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Analysing the impact of Bt cotton

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- Bt cotton

After almost 20 years of adoption of Bt cotton in India, its time to review the claimed benefits of the Bt.

Hybrid cotton seeds and issues

  • Until the 20th century the indigenous ‘desi’ variety, Gossypium arboreum was used.
  • From the 1990s, hybrid varieties of G. hirsutum were promoted.
  • These hybrids cannot resist a variety of local pests and require more fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Cotton suffers from plenty of infestation from moth pests such as the Pink Bollworm (PBW) and sap-sucking (Hemipteran) pests such as aphids and mealy bugs.
  • With increasing pressure to buy hybrid seeds, the indigenous varieties have lost out over the years.

Resistant pests and introduction of Bt cotton

  • The increasing use of synthetic man-made pesticides to control pests and the rising acreage under the American long-duration cotton led to the emergence of resistant pests.
  • Resistant Pink and even American Bollworm (ABW), a minor pest in the past, began increasing, leading to a growing use of a variety of pesticides.
  • Rising debts and reducing yields, coupled with increasing insect resistance, worsened the plight of cotton farmers.
  • It was in this setting that Bt cotton was introduced in India in 2002.

What is Bt cotton

  • The plant containing the pesticide gene from the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), has been grown in India for about twenty years.
  • This pesticide, now produced in each Bt plant cell, ought to protect the plant from bollworm, thereby increasing yields and reducing insecticide spraying on the cotton plant.

Review of the utility of Bt cotton

  • Review  was published in the scientific journal Nature Plants, analysing the entire picture of the use of Bt cotton in India.
  • Earlier studies had attributed to Bt the tripling of cotton yield between 2002-2014 in India.
  • However, one detail that raises concerns over such a conclusion was that yield differences between farmers who were the early adopters of Bt cotton and those who were not suffered from selection bias.
  • Controlling for such bias showed (in 2012) that the contribution of Bt cotton to yield increase was only about 4% each year.
  • Since yields vary annually by over 10%, the benefits claimed were dubious.
  • There are discrepancies between yield and the deployment of Bt cotton.
  • For instance, the Bt acreage was only 3.4% of the total cotton area in 2003, not sufficient to credit it for the 61% increase in yield in 2003-2004.
  • The rise in cotton yields can be explained by improvements in irrigation, for instance in Gujarat, and a dramatic growth across the country in the use of fertilizers.
  • The PBW developed a resistance by 2009 in India. In a few years, the situation was dreadful.
  • A technology that works in the lab may fail in fields since real-world success hinges on multiple factors.

Way forward

  • The cost of ignoring ‘desi’ varieties for decades has been high for India.
  • Research suggests that with pure-line cotton varieties, high density planting, and short season plants, cotton yields in India can be good and stand a better chance at withstanding the vagaries of climate change.
  •  But government backing for resources, infrastructure and seeds is essential.

Conclusion

It is time to pay attention to science and acknowledge that Bt cotton has failed in India, and not enter into further misadventures with other Bt crops such as brinjal or herbicide resistance.

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abscisic acid (ABA)

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Plant growth hormones

Mains level : Not Much

A team of researchers at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Bhopal, has conducted a study on seed germination that could have a major impact on agriculture.

What is the study about?

  • The study aims to determine the optimum timing of seed germination and thus ensure high plant yields.
  • It focused on the interplay between plant hormones like abscisic acid (ABA) which inhibit the sprouting of the seed and environmental cues like light (which promotes the sprouting process) and darkness.

Note the following plant hormones and their functions:

Hormone

Function

Ethylene Fruit ripening and abscission
Gibberellins Break the dormancy of seeds and buds; promote growth
Cytokinins Promote cell division; prevent senescence
Abscisic Acid Close the stomata; maintain dormancy
Auxins Involved in tropisms and apical dominance

What is Abscisic Acid? 

  • Humans have glands that secrete hormones at different times to stimulate body processes such as growth, development, and the breaking down of sugars.  
  • Plants also have hormones that stimulate processes that are necessary for them to live.  
  • Abscisic acid is a plant hormone involved in many developmental plant processes, such as dormancy and environmental stress response.  
  • Abscisic acid is produced in the roots of the plant as well as the terminal buds at the top of the plant. 

Function of Abscisic Acid 

Abscisic acid is involved in several plant functions.  

  • Plants have openings on the bottom side of their leaves, known as stomata. Stomata take in carbon dioxide and regulate water content. Abscisic acid has been found to function in the closing of these stomata during times when the plant does not require as much carbon dioxide or during times of drought when the plant cannot afford to lose much water through transpiration. 
  • One of the crucial functions of abscisic acid is to inhibit seed germination. Abscisic acid has been found to stop a seed from immediately germinating once it has been placed in the soil. It actually causes the seed to enter a period of dormancy.  
  • This is of great benefit to the plants because most seeds are formed at the end of the growing season, when conditions would not be favorable for a new plant to sprout. The abscisic acid causes the seed to wait until the time when conditions are more favorable to grow. This ensures greater success in the plant’s ability to grow and reproduce successfully. 
  • ABA functions in many plant developmental processes, including seed and bud dormancy, the control of organ size and stomatal closure. It is especially important for plants in the response to environmental stresses, including drought, soil salinity, cold tolerance, freezing tolerance, heat stress and heavy metal ion tolerance.

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In news: Pokkali Rice

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Pokkali Rice

Mains level : Coastal farming and various hurdles

Farmers from West Bengal are betting on the Pokkali variety of rice from Kerala to tide over a crisis-like situation created by severe seawater incursion into paddy fields in vast areas of the Sundarbans after the cyclone Amphan.

Try this MCQ:

Q.Which of the following is the striking feature of the Pokkali Rice recently seen in the news?

a) It is bio-fortified rice for treating malnutrition

b) It is a saltwater resistant variety of rice

c) It is healthy rice used to treat diabetes

d) None of these

Pokkali Rice

  • The Pokkali variety of rice is known for its saltwater resistance and flourishes in the rice paddies of coastal Alappuzha, Ernakulam and Thrissur districts.
  • The uniqueness of the rice has brought it the Geographical Indication (GI) tag and is the subject of continuing research.
  • It had been in the news because of its uniqueness and also because a group of people in Kerala have been trying to revive the cultivation of the rice variety in the State.

Why introduce in Sunderbans?

  • About 80% of the rice paddies in the Sundarbans faced the problem of the saltwater incursion.
  • If the Pokkali experiment succeeds, it would be a good step to turn around the fortunes of the farmers.

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What is ‘Direct Seeding of Rice’ (DSR)?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Paddy cultivation in India

Farmers are now being encouraged to adopt ‘direct seeding of rice’ (DSR) in place of conventional transplanting due to lack of labourers, who are stranded due to lockdown.

Recall the classification of cropping seasons on India based on onset and retreat of Monsoon.

The kharif crops include rice, maize, sorghum, pearl millet/bajra, finger millet/ragi (cereals), arhar (pulses), soyabean, groundnut (oilseeds), cotton etc. The rabi crops include wheat, barley, oats (cereals), chickpea/gram (pulses), linseed, mustard (oilseeds) etc.  Kindly make a note of this.

What is ‘Direct Seeding of Rice’ (DSR)?

  • In transplanting, farmers prepare nurseries where the paddy seeds are first sown and raised into young plants.
  • These seedlings are then uprooted and replanted 25-35 days later in the main field.
  • Paddy seedlings are transplanted on fields that are “puddled” or tilled in standing water using tractor-drawn disc harrows.
  • In DSR, there is no nursery preparation or transplantation. The seeds are instead directly drilled into the field by a tractor-powered machine.

How is the question of herbicides addressed in DSR?

  • Paddy being very much water-intensive is compromised by weeds that compete for nutrition, sunlight and water.
  • Water prevents the growth of weeds by denying them oxygen in the submerged stage, whereas the soft ‘aerenchyma tissues’ in paddy plants allow air to penetrate through their roots.
  • Water, thus, acts as a herbicide for paddy. The threat from weeds recedes once tillering is over; so does the need to flood the fields.
  • In DSR, water is replaced by real chemical herbicides. Farmers have to only level their land and give one pre-sowing irrigation or rauni.
  • Once the field has good soil moisture, they need to do two rounds of ploughing and planking (smoothening of soil surface), which is followed by the sowing of the seeds and spraying of herbicides.

What are these herbicides?

  • There are two kinds. The first is called pre-emergent, i.e. applied before germination. In this case, the pre-emergent herbicide used is Pendimethalin.
  • The second set of herbicides is post-emergent, sprayed 20-25 days after sowing, depending upon the type of weeds appearing.
  • They include Bispyribac-sodium (Rs 600-700 at 100 ml/acre) and Fenoxaprop-p-ethyl (Rs 700-800 at 400 ml/acre).

What is the main advantage of DSR?

  • The most obvious one is water savings. The first irrigation (apart from the pre-sowing rauni) under DSR is necessary only 21 days after sowing.
  • This is unlike in transplanted paddy, where watering has to be done practically daily to ensure submerged/flooded conditions in the first three weeks.
  • The second savings, relevant in the present context, is that of labour. About three labourers are required to transplant one acre of paddy at almost Rs 2,400 per acre.
  • As against this, the cost of herbicides under DSR will not exceed Rs 2,000 per acre.

Limitations of DSR

  • The main issue is the availability of herbicides.
  • The seed requirement for DSR is also higher, at 8-10 kg/acre, compared to 4-5 kg in transplanting.
  • Further, laser land levelling, which costs Rs 1,000/acre, is compulsory in DSR. This is not so in transplanting.
  • The yields are as good as from normal transplanting, but one need to sow by the first fortnight of June. The plants have to come out properly before the monsoon rains arrive.
  • There is no such problem in transplanting, where the saplings have already been raised in the nursery.

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Hazards of using fertilizers in Punjab

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Phosphatic fertilizers

Mains level : Health hazards of indirect fertilizers poisoning

 

Studies have pegged consumption of phosphatic fertilizers in Punjab at ten times higher than the national average. Thence media has consistently reported on cancer deaths in the Malwa region of Punjab.

What are phosphatic fertilizers?

  • Phosphatic fertilizers are chemical substances that contain the nutrient phosphorus in an absorbable form (Phosphate anions) or that yield after conversion in the soil.
  • Phosphates help plants store energy, root well, flower and produce fruit.
  • The DAP or Diammonium Phosphate is the widely used phosphatic fertilizer in our country.
  • The total fertilizer consumption in India is 27 million tones, out of which about 20-25 per cent of phosphorous and nitrogen-based nutrients are dependent on imports from the United States, Jordan, Iran, Oman, China, Russia, Morocco, Israel, Lithuania and Egypt.

Hazards of phosphatic fertilizers

  • Pursuant to the disquieting reports from the area, BARC in 2013 analysed fertilizer and soil samples from the Malwa region and discovered heavy concentration of Uranium.
  • According to the report, Uranium concentration in DAP was around 91.77 parts per million (ppm), which was way beyond the permissible limit.
  • It is also a fact that the fertiliser industry in India does not follow all procedures and protocols essential for decontamination of imported phosphatic rock associated with traces of Uranium.
  • There is yet another theory which does not support the fertiliser route for Uranium ingestion through food chain, but emphasises on the geogenic factors for the possible presence of Uranium in the groundwater samples.
  • Higher concentrations of Uranium are present in certain types of soils and rocks, especially granite.
  • All the three isotopes of Uranium (U-234, U-235, U-238) have a half-life period ranging from 0.25 million years to 4.47 billion years, indicating their relative stability.

Increasing Uranium contamination

  • Presence of Uranium is widespread, and according to the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, its normal concentration in soil is between 300 microgram per kg (ug/kg) and 11.7 milligram per kg (mg/kg).
  • In the Indian context, contamination of Uranium in Punjab’s groundwater has been a problem since the early 2000s.
  • High levels of uranium found in the fertile Malwa region along with industrial effluents leads to a bigger problem as it contaminates the groundwater.
  • The presence of bicarbonates, nitrate, chloride anions and soil is calcareous since the carbonic acid created in the process enhances leaching efficiency of uranium from soils and sediments.

Matter of urgent importance

  • With no guidelines or acceptable standards by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) regarding the amount of uranium in fertilizers produced in India, we are on a dead track.
  • Authorities’ concerned need to take cognizance and invest in less expensive R&D of the decontamination process.
  • At the same time, it is also necessary to specify the acceptable limit of Uranium in groundwater.

Back2Basics

Complete details of fertilizers

http://agritech.tnau.ac.in/agriculture/agri_nutrientmgt_fertilizers.html

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Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Doomsday Vault

Mains level : Not Much

 

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault — referred to as the earth’s ‘doomsday vault’ — now contains about 1.05 million seeds.

Global Seed Vault

  • The vault — in the island of Spitsbergen, midway between Norway and the North Pole — opened in 2008 and preserves seeds for several food varieties.
  • The aim of the vault is to preserve a vast variety of crop seeds in the case of a doomsday event, calamity, climate change or national emergency.
  • The vault is artificially cooled at temperatures of minus 18 degrees Celsius.
  • The low temperature and limited access to oxygen will ensure low metabolic activity and delay seed ageing.
  • The permafrost surrounding the facility will help maintain the low temperature of the seeds if the electricity supply fails.

Access to seeds

  • Vault seed samples are copies of samples stored in the depositing genebanks.
  • Researchers, plant breeders, and other groups wishing to access seed samples cannot do so through the seed vault; they must instead request samples from the depositing genebanks.
  • The samples stored in the genebanks will, in most cases, be accessible in accordance with the terms and conditions of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, approved by 118 countries or parties.

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[oped of the day] A potential seedbed for private profits

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : TRIPS; UOPV; PPVFR

Mains level : Seed Bill

Context

The Seeds Bill 2019 is under Parliament’s consideration. 

Seeds – Governance in India

  • In 1994, India signed the agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). 
  • In 2002, India also joined the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) Convention. 
  • Both TRIPS and UPOV led to the introduction of some form of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) over plant varieties. 
  • Member countries introduced restrictions on the free use and exchange of seeds by farmers unless the “breeders” were remunerated.

Balancing conflicting aims

  • TRIPS and UPOV ran counter to other international conventions. 
  • In 1992, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) provided for “prior informed consent” of farmers before the use of genetic resources and “fair and equitable sharing of benefits” arising out of their use. 
  • In 2001, the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) recognized farmers’ rights as the rights to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seeds.
  • National governments had the responsibility to protect such farmers’ rights.

India’s position

  • India was a signatory to TRIPS and UPOV as well as CBD and ITPGRFA. Any Indian legislation had to be in line with all. 
  • The Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights (PPVFR) Act of 2001 sought to achieve this delicate balance. 
  • The PPVFR Act retained the main spirit of TRIPS viz., IPRs as an incentive for technological innovation. 
  • It also had strong provisions to protect farmers’ rights. 
  • It recognized three roles for the farmer: cultivator, breeder, and conserver. 
    • As cultivators, farmers were entitled to plant-back rights. 
    • As breeders, farmers were held equivalent to plant breeders. 
    • As conservers, farmers were entitled to rewards from a National Gene Fund.

Seeds Bill

  • A new Seeds Bill is necessary to enhance seed replacement rates in Indian agriculture, specify standards for the registration of seed varieties and enforce registration from seed producers to seed retailers. 
  • Any such legislation is expected to be in alignment with the spirit of the PPVFR Act.
  • A shift from farm-saved seeds to certified seeds would raise seed replacement rates.  
  • Certified seeds have higher and more stable yields than farm-saved seeds. Such a shift should be achieved not through policing, but through an enabling atmosphere. 
  • Private seed companies prefer policing because their low-volume, high-value business model is dependent on forcing farmers to buy their seeds every season. 
  • An enabling atmosphere is generated by the strong presence of public institutions in seed research and production. 

Seed policy in India

  • From the late-1980s, Indian policy has consciously encouraged the growth of private seed companies, including companies with majority foreign equity. 
  • Today, more than 50% of India’s seed production is undertaken in the private sector. 
  • These firms have been demanding favorable changes in seed laws and deregulation of seed prices, free import, and export of germplasm, freedom to self-certify seeds and restrictions on the use by farmers of saved seeds from previous seasons. 
  • Through various versions between 2004 and 2019, private sector interests have guided the formulation of the Seeds Bill. 
  • Even desirable objectives such as raising the seed replacement rates have been mixed up to encourage and protect the business interests of private companies. 

Problematic provisions

  • Many of Bill’s provisions deviate from the spirit of the PPVFR Act and are against farmers’ interests and in favor of private seed companies.
  • The Seeds Bill insists on compulsory registration of seeds. However, the PPVFR Act was based on voluntary registration. As a result, many seeds may be registered under the Seeds Bill but may not under the PPVFR Act. 
  • Assume a seed variety developed by a breeder, but derived from a traditional variety. The breeder will get exclusive marketing rights. No gain will accrue to farmers as benefit-sharing is dealt with in the PPVFR Act.
  • As per the PPVFR Act, all applications for registrations should contain the complete passport data of the parental lines from which the seed variety was derived, including contributions made by farmers. This allows for easier identification of beneficiaries and simpler benefit-sharing processes. 
  • Seeds Bil demands no such information while registering a new variety. Thus, an important method of recording the contributions of farmers is overlooked and private companies are left free to claim a derived variety as their own.
  • The PPVFR Act is based on an IPR like breeders’ rights. It does not allow the re-registration of seeds after the validity period.
  • The Seeds Bill is not based on an IPR like breeder’s rights. Private seed companies can re-register their seeds an infinite number of times after the validity period. Due to this “ever-greening” provision, many seed varieties may never enter the open domain for free use.
  • A vague provision for the regulation of seed prices appears in the latest draft of the Seeds Bill. It appears neither sufficient nor credible. Strict control on seed prices has been an important demand raised by farmers’ organizations. 
  • They have also demanded an official body to regulate seed prices and royalties. In its absence, seed companies may be able to fix seed prices as they deem fit.
  • According to the PPVFR Act, if a registered variety fails in its promise of performance, farmers can claim compensation before a PPVFR Authority. In the Seeds Bill, disputes on compensation have to be decided as per the Consumer Protection Act 1986. Consumer courts are not the ideal and friendly institutions that farmers can approach.
  • According to the Seeds Bill, farmers become eligible for compensation if a plant variety fails to give expected results under “given conditions”. Seed companies would always claim that “given conditions” were not ensured, which will be difficult to be disputed with evidence in a consumer court.

The way ahead

  • Farmer-friendly pieces of seed legislation are difficult to frame and execute. 
  • Moreso as the clout of the private sector grows and technological advances shift seed research towards hybrids rather than varieties. In hybrids, the reuse of seeds is technically constrained.
  • The private sector has a natural incentive to focus on hybrids.
  •  In such a world of hybrids, even progressive seed laws become a weak defense.
  • Strong public agricultural research systems ensure that the choices between hybrids, varieties and farm-saved seeds remain open, and are not based on private profit concerns. 
  • Even if hybrids are the appropriate technological choice, seed prices can be kept affordable. 
  • For the seed sector and its laws to be truly farmer-friendly, the public sector has to recapture its lost space.

Back2Basics

TRIPS  – It sets down minimum standards for the regulation by national governments of many forms of intellectual property.

UOPV – The objective of the Convention is the protection of new varieties of plants by an intellectual property right.

PPVFR – enacted to provide for the establishment of an effective system for the protection of plant varieties, the rights of farmers and plant breeders, and to encourage the development and cultivation of new varieties of plants.

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Sustainable agriculture: Going beyond Soil Health Cards

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Soil organic carbon (SOC)

Mains level : Read the attached story

Context

  • Agriculture supports roughly half of India’s population and is the key to its food security.
  • We have, indeed, avoided the spectre of food shortages, thanks to our farmers increasing production using modern inputs and technology developed by agriculture scientists.
  • But there has been a collateral cost to this — in the form of overexploitation of our natural resources, especially soil and water — which has brought issues of sustainability to the fore.

Issues relating to sustainable agriculture

  • The first is falling groundwater tables on which the PM himself has recently focussed attention.
  • The second is the depleting organic matter content in our soils.
  • The third one is a much broader concern of climate change; its impact on monsoon rainfall vagaries or temperature spikes during the cropping season doesn’t require elaboration.

(Note: This article’s focus is limited to the second issue.)

Soil organic carbon (SOC)

  • Soil organic carbon (SOC) is extremely important for agriculture.
  • About 58% of organic matter mass exists in the form of carbon.
  • The percentage of organic matter in the soil can, thus, be estimated by simply multiplying the SOC% by a conversion factor of 1.72 (100/58).

Why is SOC important?

  • While farmers may apply urea or di-ammonium phosphate, adequate SOC levels is what makes the nitrogen and phosphorous from these chemical fertilizers bio-available to crops.
  • Organic matter is also the source of food for the microorganisms that help increase the porosity and aeration of soils.
  • The soil’s moisture holding capacity, too, goes up with higher carbon levels, thereby reducing water runoff.
  • Simply put, SOC levels have direct correlation with soil productivity and, by extension, sustainability of agriculture.

How it is linked to Climate Change?

  • Atmospheric carbon dioxide is stored in the form of SOC through the process of absorption in crop production and plant residue retention in soil.
  • This sequestration of atmospheric carbon dioxide can, indeed, be a powerful mitigating measure for climate change.
  • But in the last four years, based on sample testing results under the Centre’s Soil Health Card Scheme, the picture emerging isn’t all that encouraging.
  • SOC levels are found to be very low in most parts of India.
  • The soils in temperate climates have better carbon levels. It is quite the opposite in hot and tropical atmospheric areas such as ours, where the soils tend to lose carbon through decomposition (mineralization) of plant residues.
  • Rising temperatures from climate change further aggravates the situation.

How to ascertain adequate SOC levels?

  • SOC levels matter can be raised through higher retention of farm residue and adding organic matter from outside.

Step I: Proper crop selection

  • Plants, we know, take atmospheric carbon dioxide and convert it into food through photosynthesis process.
  • Ideally, only crops producing more aboveground and root mass – which contribute to long-term productivity by enhancing soil organic matter – should be grown.
  • But farmers, being rational economic agents, will go only for crops that give higher and assured returns, even if in the short run.
  • A change in cropping patterns, to ensure high SOC and long-term productivity, will not take place unless the desired alternative crops are remunerative.
  • It calls for appropriate policy intervention, including encouragement to set up agri-processing units for such crops, which will, in turn, make it profitable for farmers to grow them.

Step II: Proper retention of farm residues

  • Even the aboveground mass remaining after harvesting of the grain and dried stalks needed for fodder should be returned to the soil as much as possible.
  • This requires scientific crop residue management.
  • Burning of crop stubble has a negative impact not just on environment and human health, but also on soil fertility.
  • The crop residue when burnt, instead of raising SOC through mixing with the soil, gets converted into carbon dioxide.
  • A strategy focused on both in situ and ex situ management of residue is necessary today.
  • Currently, it is being sought to address the issue through subsidised provision of implements such as Happy Seeder, Super-Straw Management System attachment, mulcher and chopper-shredder.
  • But all this is mostly in areas closer to the national capital. For sustainable farming and improving soil health, we need all states to pitch in.

Step III: Adding organic matter from external sources

  • Use of compost must be promoted.
  • There is definitely a case to subsidize building of vermicompost pits or ‘Nadep’ mud/clay brick tanks using money from MGNREGA and other schemes.
  • Even urban green waste and manure from sewage treatment plants can be returned to farm soils.
  • There is clear evidence that when nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium is used in conjunction with farm yard manure, the fertilizer response ratio itself goes up with rising SOC levels.

 Step IV: Crop Rotation

  • Farmers, however, are hesitant to cultivate pulses for lack of a proper system of government procurement at minimum support prices, unlike that for wheat and paddy.
  • In the rice-wheat system, planting of legumes, either as a summer or full replacement crop in the kharif/rabi season, is most needed.
  • Legumes have root nodules harbouring rhizobium bacteria that fix nitrogen from the atmosphere.
  • This nitrogen also helps bind and retain carbon in the soil for a longer time.
  • Inclusion of pulses in the public distribution system would go a long way in promoting the cause of soil health as well as nutritional security for our masses.

Step V: Promoting Zero Tillage

  • The use of no-till implements deserves a big push. Organic carbon is retained in large soil aggregates.
  • Deep ploughing equipment that break these aggregates cause SOC loss, whether through runoff with water or evaporation as carbon dioxide.
  • Zero-till seed drills, Happy Seeders and Direct Seeded Rice machines will ensure minimal disturbance of aggregates and less depletion of organic matter.

Way Forward

  • We need to launch a comprehensive awareness programme for enhancing the organic matter content of soils, with specified and time-bound targets.
  • The very act of monitoring and measuring outcomes will help focus attention on this important aspect.
  • Farming should, of course, be profitable. But it must also be sustainable.

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Certification of seeds to be made mandatory to step up farm output

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Need for certified quality seeds to farmers

Context

  • More than half of all seeds sold in India are not certified by any proper testing agency, and are often of poor quality.

Regulation of Seeds

  • The Centre now hopes to mandate uniform certification by pushing through a replacement to the Seeds Act, 1966, in the winter session of Parliament, and also by barcoding all seeds to ensure their traceability.
  • This could increase overall agricultural productivity by up to 25%.
  • The main aim of the new legislation, which is ready for submission to the Cabinet for approval, is to bring uniformity to the process of quality regulation.
  • The 1966 Act starts with these words: “An Act to provide for regulating the quality of certain seeds for sale…”
  • The new Bill removes the word “certain”, and aims to regulate the quality of all seeds sold in the country, as well as exported and imported seeds.

Why such move?

  • Currently, about 30% of seeds are what the farmer himself saves from his crop.
  • She/he may re-plant that or sells it locally. The remaining seeds which are bought and sold commercially, 45% come through the ICAR system and have gone through the mandated certification process.
  • The other 55% are sold by private companies, most of which are not certified, but rather what we call ‘truthful label seeds’.
  • That is, they are simply self-certified by the company.
  • Authorities want to remove this self-certified category with the new law and mandate certification through a proper lab process for all seeds.

Benefits of certification

  • With the bill passed, the companies will be held accountable for the quality of the seeds they sell, and the claims they make.
  • If a seed fails at the germination, flowering or seed-setting process, the company which sold it must be held liable and made to provide compensation.
  • The new Bill will also raise the stakes by increasing penalties for non-compliance.
  • Currently, the fine ranges from ₹500 to ₹5,000. We intend to raise that to [a maximum of] ₹5 lakh.

Barcode verification to boost transparency

  • The Centre also aims to roll out software to barcode seeds in order to ensure transparency and traceability.
  • The National Informatics Centre (NIC) has been collaborating with the Agriculture Ministry for this ₹5 crore project and the first prototype will be ready very soon.
  • The software system will be able to track seeds through the testing, certification and manufacturing process.
  • By connecting to a dealer licensing system, seeds will be tracked through the distribution process as well.
  • This will help weed out poor quality seeds sold by some fly-by-night operators.

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‘Uber for tractors’: Government to launch app to aid farmers

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Farm mechanisation

NEWS

A laser-guided land leveller uses technology to accurately flatten a field in a fraction of the time than an oxen-powered scraper. But such Hitech levellers cost at least ₹3 lakh and is beyond the reach of the average small farmer.

A new app described as “Uber for tractors” offers a solution.

Benefits

  1. Farmers save precious groundwater and increase productivity by 10 to 15%.
  2. Provide farmers to have affordable access to cutting-edge technology
  3. There are now more than 38,000 custom hiring centres (CHCs) across the country, which rent out 2.5 lakh pieces of farm equipment every year. The app connects farmers with these CHCs.
  4. The app will also create an invaluable database for policy-makers, who can track the use and cost of equipment

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Why Brazil’s new pesticide rules should worry India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Glyphosate and its hazards

Mains level : Not Much

News

  • India needs to watch out as Brazil, Latin America’s powerhouse, dilutes its regulations related to pesticide rules.
  • Brazil’s health surveillance agency Anvisa approved new rules which said pesticides in Brazil would be categorised as ‘extremely toxic’ only if they carry a ‘risk of death’.

Dilution of rules

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies pesticides into four classes on the basis of toxicity: extremely dangerous, highly dangerous, moderately dangerous and slightly dangerous.
  • According to the new rules, ‘extremely dangerous and toxic pesticides’ will now be reclassified into lower categories.
  • The new rules are thus contrary to the existing classification model that considers death risk, along with other effects like skin and eye irritations.
  • While a person may not die due to impact on the skin or an eye, these are certainly indicators of hazardous impacts on health.

Brazil, beans and glyphosate

  • Two years ago, Brazil was the world’s top exporter of soyabeans and captured half the market, followed closely by the US.
  • In 2017, Brazil was the third-biggest seller of beans to India, with six per cent of the market share, after Myanmar (60 per cent) and China (10 per cent).
  • This year too, it is on its way to being the leading exporter of soyabeans globally due to the increasing demand from China.
  • But there is one big hitch in all this: pesticides.
  • Brazillian farmers use pesticides in growing all of the country’s major export crops — soyabeans, corn, sugarcane, coffee, rice, beans, and cotton.

Why Brazilian soyabean is harmful?

  • Soyabeans is a major crop that is laden with pesticides.
  • While pesticide use in Brazil has risen three-times faster than production per hectare, each one per cent increase in soyabean production has been accompanied by a 13 per cent increase in pesticide use.
  • It may be noted that glyphosate is used on around 95 per cent of soyabean, corn and cotton harvested in Brazil and there is no readily available substitute.

Hazards of glyphosate

  • The widely-used herbicide has been linked to numerous health problems.
  • It has been classified as a probable human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an intergovernmental agency under WHO.
  • Russia and many European countries called for the removal of all Brazilian products and called for a general boycott on Brazil until the government changes the policy on pesticides.

What can be done to counter this?

  • Since India does not have any set standards for maximum residual limits for glyphosate, the FSSAI has decided to use the standards set by Codex Alimentarius, a joint committee set up by the WHO and FAO.
  • It has also suggested the testing of imported shipments of these products for compliance with these limits.
  • Even as Brazil is likely to go ahead with its agenda on revising and weakening pesticide rules, the global consumers or the importing nations need to be cautious while granting import clearances to crops from Brazil.

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[op-ed snap] Making crop insurance work for Indian farmers

Note4students

Mains Paper 3: Agriculture | e-technology in the aid of farmers

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie)

Mains level: Use of ICT in agriculture and allied activities


Context

Crop damage by changing weather

  1. In recent months, several places in north India experienced unseasonal dust and thunderstorms, followed by unseasonal rains
  2. This has cost lives and led to extensive crop damage
  3. With freak weather events becoming more common, protection of farmers against these risks figures prominently in the government’s agricultural policy

Agriculture sector impact

  1. Mitigating risk in the agricultural sector has a direct implication for agricultural productivity and farmer welfare
  2. It also intersects with some of the key sustainable development goals (SDGs), such as ending poverty, achieving food security and curbing hunger

Using technology in agriculture

  1. The International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie) has funded a number of studies that explore the feasibility of using ICTs in the field of agricultural risk mitigation
  2. A 3ie-funded study conducted by researchers at the International Food Policy Research Institute demonstrates how to capitalize on the availability of low-cost internet and the rising use of smartphones
  3. The novel picture-based insurance (PBI) product welds technology with weather index based insurance (WBI)
  4. Farmers are asked to take pictures from the same site with the same view frame two to three times a week throughout the cropping season. The series of images thus created helps insurance agencies examine the condition of the crops
  5. Based on the assessment, payments for losses are directly issued to the farmers’ bank accounts
  6. Additionally, the application also provides customized agricultural advisory to farmers by experts, ensuring continual interaction
  7. Another study by the Centre for Budget and Policy Studies (CBPS) examines the PMFBY in Karnataka, which incorporates the use of mobile technology to record and upload the crop-cutting experiments (CCE), a mechanism to determine the overall yield of the village
  8. The use of ICT is expected to quicken compilation of data, verification and faster settlement of a claim

Other benefits of ICT

  1. The use of mobile-based technology can also help allied activities
  2. ICTs can address not only supply side and process-related bottlenecks but also influence behaviour change on the demand side
  3.  For example, ICTs such as the PBI that require farmers to participate may induce farmers to develop a vigilant attitude towards any loss of crop
  4. Formative and process evaluations of ICT-based programmes, usually done at the beginning of a programme spanning over a few months, can help policymakers take prompt programme-specific decisions
  5. By identifying various challenges, such evaluations can lead to better programme selection and design that are cost-effective

Way Forward

  1. Impact evaluations that are based on counterfactuals with a large sample size, and conducted over a longer period, can surely inform scaling up and replicability of such programmes
  2. And in turn, the resultant socioeconomic impact will help farmers across India

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Can’t avoid pesticides, say farm experts

  1. Context: Parliament’s Standing Committee on Agriculture may have expressed concern at the unscientific and excessive use of pesticides in agriculture that pose a threat both to the environment and human health
  2. Experts: Judicious use of pesticides, combined with safe agricultural practices, is the only way out as the country’s growing demand for food cannot be met through organic farming
  3. Need for scientific use: Human health and food safety, both are important, and therefore there is an imperative need for promoting scientific use of pesticides in agriculture
  4. Organic: Relying entirely on organic farming is not a practical solution, as we need to feed a growing population
  5. Awareness: Educating the farmers and agriculture labourers for minimizing the use of pesticides and strengthening our agriculture research and extension system is the need of the hour

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Parliamentary committee pitches for better pesticide regulation

  1. Report: Impact of chemical fertilizers and pesticides on agriculture and allied sectors in the country by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture
  2. The problems associated with unscientific and excessive use of pesticides have not been addressed properly by the Central and the State governments
  3. And also, a system for registration of pesticides does not address the systemic deficiency
  4. Recommended a review of the Insecticides Act, 1968, as the pesticide sector needs better regulation to safeguard the environment and public health
  5. Insecticides Act, 1968: Regulates import, manufacture, sale, transport, distribution and use of insecticides to prevent risk to human beings or animals
  6. Central Insecticides Board: Constituted under the Insecticides Act
  7. It is empowered to ban manufacture, import or sale of pesticides if concerns are raised about a threat to public health and safety or any adverse report is received about the toxic effect of any pesticide
  8. However, there is no provision for periodic scientific evaluation of pesticides used in the country and the Central Insecticides Board doesn’t carry out any research or study on its own
  9. Also, its advice to the government is based on national and international literature or information available
  10. Ban: The action for ban of particular pesticides is taken only after receipt of general information on the ban on, or restriction of, particular pesticides in other countries.
  11. A ban is based on the recommendation of a committee of experts constituted for the purpose
  12. The present system of registration of pesticides is not robust and does not address manipulation of systemic deficiency
  13. Absence of an ongoing mechanism for periodic evaluation of the efficacy and toxicity of pesticides is posing danger to the environment and public health
  14. Govt take steps for the constitution of a pesticides development and regulation authority after parliamentary approval for regulation of the pesticide sector in the country
  15. It should start discussions with all stakeholders for constitution of such an authority in a time-bound manner

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