Efforts on to make tea industry climate-smart

Rainfall has traditionally been plentiful for growing tea, especially in India but with recent changes in the climate, surface and ground water are becoming important irrigation systems.

At a time when climate-change is impacting tea-cultivation in a major way, efforts are on to make tea estates climate-smart so that the industry develops resilience to uncertain and negative climate change impact.

A project has been launched by the Tea Research Association along with Southampton University on climate — smartening tea plantation landscapes, which would run for two years. It is funded by the U.K.-India Research Initiative.

The project is investigating the impact of climate change on tea production and livelihoods in North-East India, revolving around climate variability, land-management practices and climate-smart agriculture practice.

It may be mentioned here that tea is a rain-fed perennial crop, which provides the main ingredient for one of the world’s most important beverages. It supports livelihoods across the humid regions of south and south-east Asia and east Africa. The physiology of tea plants is closely linked to external environmental and climatic factors (elevation, precipitation, temperature, soil moisture, temperature and fertility, light duration and intensity, humidity, shelter, shade and CO2 concentration) and any adversity in these conditions can significantly impact yield, revenue and livelihood security. Rainfall has traditionally been plentiful for growing tea, especially in India but with recent changes in the climate, surface and ground water are becoming important irrigation systems.

Climate-risk is high in Assam, ranging from annual flooding of the Brahmaputra river due to intense monsoon rains and soil water-logging, to winter precipitation deficits with seasonal droughts. Regional trends indicate annual mean minimum temperatures have increased and annual mean precipitation has decreased, particularly in Assam. Such impacts will have a significant effect on tea crop productivity and directly affect the livelihoods of dependent communities as Assam contributes 50 per cent of India’s 1,200- odd million kg.

The effects, which were noticed over the last few years, seem to have become pronounced over the last three years or so leading an industry honcho to say: “it is no longer climate change…it is climate chaos”. ITA officials said that the weather was hardly following any pattern.

Crop-loss has become almost the norm across the world’s tea growing regions. India too has suffered. What worries the industry most is that although it has so far not experienced any major crop loss, tea quality is suffering and pest-attacks are increasing. Due to climate change, there has been crop loss during seasons when some of the best teas are harvested (spring and early monsoon).

However, broad-scale climate-landscape modelling predicts that tea yields in north-east India are expected to decline by up to 40 per cent by 2050. As yield is directly associated with revenue, changing climate is also likely to impact economic structures of those reliant on tea, particularly the smallholders given their increased vulnerability to changes in the system.

Retrieved from – http://www.thehindu.com/business/efforts-on-to-make-tea-industry-climatesmart/article7724021.ece

Organic Farming in India Points the Way to Sustainable Agriculture

Standing amidst his lush green paddy fields in Nagapatnam, a coastal district in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, a farmer named Ramajayam remembers how a single wave changed his entire life.

The simple farmer was one of thousands whose agricultural lands were destroyed by the 2004 Asian tsunami, as massive volumes of saltwater and metre-high piles of sea slush inundated these fertile fields in the aftermath of the disaster.

“The general perception is that organic farming takes years to yield good results and revenue. But during post-tsunami rehabilitation work […] we proved that in less than a year organic methods could yield better results than chemical farming.” — M Revathi, the founder-trustee of the Tamil Nadu Organic Farmers’ Movement (TOFarM)

On the morning of Dec. 26, 2004, Ramajayam had gone to his farm in Karaikulam village to plant casuarina saplings. As he walked in, he noticed his footprints were deeper than usual and water immediately filled between the tracks, a phenomenon he had never witnessed before.

A few minutes later, like a black mass, huge walls of water came towards him. He ran for his life. His farms were a pathetic sight the next day.

The Nagapatnam district recorded 6,065 deaths, more than 85 percent of the state’s death toll. Farmers bore the brunt, struggling to revive their fields, which were inundated for a distance of up to two miles in some locations. Nearly 24,000 acres of farmland were destroyed by the waves.

Worse still was that the salty water did not recede, ruining the paddy crop that was expected to be harvested 15 days after the disaster. Small ponds that the farmers had dug on their lands with government help became incredibly saline, and as the water evaporated it had a “pickling effect” on the soil, farmers say, essentially killing off all organic matter crucial to future harvests.

Plots belonging to small farmers like Ramajayam, measuring five acres or less, soon resembled saltpans, with dead soil caked in mud stretching for miles. Even those trees that withstood the tsunami could not survive the intense period of salt inundation, recalled Kumar, another small farmer.

“We were used to natural disasters; but nothing like the tsunami,” Ramajayam added.

Cognizant of the impact of the disaster on poor rural communities, government offices and aid agencies focused much of their rehabilitation efforts on coastal dwellers, offering alternative livelihood schemes in a bid to lessen the economic burden of the catastrophe.

The nearly 10,000 affected small and marginal farmers, who have worked these lands for generations, were reluctant to accept a change in occupation. Ignoring the reports of technical inspection teams that rehabilitating the soil could take up to 10 years, some sowed seed barely a year after the tsunami.

Not a single seed sprouted, and many began to lose hope.

It was then that various NGOs stepped in, and began a period of organic soil renewal and regeneration that now serves as a model for countless other areas in an era of rampant climate change.

The ‘soil doctor’

One of the first organisations to begin sustained efforts was the Tamil Nadu Organic Farmers’ Movement (TOFarM), which adopted the village of South Poigainallur as the site of experimental work.

The first step was measuring the extent of the damage, including assessing the depth of salt penetration and availability of organic content. When it became clear that the land was completely uncultivable, the organisation set to work designing unique solutions for every farm that involved selecting seeds and equipment based on the soil condition and topography.

Sea mud deposits were removed, bunds were raised and the fields were ploughed. Deep trenches were made in the fields and filled with the trees that had been uprooted by the tsunami. As the trees decomposed the soil received aeration.

Dhaincha seeds, a legume known by its scientific name Sesbania bispinosa, were then sown in the fields.

“It [dhaincha] is called the ‘soil doctor’ because it is a green manure crop that grows well in saline soil,” M Revathi, the founder-trustee of TOFarM, told IPS.

When the nutrient-rich dhaincha plants flowered in about 45 days, they were ploughed back into the ground, to loosen up the soil and help open up its pores. Compost and farmyard manure were added in stages before the sowing season.

Today, the process stands as testament to the power of organic solutions.

Organic practices save the day

Poor farmers across Tamil Nadu are heavily dependent on government aid. Each month the state government’s Public Distribution System hands out three tonnes of rice to over 20 million people

To facilitate this, the government runs paddy procurement centres, wherein officials purchase farmers’ harvests for a fixed price. While this assures farmers of a steady income, the fixed price is far below the market rate.

Thus marginal farmers, who number some 13,000, barely make enough to cover their monthly needs. After the 90-135 day paddy harvest period, farmers fall back on vegetable crops to ensure their livelihood. But in districts like Nagapatnam, where fresh water sources lie 25 feet below ground level, farmers who rely on rain-fed agriculture are at a huge disadvantage.

When the tsunami washed over the land, many feared they would never recover.

“The microbial count on a pin head, which should be 4,000 in good soil, dropped down to below 500 in this area,” Dhanapal, a farmer in Kilvelur of Nagapatnam district and head of the Cauvery Delta Farmers’ Association, informed IPS.

But help was not far away.

A farmer named S Mahalingam’s eight-acre plot of land close to a backwater canal in North Poigainallur was severely affected by the tsunami. His standing crop of paddy was completely destroyed.

NGOs backed by corporate entities and aid agencies pumped out seawater from Mahalingam’s fields and farm ponds. They distributed free seeds and saplings. The state government waived off farm loans. Besides farmyard manure, Mahalingam used the leaves of neem, nochi and Indian beech (Azadirachta indica, Vitex negundo and Pongamia glabra respectively) as green manure.

Subsequent rains also helped remove some of the salinity. The farmer then sowed salt-resistant traditional rice varieties called Kuruvikar and Kattukothalai. In two years his farms were revived, enabling him to continue growing rice and vegetables.

NGO’s like the Trichy-based Kudumbam have innovated other methods, such as the use of gypsum, to rehabilitate burnt-out lands.

A farmer named Pl. Manikkavasagam, for instance, has benefitted from the NGO’s efforts to revive his five-acre plot of farmland, which failed to yield any crops after the tsunami.

Remembering an age-old practice, he dug trenches and filled them with the green fronds of palms that grow in abundance along the coast.

Kudumbam supplied him with bio-fertlizers such as phosphobacteria, azospirillum and acetobacter, all crucial in helping breathe life into the suffocated soil.

Kudumbam distributed bio-solutions and trained farmers to produce their own. As Nagapatnam is a cattle-friendly district, bio solutions using ghee, milk, cow dung, tender coconut, fish waste, jaggery and buttermilk in varied combinations could be made easily and in a cost-effective manner. Farmers continue to use these bio-solutions, all very effective in controlling pests.

Using bio-fertilizers, farmers in Tamil Nadu are reviving agricultural lands that were choked by salt deposits in the aftermath of the 2004 Asian tsunami. Credit: Jency Samuel/IPS

Using bio-fertilizers, farmers in Tamil Nadu are reviving agricultural lands that were choked by salt deposits in the aftermath of the 2004 Asian tsunami

“The general perception is that organic farming takes years to yield good results and revenue,” TOFarM’s Revathi told IPS. “But during post-tsunami rehabilitation work, with data, we proved that in less than a year organic methods could yield better results than chemical farming. That TOFarM was invited to replicate this in Indonesia and Sri Lanka is proof that farms can be revived through sustainable practices even after disasters,” she added.

As early as 2006, farmers like Ramajayam, having planted a salt-resistant strain of rice known as kuzhivedichan, yielded a harvest within three months of the sowing season.

Together with restoration of some 2,000 ponds by TOFarM, farmers in Nagapatnam are confident that sustainable agriculture will stand the test of time, and whatever climate-related challenges are coming their way. The lush fields of Tamil Nadu’s coast stand as proof of their assertion.

Retrieved from – http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/organic-farming-in-india-points-the-way-to-sustainable-agriculture/

Agriculture must get climate smart

With the Indian Met department having recently warned of weak monsoons this year due to the El Nino effect, there will be serious implications on agricultural production and food prices. More than 60% of the area under cropping in India is rain-fed. Low and erratic monsoon will severely affect the livelihood of those dependent on agriculture. It may be recalled that the frequency and intensity of droughts have increased during the last two decades. This is the direct impact of global warming and climate change. The recent IPCC report has highlighted that India’s high vulnerability and exposure to climate change and global warming will slow its economic growth, impact human health, and make poverty reduction and food security efforts more difficult. It is also projected that the climate change will lead to severe water shortage and trigger water-borne diseases. There are projections that India could lose 10-40% of its current crop production by the end of century due to global warming. A recent IFPRI-CCAFS study estimated that a 10% drought will increase prices of rice by 23%, followed by maize (16%), and pigeon pea (10%). These evidence indicate that drought will upset the government’s efforts of increasing agricultural production, ensuring food security and controlling food inflation.

There is no choice but to avert the negative impacts of a drought-like situation to meet the future demand for food, feed and fibre. It requires a long-term strategy which would prepare farmers to adapt and respond to climate change, and effectively overcome the threat of drought and other climate change eventualities. Climate-smart agriculture, which sustainably increases agricultural productivity and enhances achievement of national food security goals, provides a window of opportunity to avert the impact of drought. It contributes in:

  1. Promoting sustainable increase in agricultural productivity by incorporating climate change perspective (including drought),
  2. Building adaptive capacity and resilience of production portfolio to climatic risks without compromising food security and,
  3. Minimising green-house gas emissions and maximising carbon sequestration by improved management practices.

More precisely, it is a ‘win-win’ proposition that enhances agricultural productivity and farm incomes, reduces climatic risks (especially drought), and controls emission of green-house gases. To avert negative impact of climate change, accelerated adoption of climate-smart agriculture would be necessary which would require dynamic national policies and investment priorities that will positively influence local institutions and interventions to adapt climate change.

To prepare for averting impact of drought, we need to have a four-pronged strategy –

1) Climate-smart technologies: An array of climate-smart technologies are available, well-tested in different agro-ecological regions. These include  –

a)       stress resistance high-yielding varieties,

b)       soil test based nutrient management,

c)       rainwater conservation and management,

d)       efficient irrigation practices, and

e)       judicious use of energy.

The available technologies need to be complemented by risk-reducing agricultural diversification without compromising the national objective of food security and income stability. Village-level need assessment should be done to identify promising technologies which improve resource use efficiency, increase farm production and income, and minimise climatic risks.

2) Capacity building of key stakeholders: Knowledge management at the grass-root level is a basic necessity for preparing for climate change eventualities. Therefore, a campaign may be initiated to enhance capacity of farmers to implement climate-smart technologies and effective use of weather advisories. Capacity-building programs at village/cluster level may be organised. Use of electronic and print media may also be used to prepare farmers to meet the challenge of climate change.

3) ICT-based weather advisory: Weather advisory at the local level will play an important role in pursuing climate-resilient agricultural production systems. Location-specific weekly weather information and value-added agro-advisories should be disseminated to the farmers through the ICT. The already available Kissan SMS portal should be used for disseminating weather advisory to the farmers, extension specialists and other stakeholders. The Indian Met and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research should work in tandem to evolve value-added advisories for dissemination.

4) Weather index insurance: A part of the risk can be reduced by climate-smart technologies and improved management practices, but risks arising due to extreme weather events have to be mitigated through agricultural insurance. Several models of agricultural insurance are now available, but in recent times, index-based insurance has become more popular. Provision should be made the farmers crops are insured to compensate then in the extreme event of drought or other climate change eventuality.

Efforts need to be made to transform each village into climate-smart agricultural locations, which synergises the interventions listed here. Such initiatives will prepare farmers and other stakeholders to meet the threat of climate change, including drought. These efforts will avert any likely agrarian distress due to changing climatic conditions and will also safeguard the efforts of government to ensure food security and alleviate poverty.

Retrieved from – http://www.financialexpress.com/news/column-agriculture-must-get-climate-smart/1252242/1

Earth Day 2014: Nurturing cities of the future

MOTHER Earth is a motif that commonly appears on the mythologies of different cultures around the world. It depicts Earth as a goddess embodying fertility and motherhood, such as Gaia in Greek mythology and Terra in Roman tradition.

In Southeast Asia, particularly in Myanmar, Cambodia Thailand and Laos, the Earth goddess is known as Phra Mae Thorani. She is depicted as a young woman with water flowing from her hair. In Indonesia they have Dewi Sri, who is the goddess of rice and fertility. Dewi Sri, is considered as Mother Earth in Javanese culture. She encompasses birth and life and controls rice, the staple food of the Indonesians.

In today’s culture, the term Mother Earth is still used to personify nature. The term embodies the nurturing character of the planet. It is the common expression for the Earth that reflects “the interdependence that exists among human beings, other living species and the planet.”

In 1972 the United Nations organized the first UN Conference on the Human Environment to respond to the emergencies posed by global warming and the damage human activities are causing the Earth. It started the global awareness of man’s “interdependence” with Earth. In 2009 the United Nations General Assembly declared every 22nd of April as International Mother Earth Day. It aims to promote a view of the Earth as the place that sustains all living things.

‘Green cities’

TODAY more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. As the urban population grows and the effects of climate change worsen, the need to create sustainable communities is more important than ever.

The theme for this year’s celebration is “Green Cities.” The International Mother Earth Day 2014 focused on “green cities, mobilizing millions of people to create a sustainable, healthy environment by greening communities worldwide.”

Having launched last year, the Green Cities Campaign aims to help cities and communities around the world accelerate their transition to a cleaner, healthier and more economically viable future. An initiative of the Earth Day Network, the campaign focuses on three key elements—buildings, energy and transportation.

Three key elements

BUILDING account for nearly one- third of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions. To build “green buildings,” building design should improve energy and water efficiency, reduce waste and pollution, use sustainable buildings materials and move toward renewable-energy sources. Cities need to update ordinances, switch to performance-based building codes, and improve financing options.

Another key element of the Green Cities campaign is energy. The current world’s energy infrastructure pumps greenhouse gases into the air and contribute to climate change. Green cities should use cheap, clean and efficient energy by constructing more solar panels and wind turbines throughout communities. Education and policy advocacy should start now to make this energy future a reality.

The urban lifestyle prompts more people to rely on cars for transportation. This makes transportation as the fastest-growing source of greenhouse-gas emissions. The campaign pushes all the sectors to increase public transportation options, invest in alternative transportation, and improve walkability and bikability of cities.

Cities of the future

FOR the Green Cities campaign, right investments should be made in energy, transportation and green buildings for the cities of the future to be different from the cities of today. The future communities will be cleaner and more sustainable, and the quality of life will be better.

The future cities will have more energy-independent homes and buildings. Solar panels will become vital part in the construction of houses. Buildings will be equipped with comprehensive water-management systems for efficient water use. Cities will be connected by solar-powered public-transportation options that are convenient and eco-friendly. Solar energy from space will be harnessed to provide clean and efficient electricity.

Urban biodiversity

“THE cities of the future should be a haven of rich biodiversity,” according to lawyer Roberto V. Oliva, the executive director of the Asean Centre for Biodiversity. “Ecosystems provide food, raw materials, water and medicinal resources; regulate the quality of air, water and soil, and control flood and disease; and enrich the physical, social, aesthetic and spiritual life of urban dwellers. This makes biological diversity a vital component for cities to function properly,” Oliva said.

“We should start building the cities of the future by making urban-planning guidelines to be more ecological and sustainable. It should also integrate the tools in monitoring and evaluating biodiversity in the cities,” Oliva added. He also encouraged city governments to adopt strategies that aimed to empower and to be implemented by the public and the business sector. This can be community-driven initiatives like community farms, aquaponics or urban gardening for additional food resource. Or can be business sector-supported projects, such as adopting a public park or acquiring idle lands for park development.

In building our cities of the future, all our development initiatives should carry the nurturing tradition of Mother Earth.

Retrieved from – http://businessmirror.com.ph/index.php/en/features/biodiversity/31123-earth-day-2014-nurturing-cities-of-the-future

Old Forecast of Famine May Yet Come True

Two centuries ago — only 10 years after a hungry, angry populace had ushered in the French Revolution — the dour Englishman predicted that exponential population growth would condemn humanity to the edge of subsistence.

“The power of population is so superior to the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race,” he wrote with alarm.

This was, we now know, wrong. The gloomy forecast was soon buried under an avalanche of progress that spread from England around the world. Between 1820 and the year 2000 the world’s population grew sixfold. Economic output multiplied by more than 50.

Nonetheless, Malthus’s prediction was based on an eminently sensible premise: that the earth’s carrying capacity has a limit. On Monday, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change provided a sharp-edged warning about how fast we are approaching this constraint.

“In many cases, we are not prepared for the climate-related risks that we already face,” Vicente Barros, co-chairman of the panel and professor emeritus of climatology at the University of Buenos Aires, said.

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The list of present damages outlined by the United Nations panel — melting ice caps and rising sea levels, stressed water supplies, heat waves and heavy rains — underscored the risk if humanity does not figure out how to curb the use of fossil fuels that have provided the lifeblood for economic development since the time of Malthus.

But what most stood out in the report from the panel, which gathers every few years to produce a synthesis of mainstream science’s take on climate change, was that it rolled straight into Malthus’s territory, providing its starkest warning yet about the challenge imposed by global warming on the world’s food supply.

The panel’s past report in 2007 had concluded: “Globally, the potential for food production is projected to increase with increases in local average temperature over a range of one to three degrees Celsius.”

But the new report is much more pessimistic about the prospect of extra grain production in the globe’s temperate zones, where more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would increase the rate of photosynthesis, raising yields, and warmer weather would lengthen the growing season.

Faster photosynthesis will help weeds more than cereal crops, while the accumulation of ozone and high temperatures would reduce yields of all the major grains, according to the report.

This would be bad enough if demand for food were to remain constant. It won’t. Studies suggest that feeding more than nine billion people in 2050 will require 70 percent more calories than the world’s population consumes today, according to Craig Hanson, director of food, forests and water programs at the World Resources Institute.

Indeed, the panel calculates that food demand is rising at a pace of 14 percent per decade. But it estimates that climate change is already reducing wheat yields by 2 percent each decade — compared with where they would be in the absence of climate change — and corn yields by 1 percent.

“This is a wake-up call for the agriculture sector,” Mr. Hanson said. “Climate change is a food security issue. It’s not just an environmental issue.”

The climate panel’s findings do not quite endorse the Malthusian idea that famine will spread practically everywhere. But a world with a more unstable food supply is likely to be a more volatile place. And those most exposed, of course, will be the world’s poor.

Recent experience suggests that the productivity of farmland won’t decline gradually as the world grows warmer. World food prices stopped their long secular decline around 2007 and have been on a roller-coaster ride since. More volatile weather patterns promise to bring sharp disruptions to agricultural production that can cause spikes in food prices.

“There is a rigorous correlation between food price spikes and urban unrest,” said Andrew Holland, who studies climate change at the American Security Project, a research group in Washington. “There was a food price spike in 2008, and you can see unrest spread throughout Africa. And there’s a relatively clear line that leads from the food price spike in 2010 to unrest in the Middle East and the Arab Spring.”

Instability spreads easily. When rice prices jumped in 2007, big producers like India and Vietnam banned exports to protect their domestic markets, while importers like Bangladesh, Nigeria and Iran went out on the market to hoard as much grain as they could. The combination wreaked havoc in commodity markets.

Since then big food importers, like China, Saudi Arabia and South Korea, have tried to insulate themselves from future food shortages by buying or leasing agricultural land in places like Sudan, Madagascar and Uzbekistan. The strategy is still to be tested in a situation in which Africa or Central Asia were to suffer itself shortages of grain.

“I have run some war game scenarios,” Mr. Holland said. “The tendency becomes very quickly for a country to look after its own interests.”

Still, there are good reasons to take prophesies of doom with more than a pinch of salt. Ecological Cassandras have consistently underestimated humanity’s capacity to invent ways around constraints, using resources more efficiently and switching from scarcer commodities to more abundant ones.

In “The Population Bomb,” published in 1968, the noted Stanford ecologist Paul R. Ehrlich wrote “in the 1970s the world will undergo famines — hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death.” In “The End of Affluence,” written six years later, he forecast “a genuine age of scarcity” by 1985.

Today, Professor Ehrlich is perhaps best known for his bet with the economist Julian L Simon — a committed believer in the power of human ingenuity — who in 1980 challenged Mr. Ehrlich to choose any five commodities and accurately predicted that Mr. Ehrlich’s basket would be cheaper 10 years later, not scarcer and more expensive.

Indeed, the climate panel suggests a variety of ways in which countries could adapt to a changing climate. Farmers could breed new species to better resist heat and drought. Water harvesting techniques could be used to delay evaporation. Rotation of crops could help improve yields.

The United Nations panel reported that a survey of various studies concluded that adapting crop management could raise yields of wheat, rice and maize from 15 to 18 percent compared with doing nothing.

Changes in demand and logistics could also help cope with scarcer food. Mr. Hanson pointed out that fully one-quarter of the food produced in the world today is wasted — by either poor storage and transport infrastructure in developing countries or wasteful consumers in the rich world.

But for all the evidence of humankind’s ability to adapt to its environmental constraints, it would be reckless to assume that ingenuity will arrive just in time to pull us from the brink.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank that is skeptical about global warming, 13 years ago created the Julian L. Simon Memorial Award to celebrate his “vision of man as the ultimate resource.” But Mr. Simon got lucky, too. Had the bet extended for 30 years rather than 10, it would have gone to Mr. Ehrlich.

Retrieved from – http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/02/business/energy-environment/a-200-year-old-forecast-for-food-scarcity-may-yet-come-true.html?

Climate change alters land map of India

The adverse effects of climate change are being felt on more than a fourth of India’s landmass over the last four decades. While some parts of the country have turned arid, others have witnessed more rainfall.

A study by the Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA) at Hyderabad has revealed that about 27% of the country’s geographical area has been directly impacted by climate change, a result of increase in mean surface temperatures coupled with changes in rainfall pattern between 1971 and 2005.

 The study said the changes in weather have implications on agriculture, water availability, drought preparedness, and could be a possible trigger for climate-change driven disease.

Scientists working on climate-resilient agriculture said the impact of climate change on crops in states is a reality. “Demarcation of climate zones helps in adaptation methods such as identifying new technologies and carrying out research to bring out new seed varieties. But, the analysis must be studied further and should take a longer time period into account,” said a senior agriculture scientist, requesting anonymity, as he is not authorised to talk to the media.

An 11-member team from CRIDA used temperature and rainfall data from 144 weather stations and 6,000 rain gauge stations to compute the moisture index (MI), which is a fundamental variable on the basis of which climate was classified across India.

Their analysis found substantial increase in arid areas in Gujarat and a decrease of arid regions in Haryana. While Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh have witnessed a shift from medium rainfall (dry sub-humid) to semi-arid, states of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra have changed from being high rainfall (moist sub-humid) to dry sub-humid.

Areas that have seen maximum decrease in rainfall are Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh, where 28 districts have changed from high rainfall (moist sub-humid) to medium rainfall (dry sub-humid). Meanwhile, Ladakh district in Jammu and Kashmir, which was earlier classified as a dry and cold region, is now an area with medium rainfall.

“While we cannot say that India is moving towards aridity, extremities are certainly increasing. Therefore, it was pertinent to revisit climatic classifications that will aid better planning and help in allocating funds to various government mega projects,” said B Venkateswarlu, director, CRIDA.

The changes in the climate zones listed in the present study as compared to the previous one are stark. The maximum shift from high rainfall (moist sub-humid) to medium rainfall (dry sub-humid), comprising 7.23% of the geographical area, was observed in Orissa (12 districts), Chhattisgarh (7 districts), Jharkhand (4 districts) and Madhya Pradesh (5 districts).

The earlier humid districts of Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh are now moist sub-humid. It’s become per humid (continuous rain and therefore the wettest) in Mizoram and Tripura from being just humid. While Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra has seen a marginal reduction in its semi-arid zone, about half of the districts with high rainfall in eastern India (other than West Bengal, which has shifted to being humid) received medium rainfall.

The study states that some regions, which now receive more rainfall, may no longer need that much irrigation, while regions that are showing declining rainfall, like Orissa and Chhattisgarh, may need more irrigation.

Stating that climate classification must be revisited every 30 years, Venkateswarlu said: “Many districts such as dry regions of Punjab and Haryana that once needed large funds are well irrigated and may not need that kind of allocation anymore. On the other hand, areas such as Orissa and Jharkhand are turning arid and hence may now be eligible for funds for water-shed programmes.”

The first climatic classification for Indian districts was given in 1988 based on temperature and monsoon data in the 1960s. “Back then, there were fewer weather observatories, rain gauges and even districts as compared to today. The last 30-40 years have seen changes in temperature and rainfall, as well as irrigation across the country,” added Venkateswarlu.

According to climate studies, the rate of warming in India has increased after 1970s, with mean annual surface air temperature of 0.21 degrees Celsius every decade as against 0.51 degrees Celsius every 100 years during the past century.

Scientists attribute global warming to an increase in carbon emissions from man-made factors such as vehicular emissions and biomass burning. A rise in temperature affects evapotranspiration, thereby increasing aridity. Evapotranspiration means the loss of water from the soil, both naturally and through vegetation.

Retrieved from – http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/climate-change-alters-land-map-of-india/article1-1174475.aspx

Sikkim aims to become ‘fully organic’ by 2015

GANGTOK: Sikkim, which started eco-friendly farming from a small area of land about a decade ago, is set to become a fully organic state by 2015, a senior state official has said.

“The entire state will be converted into a certified organic state by 2015. Our schemes and policies are well tuned to realize that goal,”Sikkim Agriculture Secretary Vishal Chauhan said.

According to him, structured organic farming started in the state in 2003 when the government set up the dedicated Sikkim State Organic Board to promote farm techniques that prohibit the use of manufactured synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.

“Our chief ,minister, Pawan Chamling, had also introduced a resolution in the assembly seeking to convert entire farming in the state to organic. Now, our farming relies on techniques such as green manure, compost, biological pest control and crop rotation.”

Over 8,000 hectares of land was covered under organic farming between 2003 to 2009. In a bid to make the state fully organic, various state government agencies have been working in coordination.

The state government has completely stopped lifting of quota of chemical fertilizers extended by the Government of India since 2006-07 and all sales points for chemical fertilizers in public and private sector have been shut.

Sikkim government has also promoted large-scale use of bio-fertilisers and provides certified manufactured organic manure to farmers as an alternative to their chemical substitutes, Chauhan said.

In order to provide alternatives to farmers, 24,536 rural compost units and 14,487 vermi-compost units were constructed in farmers’ fields till 2009.

The bio-village programme was also adopted in 2003 and around 400 villages were adopted by the state government till 2009 to benefit some 14,000 farmers and 14,000 acres of land in four districts of the state.

“We have also launched the comprehensive ‘Sikkim Organic Mission‘ as a nodal agency to implement and monitor the programme in time-bound manner. A state-level apex body with the chief minister as its chair oversees the implementation,” the official said.

“Under the new initiative, the government has set a target to implement fully-organic farming technique by 2015. Organic products sell at a premium, which will benefit over 50,000 families in the state and promote organic agro-tourism.”

According to latest data, Sikkim produces some 80,000 million tonnes of farm products, including 45,890 million tonnes of ginger, 3,510 million tonnes of large cardamom, 2,790 million tonnes of turmeric, 4,100 million tonnes of buckwheat, 3,210 million tonnes of urad daal and 20,110 million tonnes of mandarin oranges.

Significant portion of these products are already organic.

Retrieved from – http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/environment/the-good-earth/Sikkim-aims-to-become-fully-organic-by-2015/articleshow/15575320.cms

‘North-East to Be Self-Sufficient in Food Grain by 2015’

Many north-eastern states will be self-sufficient in food grain production by 2015, a top official of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) said today.

By 2015, many food-grain deficit states like Mizoram, Meghalaya and Sikkim will be sufficient in food grain production,” ICAR Director (northeast region) S V Ngachan said here addressing a workshop on strategies for climate resilient agriculture in the region.

The ICAR chief for north-eastern region was all praise for Nagaland which has achieved self sutainability in foodgrain production and for Assam, whose food grain production has increased from 3.7 million tonnes in 2010-11, to 5 million tonnes during the current year.

He said, “Manipur, which once was also a foodgrain deficit state will be crossing the surplus marks in production”.

Further, Ngachan said, “NE production of fruits and vegetables is on the surplus side and at par with the national average”.

According to the ICAR director, “All NE states are advancing with greater steps towards food grains productivity this year”.

He said, “By 2020, we will achieve a self sustainability in food production,” a target which the Centre has appreciated.

Meanwhile, under the National Initiatives for Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA), the nodal agency for implementation in NE states, the ICAR is working on projects to reduce jhum cultivation besides an approach to reduce impact on soil and water.

NICRA is a project tackling diverse agricultural issues under climate change regime across the country.

In NE, we are preparing a roadmap for mitigating climate-induced effects on crops, livestock, soil and rainwater management, freshwater fisheries and horticultural crops of the North Eastern Hill Region (NEH),” A K Singh, DDG, ICAR, New Delhi said.

Retrieved from – http://news.outlookindia.com/items.aspx?artid=753433

11 challenges facing 7 billion super-consumers

Perhaps the most disconcerting thing about Halloween this year is not the ghouls and goblins taking to the streets, but a baby born somewhere in the world. It’s not the baby’s or the parent’s fault, of course, but this child will become a part of an artificial, but still important, milestone: according to the UN, the Earth’s seventh billionth person will be born today. That’s seven billion people who require, in the very least, freshwater, food, shelter, medicine, and education. In some parts of the world, they will also have a car, an iPod, a suburban house and yard, pets, computers, a lawn-mower, a microwave, and perhaps a swimming pool. Though rarely addressed directly in policy (and more often than not avoided in polite conversations), the issue of overpopulation is central to environmentally sustainability and human welfare.

The questions of how many people can the Earth sustain is rightly a sensitive one, since it strikes at the heart of very personal decisions made by billions worldwide. What do we do if we’re pregnant? Do we want children? How large do we want our family to be? No one wants to be told how many children they can or cannot have, and discussions of overpopulation may imply such lectures. Others see any discussion of overpopulation as a call for stemming human population with any means necessary, which, of course, is ridiculous. Or they condemn the speakers as misanthropes—also ridiculous and contrary to the point of the discussion in the first place. Still these specious charges have made many wary to wade into one of the most important issues of our age: how many people can the Earth sustain? And, just as important, how many people do we want? For we ignore overpopulation at our peril—and our misery. The Earth is a finite planet; it has limits and thresholds; and according to many scientists and experts we are already passing several of those.

Currently, humans are consuming the equivalent of one-and-a-half planet Earths every year, according to WWF’s Living Planet Report. Looking at renewable resources—from fish to forests and carbon to agriculture—the report shows just how far we have surpassed the sustainability of our world. By the time the global population is expected to stabilize at 9 (or maybe 10) billion people in 2050, a total 2.8 Earths will be necessary if ‘business as usual’ continues. In other words it would take the Earth’s resources nearly 3 years to recover from 1 year of human consumption. Not surprisingly, some consume a far bigger share than others: for example, if everyone on Earth consumed as much as the average American, global society would need 4.5 Earths today to live sustainably.

To understand the impact of humanity on the world’s ecosystems, one needs to keep in mind it is made up of two factors. The first is population: the more of us, the greater our collective impact. The other, though, is consumption: the more resources we each consume, the further we move away from true sustainability. This makes some more responsible than others. For example, according to a 2009 study, a child born in the US today will have a carbon footprint that is 7 times larger than a child born on the same day in China. But it gets worse: the American child’s carbon footprint would be 55 times larger than an Indian’s and 86 times larger than a Nigerian’s. Population multiplied by consumption is the important metric in comprehending our footprint. In addition, humans are also living longer. A sign of societal well-being, longer lives also means a more difficult time stabilizing population and a larger individual footprint.

Yet tackling global overpopulation does not require draconian methods or a mass human tragedy; in fact, lowering global population and consumption now would make such events less likely in the future. With around two of every five pregnancies unwanted, research has shown that the greatest way to slow population growth— eventually leading to a population plateau and a slow decline—is to empower women. Universal access to contraceptives, better education, and family planning are some of the best ways to combat an overcrowded planet. Reducing poverty and child mortality are additional goals that bring overall population growth down. It also wouldn’t hurt to build greater awareness around overpopulation and consumption—and make such issues topics of conservation, even in polite company.

Food: Hunger is the issue most frequently brought up in conjunction with overpopulation (even though many others are just as pressing): how do we feed 7 billion people, let alone the 9 billion projected by 2050? According to the UN, a billion people in the world today don’t have enough food. However it’s not because the world doesn’t grow enough food, but because the food we produce is inequitably distributed. One third of all the world’s food is thrown out at one end of the agricultural chain or another: either spoiled by farmers, tossed out by merchants, or thrown in the garbage by consumers. Still, the FAO has estimated that food production will need to rise by 70 percent to supply the anticipated 9 billion. But how do we grow so much food without trashing the very environment that sustains agriculture? With quality arable land running out, there is a desperate need to grow more food on less land, while improving stewardship of resources such as water and soil. Experts continue to debate, sometimes fiercely, whether small-scale organic production is the only sustainable way forward, or whether industrial chemical-driven GMO farming is the answer.

The Turkana tribe of northern Kenya are buffeted by constant drought and food insecurity, which recent research says may be worsening due to climate change.

Water: Like food, access to fresh unpolluted water is becoming a rising concern on our crowded planet. Over 800 million people currently don’t have access to clean drinking water, while one in three people suffer from water scarcity, reports the WHO. And its not just the poor that face water problems: the American Southwest, where it is still common to see well-watered green lawns in the desert, is facing a water crisis largely due to decades of unsustainable and wasteful consumption. Experts warn that underground aquifers are running low all over the world, which will have a direct impact on crop production, since currently 70 percent of consumed water is used for agriculture. In the face of water issues, some nations are turning to desalination plants and taking their water from the sea. However, desalination is still prohibitively expensive for many, while climate change is expected to add greater pressure on water-scarce regions.

Rice field in Laos.

Mass extinction: More people consuming more resources means less and less for the millions of other species inhabiting our world. Many experts believe we are in the midst of mass extinction, with rates estimated at 100 and 1,000 times the background rate. The IUCN Red Lists says that 869 species have gone extinct since 1500 AD, yet this is a vast underestimation, considering the bulk of the world’s species have probably never been named, let alone evaluated. Expanding human population doesn’t just imperil big beloved species like rhinos, tigers, and elephants, but multitudes of species that perform essential services for humanity from clean water to soil health, and carbon sequestration to medicine. A collapse in biodiversity portends ecosystem collapse.

The Sumatran orangutan is considered Critically Endangered as forests continue to fall in Sumatra.

Oceans: In 2008 a report predicted that all wild fish stocks would collapse by 2048. This year, a landmark study predicted mass extinction in the oceans due to greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. Once believed to be superabundant, the world’s oceans are being plundered of wildlife (or overfished) at a rate never seen in human history. At the same time, ocean acidification from carbon emissions imperils the ocean’s most biodiverse ecosystem, coral reefs, and dead zones, areas starved of oxygen caused by nitrogen-rich pollution, are spreading worldwide. Such synergistic impacts mean the oceans of the future could be very different than those of today, and would likely provide far fewer resources, especially food, for future generations. Despite the dire warnings, fish stocks continue to be vigorously overfished, greenhouse gas emissions remain on the rise, and the oceans are still a dumping ground for much of society’s pollution.

Exploitation of the ocean is leading to precipitous declines in marine life.

Deforestation: Every year over 10 million hectares of forest are lost (an area larger than Hungary) according to the FAO, and another 10 million hectares are degraded. Forests are cut for a variety of reasons, yet all of them connect to population and consumption with big agriculture and commodities playing the lead role. In South America the Amazon is being whittled away by cattle ranching, industrial soy farms, and mining. The rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia are falling to plantations for paper and palm oil. Pressure by rural impoverished populations are diminishing forests in the Philippines, while foreign demand for high-end woods are degrading forests in Madagascar. Rising energy demands have led to forest destruction for biofuels, gas, oil, and hydropower. By some estimates half of the world’s intact tropical forests have been lost, and every year sees more destroyed. Besides harboring the majority of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity, forests store carbon, safeguard freshwater, produce vapor that leads to rain, and sustain many rural and indigenous populations.

Geometric patterns of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Cattle ranching and soy are the biggest destroyers of forest in this part of the world.

Climate change: The 21st Century will be the century of climate change: a recent study predicted that regions in Canada, Asia, Europe, and North Africa will already see a rise of 2 degrees Celsius by 2030. Our warmer world will see rising sea levels, more extreme weather, higher frequency of droughts and floods, desertification, and biodiversity loss, generally creating a less stable and more unpredictable world. While rarely discussed, human population growth is invariably linked to greenhouse gas emissions, especially in wealthy and economically-rising powers: the wealthiest 7 percent produces half of the world’s emissions. More people and more consumption means more emissions, and until greenhouse gas emissions—whether from burning fossil fuels, raising food, or forest and peatlands destruction—becomes decoupled from consumption this will remain the case. In fact, efforts to slow population growth could have an important impact on mitigating global warming: a recent study found that slowing population growth could cut global emissions by 16-29 percent.

Herd of African buffalo and birds in the Okavango Delta.

Disease: More humans could mean more disease, though evidence for such a connection thus far is often anecdotal and sometimes contradictory. However, crowded conditions, especially as the world’s mega-cities continue to grow, and rising pressures surrounding sanitation and health care, may increase or worsen outbreaks of disease. While recent fears of a devastating pandemic over avian flu and swine flu proved overblown, it does not mean rising populations may not play role in the next outbreak. Climate change is also expected to change the range of disease, possibly pushing many dangerous tropical diseases into once-temperate environments.

Resource scarcity:Overpopulation isn’t just taking a toll on renewable resources—such as forests and soils—but on non-renewable ones as well. Peak oil has become a popular term over the past decade for good reason. Since society has lagged in transitioning to a fossil fuel-free economy, energy companies are scouring ever-more distant places (the Amazon, the Arctic, and the deep ocean) for new fossil fuel sources, imperiling some of the last pristine environments. High energy prices are also contributing to higher food costs. Meanwhile, many of the world’s important manufacturing metals—such as steel, copper, platinum, nickel, and tin—are running low and becoming harder to get, pushing prices up and forcing mining companies, much like energy companies, into remoter places, risks be damned. In many parts of the world, even protected areas are no longer safe from mining, drilling, and exploitation for resources.

Aerial view of Amazon rainforest landscape scarred by open pit gold mines.

Economics: The world of economics is rarely looked at as an environmental problem, since many traditional economists appear quite willing to ignore the environment. Some have even forecast that the world’s economies will keep growing exponentially, with future generations far richer than we can imagine. But how can material wealth grow on a plundered finite world? Wealth, at least capital in resources, is dependent on the environment, and our environment—planet Earth—is both finite and increasingly plundered. Beyond the fact that there is a limited amount of oil, coal, gold, etc. in the world, there is only so far one can unwisely push renewable resources—such as fish in the sea, trees to log, and arable land—before they collapse. Sustainability means safeguarding renewable resources for future generations. But currently, waste and greed are plundering not just our non-renewable resources, but pushing our renewable ones to the brink. The rise of a global throwaway culture and conspicuous consumption has resulted in an economy based in part on collapsing environmental capital, creating what may be the ultimate bubble.

Dani man in traditional battle array on the island of New Guinea. Once one of the remotest jungles on Earth, this island is seeing rapid change due to industrial-scale logging and mining

Poverty and wealth: Currently, over a third of the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day, while the top 1 percent globally holds 43 percent of the world’s wealth. Hundreds of millions don’t have access to enough food or clean water on a daily basis, while according to Forbes this year there are a record 1,210 billionaires possessing accumulated wealth of $4.5 trillion. As more people populate the planet, paradoxically the wealth disparity has been widening. Millions in developing countries are lacking the basics of human survival (food, water, shelter, and medicine) though their nations may be rich in natural resources. Meanwhile their resources, from forests to marine fish, are often unsustainably depleted for consumption abroad in wealthy nations.

Girl in a village in Madagascar: 70 percent of the Malagasy people suffer from malnutrition. Nearly half the population is under 14.

Well-being: Even if we survive the environmental calamities brought on in part by overpopulation and overconsumption, even if we make it to 10 billion people and society is still humming along, how happy will we be? So many people crowding our small planet means the decline of some very human needs: privacy, wilderness, and hopefulness. It’s hard to imagine a world of beauty and happiness for our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren if they only know gorillas and rhinos from images on the Internet, if they never have a chance to taste fresh seafood or experience true silence, if they can’t see the stars for all the light pollution or know the joy of an hour of solitude in the woods.

Retrieved from – http://news.mongabay.com/2011/1030-hance_7billion.html

Climate impacts on birds, agriculture linked

NORTH LAKHIMPUR, India (AlertNet) – In the days of yore, farmers forecast the weather by looking at the behaviour of birds.

“When sparrows bathe in the dust, it rains,” they would say.

But as climate change alters weather patterns in northeast India, it is changing traditional knowledge – and threatening local birds that long have helped farmers control pests in their fields.

Birds are “the real friend of farmers,” says Prabal Saikia, an agricultural ornithology specialist at the Regional Agricultural Research Station (RARS) in North Lakhimpur, in India’s Assam province.

But these days, “the decline in the bird population has increased the insect population, thereby increasing crop damage,” he said.

Cattle egrets, for instance, known locally as bu bog, can eat more than 400 insect larvae an hour at ploughing time. But the egrets, which nest in bamboo groves near farmers’ homes, are increasingly seeing their nests washed away by increasingly heavy rains that now fall at nesting time.

“Now, because of climate change, there is (early) rain during the breeding season,” Saikia said. In some cases “the heavy rains devastate the bamboo groves, which fall down and the small nestlings fall down and die.”

A survey found that the egrets appear to have begun breeding earlier in the year than normal as a result of changing conditions, the scientist said.

BIRDS AND FOOD SECURITY

In a region where more than 70 percent of crop damage is the result of insects, plant diseases and rodents, birds that eat insects and rodents “mean a lot in terms of food security,” Saikia said.

That’s one reason the researcher is studying traditional lore and local bird populations, and working to protect them by meeting with farmers, producing leaflets in local languages and giving talks on radio and television stations.

Saikia and his team have been working on an effort called the All India Network Project on Agri-Ornithology. The project, taking place in regions across India, aims to identify birds in agricultural ecosystems, and help conserve those that are beneficial while managing others that create problems for farmers by eating grain. The study, sponsored by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research based in New Delhi, also aims to analyse the impact of climate change on the birds.

Saikia’s research station has identified 26 species of beneficial local birds in the agricultural fields of Assam.

One is the cattle egret, traditionally protected by farmers for their help in protecting farm fields from harmful insects.

EGRETS AND CROP PESTS

The breeding of the egrets is closely related to the timing of cultivation. The peak breeding season is from March to August. In Assam, rice transplanting starts in June and July. During this period, the local birds feed their chicks with the caterpillar or larvae of the insect pests.

But shifting weather patterns appear to be upsetting the balance, Saikia said, particularly if heavy rain disturbs nests or unusual temperatures upset  the egg incubation period.

Other birds, like the spotted owlet and the barn owl that hunt rodents, have seen population declines as a result of deforestation in the region as farming fields expand to meet population growth.

And some birds are seeing their food sources change as climate shifts lead to the disappearance of some traditional plant species and affect fruit trees, Saikia said.

To protect and better understand threatened plants and trees that are important to birds, the scientist’s team is collecting samples of the species and planting them in their research station.

HELPING BIRDS

Alarmed by a decrease in the number of local birds, Saikia has also devised innovative techniques to help them, such as nests made from shoe boxes and earthen pots that farmers can build and site near their homes.

Farmers have supported the effort.

“I learned how to make the shoe-box nest and put it up in my house. I could see a lot of sparrows coming now. I am encouraging my neighbours to put this cost-effective nest in their respective houses,” said Kanak Sonowal, 35, a farmer from Dagal Dubi village.

He said he was also “trying to explain the importance of these indigenous birds to other farmers through age-old proverbs.”

Other farmers have fought to protect threatened wetlands that provide habitat for both local and migratory birds.

Retrieved from  – http://www.trust.org/alertnet/news/climate-impacts-on-birds-agriculture-linked