Study points to quality issues in Bt cotton seeds

The controversy over poor ‘refuge’ for genetically modified cotton, known as Bt cotton, has taken a new turn with a study showing that not only farmers but seed companies are responsible for the problem.

Conducted by Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR)’s Nagpur-based Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR), the study has found several lacunae: admixture of the refuge seeds with Bt seeds, poor germination of non-Bt seeds and asynchrony between the Bt and corresponding non-Bt refuge, in contravention of the regulatory guidelines. Researchers have published their findings in the latest issue of journal Current Science.

The purpose of refuge area in which non-GM cotton is grown is to delay the development of resistance in bollworms. The efficacy of refuge depends on the extent of simultaneous flowering and fruiting of the refuge and the main Bt crop. The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee hadstipulated that a minimum of five border rows of conventional non-Bt cotton hybrid of the corresponding Bt hybrid should be planted as refuge around Bt cotton field. This norm was also subsequently amended to allow planting of pigeon pea as refuge crop. Seeds companies were required to provide a packet of 120 g non-Bt cotton seeds or 200 g of pigeon pea along with every packet of 450 g Bt cotton seeds.

The study, conducted in 2014 and 2015, has found that seed companies have violated these norms. In the first year, 91 Bt cotton seed packets were purchased from open market in North and Central India and a random sample of 10 seeds each from the main packet and the non-Bt refuge packet were drawn for the study. The seeds were first analysed to see what they contained. As many as 26 refuge packets had Bt seeds, when they should not have even a trace of them. Clearly there was an admixture of the refuge seeds with Bt seeds.

This was followed by a field trial. It was conducted at the institute with 45 Bt-refuge seed pairs to study the level of germination and synchrony between them in flowering and fruiting.There was not much difference in terms of germination: all the Bt seeds had a germination of over 75 per cent, while 40 of the refuge had a germination of over 75 per cent and the balance five less than 25 per cent. However, when it came to flowering, for which 40 sets were assessed, there were issues: there was synchrony only in the case of 17 pairs.

In 2015, 30 seed packets were procured from the open market in Central India and studied. Here again 12 packets for refuge seeds were found to contain Bt seeds. On further study, while all the 30 Bt hybrids had a germination of over 75 per cent, only nine refuge seed had a germination of over 75 per cent.

Studies over the years have indicated that the refuge compliance was poor, leading to rapid development of resistance in pink bollworm for CryIAc and Cry2Ab toxins. So far, the blame was laid mainly on the farmers. It was thought that their ignorance of the need for refuge and reluctance to sacrifice land for non-Bt crops that would be vulnerable to bollworm was mainly responsible. The new findings change this.

The study also assumes importance in the context of a proposal to introduce a new concept called ‘refuge in bag (RIB)’ under which the farmers would be provided with a seed mix of 5 per cent non-Bt refuge and 95 per cent Bt seed in a 475 gm packet. The idea is to ensure that famers do not have the choice of avoiding refuge planting. But, it remains to be seen how far it will really help. For, with the present method of testing 10 seeds per packet, monitoring the correct percentage of non-Bt seeds in a bag of Bt seeds is likely to be difficult. (India Science Wire)

— source downtoearth.org.in by Sunderarajan Padmanabhan

Arctic stronghold of world’s seeds flooded after permafrost melts

It was designed as an impregnable deep-freeze to protect the world’s most precious seeds from any global disaster and ensure humanity’s food supply forever. But the Global Seed Vault, buried in a mountain deep inside the Arctic circle, has been breached after global warming produced extraordinary temperatures over the winter, sending meltwater gushing into the entrance tunnel.

soaring temperatures in the Arctic at the end of the world’s hottest ever recorded year led to melting and heavy rain, when light snow should have been falling. “It was not in our plans to think that the permafrost would not be there and that it would experience extreme weather like that,” said Hege Njaa Aschim, from the Norwegian government, which owns the vault.

— source theguardian.com

yes. we dont know nature completely. until all people are equal, do not play with nature. once we are all equal then its ok. Vault are not solution.

No fertilisers, no pesticides, this Karnataka farmer uses only solar energy

Ecology can survive without economics but economics can’t survive without ecology. M K Kailash Murthy had learnt this the hard way. A banker-turned-farmer in Doddinduvadi village of Chamarajanagar district has turned a farmland of 22 acres into a mini forest in one of the most drought-prone regions in the state. At a time when states like Punjab are calling for reducing use of pesticide and chemical fertilisers, Murthy’s experiment with natural farming stands out as a model for every small and marginal farmer in the country.

Murthy began practising chemical farming in 1984. Within a span of four years, he realised the ill-effects of biodiversity loss. Soil fertility started depleting and plants started demanding more water and fertilisers.

“Farmers must understand that pests are natural occurrences. Left alone, the crops develop a resistance to them. Merely spraying crops with pesticides will not put a check on pests. Initially, it may seem to work, but in the long run the pests become immune. That’s what happened to me in the initial years,” says Murthy while talking to Down To Earth during his recent visit to Delhi.

“Plants in my farms developed resistance to all pesticides. They started demanding more urea and potash. In the first year, I used Metalloxide. As they developed resistance to this, I started using Metasystox. The next year, plants started developing resistance to this pesticide, too. I immediately stopped using pesticides after that,” says Murthy

The Beginning

Inspired from Masanobu Fukuoka, a pioneer in natural farming in Japan, Murthy switched to natural farming in 1988. Almost 30 years have passed since then and Murthy hasn’t ever used chemical fertilisers or pesticides. Even today, he follows no-tilling and no-weeding approach. “For cultivation, I don’t even use organic manure like panchagavya and jeev amrita. I am only using photosynthesis,” he says while substantiating his claim of practicing zero-input farming.

His farm now has a total of about 3069 trees, including beetle nut, mango, banana, val beans, papaya and a wide number of herbs.

If you kill biodiversity with “deadly inputs”, you are practicing ‘agri-criminology’

If Murthy is not using pesticides, how is he tackling pests? “It is elementary science that teaches us how plant produces its own food and develops resistance for pests. Moreover, nature will never allow one species to rule the world,” answers Murthy. Explaining the benefits of crop diversity, he adds, “When you grow different types of vegetables, plants and fruits, each crop becomes less susceptible to pests because the latter will have more natural enemies to check their growth,” says Murthy while referring to a phase of his life when he identified trees that are harmful for banana cultivation and introduced “enemy trees” to kill those trees so that banana plantation can thrive.

In his banana plantation, the banana canopy covers the area underneath, and in the process, protects, promotes and supports soil microbes. The organic matter falls from banana-supporting plants, which becomes food for the microbes. Moreover, water evaporation is avoided because the surface of the soil is covered. Thus, soil moisture is retained.

Murthy has also established the Academy of Natural Farming near Kollegal taluka with the sole objective of bringing awareness about ill-effects of fertilisers and benefits of going back to natural farming. He, along with Prof M D Nanjundaswamy, is working towards popularising zero-input farming in and around Karnataka by showing people how natural helps fighting climate change and maintaining genetic stock. He is also perhaps the only one in the country to run a solar-powered food processing plant near his farm.

Straight from the scientists’ mouth

Few years back, he invited experts from agricultural universities and research centres across the country to study his farm and identify its merits and demerits. They found the plants healthy with no visible symptoms of any deficiency or disease. M N Ramesh of University of Agriculture Science, Bangalore, acknowledged that all the horticultural plants in Murthy’s farm are free from pests, bearing lots of healthy fruits and nuts.


Reports received from the experts who studied his farm. Credit: M K Kailash Murthy

More than 138 species of herbs and trees, belonging to 28 families, are growing in harmony like a forest ecosystem by using only sunlight. According to the scientists who studied his farm, a thick layer (about 9 inches) of leaf litter produced by the weeds and falling leaves and twigs from the tree species are very efficient for mulching and preventing soil erosion. Moreover, the weeds and fallen leaves go through natural recycling by soil organisms like earthworms, insects and fungi found in the soil.

Rainwater trickles down to the roots and recharges ground water aquifer. Carbon sequestration, according to experts’ estimate, is about 1085 tonnes annually by trees species. According to the soil analysis by Dr N Nandini, Reader and Principal Investigator, Department of Environmental Science, Bangalore University, samples from his land showed that the soil has high NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) content apart from adequate quantity of micronutrients like nickel, zinc, iron, copper and magnesium.

Over 300 horticulture trees and timber trees in his farm prevent raindrops from directly falling and checking soil erosion.

Types of bacteria found in Murthy’s farm and their benefits

Bacteria Benefits
Bacilli

 

fixes nitrogen and brings about organic matter decomposition and heavy metal transformation
Mucor brings about nitrogen transformation, organic matter decomposition and biodegradation of hydrocarbon in the environment
Bacillus brings about phosphate solubilisation
Arthobacter sp brings about organic matter decomposition of soil
Pseudomonas fixes N2, C, P, S

But, is his farm insulated from impact of climate change?

“You see, a mango tree is an indicator of changing climate. From flowering to pollination and maturation of fruit, every transition used to be predictable in the past. We knew that mango trees will start flowering from mid-January and we will harvest fruits by May. But this year, the flowering took place in December. Moreover, a mango tree needs moderate temperature to grow. For the last few years, I have been noticing long spell of excess heat, which burns the flowers. Climate change is making it increasingly difficult for farmers to predict the fruit’s lifecycle.’

While talking to him, one can realise that he is not just concerned about his mango trees, but also the microbes and insects dependent on mango trees. “You can imagine what these tiny creatures have to go through to adapt to these changes. They have to undergo a complete lifecycle change to survive and help the next generation grow,” he rues.

“We don’t get health security from super specialty hospitals, but from the food diversity. That’s why, all these years, I have studied organisms under the ground and understood their ability to supply nutrient to soil.”

Adopting natural farming becomes relevant in present times because marginal farmers are increasingly looking to reduce their input cost and is not incurring any loss but making profit all these years.

— source downtoearth.org.in by Subhojit Goswami

Brazil farmers say GMO corn no longer resistant to pests

Genetically modified corn seeds are no longer protecting Brazilian farmers from voracious tropical bugs, increasing costs as producers turn to pesticides, a farm group said on Monday. Producers want four major manufacturers of so-called BT corn seeds to reimburse them for the cost of spraying up to three coats of pesticides this year, said Ricardo Tomczyk, president of Aprosoja farm lobby in Mato Grosso state. Experts in the United States have also warned about corn production prospects because of a growing bug resistance to genetically modified corn. Researchers in Iowa found significant damage from rootworms in corn fields last year.

— source reuters.com

Nearly two billion people depend on imported food

The Earth’s capacity to feed its growing population is limited – and unevenly distributed. An increase in cultivated land and the use of more efficient production technology are partly buffering the problem, but in many areas it is instead solved by increasing food imports. For the first time, researchers at Aalto University have been able to show a broad connection between resource scarcity, population pressure, and food imports, in a study published in Earth’s Future.

— source aalto.fi