanad. Photo: H. Vibhu

Organic farming began finding momentum in Kerala since the unveiling of a policy in 2010 that set the goal of converting the entire agricultural production in the State to organic within 10 years. That policy announced by the then Left Democratic Front government is now being fast-tracked by the present United Democratic Front dispensation. If public pronouncements of Agricultural Minister K.P. Mohanan are anything to go by, all of Kerala’s agriculture will take the organic route by the end of 2016.

Organic farmers and proponents of the concept are passionate about reviving traditional farming practices and methods, to save the soil and agricultural produces from contamination caused by chemical inputs. Another section backed by segments of the agri-science community in the State however warns that the claims that organic farming is a ‘second agricultural revolution’ may have little to do with contemporary realities.

The organic farming policy of the government captures the concerns over adverse impacts of scientific farming. It states that farmers are now realising that they are fighting a losing battle with the “high-yield variety fertilizer-pesticide pack” of the Green Revolution. Revival of the traditional sustainable ways of cultivation is portrayed as the only way out.

The narrative that Green Revolution created an ecological and social crisis – in the country in general and in Kerala in particular – has the backing of cultural figures and celebrities such as poet Sugathakumari. The agricultural scientists, for their part, contend that if the alternative organic farming is enforced all the uncertainties that prevailed in the pre-Green Revolution era cultivation will be revived.

At the centre of the debate over organic farming are the growing public health concerns triggered by high morbidity and lifestyle diseases in the State, as also fears about contaminated vegetables and food grains being consumed in the State. It is perceived that agricultural production is contributing to several health-related and environmental problems.

“If you want to prove that organic farming is a better and a viable option to feed the growing population, it has to be proved scientifically,” says Dr. C. George Thomas, Professor at the Kerala Agricultural University (KAU).

As it is a proven fact that productivity of organic cultivation will be far lower and that more organic resources are required to ensure there is no substantial decline in productivity, organic farmers will be forced to sell their produces at premium prices unbearable to the common man, he noted.

Environmental toll

Many advocates of organic farming say that it is just propaganda that yields are low in traditional organic cultivation. C.K. Sujith Kumar, a Thrissur-based promoter of organic farming and author of Karshika Paramparyam Keralathil (agricultural tradition in Kerala) is one of them. “What is science? Is science only the practices promoted by the KAU or the government?” he asked.

The science of organic farming, according to him, is different from the ‘so-called scientific farming’. While the former is based on the limits of the natural system, the latter seeks to break those limits, he pointed out.

Though individuals and groups promoting organic farming share a common view on the environmental and health toll of the farming methods depending on the use of chemical inputs, there is no unanimity among them over the methods and objectives. They often come under different garbs with different slogans. Mr. Kumar, for instance, is even sceptical of the current “media hype” about organic farming. “It raises a suspicion that big businesses are planning to utilise the current momentum that the organic farming concept has gathered,” he observed.

Though some analysts link the concept of organic farming to ruralism rooted in romantic notions of an organic society promoted by the political Right, many of its proponents defy that characterisation as they often locate themselves politically on the Left or Left-of-Centre pursuing organic farming on anti-corporate or eco-feminist slogans. The spectrum of organic farming movement in the State has groups and individuals advocating either extreme or moderate versions of organic farming.

Dr. A.K. Shareef, Director of the KAU’s Centre for e-Learning, who is an advocate of organic farming, says the philosophy of organic farming is not based on output. “There are farmers who are doing natural farming for years and they are satisfied if they get enough returns, not more,” If cultivation in a farm is to be completely organic, soil has to be conditioned for that and it requires time, he said adding that organic farming in the past was successful because farmers in those days had animal components. He even recommends use of safe chemicals if extreme situations warrant it.

Land availability

His view comes close to admitting that organic farming may not be practical for large scale cultivation essential for feeding the population. According to agricultural scientists food grain production rate should either match or exceed the population growth rate. Equally important, according to them, is the availability of arable land.

“India’s arable land is 2.4 per cent of the total arable land in the world while the United States’ share is 6 per cent and India’s population is 15 to 16 per cent of the world’s population while the U.S.’s population is around two per cent,” said Dr. K.M. Sreekumar, Professor, KAU’s College of Agriculture at Padannakkad in Kasaragod. The U.S. can completely go organic, if they want, but countries in Asia and Africa cannot afford to do that, he noted.

The debate over organic farming is not likely to find a resolution any time soon. “What is required is a balanced approach that makes a judicious blend or organic methods and science and technology,” advises Dr. K.P. Aravindan, State president of the Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad, a popular science movement.

He, however, warns against using organic farming as a fetish, though he admits there is misuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, especially the post-production use of pesticides.

The spectrum of organic farming movement in the State has groups and individuals advocating either extreme or moderate versions of organic farming.

Source: The Hindu

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GSLV-D6 successfully launched, India gets another eye in the sky

Staging yet another spectacular launch of three-stage heavy weight rocket GSLV D-6 with indigenous cryogenic upper stage, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on Thursday successfully put in orbit GSAT-6 communication satellite.

GSLV-D6 launched in Sriharikota on Thursday. Photo: S.R. Raghunathan

The GSLV D-6 is the second successful consecutive launch of the GSLV series with indigenous cryogenic upper stage. ISRO had on January 5, 2014 launch GSLV D-5, after a similar attempt failed in 2010.

About 17 minute after the 49.1 metre high spacecraft lifted off raised from the second launch pad of Satish Dhawan Space Centre with a lift-off weight of 416 tonne at 4.52 pm, the rocket placed GSAT-6 in the intended orbit.

S-band communication services

The satellite would be eventually fine tuned into the final geostationary orbit at 83 degree East longitude. GSAT-6 will provide S-band communication services in the country.

“The performance of GSLV D-6 has been normal and the intricacies of the rocket have been understood,” ISRO chairman A.S. Kiran Kumar said soon after the launch, from the Mission Control Room.

The Thursday’s launch could mean that the national space agency was increasingly confident of launching the heavy weight rocket with indigenous cryogenic upper stage, which can lift payloads weighing about 2.2 tonne.

Mission Director Umamaheswaran said that the launch was a “Onam” gift of ISRO to the country.

Largest antenna ISRO has ever made

The 2,117 kg-weighing GSAT-6 communication satellite is aimed at primarily benefiting the country’s strategic users and other specific authorised users. The cuboid-shaped satellite with a mission life of nine years also includes a first-of-its-kind S-Band unfurlable antenna with a diameter of six metre. This is the largest antenna ISRO has ever made for a satellite.

Though the Thursday’s launch is the nine time ISRO was using GSLV rocket, this is the third time the rocket was being launched with indigenous cryogenic upper stage. “GSLV-D6 flight is significant since it intends to continue the testing of CUS,” according to ISRO.

The cryogenic stage was “technically a very complex system” compared to solid or earth-storable liquid propellant stages due to its use of propellants at extremely low temperatures and the associated thermal and structural challenges, ISRO stated.

A cryogenic rocket stage “is more efficient and provides more thrust for every kilogram of propellant it burns” compared to solid and earth-storable liquid propellant rocket stages, it added. The cryogenic stages fires for a nominal duration of 720 seconds during the launch.

Source: The Hindu

#2015, #august, #hindu

Ban on plastic packaging of food, drugs: NGT seeks Centre view

The National Green Tribunal has directed the Centre and various stakeholders to file their submissions on a proposal that there should be a complete prohibition on the use of plastic packaging in food and pharmaceutical formulations of any kind.

The tribunal was hearing a petition seeking restrictions on the use of plastic bottles. File photo.

“It appears that none of the concerned ministries are prepared to take a decision which according to them at one time was need of the hour in larger public interest. Be that as it may, we will proceed with hearing of the matter and take appropriate decision in accordance with law.”

“We direct all the parties before us i.e. Ministry of Health and MoEF (Ministry of Environment and Forests), CPCB and the Board under the Drugs Act and all the other respondents, stakeholders, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India and all the private stakeholders to place a note,” a bench headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar said.

The tribunal was hearing a petition filed by NGO Him Jagriti Uttaranchal Welfare Society seeking restrictions on the use of plastic bottle and multi-layered, plastic packages or pet bottles by imposing a ban on packaging of carbonated soft drink.

The tribunal slammed the MoEF over its affidavit which had said the ministry deliberated over various aspects of pet bottles packaging of food and food products but concluded that there was no conclusive data available to substantiate any claim.

The green bench deprecated the ministry for filing the affidavit through its Joint Director and said a matter of national importance cannot be handled by an officer of such level.

It also noted the submissions by the NGO which had referred to the minutes of the 70th meeting of the Drug Technical Advisory Board held on August 18.

The NGO contended that it has been clearly established that certain pharmaceutical preparations packaged in PET bottles upon testing showed presence of chromium, antimony, lead, etc at room temperature.

However, various plastic manufacturing firms denied this and said this test was not performed by the “accredited lab” and that too not along with controlled samples. Therefore, no weightage should be given to these findings.

Source: The Hindu

#2015, #august, #hindu

Bats losing the battle against deforestation in Western Ghats

But researchers hope that remaining forest fragments and wildlife-friendly agriculture could offer a lifeline.

Bats are excellent bioindicators, reflecting the condition of specific environments

A number of bat species are losing the battle against increasing human presence, growing agricultural land use and deforestation in the Western Ghats, says a new study.

The researchers found that while bats do not favour tea plantations, some species can survive in coffee plantations.

To assess the impact of rainforest fragmentation and plantations on bats, a team of researchers from National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore, and University of Leeds in Britain surveyed bats in the southern Western Ghats.

The researchers found that several species are having difficulty in the transformed landscape — but also found hopeful signs that remaining forest fragments and wildlife—friendly agriculture could offer a lifeline.

“The Western Ghats region is the eighth most biodiverse place in the world but has the highest human population of any of the biodiversity hotspots,” said professor John Altringham from University of Leeds in Britain.

“Historical land use change and development has left only six percent of the original habitat in the region. By looking at bats which are excellent bioindicators, we are able to learn not only what these changes in the environment mean for bats, but also for wildlife in general,” Prof. Altringham pointed out.

The researchers used geographic information system (GIS) computer modelling to look at the relationships between the presence of 10 different bat species and the features of the habitats in which they were found. The bats were located by a combination of capture and recording of echolocation calls.

The researchers used the information gathered over three years to build ‘habitat suitability models’, to predict what areas would be good habitat for each species across the entire study area.

“Most species preferred forest fragments and the rivers associated with them. No species favoured tea plantations, though a number could make use of them,” lead researcher Claire Wordley from University of Leeds pointed out.

Source: The Hindu

#2015, #august, #hindu

ISRO performs first orbit raising operation of GSAT-6

After successful launch of GSAT-6, the country’s latest communication satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on Saturday said it has performed the first orbit raising of the satellite.

“First orbit raising operation of GSAT-6 was successfully completed by firing the Apogee Motor for 3385 seconds at 08:35 hrs IST on August 28,” ISRO said.

Realised orbit is 8,408 km (perigee height) by 35,708 km (apogee height) with an inclination of 7.5 degree and an orbital period of 13 hours, 15 minutes and 24 sec, it said.

The ISRO on Thursday had successfully launched GSAT-6, having an indigenous cryogenic engine, onboard the GSLV-D6 rocket from the spaceport at Sriharikota.

Source: The Hindu

#2015, #august, #hindu

‘Neurotic people tend to be more creative’

Neurotic people who constantly worry and brood over negative thoughts are likely to be more creative, a new study has found.

People who score high on neuroticism in personality tests, tend to have negative thoughts, says study.

The part of the brain responsible for self-generated thought is highly active in neuroticism, which yields both of the trait’s positives (creativity) and negatives (misery), researchers said.

People who score high on neuroticism in personality tests, tend to have negative thoughts and feelings of all types, struggle to cope with dangerous jobs, and are more likely to experience psychiatric disorders within their lifetime.

Isaac Newton was a classic neurotic. He was a brooder and a worrier, prone to dwelling on the scientific problems before him, as well as his childhood sins, researchers said.

But Newton also had creative breakthroughs, thoughts on physics so profound that they are still part of a standard science education.

The most popular explanation for why people are neurotic comes from British psychologist Jeffrey Gray, who proposed in the 1970s that such individuals have a heightened sensitivity to threat.

A previous study showed that individuals in an MRI scanner, who spontaneously have particularly negative thoughts (a key marker of neuroticism), displayed greater activity in the regions of the medial prefrontal cortex that are associated with conscious perception of threat.

Researchers said that individual differences in the activity of these brain circuits that govern self-generated thought could be a causal explanation for neuroticism.

They collaborated with Dean Mobbs of the Columbia University’s Fear, Anxiety and Biosocial Lab, who had previously shown that there is a switch from anxiety-related forebrain activity to panic-related midbrain activity as a threat stimulus moves closer.

Source: The Hindu 

#2015, #august, #hindu

Researchers one step closer to cracking Alzheimer’s puzzle

Alzheimer’s, a progressive form of dementia, may occur in middle age or in old age, and while a lot of research is on for drug treatments, none has been successful.

Research groups at TIFR, Mumbai, IISc, Bangalore and the University of Toronto working together, may have gotten the closest yet to figuring out how the toxic form of the Alzheimer’s molecule looks. This brings with it implications of development of better drugs to treat patients.

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive form of dementia that is characterised by loss of short-term memory, deterioration in behaviour and intellectual performance, besides slowness of thought. It may occur in middle age or in old age, and while a lot of research is on for drug treatments, none has been successful.

Amyloid beta molecules

The ‘lock’ looks like a bunch of Amyloid beta molecules each in the shape of a hairpin, but with a twist, TIFR has said in a release. Debanjan Bhowmik, the lead contributor of the study, says “This has been suspected earlier, but what we found was an unexpected twist in the structure, now becoming a beta-hairpin — very different from the typical hairpin structure people imagined.” This technique might also help in finding the shape of similar proteins in future.

Source: The Hindu

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