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

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‘God’s gift’ from spice plant – Tea company sets up largest facility in Kaliabor

Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited (APPL), the second largest tea-producing company in the country, will be offering its spice products under the brand name Anshi.

Anshi means “God’s gift” in Sanskrit.

Amalgamated Spice Park

The company commissioned Amalgamated Spice Park, the largest spice-processing plant in the Northeast which is housed at a state government industrial facility at Kaliabor in Nagaon district on July 29.

Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi inaugurated the project. Besides this, he also inaugurated three more projects of the company.

A senior official of the APPL said in order to be more customer-centric and offer some of its products directly to end-consumers, it has decided to market them under the umbrella brand Anshi.

“It would encapsulate and connote everything that the APPL’s products would offer. Its place of origin and the resultant goodness in health and taste that only natural foods can promise,” he said.

The unit is spread across 6.2 bighas with a built-up area of 30,000 square feet.

“The Spice Park aims to promote the indigenous spices of the Northeast through fair price, value additions and creating market linkages in domestic and international markets for the spice-farming fraternity,” the official said.

It will have three processing lines – one for tuber spices like ginger and turmeric, second for seed spices like black pepper, coriander, mustard and the third one for chilli processing.

Many of the spices have been sourced from spice-specific clusters identified at various locations in the region.

The company at present grows only black pepper and has planted over three lakh trees.

“In the next two years, this figure will be approximately seven lakh trees. The current production is 40 tonnes and on maturity this figure will exceed 600 tonnes,” the official said.

Black pepper is the most-traded spice in the world. It is known as the king of spices for its hot, biting flavour and pungent aroma.

The plan at present is to sell spices to manufacturers across the country. Spices would be available at its kiosks in Assam and the Dooars. Exports will be planned at a later stage.

“The unit has been designed to address sustainability issues through initiatives in water and waste management, use of alternative sources of energy and landscaping for improving air quality,” the official said.

Retrieved from – http://www.telegraphindia.com/1150727/jsp/northeast/story_33857.jsp#.VbsVUvOqqko

*Edited

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

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?

The Potato Farming Success of Gujarat’s Banaskantha District

Contrary to NGO stories of exploited farmers and middlemen running riot, Gujarat’s potato farmers have scripted an entrepreneurial success story by teaming up with multinationals and other buyers of their produce.

Parthi Chaudhary is a police official with the Anti-Corruption Bureau, posted at Mehsana in Gujarat. He is in the news for busting records, not white collar scams. Three years ago, Chaudhary picked 87.188 tonnes of potatoes from every hectare of his farm in Palanpur, the headquarters of Banaskantha district. The event, he says, was witnessed by a team put together by the collector, including agriculture experts from nearby Dantiwada University. The buzz in this part of the country is that it is a world record, though a Google search throws up  another claimant, from Bihar, who is said to have harvested 108.8 tonnes of potato earlier this year. India’s best average yield, from Gujarat and Punjab, is 26 tonnes a hectare.

The Potato Farming Success of Gujarat's Banaskantha District

Image: Parthi Chaudhary’s 90-acre potato farm yielded 67 tonnes a hectare this year

Chaudhary treats his 90-acre farm as nature’s manufactory. For him agriculture is an industrial activity which can be broken up into discrete processes that play on the aspects that aid growth and tamp down those that do not to coax the best out of soil and seed. His employees are partners in the venture: They get a share of the produce under the prevalent practice of bhagidari (sharing). To win them over to his management style, Chaudhary has devised a matrix of 100 points. A score of 70 plus gets a bonus; below 50 percent earns a penalty. So far there have been only winners.

We are discussing Lady Rosetta at the Rajpath Club in Ahmedabad. It is a potato variety high in solids and low in sugar, and named after its bashful skin. Chaudhary’s cultivated lady is for Chandubhai Virani of Rajkot’s Balaji Wafers. PepsiCo is also a suitor. (For fries, the varieties are long, not round, like Innovator and Kennebec). The yield this year was 67 tonnes a hectare. Chaudhary says he has 1,400 tonnes in cold storage. At the current price of Rs 14 a kg, the stock is worth Rs 1.96 crore. That is a near 300 percent return in just 120 days on investment of Rs 52 lakh.

Banaskantha has known potato farming from the days of the British Raj, but it is Canada’s McCain Foods, the family-owned global supplier to McDonald’s, and a seller of own-brand wedges, fries and tikkies, that has taught farmers here to grow them scientifically. McCain followed McDonald’s to India in 1998. It worked on potatoes in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh but found the cold weather inhibiting weight gain and adding sugar (which caramelises and turns fries dirty brown). West Bengal, like Gujarat, has the ideal climate, but plot sizes are too small for contract farming, so it gave up trials about three years ago.

McCain found enormous waste in Gujarat. Flood irrigation was the practice; the water flushed would add up to a 750 mm column by the end of the crop season. But potatoes need moisture, not drenching. Just as much water should be replenished as evaporates from soil and transpires through leaves. Farmers lavished nitrogenous fertiliser to make up for the nutrient leaching through the sandy soil. High humidity brought pest and fungal attacks.

McCain persuaded farmers to use sprinklers, cutting water and nitrogen use by a third. They are commonplace now, aided by government subsidies, and eight-hour rationed power supply to the farm grid. How long the sprinklers should be on is determined by data provided by the company’s two weather stations, one at a spot on the way to Mt Abu (in Rajasthan), and the other at Himmatnagar in Sabarkantha district. Through phone calls and text messages, field staff convey the information to farmers. Other innovations have reduced planting time and energy use in cold storages.

McCain began contract farming in 2006 with four farmers and 16 acres in Badgam village. Today, 900 of them assure it a produce of 4,500 acres. The landholdings in this area are quite big. Half the farmers own more than 10 acres each. But everyone, small or big, is invited, says procurement officer Gopal Dass Sharma, who is known to be free with agronomic advice even to farmers not on contract. The company’s plant at Mehsana has an appetite of 50,000 tonnes a year, most of which is mopped up from within the vicinity.

In November, at the beginning of the potato season, farmers sign a contract pledging to supply at least 10 times the quantity of seed by the third week of March, after which purchases stop. The quality parameters are specified; a detailed schedule of farming practices, written in Gujarati, is provided for each variety of potato. Agronomic advice is also available on call. Farmers get seed spuds for half the price; the rest is deducted from the sale price. If farmers default, post-dated cheques are encashed.

Farmers start with McCain and, like Parthi Chaudhary, move on within a few years, after they get a hang of the art. Often they grow for multiple buyers. Unlike McCain, PepsiCo and Balaji Wafers buy through agents, who are paid a fee for seed supplied and potato procured at a price announced at the beginning of the season. These vendors dip into the open market if procurement falls short of contracted quantity.

Read more: http://forbesindia.com/article/on-assignment/the-potato-farming-success-of-gujarats-banaskantha-district/35747/1#ixzz2b5jELKNv

Farming overhaul vital for food, water security: UN

Agricultural methods need to be radically overhauled to ensure food production rises to meet increasing demand but that water resources are not depleted further by doing so, research showed on Monday.

A radical overhaul of agriculture could create farms that enhance, rather than degrade, the world’s ecosystems, said a report led by the United Nations’ Environment Program and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI).

“Managing water for food and ecosystems will bring great benefits, but there is no escaping the urgency of the situation,” said David Molden, deputy director general for research at IWMI.

“We are heading for disaster if we don’t change our practices from business as usual,” he added.

Water limits are close to being “reached or being breached” in areas such as northern China, India’s Punjab and western United States, said the report, entitled ‘An Ecosystem Services Approach to Water and Food Security’.

It warns that the number of people living in conditions of water scarcity could rise to 2 billion from 1.6 billion if the intensification of agriculture is not changed.

The world’s population is forecast to rise to over 9 billion by 2050 from its current 6.9 billion, putting more strain on resources.

“We need to double food production if population goes up by a third, because people eat more meat and vegetables. And if we don’t change water practices, we need to find 70% more water,” Molden said.

To achieve both food and environmental security, governments need to provide incentives to farmers to adopt more sustainable agricultural practices, he added.

By integrating trees and hedgerows, farmers can prevent runoff and soil erosion and preserve more water for feeding their crops.

Last month, a separate UN report said a sharp move away from large-scale, intensive systems of agriculture was essential if growing environmental and land degradation was to be halted.

Retrieved from  – http://www.moneycontrol.com/news/world-news/farming-overhaul-vital-for-food-water-security-un_578552.html