Is organic food any good?

Here’s a learning moment. Organic food might not actually be what you think it is.

It is expensive and what my mom would call – fancy! (‘kay style martayt!’*)

Entering into an organic store feels like being among a cult.

Yet, I buy organic. I buy stuff other than food from organic stores.

Yet, I’ve never spoken ill of it.

I don’t mean to. Trust me.

Something made me think otherwise.

I saw a video. This one.**

Are you with me?

Then, I saw a list by the Government of Canada.

It’s called ‘Organic production systems: permitted substances lists‘.

Are you with me?

So, what’s the lesson?

If you listened to the video, you’ll know that we need the best of both worlds.

But I think we just need organic to get better at what it aims to be.

  • Find a Marathi friend for accurate translation.

** Thank you Swiss Miss for sharing!

Globe Forum 2018

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I was a volunteer at the GLOBE Forum 2018, held on March 14–16, 2018 at Vancouver. I helped attendees for three days for North America’s largest and longest running Leadership Summit for Sustainable Business. I helped guests navigate around the event, answering fundamental questions. I monitored and maintained specific event areas such as B2B area and the Innovation Expo. It was a little boring at times standing in one place, but fun too – during my breaks I made friends, networked with organisations, learnt new things.

The Innovation Expo was a global showcase of sustainable products, clean technologies, services, and ideas fresh off the lab bench. Buyers from more than 50 countries roamed the aisles, looking for the next big thing. As a B2B event – businesses, governments, and civil society leaders found inspiration, connections, and new opportunities in the clean economy. I had no idea Canada was so much into Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS). Other focus areas included:

  • Smart Grid/Micro-Grid
  • Sustainable Mobility
  • Smart/High Performing Buildings
  • Water Innovation

CO2 is a waste

CO2 that human activities are pumping into the atmosphere is a waste, it is not needed there. This waste is a resource for many industries. Scientists are working around the world to develop technologies that will capture CO2 from their emission source and store it for use.

Hitachi Chemical showcased their research on how to capture CO2 more efficiently. Their research shows that cerium-based catalysts work better than zeolites for carbon capture.

International CCS Knowledge Centre was established to accelerate the global development of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology by both sharing access to the data, information and lessons learned from SaskPower’s Boundary Dam 3 facility and by incorporating the knowledge and experience from CCS projects elsewhere in the world. The Boundary Dam Carbon Capture Facility is capable of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by up to one million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year – the equivalent to taking 250,000 cars off the road. Brought online in 2014, the Boundary Dam CCS Project is the World’s First Post-Combustion Coal-Fired CCS Project integrated with a power station.

Not out of sight no out of mind

A lot of environmental and social issues are not acted upon because people cannot see the problem with their own eyes. Photographers and organisations around the world are making these things known to the public, becoming their eyes where they don’t reach.

Students on Ice Foundation is an organisation that organises an expedition that will be a profound hands-on experience for youth to expand their knowledge of the changing circumpolar world, foster a new understanding and respect for the planet, and gain the inspiration and motivation needed to help lead us to a healthy and sustainable future.

It was inspiring to watch the presentation of Cristina Mittermeier. Felt lot of emotions rushing through me as she told stories through her photographs. Cristina Mittermeier is a contributing photographer, speaker, and explorer for National Geographic.  She is a marine biologist who for the past 25 years has been working as a writer, conservationist and photographer. She is the founder and President of SeaLegacy, a non-profit organisation working to protect the oceans. SeaLegacy is an organisation dedicated to promoting the protection of the world’s oceans through storytelling. Cristina’s work has been published in hundreds of publications, including National Geographic Magazine, McLean’s and TIME.

Investment

The World Tree Carbon Offset Program is a sustainable timber investment based on the Empress Splendor tree, the fastest growing tree in the world. Empress trees provide valuable hardwood lumber within just 10 years. They also absorb 11 times more carbon than any other tree. Participants in the program both offset their carbon footprint and share in the profits of the sale of the lumber. They are looking for farmers to grow their trees. They provide the trees, the expertise and a buyer for the lumber. You provide the land and the care. Together you share the profits.

Agriculture

Terramera is a Sustainable Agriculture CleanTech company developing safe and effective Plant-Based Products and Replacements to Synthetic Conventional Chemical Pesticides & Fertilizers. They use Neem which is a tree native to the Indian subcontinent. Terramera’s agriculture products make sustainable/organic farming without the use of conventional chemicals more productive and efficient. Farmers need better solutions to protect crops from pests & diseases: Over 30% of chemical pesticides will be banned or restricted by 2020 leaving a 6.2 to 20 billion dollar gap in the market.

Green pickle of agriculture

Amidst climate change, oil crisis and the rest, I’ve been recently reading a lot on food and agriculture. Or may be it is just the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon wherein I’m unusually affected by issues in the agricultural sector and everybody else is talking about it too. Take it from the conferences that are held by Planet Forward. I’m going to talk about this conference a bit later in this post. I’m not going to mention the fuel vs food debate here but some of the issues which really caught my attention and they are:

Nitrogen dilemma:

Nitrifying soil bacteria  convert ammonium in the fertilizer to nitrate. This washes away to cause algal blooms. May be we need agricultural techniques that not only view the agricultural woes on a global scale but also locally. ‘Fertilizer trees’ Faidherbia albida, reintroduce nitrogen to the soil, have been shown to quadruple African maize yields in soils with no artificial fertilizer added.

Phosphorus crisis:

From my share of experiences, nitrogen has gained most of the attention, in a good or a bad way. This most definitely has changed for me when I watched a TED talk by Mohamed Hijri who explains how we are running out of phosphorus reserves, that our modern agriculture is thriving upon and offers a simple solution that includes phosphorus fixing mushrooms. Yes, mushrooms, not bacteria unlike the ones we’ve heard that fix nitrogen.

Water pollution in North India due to agriculture:

It’s saddening to see so many people sick and dying of water pollution from agricultural effluents that take the largest share of the wastewater effluents discharged into the Indus river, a whooping 90 percent. The Green revolution is not green anymore. A personal experience exemplifies the ignorance of common people who are not so affected by the contamination. While interacting with a gardening expert in a village, I learnt a few tips for gardening from him. While my dad contemplated on including him in it, I requested the expert to not use any pesticides or insecticides. As I expected, I wasn’t taken seriously. Luckily, we still haven’t started with our garden and I intend to keep it pesticide-free or incorporate natural alternatives like the one used in The Coop Forest. “Use of matka ghat, a very efficient bio-pesticide made from buttermilk and crushed neem, pongamia, and clatoporis leaves replaces chemical toxic pesticides and the cost is less than Rs. 30 rupees a litre,” says Piyush Manush of The Coop Forest in India.

Overdrafting:

Overdrafting is the excessive use of groundwater. Subsidence is caused due to overdrafting. It is when the floor beneath us can’t bear the weight on its surface. Due to removal of the water that makes the ground stable, it collapses and whatever is on it does as well. Subsidence may be avoided with careful mining, but that doesn’t free us from other consequences described in my blog, ‘Water mining and its consequences‘.

Greenhouse gas emissions:

One-third of our greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture. How do we reduce the agricultural eco-footprint? Are GMO crops a solution? Arcadia Biosciences, based in Davis, California, has taken a gene for an enzyme called alanine amino­transferase from barley and incorporated it into other crops to encourage them to absorb nitrogen before microbes do. Even if it looks like a solution, scientists are worried about biodiversity. If such monocultures are planted on a large scale, an unexpected attack on these can vanish them in a jiffy. Take bananas for example. Nature reports, “A variant of a fungus that rots and kills the main variety of export banana has been found in plantations in Mozambique and Jordan, raising fears that it could spread to major producers and decimate supplies.” It has already affected the 2nd largest producer.

Did you know India is the 1st largest producer of bananas?

People at Peru can exactly tell you why diversity is important and what people can do about it. International Potato Centre in Lima, Peru is all up for saving potatoes, yes, you heard it. Its gene bank has 7,000 potato samples intact. More on this in my blog – ‘GM foods: What’s all the fuss about?

Organic farming:

From a LinkedIn discussion on the blog post on GM foods, I noticed that organic farming, although labor intensive has received greater acceptance than transgenic crops. The very point of it being labor intensive can cure the unemployment woes.

Organic farming is a form of agriculture that relies on techniques such as crop rotation, green manure, compost, and biological pest control.

Planet  Forward:

Planet Forward is where experts and engaged citizens come together to find solutions to our shared challenges, specifically in the areas of energy, climate and sustainability. Follow this hashtag for more updates: #foodFWD

Further reading:

Indian agriculture: Issues and Reforms

The Eco-Footprint of Agriculture:A Far-from-(Thermodynamic)-Equilibrium Interpretation

GM foods: What’s all the fuss about?

Where there is food, there is population. Thanks to  Norman Borlaug, an American agronomist, US is the largest wheat exporter in the world. Also thanks to  M.S. Swaminathan, one of India’s top most exported commodities is cotton. Both these men are accredited as ‘Father of Green Revolution’ and ‘Father of Green Revolution in India’ respectively. Countries now export food and are not just talking about subsistence anymore. Where there is population, one needs food and hence by many GM foods are considered much needed in agriculture.

gm foodWhile a country like India is capable of exporting certain crops, it feels the heat of the shortage of certain grains. Marie Haga, the current head of Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT) said “Food production needs to increase by 15 percent in the next 10 years.” Mark Lindley, a member of Humanist Association of Boston, US, said shortage is due to post-harvest mismanagement, while he raised concerns over rapid consumption of resources in populated countries like India and China.

Changing the traits of plants played an important role in the rise of agricultural produce. While plant breeding is as old as the first civilized colonies of humans, the first genetically modified food was commercialized only in the 1990s. So why the fuss now? Each of these techniques is a way to get better yields even in intolerable climatic conditions, better taste, better color, better life span and may be better size too. Yet there is no consensus on the use of the latter technique. The difference between the two is that science of molecular biology began only recently, that is in the 1930s.

With the knowledge of molecular genetics, scientists are now able to breed two different kinds of plant species. “You can now build a cell the same way you might build an app for your iPhone,” said Newman, chief science officer of Amyris, in the Guardian. As easy as it sounds, it is the hard work of scientists that has led to such technologies. Molecular genetics is an open group to play on. Plant breeding only allowed closely related species to be bred and that is where GM foods came in.

If you find yourself thinking why would people criticize genetically modified crops, one of the many reasons is ‘allergies’ and ‘toxicity’. No negative effects have been so far documented. The other reasons include the intellectual property fight and the effect of pesticide resistance. Through conventional wisdom, you probably know what a normal apple can do to you but how would you know what a GM apple will do? Concern over allergies called for GM labelling.

GM labelling in India was made mandatory in the month of January this year. Greenpeace, WWF and the Nature Conservancy are in the forefront of the debate, the first two concerned over regulation over the use of GM foods. Having done that, the process of GM labelling is not standardized and will be the next big hurdle for nations if they are to receive public acceptance of GM food.

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