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Compilation of important news on agriculture from The hindu

Bhutan set to become world’s first wholly organic country

Bhutan could within a decade become the first country in the world to go wholly organic in its food production, according to key politicians in the Himalayan kingdom.Agriculture and Forests Minister Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji and Opposition leader Pema Gyamtsho, who held the post in the previous
government, say there is a united commitment to rid the country of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
No timeframe

While no formal timeframe has been put in place, both politicians believe that the goal is within sight as long as practical natural solutions can be found to the pest and disease problems still affecting a few crops. In order to speed up the search for these answers, Bhutan recently brought together experts on organic agriculture from across the world.

Microchips to monitor profiles of sheep

‘Project to be scaled up after analysing the success of pilot project’

In a pilot project to maintain and monitor profiles of sheep and goat easily, the Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (Tanuvas) has started tagging sheep at the Mecheri Sheep Research Station in Salem with microchips, M. Babu, Director of the varsity’s Centre for Animal Production Studies, toldThe Hindu, after its launch here recently.
Microchip tagging was introduced as an innovative method and was being done as part of the ongoing silver jubilee celebration of the varsity. The chips, measuring 11.5 mm, were injected beneath the skin of the animal’s neck, he said. “In Tamil Nadu, microchips are used for maintaining records of pets. This is the first time microchips are fitted to maintain records of animals in a government institution.”
Each microchip would have a unique alpha numeric number. “Details such as an animal’s parentage, birth weight and its weight gaining progress in each stage and vaccination history would be linked with the number,” Dr. Babu said. When an animal passed through the sensor, its history would be displayed on the computer monitor. Staff could update information on that animal in an easy manner and one could create a database of animals for research projects. “After analysing the success of the pilot project, we will introduce it in all the other research stations that are attached to Tanuvas,” he said.
Head of the research station in Mecheri N. Murali said that 50 sheep had been fitted with microchips. “The remaining 884 sheep and goat here would be fitted with the microchips in a phased manner. The censors can read the microchips from a distance of up to one metre.” R. Balaji, director of the company that manufactures the chip, said the cost of a chip was around Rs. 65 to Rs. 125 and was based on the volume needed.

Mizoram: bamboozled by land use policy

Forest cover loss has occurred at a period when area under jhum cultivation is declining, suggesting that the land use policy has been counterproductive to forests

Two spectacular bamboo dances, one celebrated, the other reviled, enliven the mountains of Mizoram. In the colourful Cheraw, Mizo girls dance as boys clap bamboo culms at their feet during the annual Chapchar Kut festival. The festival itself is linked to the other dance: the dance of the bamboos on Mizoram’s mountains brought about by the practice of shifting agriculture, locally called jhum or ‘lo.’ In jhum, bamboo forests are cut, burnt, cultivated, and then rested and regenerated for several years until the next round of cultivation, making bamboos vanish and return on the slopes in a cyclic ecological dance of field and fallow. While Cheraw is cherished by all, jhum is actively discouraged by the State and the agri-horticulture bureaucracy. Although jhum is a regenerative system of organic farming, Mizoram, the first Indian State to enact legislation to promote organic farming, is now pushing hard to eradicate jhum under its New Land Use Policy (NLUP).
Labelling jhum as unproductive and destructive of forest cover, policy makers and industry now promote “settled” cultivation and plantations, such as pineapple and oil palm, claiming they are better land use than jhum. However, oil palm, rubber and horticultural plantations are monocultures that cause permanent deforestation, a fact that the India State of Forest Report 2011 (ISFR) notes to explain declines in Mizoram’s forest cover. In contrast, jhum is a diversified cropping system that causes only temporary loss of small forest patches followed by forest recovery. Understanding this is crucial to formulate land use policy that is economically, ecologically, and culturally appropriate for all the north-eastern hill States.
Organic jhum
Jhum uses natural cycles of forest regeneration to grow diverse crops without using chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Early in the year, farmers cut demarcated patches of bamboo forests and let the vegetation sun-dry for weeks. They then burn the slash in contained fires in March to clear the fields, nourish the soil with ashes, and cultivate through the monsoon. In fields that are one to three hectares in area, each farmer plants and sequentially harvests between 15 to 25 crops. After cultivation, they rest their fields and shift to new areas each year. The rested fields rapidly regenerate into forests, including over 10,000 bamboo culms per hectare in five years. After dense forests reappear on the original site, farmers return for cultivation, usually after six to ten years, which forms the jhum cycle.
Regenerating fields and forests in the jhum landscape provide resources for many years. The farmer obtains firewood, charcoal, wild vegetables and fruits, wood and bamboo for house construction and other home needs. The diversity of food and cash crops cultivated and ancillary resources provided by jhum fields complicate comparisons with terrace or monocrop agricultural systems. One-dimensional comparisons — such as of rice yield per hectare or annual monetary return — can be misleading, because one needs to assess the full range of resources from jhum field, fallow, and forest, over a full cultivation cycle, besides food security implications.
Comparing monocrops like wet rice paddies cultivated using chemical inputs with organic jhum is not just comparing apples with oranges. It is like comparing a pile of pineapples with a basket containing rice, vegetables, cash crops, firewood, bamboo, and more. Inter-disciplinary studies indicate that at cycles of ten years or more, jhum is, in the words of Prof. P. Ramakrishnan at Jawaharlal Nehru University, “economically productive and ecologically sustainable.”
In Mizoram, we only see jhum fires burning forests, we fail to see forests and bamboo regenerating rapidly after a season of cultivation. ISFR estimated that bamboo bearing areas occupy 9,245 square kilometres or 44 per cent of Mizoram. For every hectare of forest cleared for jhum, farmers retain 5 to ten hectares as regenerating fallow and forest in the landscape. Also, forests left uncut by jhum farmers contain bamboo species.
Yet, government policy tilts firmly against jhum. The State’s NLUP deploys over Rs.2,800 crore over a five-year period “to put an end to wasteful shifting cultivation” and replaces it with “permanent and stable trades.” Under this policy, the State provides Rs.1,00,000 in a year directly to households, aiming to shift beneficiaries into alternative occupations like horticulture, livestock-rearing, or settled cultivation. The policy has created opportunities for families seeking to diversify or enhance income. Still, NLUP’s primary objective — to eradicate “wasteful” shifting cultivation — appears misdirected.
Even before NLUP was implemented, despite decades of extensive shifting cultivation, over 90 per cent of Mizoram’s land area was under forest cover, much of it bamboo forests resulting from jhum. Recent declines in forest cover have occurred at a period when area under jhum cultivation is actually declining, while area under settled cultivation is increasing, suggesting that the land use policy has been counterproductive to forests.
Oil palm and forest loss
Oil palm, notorious for extensive deforestation in south-east Asia, is cultivated as monoculture plantations, devoid of tree or bamboo cover, and drastically reduces rainforest plant and animal diversity. In Mizoram, 1,01,000 hectares have been identified for oil palm cultivation. Following the entry of three corporate oil palm companies, over 17,500 hectares have already been permanently deforested within a decade. Promoting and subsidising such plantations and corporate business interests undermines both premise and purpose of present land use policies. As forest cover and bamboo decline, people in some villages now resort to buying bamboo, once abundant and freely available.
Detractors of jhum often concede that jhum was viable in the past, but claim population growth has forced jhum cycles to under five years, allowing insufficient time for forest regrowth, thereby making jhum unsustainable. Reduction of jhum cycle is serious, but evidence linking it to population pressure is scarce. In reality, jhum cycles often decline because of external pressures, relocation and grouping of villages, or reduced land availability.
Attempting to eradicate and replace shifting cultivation is inappropriate. Instead, a better use of public money and resources would be to work with cultivators and agroecologists to refine jhum where needed. The State can involve and incentivise communities to foster practices that lengthen cropping and fallow periods, develop village infrastructure and access paths to distant fields, and provide market and price support, and other benefits including organic labelling to jhum cultivators. Today, the State only supports industry and alternative occupations, leaving both bamboo forests and farmers who wish to continue with jhum in the lurch. Unless a more enlightened government reforms future policies in favour of shifting agriculture, Mizoram’s natural bounty of bamboos is at risk of being frittered away.

Drip irrigation system catching up in Karur

It is not easy to penetrate new agricultural technologies with farmers’

Drip irrigation, which is regarded as one of the most efficient methods of irrigation, has made an inroad in different parts of Karur district, which comprises many arid regions.
When the drip irrigation was introduced about 10 years ago in the district not many farmers came forward to endorse the method mainly because of lack of knowledge and awareness. However, the field as well as official reports suggest that more and more farmers had come forward to install drip irrigation system in their fields basically to tide over the crisis of water shortage.
It is said that there were hardly any drip irrigation systems in Karur district till 2006.
It was only in 2007-08 financial year, the farmers shown interest to adopt the scientific technique, which is one of the proven techniques to save water, particularly in dry regions. Fifty seven progressive farmers chose to install the system on 128 hectares in 2007-2008 as against the target of bringing 300 hectares under the National Mission of Micro Irrigation.
The target was doubled next year, which saw the implementation of drip irrigation on 320 hectares of land thanks to the interest shown by 212 farmers. Although the target remained unchanged in 2009-10, 492 hectares of land were brought under the system. In 2010-11, 633 farmers introduced the drip irrigation on 721 hectares of land.
As per the latest figure of the Department of Horticulture, drip irrigation has been introduced in 3,230 hectares up to March 2014 since 2006 as against the total target of 5797. A sum to the tune of Rs.13 crore has been spent against the total allotment of Rs.16.40 crore.
“The achievement is remarkable. It is not easy to penetrate new agricultural technologies with farmers. Initially we found it difficult to find progressive farmers. Now, several farmers continue to approach the officials for installing drip irrigation in their fields,” says A. Natarajan, Horticultural Officer, Karur.
The drip irrigation had penetrated in all blocks including Aravakuruchi, Paramathi, Krishnarayapuram, Thogamalai and Kulithalai. There were reasons to believe that the penetration would take a new drive in the years to come.

Vengeri brinjal to go places

Saplings of ‘Vengeri brinjal,’ an indigenous variety of brinjal popularised by the residential forum ‘Niravu Vengeri,’ will soon be available commercially with the Centre for Environment and Development, an autonomous research and development body under the Ministry of Environment and Forests, deciding to tissue culture and make it widely available to the public.
A team of biotechnology scientists from the Centre for Environment and Development visited Vengeri on Wednesday and collected shoot tips of brinjal plants for the purpose.
B. Kavitha, one of the scientists, said it was a wild, high yielding and pest resistant variety of brinjal, which needed to popularised and made available to a wider number of people.
Certificate granted

“We are planning to produce the saplings in a few months’ time and make them available to a wider consumer base,” said Dr. Kavitha.
The Kerala Agricultural University had recently granted a certificate of merit stating that the ‘Vengeri Brinjal’ was high yielding, relatively tasty and suitable for backyard vegetable gardens.
A study conducted by P. Indira, Professor of Horticulture and Olericulture Department of Kerala Agricultural University, had found the variety to have an average length of 44 cm and 12.5 cm thickness.
Taller than others

The brinjal plant, which was taller than other varieties, was found to have given a yield of around 2 kg per plant on an average during the experiment.
Members of the Niravu Residential Forum had been growing this variety of brinjal on their homesteads ever since they collectively took to organic farming in 2006.
In 2009 when agitations against BT brinjal erupted across the country, the Niravu Residential Forum had responded to the development by producing as many as 1 lakh seedlings of this variety of brinjal and distributing them among people from different parts of the region.
The Niravu Residential Forum presently has over 100 households and many of the households have their own backyard vegetable gardens.
Farmers’ Club

Most of them are also members of the Farmers’ Club that runs with financial aid from the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD).
M. Pradeepkumar, secretary of the residential forum, said the shoot tips required for tissue culturing were collected from the brinjal plants at the gardens of the Farmers’ Club members.
Once saplings of the ‘Vengeri Brinjal’ are produced through the tissue culture technology, the Centre for Environment and Development will also take the initiative to make it available to the maximum number of people in the region.
Self- help groups

“We are planning to dispense it to the people with the help of different self groups in Thiruvananthapuram,” said Dr. Kavitha, who was accompanied by Dr. Jayanthi T.A., her colleague from Centre for Environment and Development.

Modified paddy cultivation method seems to hold better promise

Rice, a major crop in Andhra Pradesh, is cultivated using water from borewells, tanks or open wells. Since the crop grows in standing water ground water depletion is usually high especially during summer.
In addition to the water shortage, non-availability of labour on time is also increasing the cost of production, forcing farmers to give up rice cultivation citing low productivity and high labour costs as reasons.
Different approach
A different look at newer production methods that are relatively cost effective and use water more productively becomes imperative against the backdrop of the deepening water crisis and dwindling productivity under the inundation method of rice cultivation.
SRI (systematic rice intensification) is a proven methodology for comprehensively managing resources — changing the way land, seeds, water, nutrients and human labour are used.
“But in present times even SRI has some practical problems. The cono weeder which is an important tool in the cultivation practices is too heavy for pulling in the fields by the farmers. The other problem area is transplanting the seedlings from the nursery to the main field, which is quite labour intensive. With these in mind the Rashtiya Seva Samithi (Rass) — Krishi Vigyan Kendra in Chittoor district has slightly modified the practices using a fibre-bodied 8-rowed paddy seeder (drum seeder) for sowing the seeds and modified the weeder in such a way that it runs between the space in (20 cm) between the two paddy rows,” says Mr. C.Manohar, Programme Coordinator at the institute.
With the assistance of NABARD the institute organised capacity building activities like training programmes on modified practices to create awareness and motivate farmers to adopt the technology.
Field visits
Exposure visits and field days were organised to showcase the performance of the technology and finally to disseminate the same among the farming communities in different parts of the district.
“About 60 eight-rowed paddy seeders and 300 conoweeders were purchased and kept in the homes of master trainers in the villages and at the office of the agricultural officer. Farmers who wanted to take up this cultivation could contact the agricultural officer or facilitator for the drum seeder and weeder and return them after completion,” says Mr. Manohar.
“Timely availability of the drum seeders and weeders are an important step in this practice. Farmers should be able to source the machines on time. That is why we have ensured that apart from the agriculture office the machines are also available in their respective villages. Otherwise it becomes a problem for the grower to get a good yield. Growers were also supplied with pre-emergence herbicide for weed management,” he adds.
The institute published a pamphlet on direct seeding technology in Telugu and distributed it to farmers to get their feedback on this. Five facilitators were recruited in this project. In addition to this, KVK also trained ten master trainers and their services were utilized for sowing, weed management etc in the project area.
Advisory services
“Both facilitators and master trainers not only helped the farmers with modified technology but also provided other advisory services like weather, pest and disease management, water management, weed management etc. through the Kissan mobile service of the institute. We started the project during rabi 2010 season and completed it in kharif 2013 season,” says S. Sreenivasulu, subject matter specialist. Demonstrations of this modified SRI method were conducted in 140 villages in the district. Results from the data of three previous years collected showed that the average yield obtained in modified SRI method was 2,574 kg per acre, whereas it was 2,325 kg in the traditional method. About 11 per cent yield increase was observed in the modified SRI method than in the traditional method.
Another advantage
An additional advantage was reduction in cultivation cost. It is also observed that the cost of cultivation is reduced by about Rs.4,000-5,000 per acre in this method due to skipping of practices like nursery raising and manual transplanting. Duration of the crop is also reduced by 7-10 days in modified SRI method compared to conventional practice.

India tops list of countries to export pest-infested fruit: U.K.

The European Union and the United Kingdom will not reverse the ban on mangos imposed from May 1 until India meets the phytosanitary standards that will ensure they are pest-free.
The government was responding in an adjournment debate in Parliament secured by Keith Vaz, Labour MP from Leicester East, who has been leading a campaign against the ban.
Prime Minister David Cameron said in a reply to Mr. Vaz during question hour in Parliament that he looked forward to discussing the issue with the newly elected Indian Prime Minister.
Spelling out in Parliament the poor phytosanitary compliance standards that Indian exporters of fruit and vegetables to the E.U. had shown, and the deadly impact that pest-carrying food products could have on local agriculture, a spokesperson from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs presented a sobering response to why Mr. Vaz’s emotional appeal to the government to “reverse this painful and unnecessary decision” could not be met.
In the last couple of years India has topped the list of countries from where intercepted fruit and vegetable export consignments were found contaminated with pests that could pose “a threat to glasshouse production in the U.K. and across the E.U.”, Parliament was informed.
In addition to mango, the E.U. has banned aubergine, momordica or bitter gourd, snake gourd and patra leaves from import. The highest number of insect pests was recorded in import inspections by E.U. member States on these five species.
Bitter gourds carry Thrips palmi, and patra leaves carry tobacco whitefly, “pests that carry more than 100 viruses which could threaten production of U.K. salad crops,” the Defra official said.
If the fruit flies found with the mangos were even temporarily to establish themselves, they could undermine the U.K.’s pest status for its own exports.
The European Commission’s auditors, the Food and Veterinary Office, who visited India in both 2010 and 2013 identified major shortcomings with the export certification system in India.
Mr. Vaz earlier made a strong plea for reversing the ban which could result in a loss of £10 million.
He said that the ban would be a setback for the larger India-U.K. trade relationship, adding that the ban showed the E.U.’s “disrespect” for one-sixth of the globe.

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