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.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Various Types Of Biogas Plants

Classification of biogas plants depends upon the plants design and mode of working.

 Classification of biogas plants depends upon the plants design and mode of working. One common way to classify them is
  1. Movable type drum plant
  2. Continuous type plant
  3. Batch type plant


Batch type biogas plants are appropriate where daily supplies of raw waste materials are difficult to be obtained. A batch loaded digester is filled to capacity sealed and given sufficient retention time in the digester. After completion of the digestion, the residue is emptied and filled again. Gas production is uneven because bacterial digestion starts slowly, peaks and then tapers off with growing consumption of volatile solids. This difficulty can overcome by having minimum to digester so that at least one is always in operation. This problem can also minimize by connecting batch loaded digester in series and fed at different times so that adequate biogas is available for daily use. The salient features of batch-fed type biogas plants are:

  • Gas production in batch type is uneven.
  • Batch type plants may have several digesters for continuous supply of gas.
  • Several digesters occupy more space.
  • This type of plants require large volume of digester, therefore, initial cost becomes high.
  • This plant needs addition of fermented slurry to start the digestion process.


In continuous type biogas plant, the supply of the gas is continuous and the digester is fed with biomass regularly. Continuous biogas plants may be single stage, double stage or multiple stages. Digestion of waste materials in a single chamber or digester is called single stage process, in two chambers or digester is called multi stage process. In double stage process, acidogenic and methanogenic stage are physically separated into two chambers. Thus, the first stage of acid production is carried out in a separate chamber and only diluted acids are fed into the second chamber where biomethanation takes place. In single stage, acidogenic and methanogenic stage are carried out in the same chamber without barrier. These plants are economic, simple and easy to operate. These plants are generally for small and medium size biogas plants. However, the two stage biogas plants are costlier, difficult in operation and maintenance but they produce more gas. 

These plants are preferred for larger biogas plant system. The important features of continuous type biogas plants are:

  • Gas production is continuous.
  • Retention period is less
  • Fewer problems as compared to batch type
  • Small digestion chambers are required


This also known as floating dome type biogas plant. The conventional movable drum type comprises a masonry digester with an inlet on one side for feeding slurry and an outlet on the other side for removing digested slurry. The gas collects in a steel gasholder which is inverted over the slurry and moves up and down depending upon accumulation and discharge of gas guided by a central guide pipe. This movable gas holder is made of steel. The gas holder is painted by anticorrosive painting at least once in year. This plant helps in consistent pressure which can be adjusted by regulating weight. The main drawback of this is that metal cost is large and maintenance cost is also high. To tackle this problem the scientists have created high density polyethylene.

  • Constant gas pressure
  • No problem of gas leakage
  • Higher gas production
  • Scum problem is less

Friday, 14 September 2012

5 Signs To Identify A Dying Plant

Plants can fall ill just like human beings. If their illness is not diagnosed and treated on time, they start dying. But, a plant does not have pulse or breathing that you can check as the vital signs of living. So it is a tough call.

 Most of us who are amateur gardeners are not too good at reading the signs given by a sick plant. To save a plant from dying, you need to identify the signs of illness. There may be many different types of illnesses that plague the plants. But, the basic fact is that there are always symptoms that you can look for.

Here are some of symptoms by which you can identify a dying plant.

Signs To Identify A Dying Plant:
1. Wilting Leaves: There are 2 types of wilting in plants. Usually, the old leaves wilt and new ones grow to replace them. This is a natural process of renewal. However, if you see that the young leaves of your plant are wilting, then your plant might be dying.

2. Yellowing Leaves: Some leaves of the plant do yellow with age. But, leaves turning yellow in a short span of time could only suggest a severe sunburn. May be your plant is getting too much direct sunlight.

3. Shedding Of Leaves: Shedding is a normal way of getting rid of dead leaves. Usually plants shed leaves during Autumn. That is why it is also called the season of Fall. But, if your plant is shedding off season or shedding green leaves, then there is something wrong.

4. A Spot Of Rot: You have see if any of the leaves or parts of the shoot are rotting. Usually, molts and damp conditions make a plant rot. You can save a plant from dying as long as its root do not start rotting. If the roots are rotten, the plant will eventually die out.

5. Fruitful Plant: There are certain non-perennial plants that start dying after producing fruits. First, the flower appears and then the fruit. After this, the plant weakens and dies. The banana plant is an example. The only way to save a plant of this kind is to not allow it produce fruits. Watch out for the fruit bud and prune it every time it appears.

Do you have any other expert gardening tips to identify a sick plant?

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Surprising Health Benefits Of Cinnamon

Who doesn’t love a sprinkling of cinnamon on fresh apple pie or atop a chai latte? It’s just one of those spices that tastes fantastic. But taste is not the only reason to love cinnamon.

Here are 10 health reasons (plus an extra reason) to love this super spice:

1. Numerous studies show that cinnamon regulates blood sugar, making it a great choice for diabetics and hypoglycemics alike. That’s also great news for anyone who wants stable energy levels and moods.

2. It reduces LDL cholesterol levels. LDL is also known as the harmful cholesterol. Reducing it may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

3. It has natural anti-infectious compounds. In studies, cinnamon has been effective against ulcer-causing H. pylori bacteria and other pathogens.

4. It reduces pain linked to arthritis. Cinnamon has been shown in studies at the Department of Internal Medicine, Kangnam Korean Hospital, to reduce cytokines linked to arthritic pain.

Keep reading to learn how cinnamon may help with cancer, menstrual pain, infertility, and more

5. Research at the University of Texas, published in the journal Nutrition and Cancer, shows that cinnamon may reduce the proliferation of cancer cells, holding promise for cancer prevention and sufferers of the disease.

6. It is a natural food preservative.

7. It contains fiber, calcium, iron, and manganese—albeit small amounts to the typical dose of ground cinnamon.

8. It’s been proven effective for menstrual pain and 

9. infertility. Cinnamon contains a natural chemical called cinnamaldehyde, which studies show increases the hormone progesterone and decreases testosterone production in women, helping to balance hormones.

Keep reading to learn how cinnamon holds promise for Azheimer’s, Parkinson’s, MS, and more

10. Cinnamon holds promise for various neurodegenerative diseases, including: Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, brain tumor, and meningitis, according to research at the Cytokine Research Laboratory, Department of Experimental Therapeutics, The University of Texas. Their research shows that cinnamon reduces chronic inflammation linked with these neurological disorders.

11. Not a health benefit, but a great reason to love cinnamon, it’s versatile. It works with sweet and savory dishes alike. Consider that many curries and savory Moroccan dishes include cinnamon. It’s not just for apples anymore

Friday, 7 September 2012

Perfect Companions: Which Plants Grow Well With Tomatoes?

Companion planting is the planting of different crops in proximity (in gardening and agriculture), on the theory that they assist each other in nutrient uptake, pest control, pollination, and other factors necessary to increasing crop productivity.

Companion planting is used by farmers and gardeners in both industrialized and developing countries for many reasons. Many of the modern principles of companion planting were present many centuries ago in cottage gardens in England and home gardens in Asia.

Here is the list of good and bad companion crops for tomatoes


Carrots work well with tomatoes because they share space well. The carrots can be planted when the tomatoes are still quite small, and can be happily growing and ready to harvest by the time the tomato plants start to take over the space.

Chives, Onions, and Garlic:

Members of the onion family are beneficial to plant with many types of crops due to the pungent odor they emit. This helps deter many insect pests.

Borage helps deter tomato hornworm.


Asparagus and tomatoes are good neighbors. Asparagus puts on growth very early in the season, and the tomato plants fill in after asparagus has been harvested. Also, tomatoes help repel asparagus beetle.


Marigolds help deter harmful nematodes from attacking tomatoes. The pungent odor can also help confuse other insect pests. To deter nematodes, the best practice is to grow the marigolds, then chop and till them into the soil at the end of the season.

Nasturtiums help deter whitefly and aphids.


Growing tomatoes and basil together increases the vigor and flavor of both crops.

Spinach, Lettuce, Arugula:

These are also "good neighbor" crops for tomatoes. They stay fairly small, and will grow better in the heat of summer when shaded by the growing tomato plants.
What Not to Plant with Tomatoes:

The following crops should not be planted with tomatoes:

Brassicas: Tomatoes and all members of the brassicas family repel each other and will exhibit poor growth when planted together.

Corn: Tomato fruit worm and corn ear worm are nearly identical, and planting these two crops together increases the possibility that you will attract one (or both) of these pests.

Fennel: Fennel inhibits the growth of tomatoes.

Kohlrabi: Kohlrabi inhibits the growth of tomatoes.

Potatoes: Planting tomatoes and potatoes together makes potatoes more susceptible to potato blight.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Growing Asparagus

Plant once, harvest for years: A well-maintained bed of this sweet, slender veggie will stay productive for up to 15 years, and, with its vibrant, ferny foliage, asparagus makes an excellent ornamental.

Gardeners have been growing asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) for more than 2,000 years, and this sweet, slender veggie’s staying power is no surprise: A well-maintained asparagus bed will start bearing one year after planting and will stay productive for 10 to 15 years.

A hardy perennial adapted in Zones 3 to 8, asparagus grows best in well-drained soil with a near-neutral pH between 6.5 and 7.5. The edible part of the asparagus plant is the young stem shoot, which emerges as soil temperatures rise above 50 degrees Fahrenheit in spring.

Types to Try

Because asparagus stays productive for so long, it’s important to plant the best variety available for your area. In cold climates, ‘Guelph Millennium’ and other varieties that emerge late often escape damage from spring freezes. In warm climates, early, heat-tolerant varieties such as ‘Apollo’ and ‘UC-157’ produce well before the weather turns hot. Gardeners in Zones 4 to 6 have a wider selection of varieties, including ‘Jersey Giant,’ ‘Jersey Knight’ and other hybrids bred in New Jersey for improved disease resistance and better productivity.

When to Plant

Plant asparagus crowns (dormant roots of 1-year-old plants) in spring at about the same time you would plant potatoes, but don’t rush to plant them if your soil is still cold. A few varieties, such as open-pollinated ‘Purple Passion’ and hybrid ‘Sweet Purple,’ can be grown from seed. Start seeds indoors in spring and set out the seedlings when they are 12 to 14 weeks old, just after your last spring frost. Start with asparagus crowns, however, to eliminate the year of tedious weeding that comes with starting from seed.

How to Plant

Choose a site with fertile soil that’s clear of perennial weeds and grasses. A single row of asparagus plants set 15 inches apart will fill in to form a 24- inch-wide bed, or you can grow a double row in a 36-inch-wide bed. Locate asparagus along the back or side of your garden, as 5-foot-tall asparagus fronds will shade any nearby plants. A bed of 25 mature plants will produce about 10 pounds of asparagus per year.

Asparagus craves phosphorus, which is usually abundant in composted manure and in compost made from kitchen waste. Add a 2-inch layer of rich, weed-free compost to your soil before planting. Dig a trench 4 inches deep and 10 inches wide in the amended soil and arrange the crowns in the bottom, about 15 inches apart. Refill the trench without stepping on the bed.

Maintaining Your Bed

Controlling weeds during the first two seasons will require rigorous weeding by hand. Pull out weeds early and often, and mulch with hay, grass clippings or another organic material to suppress weeds and maintain moisture. Weeds will become less of an issue as the plants fill in.

In early winter, after several hard freezes have damaged your asparagus fronds, cut them off and compost them to interrupt the life cycles of insects and diseases. Fertilize the bed with a 1-inch layer of rich, weed-free compost or manure topped with 3 inches of straw, rotted sawdust or another weed-free mulch. Clean spears will push up through the mulch in spring. Fertilize your asparagus again in early summer after you’ve stopped harvesting spears. You can top-dress with a balanced organic fertilizer, or scatter another inch of rich, weed-free compost over the decomposing mulch.

Harvesting and Storage

The exact dates of your spring picking season can vary by two weeks or more because of variations in soil temperature from year to year. Snap off spears longer than 4 inches at the soil line as soon as they appear in spring. As long as a new planting grew vigorously its first season (and your growing season is not extremely short), you can harvest spears for two weeks after your planting is a year old.

The next season, harvest all spears that appear for the first four weeks of active growth. In your third season you can harvest asparagus for six weeks, and by the fourth year the plants will be strong enough to tolerate a full eight-week harvest season.

Promptly refrigerate your harvested asparagus. You can pickle, dry, or blanch and then freeze bumper crops.

Growing Tips and Ideas

Get Psyched for Your Spears. Prepare your bed when you order your asparagus crowns so you can plant them as soon as they arrive.

Choose Male Plants. Most hybrid asparagus varieties are able to produce seven or more spears per mature plant because they are male plants that don’t expend energy producing seeds. However, if you’re growing open-pollinated or hybrid varieties that do include seed-producing female plants, dig out female plants to limit reseeding. Asparagus seedlings are difficult to pull and may become bothersome weeds in some climates.

Tuck Them In. Freezing temperatures ruin asparagus spears, so harvest yours before any harsh spring weather. During the first weeks of the harvest season, covering beds with row cover tunnels held aloft with hoops can help limit damage from the cold.

An Edible Aesthetic. Ferny fronds of asparagus are a beautiful addition to edible landscaping beds, and asparagus stems make great filler material in flower arrangements.

Outsmart Asparagus Beetles

Two species of asparagus beetles damage spears and fronds throughout North America: the common asparagus beetle (black, white and red-orange) and the spotted asparagus beetle (red-orange with black spots), which are both about a third of an inch long.

Asparagus beetles overwinter in plant debris, so removing fronds in winter will reduce their numbers. Lady beetles and several small wasps are major asparagus beetle predators.

Handpick adult asparagus beetles early in the morning when it’s too cool for them to fly. Asparagus beetle eggs look like stubby, brown hairs. Wipe them off of spears with a damp cloth. After they’ve begun feeding on fronds, asparagus beetle larvae (soft, gray, slug-like creatures with black heads) are unable to crawl back up plants if swept off with a broom. Many gardeners allow their poultry to clean up the asparagus bed for three to five days at the end of the harvest season to rid the plot of overwintering adults.

If you have an asparagus beetle problem but don’t have poultry, set aside a section of your asparagus to serve as a spring trap crop. Don’t cut the spears in spring within the plot, but patrol often to collect as many asparagus beetles as you can. In late summer, cut the fronds 2 inches from the ground and compost them. In three weeks or so, you can harvest a fall crop of spears from your trap crop plot.

In the Kitchen

Delicate spears of asparagus are welcome at every meal. For breakfast, asparagus pairs beautifully with bacon, eggs, ham or melon. Layer lightly steamed spears onto lunch sandwiches, or incorporate them into pasta salads, quiches or bread puddings. Asparagus risotto can round out dinner, or you can serve asparagus roasted, braised or grilled as a side dish.

Asparagus cooks quickly. Toss spears with olive oil, salt and pepper, and then grill for just two to three minutes. You can make roasted asparagus by cooking oiled and seasoned spears in an open pan in an oven at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for eight to 10 minutes.

Asparagus is an excellent source of folacin, a B vitamin that helps keep the circulatory system strong, and it’s a good source of potassium and vitamin C. Claims that asparagus fights cancer are based on its high level of glutathione, a potent antioxidant. Light cooking (such as steaming) for eight to 10 minutes increases the bioavailability of asparagus’ healthful compounds.