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:
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.
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 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?‘
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 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
Indian agriculture: Issues and Reforms
The Eco-Footprint of Agriculture:A Far-from-(Thermodynamic)-Equilibrium Interpretation