Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Cuban Inventor Turns Trash Into Farm Tools

A solitary man trudges through a palm-lined corn field in the Cuban countryside, pulling behind him a rickety contraption that President Raul Castro would love.

The man, Yolando Perez Baez, is showing off his latest invention, a spindly, spider-like piece of equipment that sprays pesticide along six rows of crops, instead of the one row he could dose using his usual backpack fumigator.

With the backpack, Perez says he would have to walk five miles and take six hours to finish the field. The new equipment allows him to do it in one hour and walk less than a mile.

In other words, it fits right in with Castro's quest to cut budget-draining food imports by making Cuban agriculture more efficient and productive.

More than five decades of revolution, and the necessity and isolation that have accompanied it, have made Cubans both skilled at improvisation and a little eccentric, none more so than Perez, 47.

Using parts scrounged from local trash dumps he jokingly calls his "warehouse," Perez has pieced together primitive equipment to spray pesticides, start balky irrigation machinery and speed the harvest of potatoes.

He even wears a hat of his own creation that protects his face from the sun, but looks like a cross between a Chinese peasant hat and something a space alien would wear.

These are not high-tech creations, but, like much else in Cuba, simple and functional, rooted in common sense and the need to make do with what is available. They do not eliminate the back-breaking manual labor that dominates Cuban farm life, but reduce it.

His motor starter is a study in elegant simplicity and addresses a serious need in a country where major equipment tends to be antiquated and often in need of parts that are costly and hard to get.


"Eighty percent of the motors here, in this municipality at least, don't have batteries, don't have starters. It's the first thing to break and you have to buy them in hard currency, which is very difficult," Perez said.

So, Perez, an agronomist engineer who wears the stained work clothes of a man that spends a lot of time in the workshop, developed what looks like a small oil rig equipped with a heavy weight.

The weight, tied to a rope that is wrapped around the engine crankshaft, is lifted up by the rig and dropped. The fall pulls the rope and cranks the engine to life.

He has sold eight of the apparatuses for the equivalent of just over $100 each.

One of his customers, Jorge Suarez, praised the machine after it started a massive diesel engine for his irrigation system. As water poured out of a pipe into his cabbage field, he said, "If we don't invent what we invent, then we would be in bad shape. Look, if this man doesn't invent this, I don't know (what we would do)."

Necessity is said to be the mother of invention, but Perez said it was something slightly different.

"The main thing is to be faced with the problem," he said.

Perez works at the "First of May" agricultural cooperative in Guira de Melena, which is about 35 miles west of Havana.

Under reforms by Castro, farmers are making good money, said coop president Jose Miguel Gonzalez said, but only spend it on new equipment when they are convinced it works. The jury was still out on Perez' new fumigator, he said.

Not to worry, said Perez. He has other machines in the works, including a revolving sprinkler system, and, in the end, each invention is just another small step toward a better Cuba.

With "a little that I put here, and another little bit that another Cuban puts there, the economy grows," he said. "The small things have to be noted because sometimes they appear insignificant, but together they are a lot."

Friday, 2 November 2012

Golden Harvest Vegetables For Health

Yellow and orange are some of the colors of autumn. They are also seen in the colors of the fall harvest in the form of pumpkin, winter squash, carrots and sweet potato. These delicious additions to your diet not only provide a wide range of nutritional benefits, but are an example of being able to eat seasonally and locally. Another plus is that they can be stored without refrigeration for long periods of time.

When it comes to nutrition, these vegetables have a lot in common. Because of their orange color, they are full of beta carotene. This nutrient has health benefits of its own, but can turn into vitamin A as needed by the body. These nutrients are important for eye and skin health, as well as for many other body tissues. They also play a role in the immune system.

Orange vegetables contain many other antioxidants, such as lutein, zeaxanthin, and alpha carotene that help protect the body from free radicals (a cause of tissue damage). These and other nutrients found in the orange vegetables fall under the heading of "phytonutrients" —— nutrients found in plant foods that contribute to optimal health that we are just beginning to learn about.

The antioxidants in these vegetables have the potential to benefit health conditions such as reduced risk of some cancers. They are important for growth, development and health in babies and children/teens. For adults, they contribute to overall health and reduced risk of tissue breakdown.

Vitamin C, K, E and several B vitamins are also found in orange vegetables, as are many minerals — potassium, iron, magnesium, manganese and copper. These nutrients have many jobs in the body.

When it comes to blood pressure, current guidelines recommend reducing our intake of sodium, while consuming more potassium. The orange vegetables are especially high in potassium.

These vegetables are great sources of fiber, as well. Higher fiber intakes can help lower cholesterol numbers and assist with blood pressure and blood sugar regulation. Fiber can also help with weight control because it adds bulk at a meal, meaning we feel fuller and overall may eat less. It also slows digestion so the fuel from a meal or snack lasts longer and we may feel the need to eat less often.

The soluble fiber found in these foods appears to be better tolerated by persons with irritable bowel syndrome as compared to the rougher fibers. It can also be helpful for persons with constipation issues.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommends that adults consume four to seven cups of orange vegetables a week (depending on the total amount of calories consumed). With regard to the new "My Plate" that has replaced the Food Pyramid, including more of these vegetables can help you to reach the goal of making half your plate veggies. Think back about your food intake this past week. How did you do with these nutrient-packed colorful vegetables?

If you are a little behind in achieving the recommendations, browse through the produce section this week and choose a few of these golden veggies to take home. Numerous recipes are available online. Because of their sweet (and in some cases nutty) flavor, they blend well with both sweet and savory foods.

All can be baked or steamed — whole, bite-sized, or mashed. Bite-sized pieces can be tossed with a little olive oil (maybe with a sprinkle of minced fresh herbs or other seasoning) and roasted in the oven until tender.

With the colder weather, they are a sweet and hearty addition to soups, stews, and chili. Roasting them before adding them to a soup adds even more flavor. They pair well with fruit like apples in a soup or add a contrast to the hot spices — cumin, chili powder or curry — in savory dishes.

Try simmering cubes of butternut squash and carrots with water, diced tomatoes, onions, coriander, cumin, turmeric, ground ginger, and a dash of cayenne pepper in a covered pot and cook until tender. Then serve over cooked quinoa or brown rice and sprinkle with chopped fresh cilantro.

Add some pureed pumpkin or orange squash to chowder for added nutrients and a nice golden color. Slip some into a muffin batter, pancake or waffle batter, or yeast dough bread. Spices like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice and cloves can be added as well. Another option is to add pureed carrot, squash or pumpkin to tomato sauce and serve over whole grain pasta.

Pureed pumpkin or squash added to low-fat ricotta cheese and a dash of nutmeg makes a great filling for ravioli. Cooked squash can be added to a veggie lasagna, too.

Grated carrot can be added to muffins or other quick breads. It can be added to cooked grains like rice, for a dash of color. It can also add nutrients and moisture when used to make burgers or meatloaf.

For dessert, try a pumpkin or winter squash custard — like pumpkin pie without the crust. This provides the nutrients from the orange vegetables and milk while cutting down on the fat and calories. Try using low fat milk or low fat evaporated milk and reduce the sugar to save even more calories. A pumpkin cheesecake is another seasonal dessert that can be made with fat-free cream cheese and less sugar to lower the calorie count.

So do yourself a favor and take advantage of the delicious, colorful, and nutritious orange autumn vegetables.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

ND, MN Farmers Develop Farming App

Two farmers have developed a mobile phone application to help with farm management.

Jacob Fannik grew up on a 2,000-acre farm in Max, planting small grains such as oats and barley. When his friend, Ryan Raguse of Wheaton, Minn., approached him with the idea for Virtual Farm Manager, he knew from experience it would be useful for producers.

“The spark behind this came from growing up on a farm,” Fannik said. “A farmer has to get in and out of the tractor, get into the house, make a bunch of calls, be so many places at once and still be behind the wheel of the tractor.”

Farmers can download the app to their phone and then register on the company’s website, www.virtualfarmmanager.com.

The app uses the phone’s GPS to track and map as equipment goes up and down the fields planting or spreading fertilizer. Everything on the phone is synced with their web account.

With the app, farmers also can store past yield records and compare them. They can keep notes. If there are multiple workers in the field, they can all view it on their cell phone at the same time.

“Rather than running around with notebooks all the time, the farmer can just send it back to the computer,” Raguse said.

“I have cattle to deal with and I’m farming from about March to October,” Fannik said. “I definitely understand what it’s like to be out there at 6:30 in the morning until 1 o’clock.”

Raguse said there are many variations of this management technology but he doesn’t know of any that allow farmers to access it on a cell phone.

The app will be coming out for Android phones on April 15. An iPhone version will follow shortly after. The cost for the first month is $1; after that, it is $65 a month.

“Farmers can do a lot of what the high tech, high dollar products do on a smart phone,” Fannik said.

Raguse said other systems such as Connected Farm require spending several thousand dollars on hardware and software on top of a monthly subscription cost. Other management software is available for computers he said, but it doesn’t offer the mobility of a phone.

Fannik said farmers might face some reception problems with this product. Also the technology may not be as good as what the other products offer, but he said they think what they have is sufficient. As their company grows, Raguse and Fannik hope to be able to provide more and better services.

“We’re here to help farmers first and foremost,” Fannik said. “Without farmers out there, you’re not getting food on the table, not getting milk in your glass.”

Friday, 26 October 2012

Drip Irrigation Offers Huge Savings For Farmers

Three researchers from Batac in Ilocos Norte are developing the low-cost drip irrigation system (LDIS) for rice-based high-value crops such as bitter gourd to meet irrigation requirements in dry environments.

Known for its dry environment, water is a scarce resource in Batac. The periodic rains from June to November are hardly enough to irrigate the crops planted in the province so Engr. Noel Ganotisi, Engr. Romel Batuac, and Dr. Reynaldo Castro of the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice).

The LDIS uses plastic drum, control valves, filter, mainline and manifold, and lateral lines (moldex hose). It was first used by the team to irrigate a 250-square-meter plot of bitter gourd at a PhilRice station in Batac for the first six months of 2010.

Except for the dripper, all materials are locally available in Batac and elsewhere in the country so anyone could replicate the technology, Ganotisi said.

Ganotisi likewise highlighted that LDIS only costs P30,000, which is up to 72 percent cheaper than commercial irrigation dripping system for a 1,000-square-meter plot.

Ganotisi also reported they were able to save 55 percent of water using LDIS. This amount of water can irrigate other crops, something that could have just been wasted if conventional furrow irrigation was used.

“It’s indeed very efficient. This can be explained by the fact that water was applied “at the root zone of the bitter gourd,” Ganotisi said.

This way, less water is applied “unlike in furrow irrigation where wider area is irrigated since more water is needed to run in furrows. Even those spaces that do not need to be wetted are irrigated when using furrow method.”

Consequently, the team reported that LDIS-irrigated bitter gourd produced slightly higher marketable fruits (78.62 percent) than those irrigated using conventional furrow irrigation (77.02 percent). Additionally, a return on investment of 85 percent over a one year period was reported.
After the station pilot testing, the team started the on-site trial in Currimao, a town in Ilocos Norte.

“This is user-friendly for women and for aging farmers. Once the containers are filled, I only need to turn on and off the drippers and all’s done. I can now focus on my other tasks,” said Agnes Asuncion, who also makes soaps after attending a course from the Department of Science and Technology.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Now, Farmers Can Check Water-Level In Soil

To help farmer reduce consumption of water, a scientist from Sugarcane Breeding Institute in the city has developed a soil moisture indicator to help farmers understand the moisture level of the soil and irrigate accordingly.

K Hari, a senior scientist at the institute, invented the device, which was tested for around a year among sugarcane farmers. "This can be immersed into the soil. By pressing the side button, the water levels can be understood. Different colours will represent the water levels; such as blue for adequate water and red for less water," he added.

According to the scientists, farmers can decide on when to irrigate looking at the indicators. D Puthira Prathap, who was the principal investigator of the project, says that "The indicator can be taken to different areas of the land and the moisture levels can be checked. The soil need not be irrigated, if there is enough water."

Farmers who used the equipment in Erode, Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri shared their experiences in the sensitisation workshop organised as part of "Water Day" celebrations in the institute.

EK Subramanian, a farmer from Koothampoondi in Erode said he used the soil moisture indicator in half of his farm and found it beneficial. "I have one hectare of sugarcane cultivation. In half the land, I used this equipment to compare with the normal process of irrigation. I placed the indicator in several locations of the land to understand the availability of water. In the other portion of the land, we irrigated as usual. Using the indicator, I could manage with 20% less water. The land which used this equipment cultivated 8 tonnes more than the other portion," he said.

"I could reduce about 30% to 40% water consumption in the areas where I used the equipment compared to the land where I did not use it. The harvest was ten tonnes more," said P Saravanan, a farmer from Palacode in Dharmapuri district.

N Vijayan Nair, director of the institute said "Indian farmers use more water for agriculture. The usual reason is that we don't know when the soil requires to be irrigated. This leads to over irrigation which damages the soil."

The soil moisture indicator can check water-levels of the soil from around 15cms to 45cms. Hari says that this is enough for farms and plants in pots. "This is simple to use and affordable. We are looking for entrepreneurs interested in manufacturing this on a large scale," he added.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Could Vertical Farming Be The Future?

Farm capable of feeding 50,000 people could fit 'within a city block'

Rice on the seventh floor. Wheat on the twelfth. And enough food within an 18-story tower to feed a small city of 50,000.

Vertical farms, where staple crops could be grown in environmentally friendly skyscrapers, exist today only in futuristic designs and on optimistic Web sites. Despite concerns over sky-high costs, however, an environmental health expert in New York is convinced the world has the know-how to make the concept a reality — and the imperative to do so quickly.

With a raft of studies suggesting farmers will be hard-pressed to feed the extra 3 billion people swelling the world’s ranks by the year 2050, Columbia University professor Dickson Despommier believes a new model of agriculture is vital to avoid an impending catastrophe.

“The reason why we need vertical farming is that horizontal farming is failing,” he said. If current practices don’t change by mid-century, he points outs, an area bigger than Brazil would need to become farmland just to keep pace with the demand.

Working the soil has always been an uncertain venture, and Despommier argues that the price of crop failure is growing ever steeper as the global population mushrooms. “The world,” he said, “is running out of resources faster than what it can replace.”

Critics like Bruce Bugbee, a professor of crop physiology at Utah State University in Logan, see improvements in how future farmlands are managed as more practical and cost-effective. To Despommier, though, the world already has the need and the technology to dramatically improve yields and reliability by adjusting its point of view: from out to up.

The Columbia researcher said his interest in vertical farming is an extension of his long-standing work on disease transmission among humans. Among the laundry list of benefits he cites, Despommier believes vertical farming could help break the transmission cycle of diseases in traditional agricultural settings. But it’s the potential to help solve impending food shortages that really excites him.

A recent exercise conducted by students in his medical ecology class found that a self-sustaining vertical farm able to feed 50,000 people could “fit comfortably within a city block,” rising perhaps 18 stories. With adequate funding, a smaller prototype could be up and running in seven to 10 years, he predicts. Eventually, full-scale versions could be a new feature of city skylines, climbing as high as 30 stories and filled with automated feeders, monitoring devices and harvesting equipment. And, of course, they would feature crops such as wheat, rice, sugar beets and leafy greens grown in mineral nutrient solutions or without any solid substrates at all.

These hydroponic and aeroponic growing techniques, respectively, have benefited from NASA’s strong interest because any long-term venture to the moon or beyond would require the use of self-contained and resource-limited growth chambers. Despommier concedes that current practices must be improved and systems put in place to quickly identify and quarantine plants stricken with pests or disease. “No pun intended, but the bugs need to be worked out of this thing,” he said.

He insists, though, that money is the last major obstacle. To his critics, that hurdle has tripped up past entrepreneurs and may yet be insurmountable. “I can’t be very optimistic about this study,” said Utah State’s Bugbee. “None of this is very new. But it doesn’t mean the whole concept is without merit. It just means the claims are greatly exaggerated.”

Bugbee’s chief objection is the exorbitant power requirement for such a vertical structure.  Plants on the lower floors would require artificial light year-round or expensive mechanical systems to get more light to them. And during a typical winter in northern U.S. cities, he said, average sunlight is only 5 percent to 10 percent of peak summer levels due to sapped intensity and shorter days.

“November, December, January and February are really dark,” Bugbee said. “Plants aren’t limited by the temperature, they’re limited by the light.” High-pressure sodium lights may be a reasonable stand-in for sunlight to maintain plant growth,  he said, but the electric bill is enormous. “Boy have a lot of people gone bankrupt trying hydroponic greenhouses for that reason.”

Nevertheless,  greenhouses such as Arizona’s 265-acre Eurofresh Farms are thriving with their hydroponic tomatoes and seedless cucumbers. Gene Giacomelli, Director of the Controlled Environment Agriculture Program at the University of Arizona in Tucson, said questions of safety, quality and sustainability are pushing agriculture in a host of other directions, including Despommier’s vertical farming idea. “He’s one extreme – a very good one,” Giacomelli said.

Several years ago, Giacomelli and collaborators in Arizona explored another extreme when they won a contract to design and build a growth chamber within a new building at Antarctica’s Amundsen-Scott Research Station. The chamber can be tweaked remotely by scientists back in Arizona but is now largely managed by volunteers at the station.

Besides supplying some much-needed color and light for the research station’s residents during Antarctica’s bleak and bitterly cold winter months, the indoor chamber has yielded a range of crunchy greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, hot and sweet peppers and even cantaloupe. Next year, a student will try to grow watermelon in what is arguably the worlds’ most inhospitable place for a garden. Remarkably, the plot has produced about two-thirds of what top greenhouses in North America can deliver.

“I like to say that we can grow any plant anywhere and any time, but for a price,” Giacomelli said. The catch in Antarctica is that electricity  for the lights and pumps has inflated the cost to about $50 per pound of fresh vegetables . “Now, the local person at the supermarket would say you’re crazy for spending that much money on vegetables,” he said. “But you give that number to NASA and they’d say, ‘Wow, that’s a good number.’”

Transportation costs
Back on Earth, Despommier said urban farms could defray some of their own expense by significantly cutting transportation costs. And as the local food movement gains in popularity with environmentally conscious consumers, he said, what could be more local than vertical farming? Despite a lack of major technological advances, the effort also stands to benefit from small but steady improvements in hydroponics and automated systems to control temperature, humidity and nutrient delivery, according to Giacomelli.

To curb the excessive reliance on electricity, Giacomelli’s own group is planning to experiment with fiber-optic tubes called solar pipes that can capture sunlight from the Antarctic growth chamber’s roof. Meanwhile, Utah State University researchers have developed a clear piece of curved polyethylene that can retain heat in the ground and extend the growing season by up to four months for summer squash and tomatoes.

As for keeping up with global food demand by growing crops such as rice and wheat,  “we’re going to have to get better at farming marginal lands,” Bugbee said, “but it’s still going to be done outside because the sunlight is so cheap — well, free — and the sunlight levels are so high in the summer.”

He agrees that some farming will move toward more controlled environments, especially for high-value crops like fresh herbs that otherwise would be difficult to supply year-round. “Chefs will pay a lot for fresh basil,” Bugbee said, “but we’re not going to feed the world with that.”

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Organic Growth Story Of Organic Farming

NAGPUR: Following in the footsteps of his father, 31-year-old Ashish Shinde from Anjangaon Surji village in Paratwada tehsil of Amravati district is promoting organic farming in all possible ways.

His father Deepak Shinde had shown the way in the 1990s. Today, Ashish has expanded the area of work to almost the entire state. The membership in the firm his father started, Organic Farms, has gone up from around 3,500 in 1999 to over 4,700 now.

Deepak Shinde had pioneered organic farming in Vidarbha and then started propagating it. As farmers joined him, he floated an NGO, Maharashtra Organic Farmers Association, with himself as secretary and Appasaheb Wankhede from village Amla in Daryapur tehsil as president. As the need to get produce certified grew, Shinde launched Organic Farms.

"In 1988, there were no organic certifying agencies in India. So my father researched and tied up with German company 'Agrisco' to certify produce from all 260 farmers in just two villages, Daryapur and Anjangaon," says Ashish.

Being an agriculture graduate like his father, Ashish has an edge over other farmers in understanding the nuances of agriculture. "I wanted to do post graduation, but father said things at ground level would not change much even if I completed doctorate in agriculture. He was right. So I am now expanding on his work," he said.

"The firm is now into export of soyabean and pulses. We are also undertaking organic cultivation and certification of pulses, vegetables and fruits," he said.

The senior Shinde was influenced by the book 'The One Straw Revolution' by Masanobu Fukuoka from Japan. Shinde was a senior grader in Cotton Federation at Daryapur and Pulgaon. After reading the book, he bought 20 acre land and started experiments. Every Sunday, he would go to Mumbai to meet Rohidas Patil after they met at a fair in Dhule. Gradually, he became famous as a organic farming consultant and went around the country training and educating farmers.

He also toured the USA and Poland, and came into contact with foreign buyers. He began promoting organic cotton, since he could buy all the cotton due to the federation's monopoly then and sell it in Kolkata market. "My father maintained extreme transparency. He formed a committee for procuring cotton with representatives from farmers and buyers to decide the rate and the farmers share in the profit. If the profit percentage was 15%, at least 10% would go to farmers and remaining 5% to Organic Farms, the company that gave the organic certification," said Ashish.

Shinde got support from Amravati collector Manisha Verma, who allowed a pilot project at Nimkhed Bazar village for residential training for farmers under the Agriculture Technology Management Agency (Atma) and trained 100 farmers daily. Now, the firm exports soyabean powder, guava, pineapple and mango pulp and juices, fresh fruits like grapes, pomegranate, safflower and sunflower oil and sells pulses and oil to Brahmaratan, a Delhi-based company, from many districts of the state.

Shinde also started dal mills, oil mills, ginning mills, pulverizing units and cashew nut processing units under the guidance of Dr Panjabrao Deshmukh Krishi Vidyapeeth in 2003 at Nimkhed Bazar, which is proving handy for organic growers to ensure quality and avoid adulteration. The company also displays products at big fairs like World Organic Trade Fair-Biofach.

"For export, we need third party certification. Organic Farms has tied up with Reliable Analytical Lab and Microchem Silliker Lab at Mumbai. They test the produce for 147 chemicals at the port or airport. So, we have to maintain the same quality," said Ashish.

Ashish did his bit after meeting Kavita Mukhi, who runs 'Conscious Food' outlets in Mumbai. She motivated him to diversify into vegetables, fruits, organic textiles and cosmetics. She also proposed a Sunday farmers market in Mumbai, which will complete three years this September.

Ashish wants to fulfil all the dreams of his father, who died at an early age. "I knew a lot of my father's contacts since I kept their accounts, and they are now helping me climb up the ladder," he says.Box

Future Plans
  • Production of organic khaddar or handloom in association with Wardha-based Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Rural Industrialisation (MGIRI)
  • Developing organic textiles and organic cosmetics
  • Developing organic Paithani silk dress material using organic dyes with support from Asmita Gaikwad, who works among tribals in Yeola village in Nashik
  • Developing organic mulberry silk in Mumbai
  • Organic milk production unit using Gir cows involving 100 farmers with cows
  • Training institute for farmers
  • Improving weekly farmers market in Mumbai

Friday, 12 October 2012

Waste Not, Want Not

Plastics maker Sintex seeks to solve India's energy and sanitation problems in one stroke - with an at-home bio-gas digester.

(Fortune Magazine) -- Sintex Industries, a plastics and textiles manufacturer in Gujarat, India, is betting it can find profit in human waste. Its new biogas digester turns human excrement, cow dung, or kitchen garbage into fuel that can be used for cooking or generating electricity, simultaneously addressing two of India's major needs: energy and sanitation.

Sintex's digester uses bacteria to break down waste into sludge, much like a septic tank. In the process, the bacteria emit gases, mostly methane. But instead of being vented into the air, they are piped into a storage canister.

A one-cubic-meter digester, primed with cow dung to provide bacteria, can convert the waste generated by a four-person family into enough gas to cook all its meals and provide sludge for fertilizer. A model this size costs about $425 but will pay for itself in energy savings in less than two years. That's still a high price for most Indians, even though the government recently agreed to subsidize about a third of the cost for these family-sized units. "We want to create a new industry for portable sanitation in India that's not available now," says S.B. Dangayach, Sintex's managing director.

Government officials plan to end open defecation by 2012 (hundreds of millions of Indians use railroad tracks or other outdoor locales instead of toilets) and say biogas plants are part of the solution. A.R. Shukla, a scientific advisor in the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, says India could support 12 million such plants, but only 3.9 million - mostly pricier models big enough to accommodate entire villages - have been installed to date. And last year the government fell far short of its target for new installations.

The future can be glimpsed on a dusty, rutted road in a poor South Delhi neighborhood. Here 1,000 people use an immaculately clean public toilet constructed by a nonprofit foundation, the Sulabh Sanitation Movement. The biogas digester attached to toilets provides cooking gas for a 600-student school and vocational-training program the foundation runs. In the past, nongovernmental organizations like Sulabh were the only ones offering biogas digesters.

But Sintex is hoping cities, real estate developers, building managers, and hospitals will jump at a ready-made way to harness the same energy.

Biogas digesters are just a small fraction of Sintex's business. The company has installed only about 100 of them. But it plans to increase investment and production tenfold in the coming year. That growth potential has helped Sintex stock more than double this past year. Human waste may be a stinky business, but to investors it smells like money

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Farmer Adopts Integrated Methods For Sustainable Development

Ray of hope

An integrated farming is a panacea for crisis in agriculture sector, if we consider success story of a farmer at a hamlet in the taluk. For farmers who are in distress due to crop loss due to vagaries of nature and fluctuating prices, the innovative approach seems to provide a ray of hope.

With his success in integrated farming, Veeranna, a farmer in Seegehalli, has set a model for farmers dependent on either single-crop pattern or poultry for livelihood.

Bovines and earthworms fulfill the requirement of compost for his field where he grows variety of crops, vegetables along with mulberry for silkworms. Besides, the bio-gas plant fulfils the need for fuel in kitchen. Sheep of rambouillite breed, cows of native breed, oxen and poultry are among the livestock Veeranna has nurtured. Mulberry required feed over 1,000 silkworms a month, ‘raagi’, cashew, tur, coconut, mango and vegetables are the main crops cultivated in his farm.

The benefits of integrated farming are many, he explains. Demonstrating the models he has set up, Veeranna says the organic waste from the ‘gobar’ gas plant provides nutrient to the plants in the farm. The urine from the cowshed, which is collected in a pit, is mixed with the green waste from the farm. The liquid will be sprayed in the field through drip irrigation system. The residual solid waste makes for the rich organic manure.


Veeranna’s approach to sericulture is also innovative. He has set up a shed using painted sheets to keep bamboo trays in which silkworms are kept. The Odisha-model of this silkworm shed is useful in maintaining the desirable temperature in all the seasons and is strong enough to sustain the gusty winds. The shed is spacious enough to boil 1,000 cocoons.
The shed that was built at a cost of Rs 6 lakh has proved beneficial, he said. Last year, farmers in the neighbouring Doddatekahalli and Marappanahalli suffered loss due to damage caused to the sheds by the gusty wind and heavy rain. But, the shed in his farm didn’t suffer any damage.

Veeranna says the integrated approach requires comparatively less investment while the profit is high. He says he has spent Rs 20,000 on construction of cowshed. He has availed a subsidy of Rs 10,000 given by an organisation for promoting organic farming.

He has got a subsidy of Rs 4,000 for construction of pits for vermicompost, which cost him in total Rs 8,000. The venture that began with two kgs of earthworms has now grown into 10-kg earthworms. The vermicompost produced in excess will be stored for use in future.

He has grown 10 quintals of horse gram on acres of land and 25 quintals of raagi on three acres this year.

The use of vermicompost for vegetables acts as a natural deterrent to pest attack.

Another advantage of using the organic manure is that he could grow mulberry without using pesticides for the silkworms.

Besides, he has also grown different variety of mangoes through grafting. Use of machines to harvest raagi, grass and vegetable leaves has reduced his dependence on the labour, as shortage of manpower is one of biggest problems facing the farmers today, Veeranna says.

Farmers need to avail subsidies given by the government for natural farming involving bio-digest, compost and vermicompost. As silkworms will die if pesticides are sprayed to mulberry, organic manure and natural deterrents can be used to check diseases and pests.

“There is an urgent need to create awareness among farmers on the integrated approach to agriculture,” said Rajanjinappa, Savayava Krishi Parivara Sanchalaka.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Benefits Of Musk Melon

'Cucumis Melo' or Musk Melon is a native to central asia. It is grwon in the tropical regions for a very long time. Musk melon is widely known as 'Cantaloupe'.

Musk melon being an annual plant is cultivated from the seeds. The plants have to be watered lightly. It is a monoecious plant where the male and the female flowers are distinct. The melons are easily grown in sandy soil. Manure is essential for a healthy growth. Dry river beds are the most suitable for melon cultivation. Unripe melons should be stored at room temperature until they ripen. The two principal varieties of muskmelon are those with netted skins and those with smooth skins.

The creamy flesh can be consumed chilled or as fruit juice. With scientific advancements the melon growers have introduced many hybrids which are much tastier. Melons make a good combination for custards and fruit salads.

Musk Melon juice is beneficial to be consumed during conditions like Lack of appetite, Weight loss, Urinary tract infections, Constipation, Acidity, Ulcer. Musk melon reduces heat in the body to a great extent, relieves tiredness, enhances appetite and is an effective laxative. It is a good source of Vitamins A, B, and C. Musk Melons are rich in potassium, a nutrient that may help control blood pressure, regulate heart beat, and possibly prevent strokes.

If you are a dieter, then muskmelon is an excellent fruit for you. It has significant amount of fiber and provides you the feeling of fullness quickly. It can taste good and can make good combination for fruit salads and custards. Hence, a quick weight loss program ought to include muskmelon.

In addition to health benefits, muskmelon takes care of your skin too. It contains Vitamin A, which is useful in maintaining healthy skin. The fruit provides pretty fair amount of folic acid, which is especially important for pregnant women. It helps to create healthy fetuses and can even prevent cervical cancer and osteoporosis. Though it offers special benefits to women, men can also get great many benefits. Folic acid in the fruit acts as a mild antidepressant

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

10 Terrific Varieties Of Honey

Acacia: Water-white to nearly clear in color, with a delicately light floral flavor. Exceptional for sweetening drinks without altering their taste.

Alfalfa: White to light amber in color, with good body and a multifunctional flavor. This honey is a fine choice as a table honey or for use in baking or cooking.

Blackberry: Usually light to golden amber in color. Fruity, rich and full-flavored honey is slightly reminiscent of blackberries. It’s an excellent all-around honey, especially great for baking.

Buckwheat: Color is dark brown. A very full-bodied honey with a strong, distinct flavor. Typically contains more antioxidant compounds than most light honeys.

Clover: Varies in color from water-white to very light amber with a mild, delicate flavor. Although light in color, research shows clover honey is rich in antioxidants.

Eucalyptus: Ranges in color from dark amber to gray, with an intensely bold flavor and undertones of a slight medicinal aftertaste. Makes a tasty sweetener for herbal tea or a nice accompaniment to cheeses and breads.

Fireweed: Pleasantly light in color and flavor, fireweed is an ideal all-purpose honey for cooking, baking and table use.

Mint: Despite its name, this honey doesn’t taste like mint. A dark, rich, full-flavored honey often referred to as “the stout beer of honeys,” its flavor holds up well in baking and sauces.

Orange blossom: Color is extra-light amber with a delightful citrusy aroma and flavor. (This honey is derived from a combination of citrus floral sources.) Excellent multipurpose honey.

Sage: Light and mellow in color and taste. Its taste is heightened by the subtle flavor of sage.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Empowering Women Vital For World Food Supply

LONDON: Empowering female farmers in developing countries is crucial to solving the world’s food problems as an era of food price spikes looms, the chair of a panel which advises governments and donors on agricultural development in Sub-Saharan Africa told Reuters.

“If we’re going to feed the world and in particular if Africa is going to be fed, we need every tool we can lay our hands on to make that happen and one component of that is to ensure that women fulfil their potential as farmers,” Gordon Conway, Chair of the Montpellier Panel, said as the group launched a report on African agriculture.

“Women are constrained by the fact that they don’t have enough access to productive resources and they don’t have enough access to assets and if they did they could increase yields on farms by 20 to 30 per cent, which would have a really big impact,” he said.

If women upped their production by this amount, the agricultural output of developing countries would rise by between 2.5 and four per cent, potentially slashing the number of undernourished people by 12 to 17 per cent, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

It is therefore crucial that women’s needs and rights are at the heart of all rural development programs instead of merely being added on as an afterthought, Conway said.

“This isn’t an extra – this is fundamental to achieving growth with resilience,” he said.

Women account for around 43 per cent of agricultural laborers in developing countries, according to the FAO.

Cultural issues
But poor access to resources like land, water, fertilizers, seeds and technical knowledge is limiting their productivity, Conway said.

“In many ways it’s a cultural thing. Men tend to have the rights to land in particular and the right to other resources … the woman is doing the work but she hasn’t got real access to what she needs,” he said.

“I think (women) often don’t get good advice, they are dismissed and … everywhere you go in Africa, particularly in rural villages, you can see that women are often regarded as second-class citizens.”

The majority of agriculture development officers, extension workers – government advisors who educate farmers about how to grow and market their crops – and bank employees in Africa are male but a growing number of female plant breeders and agro dealers is evidence of a shift away from male dominance of agriculture, Conway said.

African agro dealers, who run shops selling goods like seed and fertilizer, are being trained by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to advise customers, and are therefore helping to tackle the problem of a lack of access to male extension agents which female farmers face.

“Instead of relying on (extension agents) who are usually male, you start to rely on these little shopkeepers to provide advice and many of those are women and so the women feel more at home going in there to see what can be done,” Conway said.

This is very important in helping to ensure sustainable food security in Africa in an age of food price volatility, especially as global warming, increased meat and wheat consumption in emerging countries, and the use of food crops for bio fuels put pressure on the world’s food supply, he said.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

A Bus Conductor Links Bee Security To Food Security

Maintaining the bees and sharing the income from honey is a new venture

Rarely do we come across individuals who apart from their regular work become obsessed with something that becomes their passion, dream and conviction.

Mr. A. Parthiban is one such person who is popularly known as honey bee man in Gobichettypalayam, Tamil Nadu.


The man works as a bus conductor on the Gobi-Madurai route for nearly 12 hours a day, three days a week. During the rest of the week he is busy catching honeybees, installing bee boxes in several fields, orchards and coconut groves.

Hailing from an ordinary farming family Mr. Parthiban seems to realize the importance of the bees in the ecological cycle.

“The insects are essential for our food security. Without them many of our fruits, vegetables or flowers would become extinct. But sadly modern science doesn’t seem to realize this. In the name of advancement we are destroying many things that play an important role. Productive and rapidly declining honeybees are one such,” he says.

Western countries have recognized the effect of honey bee pollination and are doing their best to protect and encourage these insects.

“But here in our place we call them a nuisance. We either smoke them away or drive them using fires.” he adds. Though initially Mr. Parthiban’s interest appeared weird to his friends and neighbors, they started supporting him once they started realizing that he was speaking some sense.


Today he is flooded with calls from different areas requesting him to set up bee boxes or catch the bees hovering in the orchards and godowns.

“People find the bees scary. They think the insect will sting them. Normally the insects do not sting anyone unless disturbed,” he says.

The main popularity of the man in the region is that apart from setting up bee boxes he also offers to take care of the box and the bees (maintenance).

“Maintaining the insects was one area which did not have many takers,” he says and adds: “I thought if I could step in it would increase the interest among many people to set up bee boxes in their place.”


He advocates two types of approaches in promoting this enterprise. One is installing the bee-boxes by the farmers’ investment and the sale from honey is given to the owner. Two, Mr. Parthiban himself installs the boxes and maintains them. The income from honey is shared between the owner of the farm and him.

Mr. K.K. Ramaswamy of Vaiyakadu thottam in kolapalur village had approached Mr. Parthiban to obtain a remedy for flower setting in his tamarind tree. Parthiban placed the bee boxes and advised Mr.Ramaswamy to wait for some months.


And as predicted the tamarind farmer harvested 4,350 kgs of tamarind compared to previous yield of 1,000 Kgs from 250 trees.

Apart from his monthly income the bees seem to have provided him with an additional income of nearly Rs. 20,000 a month.

More than the danger involved in climbing trees to catch some bees, because of the painful stings, it is the feeling that he was doing something worthwhile, seems to be his conviction.

Recently the district science forum in the region awarded his son Mr. Jawahar Raja an 8th class student for developing a solar melter for melting the honey combs.

Usually after the honey has been extracted the empty comb is heated in a pot or vessel for making candles. Through this solar melter the comb gets melted and the liquid oozes out through a outlet and collected in moulds.

“A humble earthworm during its lifetime makes the soil fertile, a silkworm before it dies spins some silk threads, aren’t we, endowed with a sixth sense, supposed to do better?” he asks.

Interested readers can contact Mr. A. Parthiban at 11/18 Makali amman, street, Kollapur post, Gobichettypalayam, mobile: 9442171818.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Introduction To Green Manure

What is Green Manure?
The practice of ploughing or turning into soil under-composed green plant tissue for the purpose of improving physical condition as well as fertility of the soil is referred to as green manuring and the manure obtained by this method is known as green manure.

The green manure crop should possess the following desirable characteristics:

The green manure crops should
  • have profuse leaves and rapid growth early in its life cycle.
  • have abundance and succulent tops
  • be capable of making a good stand on poor and exhausted soils.
  • have a deep root system.
  • be legume with good nodular growth habit.

Use of leguminous green manure crop is more useful in comparison to non-legumes, as more nitrogen is added by legumes. This will be advantageous for the soils and crops grown after green manuring.

Crops Suitable for Green Manuring

Crops suitable for green manuring are divided into two groups:

Non-legumes or Non-leguminous crops: The non-legumes used as green manuring crops provide only organic matter to the soil. The non-legumes are used for green manuring to a limited extent. Examples:Mustard (Brassica Sp), Wheat (Triticum Sp), Radish (Raphanus sativas), Carrot (Dancus carota), Jowar (Sorghum Vulgare) Maize (Zea mays), Sunflower (Hellanthus annus), etc.

Legumes or Leguminous Crops: The legumes used as green manuring crops provide nitrogen as well as organic matter to the soils. Legumes have the ability of acquiring nitrogen from the air with the help of its nodule bacteria. The legumes are most commonly used as green manuring crops. Examples:Sannhemp (Crotalaira juncea), Djainach (Seshania aculata) Mung (Phaseolus aureus), Cowpea (Vigna catjung), Lentil (Lens esculenta), Senji (Melilotus alba), Berseem (Phaseolus aureus) Guar (Cyamposis tetragonolaba)

Benefits of Green Manuring:

There are numerous advantages of green manuring:

Supply of Organic Matter: Green manure supplies organic matter to the soil. The organic residues from green manure also help to provide the stability of soil structure needed for optimum plant growth. Humus formed from green manure increases the absorptive capacity of soil, promotes aeration, drainage and granulation, which help the plant growth. Green manuring improves the structure of the soil. Organic matter stimulates the activity of soil micro-organisms.

Addition of Nitrogen: The green manuring crop supplies additional nitrogen to organic matter, if it is a legume crop, which has the ability to fix nitrogen from the air with the help of its root nodule bacteria (e.g. Rhizobium). The legume crop adds nitrogen for the succeeding crop. So all the legumes crop leave the soil in better physical condition and richer in nitrogen content. They return the plant nutrients of deeper layers to the upper top soil.

Nutrient and Soil Conservation: Green manuring crops act as cover crop. They protect the soil from erosion and nutrient loss by taking up soluble nutrients which might otherwise have been lost in drainage water or due to erosion. Green manuring crops make available phosphorous and other nutrients for the succeeding crops. Green manure has a marked residual effect also.

Increases the biochemical activity: The organic matter added to soil by way of green manure acts as food for micro-organisms. The organic matter stimulates the activity of micro-organisms and they stimulate the biochemical changes accordingly.

Green manuring increases crop yield: Green manure increases the organic matter and nitrogen content (in case of leguminous green manuring crop) of the soil. It is proved that if green manuring is done properly, it always results in increased yields of the succeeding crops.