ZBNF – a bullet no way near the bull’s eye?

Zero Budget Natural Farming or ZBNF is a newly hatched baby aka agricultural practice that has become enormously popular in recent decades and embraced by a million farmers till now. It is currently taking shape of a much larger-scale agricultural mass movement, perhaps on the way to become an institution (Khadse et al. 2017). Even it has received the applause and encouragement at the government level (Pandey 2019) and being advocated and implemented widely with the active financial thrust (RySS 2018a).

The father figure spearheading ZBNF is Mr. Subhash Palekar, an agriculturalist who set the exercise in motion in the later part of the twentieth century. He proposes a method of natural farming that divorces the application of costly agrochemicals, fertilizers, or pesticides, depending less on external inputs, thus freeing the farmers from huge investment incurred in farming activities; in that way, it claims to rely on a minimal budget or zero budget as opposed to high-input agriculture. The zero budget which may not be zero in true sense since a farmer has to invest on preparing Jeevamrutha or fermented microbial culture, rather implies a drastic reduction in input cost and compensating the same through raising income through early inter-crops. Although ZBNF attempts to create its own identity and marks its USP carefully it hinges on the broader agroecological principles that underlie many agricultural overhaul experiments worldwide. However, Mr. Palekar, later on, disowned ZBNF and rechristened it as ‘SPNF’ or Subhash Palekar Natural Farming. He seems to be a vehement opposer of organic farming and openly disclosed precarious statements equating it with an ‘atom bomb’ (Arya 2019). ZBNF and its siblings along with their creator, therefore, have caused a lot of furor and unleashed narratives and counter-narratives on various fronts.

I presume this to be the high time when the podium is at perfect storm when commentators, policy-makers, activists, scientists locked horns over ZBNF (Bharucha et al. 2020; Khadse et al. 2017; Khadse and Rosset, 2019; Kuruganti, 2019; Rao 2019; Saldanha 2018; Smith et al. 2020). The time is also ripe for a discussion on the practice of ZBNF, looking it through a critical lens. Here, my purpose is to revisit some of the points made by many previous authors and elaborate them finally leading to concluding remarks. So, before we embark on this conversation, let us look at ZBNF and its foundation pillars. This is said to a set of farming methods that rest on the four pillars of ZNBF (FAO, 2019):

  1. Jeevamrutha or fermented microbial culture to provide nutrients by promoting the activity ofFour pillars of ZNBF_CEiBa microbiota in the soil. Consisting of cow dung, aged cow urine, jaggery, pulse flour, water, and soil, the aerobic and anaerobic bacteria present in the cow dung and urine multiply as they consume organic ingredients. A handful of soil acts as inoculate of native species of microbes and organisms.
  2. Beejamrutha or seed treatment mixture is like jeevamrutha, i.e., local cow dung (a powerful natural fungicide), and cow urine (a strong anti-bacterial liquid), lime, soil. It is applied to seeds, seedlings or any planting material to protect young roots from fungus, and soil- or seed-borne diseases that commonly affect plants in monsoon period.
  3. Acchadana or Mulching can be achieved using soil mulch (protects topsoil during cultivation and does not destroy) or straw mulch (from dried biomass of previous years’ crops or dead material remains of plants or animals). These promote aeration and water retention in the soil as well as enrich by adding dry organic material that decomposes to form humus through the activity of the soil biota which is activated by microbial cultures.
  4. Whapasa or moisture is the state that claims to have both air and water present in the soil, and thus encouraged irrigation only at noon in alternate furrows that may cause a significant decline in water requirement. It also incorporates other elements, i.e., intercropping to compensate the cost incurred, contours and bunds to preserve rainwater, local species of earthworms and cow dung.

Now discussing the complex topic, I shall opportunistically dwell more on some issues and leave others out; it is not a fully developed technical review in its nature but a selective analysis to revisit some aspects to write a popular narrative. This has become crucial since the three important studies have cropped up quite recently, one providing with much-needed data support to bolster the claim (Bharucha et al. 2020) and the other on the trajectory and institutionalization of ZBNF (Khadse and Rosset 2019). These are succeeded by a recent article by Smith et al. (2020) that critically analyzed the primary foundations of ZBNF in light of scientific data and understanding.

Loss of Soil quality – recharge with lost nutrients

Throughout the past centuries, agricultural fields almost all over the world have experienced a severe loss of soil nutrients, the rate accelerated with the intensification led by industrial agriculture with the Green Revolution at the helm (Jones et al. 2013). There are other factors co-acted with the intensification, such as metabolic rift (Clark and Foster 2013). On the other hand, indiscriminate use of agrochemicals (be it chemical fertilizers or pesticides) has also caused water contamination with nitrate and phosphate, changed soil pH, and reduced nutrients (Singh 2000). So, the primary challenge remains with the rejuvenation of the soil which is supposed to be dealt with the application of Jeevamrutha. It is claimed to enhance microbial activities manifold, reduce soil degradation, and make organic matter available to the soil which improves soil health. However, the actual demand for organic matter could not be met by restricted external input in the form of Jeevamrutha. In effect, the yield gain could be varied, for instance, even with maximum potential nitrogen availability resulting from the action of Jeevamrutha, it may actually fall far short of the required nitrogen demand as predicted from the national average; so, while the low-input farmer may still manage to employ Jeevamrutha, high-input system may suffer yield loss (Smith et al. 2020). It further implies that local trial and manipulation to sustain yield is highly desired prior to large-scale adoption of the practice.

There are other constraints as well, e.g., how to source the various components of Jeevamrutha importantly, the cow manure and urine (specifically from the indigenous variety, Bos indicus) since indigenous breeds have drastically disappeared from the farmers’ house in the last decades because of a variety of reasons (Katiyar and Layak 2019). So, at the outset, it is necessary to ensure easy procurement of the essential components that may not be as good as it appears in theory. Pertinently it is also a high time to divorce ‘cow entanglement’ that tends to eclipse the adoption and effectiveness of ZBNF in terms of soil rejuvenation. Besides, it is also necessary to embrace the other types of manure from a much-diverse livestock pool of India, that will also ensure the usage of the local resource pool more efficiently. Next in this process is the step to gain an understanding of the rate of manure application for specific field size, i.e., local manipulation. Therefore, it is essential to isolate the exercise of ZBNF from unrealistic claims and to debunk the manure myths that bloomed with ZBNF (Ramakumar and Arjun 2019).

Seeds network

For generations, the farmers have been saving their seeds for raising next cycles of crops that enables farmers to retain the control over their seeds and thereby keeping the seed network alive. Conserving and using seeds, selection for subsequent phases, exchanging are the essential components that constitute seed networks. The indigenous seed networks are the lifelines of self-reliance, food sovereignty, and deeply linked to the goals of sustainable agriculture (Coomes et al. 2015; Pautasso et al. 2013). ZBNF does not openly endorse the importance of native seeds just like it advocates vehemently for native breeds of cows. A strong mandate for the use of native seeds, their conservation, exchange, and promotion on this ground would be stimulating to take the movement further and align with the notion of sustainability. It would serve a couple of intertwined purposes, one, it would widely encourage small-scale local seed saving initiative by farmers or their peer-groups and conserve, use, and manage indigenous crop genetic diversity; also, it would further reduce the production cost to a significant degree when seeds are not to be bought in every cultivating season. Second, it could also seal the holes through which corporation-sold seeds can get an entry that has already intruded widely in rural India and are now posing a great threat to local crop diversity and severing the seed sovereignty.

Not one-size fit all, we need local modification or scale-up

The practice of ZBNF mostly adheres to the tenets of agroecology though not openly recognizing it. It emblematizes an inclusive term, but in the years come by the culture requires to be scaled-up to suit various agro-ecosystems of India or elsewhere; which is now largely restricted to the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Maharashtra. It is essential since India is a mega-diverse country concerning its climatic condition, edaphic factors, water availability, crop package, the same has been reflected in its diverse agricultural systems that tend to vary greatly; so, a one-size-fits-all approach may not only be suitable for successful implementation of ZBNF, it could be futile as well. To disseminate it further from its primary foci of activity, it desperately needs local scale diversification and optimization to address the constraints faced by local agricultural systems. That may appear as a primary impediment for its widespread adoption. A definite road-map to tackle the challenge is thus the need of the hour.

For example, water is the limiting factor in any kind of agriculture, irrigated, or rainfed. In the irrigated field, the demand is met by water canal networks, shallow-pump, or sourced from nearest water bodies, annual or perennial. While rainfed farmers are entirely at the mercy of seasonal rains. ZBNF though tells about water harvesting trenches or creating bunds but has not explicitly mentioned how these could be capable of meeting the water requirement locally because water demand so widely varies with crops, soil type, rainfall pattern, and landscape.

ZBNF in light of recent data-driven science

Although agroecological exercise has been widely followed in various countries for years and strongly advocated to sustainably intensify agricultural production. In many places, it has taken a shape of a mass-scale farmer and social movement. The Indian subcontinent is far away to feel its heat though fragmentary emulation at many local scale initiatives has been instrumental if not ubiquitous. So, taking a hold of the ground might have not been difficult for ZBNF. All that surrounds ZBNF may look promising at the first glance, but sweeping acceptance of the practice needs much large-scale examination and support from data-driven science. Three recent articles fill the lacunae of much-needed data-support and to stand against the criticisms leveled by a body of scientists. However, they study different parameters to assess the effects of ZBNF, e.g., experimenting and comparing yield, cost and income between ZBNF and non-ZBNF, socio-economic surveys to assess the impact and acceptance, and evaluating challenges on the way to scaling-up yield.

Bharucha et al. (2020) tested and compared a variety of crops, cereals (rice, maize, ragi, millets), legumes (black gram), horticultural (groundnut) cash crop (cotton) across thirteen districts of Andhra Pradesh. The crops were grown under various irrigated (rice, groundnut, cotton) or rainfed (maize, ragi, millet, black gram) conditions. They observed almost a uniform pattern across the crop types where ZBNF outperformed non-ZBNF in terms of yields, also it significantly lowered the costs of cultivation and raised net incomes as a result. However, the basis of the broad categorization of two groups for comparison, i.e., ZBNF and non-ZBNF are not clearly defined and explained. So, the readers are left with numerous questions, are all the crops were under similar ZBNF treatment?  If so, what are the essential steps of cultivation, starting from seeding to harvest? Or if not what are the minor variations? What amount of Jeevamrutha was applied to the field for each crop? Altogether these shortcomings disable a fair replication of the study. On the other hand, Non-ZBNF is equated with conventional farming and described as ‘This control sample was taken either from a section of a ZBNF farmers “field where conventional practices were being used (most farmers stagger the adoption of ZBNF), or from an adjacent field where the same crop was being cultivated using conventional practices (subject to matching for soil type, seed variety and irrigation regime” and with no further details added. So, a set of questions also loom over the ‘conventional farming’, e.g., how much fertilizers have been applied, land properly tilled or not, whether the same varieties of seeds used in both the cases, were soil type and nutrient content were kept similar, etc. So, despite promising initial results of the survey there are important grey areas that are to be highlighted and more information deserves to be brought to the view of the larger communities to judge the merits and demerits.

The other part of the data stems from informal surveys of the farmers following ZBNF in their field (Khadse et al 2017). They interviewed 97 farmers in Karnataka in 2012 to rank changes on a three-point scale (i.e., increase or decrease or no change) in terms of i) crop yields, ii) income and iii) production costs. The gross results reported a success story of ZBNF, i.e., 78.7%, 85.7%, 90.9% of their respondents stated an increase in yields, improvements in income, and a decrease in production costs, respectively. Additionally, in Andhra Pradesh, internal surveys carried out by RySS (Rythu Sadhikara Samstha or Farmer’s Empowerment Organization) demonstrated similar positive results of ZBNF. It showed higher crop yields and significant increases in farmer income primarily through reduced production costs. In a 2017 survey, they showed that 88% of farmers of total number of 1614 have experienced an increase in yields and a decrease in cost. The yield increased across crop types and was above the average state yields for Andhra Pradesh in some cases (RySS, 2018b). However, this seems to be proclaimed by the organization not grounded on field-data.

Further on, a recent study by Smith et al. (2020) adds much-desired data in terms of nitrogen requirement met through ZBNF. Their analyses suggest that ZBNF may have a substantial role to play in improving the productivity and viability of low-income farms by providing a major portion of nitrogen. On the other hand, high-income farmers may suffer a strong deficit in production owing to the lesser availability of nitrogen. The overall consequence would be a general crash in food production if implemented all across.

Conclusion

Farmers in the Indian subcontinent or elsewhere have been locked-in the vicious cycles of pesticide use and re-use, ever-increasing cost of seeds and fertilizers, crop damage due to climatic vagaries, buried in huge debts, etc. ZBNF, emerged as a messiah through large-scale redesign of agriculture, promises to liberate farmers from the shackles of intensive chemical farming, lessening high production costs, and heading to an era of enhanced yield with minimal external input. At this moment, it is reported to have been adopted by millions of farmers and portrayed as an institutional change that can lead to a major overhaul in the agricultural sector.

However, the flip side of the story suggests neither everything looks good and shiny nor does it haveBottlenecks of ZBNF answers to all the woes faced by the farmers. It has hatched several unanswered questions on its mechanism of action, ability to deliver the desired outcome, farmers’ livelihood and rights, expansion of tentacles of corporate power. Further on, the anti-science rhetoric spearheaded by its father figure relegated its social acceptance. On the same note, it seems to need more local standardization depending on soil, rainfall, landscape, and weather conditions to adapt to diverse agroecosystems of the Indian subcontinent and elsewhere. Besides, it also direly needs more data support through scientific experimentation which seems a faraway dream, in absence of which wider adoption should be prohibited. Also, a couple of other bottlenecks have already been discussed in the article, e.g., invigorating seed networks, plans for pest management, conserving, and using water resources are also other points of concern. The alarm is also raised on the fate of other grass-root or community initiatives or individuals engaged in organic farming, low-input, or resource-poor agriculture under marginal conditions quite well spread in the sub-continent. Above all, many farmers, to this day, have been reliant on the traditional mode of farming with little input and modest yield, they employ their traditional agroecological knowledge to grow food, save seeds, resort to innovative ways to confront unfavorable condition that instill resilience to their system. Would it be wise to undermine all these long-drawn systems and bring them all under the same banner to a recently-sprouted initiative without monitoring and circumventing local challenges? Because, our experience of a topdown ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach without consulting stakeholders, attending and troubleshooting local concerns has not been all good. It turned out to be far costlier than imagined at the outset, as observed in the process of agricultural intensification in the twentieth century, namely the Green Revolution. Have not we learnt from history?

References

  1. Arya S (2019) Organic farming is worse than atom bomb … does not suit Indian conditions, only adds to greenhouse emissions. The Times of India, July 22, 2019, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/the-interviews-blog/organic-farming-is-worse-than-atom-bomb-does-not-suit-indian-conditions-only-adds-to-greenhouse-emissions/
  2. Bharucha et al (2020) Towards redesign at scale through zero budget natural farming in Andhra Pradesh, India. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, 18(1): 1-20.
  3. Clark B, Foster JB (2013) Guano: The global metabolic rift and the fertilizer trade. In: Ecology and Power. Eds. Hornborg A, Clark B, Hermele K. Routledge.
  4. Coomes OT, McGuire SJ, Garine E, Caillon S, McKey D, Demeulenaere E, Jarvis D, Aistara G, Barnaud A, Clouvel P and Emperaire L (2015) Farmer seed networks make a limited contribution to agriculture? Four common misconceptions. Food Policy 56: 41-50.
  5. Jones DL, Cross P, Withers PJ, DeLuca TH, Robinson DA, Quilliam RS, Harris IM, Chadwick DR, Edwards‐Jones G (2013) Nutrient stripping: the global disparity between food security and soil nutrient stocks. Journal of Applied Ecology 50(4): 851-862.
  6. FAO, 2019. 52 Profiles on Agroecology: Zero Budget Natural Farming in India (FAO, 2019); http://www.fao.org/3/a-bl990e.pdf (accessed on 20th September, 2020)
  7. Katiyar P and Layak S (2019) What made rural India abandon its cattle in droves. Jan 20, 2019. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/what-made-rural-india-abandon-its-cattle-in-droves/articleshow/67604493.cms?from=mdr
  8. Khadse A, Rosset PM, Morales H, Ferguson BG (2018) Taking agroecology to scale: The zero budget natural farming peasant movement in Karnataka, India. The Journal of Peasant Studies 45(1):192-219.
  9. Khadse A and Rosset PM (2019) Zero Budget Natural Farming in India–from inception to institutionalization. Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems 43(7-8): 848-871.
  10. Kuruganti K (2019) Why ZBNF is good for India. Indian Development Review. https://idronline.org/debate-series-why-zbnf-is-good-for-india/
  11. Münster D (2017) Zero Budget Natural Farming and Bovine Entanglements in South India.” In: “Troubling Species: Care and Belonging in a Relational World,” by The Multispecies Editing Collective, RCC Perspectives: Transformations in Environment and Society 1: 25–32.
  12. Pandey S (2019) Modi govt supports Zero Budget Natural Farming but doesn’t have enough budget to promote it. The Print, 31st December 2019, https://theprint.in/india/governance/modi-govt-supports-zero-budget-natural-farming-but-doesnt-have-enough-budget-to-promote-it/342570/
  13. Pautasso M, Aistara G, Barnaud A, Caillon S, Clouvel P, Coomes OT, Delêtre M, Demeulenaere E, De Santis P, Döring T, Eloy L (2013) Seed exchange networks for agrobiodiversity conservation. A review. Agronomy for sustainable development 33(1): 151-175.
  14. Rao B (2019) Why ZBNF is not good for India. Indian Development Review. https://idronline.org/debate-series-why-zbnf-is-not-good-for-india/
  15. Ramakumar R and Arjun SV (2019) Stirring up the truth about Zero Budget Natural Farming. https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/stirring-up-the-truth-about-zbnf/article29620843.ece
  16. RySS (2018a) Universalization of ZBNF: Comprehensive Action Plan to cover all 60 lakh farmers in the State by 2025-26.
  17. RySS (2018b) AP: India’s first natural farming state. ZBNF 2024. Unpublished powerpoint presentation.
  18. Saldanha L (2018) A review of Andhra Pradesh’s climate resilient Zero Budget Natural Farming programme. Environment Support Group. http://www.indiaenvironmentportal.org.in/files/file/crzbnf-review-saldanha-esg-oct-2018.pdf
  19. Singh RB (2000) Environmental consequences of agricultural development: a case study from the Green Revolution state of Haryana, India. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 82(1-3): 97-103.

About Author:

 

Avik Ray

 

Avik Ray
Centre for studies in Ethnobiology, Biodiversity and Sustainability (CEiBa), West Bengal – 732103, India
E-mail: avikray@ceibatrust.org

The digital direction for citizens to protect the environment

The UNESCO Science Report states globally, there were about 7.8 million researchers in 2013 working full-time. 7.8 million researchers in science proportional to 0.1% of the global population (Soete et al. 2015). Isn’t it too much to ask from 0.1% of the world population to feed the rest of the 99.9% with well-researched facts of existence? Besides, inadequate attention from popular media sources and lack of implementation of those scientific outcomes in policy-making along with many other issues significantly reduce such scientific outreach. However, now, the introduction of ‘Citizen Science’ and growing use of it is certainly a promising path towards mitigating this unidirectional communication from the scientific community to the citizen. The success stories of citizen science highlight the budding interests of the common people searching for the facts. It also paves the way for the future development of a sustainable world.

My introduction with the concept of ‘sustainable use of natural resources’ happened while I was studying the famous multilateral environmental agreement, commonly known as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). CBD is established on three objectives, namely, 1) the conservation of biological diversity; 2) the sustainable use of the components of biological diversity; 3) the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources. The conservation of biological diversity includes the protection of all living organisms from microscopic to visible in naked eyes inhabiting in varied ranges of land and aquatic habitats. The sustainable use of biological components indicates the utilization of nature-originated resources in such a way that would not create an existential crisis for those species in their original habitat. The fair and equitable sharing of benefits coming from biological components with much valued genetic potential refers to the even distribution of such profits among the people belonging to different economic strata from communities to the commercializing organizations (Anonymous 1992). As an ordinary citizen, my chances of directly being involved in the first and third objectives of CBD is limited. Although, if I follow the second objective and lessen my consumption-oriented byproducts, I certainly, can indirectly contribute to the other objectives too. On this same context, Chief Advisor of Economics and Development, World Wildlife Fund (WWF)-UK, Karen Ellis mentioned, “…I believe that finding ways to ensure that we as a global society live sustainably is the top priority if we are to ensure that nature, the species we love so much and, we ourselves are able to live in harmony on this planet…” (www.wwf.org.uk). Back then, my knowledge about sustainable lifestyle choices was majorly limited to the use of renewable energies, along with reducing plastic use. However, my intention to expand sustainability in my daily life was still alive.

With progressing time, although I gained and gaining knowledge through my journey as a researcher, whereas science, due to its inherent logic, precision, fact-checking, and risk assessment characteristics, requires a certain amount of time for its implementation in the day-to-day world. Moreover, not all scientific outcomes can equally be noticed or valued by an average person. Such a thought certainly motivated me to think from a layman’s perspective towards the current environmental issues and the implementation of a sustainable lifestyle in this regard. I observed both lack of awareness as well as reluctance in the most on having a healthy lifestyle for a blooming environment. Media outreach to the middle-class majority in this regard is also surprisingly low. Even if the concerns somehow manage to find a place in the after-meal discussions or people talk about how old days’ traditional celebrations used to happen using eco-friendly products, taking charge to act on such concerns hardly happens. Although almost every single human hands today hold a smartphone, the irony is we are far away from the effective use of it. This common scenario pushed me to question my impactful consumable surroundings using the help of the digital platform.

The moment I started using the virtual platform to get better insights into my consumable world, I discovered the deep-rooted and sometimes irreversible impact of the urban lifestyle on the environment. This impact exists beyond the visible adverse effects created by different industries (food and beverage, transport, waste management, etc.) via releasing toxic gases in the air, dumping untreated wastes of manufacturing companies directly into the river, etc. On my search to satisfy my citizen-minded curiosity, I came across to the multiple research studies. Pereira and Pereira (2018) mentioned about the human health risks from the use of consumables such as cosmetics (“The health risks associated with the use of cosmetic products become currently an emerging public health problem, where about 12% of users in the general population had experienced undesirable effects with one or several cosmetic products in the last nine years.”) and for the environmental health risks from the same mentioned, “Cosmetic ingredients are emerging pollutants too. Their environmental monitoring is at a very early stage. However, it is known that they reach the environment in multiple ways, often through water, posing health risks to marine and freshwater ecosystems and humans.” Similar other searches to look for the answers made me confirmed about two things in terms of knowing the sustainable lifestyle better: 1) To understand how are the consumables that I eat, wear, and use produced; 2) what is the effect of the same on my health and how these products end up in the environment.

Sustainable lifestyle not only talks about the use of sustainable energies or water, but it also includes eco-friendly diets, fashion, cosmetics, transports, management of wastes even, architectures (Anonymous 2017a, Anonymous 2019a, Anonymous 2019b). Although slowly but a shift towards sustainable living has already begun with the use of reusable products, organic cosmetics, etc. For example, Finland tops in the list of eco-friendly countries by promoting proper recycling in domestic-public areas with supermarkets giving shopping vouchers in exchange for plastic and metal packaging (Anonymous 2020). Denmark is increasing its tap water quality to stop people from buying bottled waters, which are receiving supports from the private industries in the country as well (Anonymous 2020). Likewise, there are many such noteworthy examples of sustainable changes worldwide. In my institution, the use of biodegradable cups and plates permanently found a place during any academic meetings. Although I was aware of such scattered sustainable lifestyle practices, I was specifically looking for a digital help that would monitor the impact of my lifestyle on the environment as well as on me.

The interest in strengthening my individualistic sustainable efforts guided me towards the relevant apps to check my lifestyle, keeping the handy use of digital media to feed curiosities in mind. After a thorough search, I have come across a few apps related to sustainable living ranging from measuring daily carbon footprint to have a sustainable food guide (Table 1). I found apps like, My Little Plastic Footprint, Carbon footprint & CO2 tracker, Good On You, and Ingred are helpful, especially in terms of feeding me with the alternative lifestyle choices, with varying degrees of sustainability monitoring. Any concerned citizen can go for such a quotidian habit check.

Know your plastic diet 

Every morning starts with a plastic toothbrush. From the beginning to the end, plastics surround us in various forms. Such dependency on low-priced items is pushing us towards the grave danger, at the cost of our own life. Plastic items challenging both the maintenance of human and environmental health by leaching heat stimulated toxic chemicals. Similarly, the plastic trashes floating into the oceans are threats to the existence of sea birds and other marine animals (Alabi et al. 2019, Anonymous 2018a). Fragmented plastics or microplastics in aquatic bodies are considered as food by the aquatic animals, eventually spreading into the food web (Nara 2018). Recently the showering of microplastics through rain reportedly polluting the eco-sensitive zones (Simon 2020). Under such a scenario, a useful mobile application that collectively feeds with the menace of plastic trashes around the globe and eco-friendly alternatives of such items, surely helpful enough to track and reduce individualistic plastic consumption. With such a desire to minimize the use of such harmful everyday plastic consumables from my life, I used the following app and its overall details, emphasizing usage are mentioned below.

App name: My Little Plastic Footprint
Purpose: Cuts consumption on daily life plastic products commonly utilized in different household areas and usual plastic items while traveling and spending leisure, by providing sustainable alternatives of them.
Developer: An international team of Plastic Soup Foundation, EA, Smäll, and Ocean Recovery Alliance.
What input is required: MLPF allows users to revamp six everyday plastic consuming areas of our life namely, bathroom, kitchen, leisure, travel, garden, and house. Users can select these six different areas one by one and set their “To-do list” progressing towards the zero plastic use.
Output and its explanation: MLPF calculates users’ plastic diet based on the “Completed items” via

MLPF
User interface of the My Little Plastic Footprint (MLPF) app

Plastic Mass Index (PMI), scaled from 0 to 100. The lower number indicates the user’s strict plastic diet. I already have started reducing my PMI by eliminating the use of plastic bottles, polybags, plastic cups-straws-plates, plastic toiletries, etc.
Examples: For example, kitchen paper tissues often have the wrappings of plastic can be replaced by cotton tea towels or old clothes reusing as kitchen towels; non-recyclable plastic kitchen dish scrubs and sponges should be replaced by wooden brushes and copper scrubs; etc.
Pros and Cons: MLPF is very useful in feeding with the negative impact of daily basis plastic items and providing easily accessible alternatives to them. Anyone can access this app with an available internet connection. However, the app redirects its users to the international brands of Beat the Microbead website for the purchase of plastic-free cosmetics and personal care products. This redirection towards the international brands of cosmetics is uneconomical for the majority of Indians at this moment.

Food and transport footprints

It is very much understandable that our transport habits have a direct connection with the carbon footprint by the exploitation of non-renewable sources of energy but, I was surprised to find how food habits contribute to the increasing carbon footprint. 70% of the total agricultural land and 30% of the earth’s terra firma one way or another contribute to the livestock rearing require forest clearing (Ilea 2008). According to the WWF, 60% of biodiversity loss is due to feed crop production (Anonymous 2017b). According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 18% of the greenhouse gases (GHGs) generated through feed production, enteric fermentation of ruminants, manure storage and processing, and transportation of animal products. However, this percentage is considered too minimal as the FAO using backdated sources. Besides, animal wastes, pesticides-fertilizers for feed production act as the largest source of water pollution results in eutrophication, human health hazards, etc. (Dopelt et al. 2019). Even crop production to meet the inclining global demand to feed the population contributes about 14% to the GHG emissions. However, the adoption of updated technologies and agricultural practices have the highest potential to mitigate such emissions from crop productions by 2030. For example, rice cultivation in Italy has lower GHG emissions than in China due to differences in the application of fertilizers during cultivation (CropLife International 2012). It is needless to

CO2 tracker
Food tracking combinations of Carbon footprint & CO2 tracker

mention how much one requires a handy smartphone application to check its overall carbon footprint under such an increasing amount of GHGs in the air scenario. Hence, to know my gross carbon footprint status better, I used the following app, summarizing its user experience.

App name: Carbon footprint & CO2 tracker
Purpose: Calculate carbon footprint arises from transport and food habits.
Developer: The Capture Club
What input is required: Users need to sign up and answer their journey mode, journey time, annual flight travel numbers, and food tracking.
Output and its explanation: The app tracks monthly carbon footprint based on the user’s fed data.
Examples: Not applicable (NA).
Pros and Cons: The app in online mode tracks its users’ overall carbon emission well. However, the food combinations provided in this app contributing to one’s CO2 footprint are inadequate to cover different diet types. For example, I follow an omnivorous diet type. It balances combining meat, fish, dairy products, and vegetables. But the app provides no such option to avail. Therefore, it is unmanageable to track my carbon footprint accurately.

Garments and Green House Gases (GHGs)

Our trendy lifestyle desire certainly provokes us to follow the ongoing fashion rage. Such cravings eventually fill our cupboard with the piles of dresses, without having any assurance of a long time requirement.  The environmental impact of the clothing industry is alarming at its current extent ranging from releasing untreated textile wastewater directly into the river; consuming a considerable amount of water in cloth-making; degrading soil via chemicals used; releasing GHGs in the nature from overall manufacturing to transport of products; allowing microfibers from synthetic garments to enter the food chain via fishes; etc. (Sajn 2019, Anonymous 2017a, Anonymous 2018b). Hence, it is

Good On You - Ethical Fashion App
Ethical clothing news and listed brands of dresses in Good On You – Ethical Fashion App

important that we fill our wardrobe in a very calculative manner as well as acquire knowledge on sustainable clothing fabrics too for the sake of declining the negative impact of textile by-products. Proper segregation and recycling-upcycling of the leftover clothes are also important in the latter scenario.  But minimized and concerned uses are like front line players in this area. Under such considerations of my duty, I landed up knowing the sustainable fashion better following the below-mentioned app with its highlighted pros and cons of usage.

App name: Good On You – Ethical Fashion App
Purpose: Feed users with eco-friendly ethical clothing options.
Developer: Good On You
What input is required: The only installation required to use the app.
Output and its explanation: Once downloaded go through the ethical clothing news and purchase from listed sustainable brands.
Examples: NA
Pros and Cons: The app so far introduces appropriately with the growing availability of ethical fashion. However, only international brands till now endorsed the enlisted clothing apparel in this app. Therefore, the upper-class economy only can use these clothing options thus far. It will find more acceptance once it includes and promotes regional sustainable clothing brands.

Peek your packaged goods

We use packaged items whether for personal care goods or food items, without even giving much thought about its effect on our health, forget any concerns regarding environmental health. Highlighted media marketing on the short-term benefits of these products effectively covers the shadow beneath the oil lamp. Such products are potential sources to trigger any severe health conditions. Only the consumer consciousness under such a scenario can certainly help to cut carcinogenic, repro-toxic, endocrine-disrupting, allergy-causing items we are being exposed to either by their contact with skin or eating (Anonymous 2019b). Even more threatening is the introduction of new chemicals in the making of packaged consumables, the toxicities of which are yet to evaluate (Pereira and Pereira 2018). Such practices thrust our health towards even more unknown dangers. The environmental impact of such goods varies from product to product. Examples like spray deodorants, even the CFC-free ones, release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) responsible for ground-level ozone pollution that declines commercial plants’ yields, make them vulnerable to pest attacks, diseases, etc. Similarly, ingredients of shampoos, detergents, and cosmetics, when washed off into the water, leach chemicals within aquatic food chains (Anonymous 2019b). Such detrimental scenarios along the rising single-use plastic trash from packaged products moved me to check the chemical fate of such consumables I use via a suitable app. I found the following app useful to feed my curiosity in terms of spreading the relevant awareness and ability to check the quality of the products I am using.

Ingred - Cosmetics and food analysis
A few enlisted ingredients and different categories of article links in Ingred – Cosmetics and food analysis

App name: Ingred – Cosmetics and food analysis
Purpose: Check the quality of the packaged consumables like food, cosmetics, etc.
Developer: Raúl Vadillo
What input is required: The user can check the quality of packaged items just by clicking a picture of their label of ingredients.
Output and its explanation: The app will explain what are all the harmful or harmless ingredients items have via its prepared known ingredients list additionally providing related article links (Figure 4). One can also add about new ingredients if found not listed in this app.
Examples: For example, in my cosmetics, I have found carcinogenic ingredients like aluminum chloride, propylene glycol, etc.
Pros and Cons: The app is very productive for those tracing qualities of the mentioned packaged consumables. However, if it provided a space for its users to share such products’ impact stories, this app could make its users more involving.

The decision of lifestyle revamping via prioritizing sustainability gave me an overview of scientific facts behind the dire need for such changes. Under such a scenario, the inclining use of smartphone apps as a sustainable lifestyle watch is a promising futuristic way to check on our daily consumables. Consider the influence of smartphones on today’s society and its omnipresence in our life app-based lifestyle checking is not a distant option for many of us. The apps I used made me believe that a change of direction towards ethical life is quite possible through their informative alternative news feeds. Although, for cosmetics and clothing, apps yet to offer the inclusion of economic options for everyone to avail the benefits. However, the same issue made me realize we need similar country-made apps to enlist sustainable India-made products that most in our country can get. The acquiring of community-made eco-friendly products will also help many Indian communities to thrive, uplifting their financial standards along with the conservation of their traditional skills. Besides, consumer-based demands are more likely the key to change the quality of the products we are receiving. Thus, we must verify the gross impact of our consumables.

Nature is a complex network of interconnected abiotic and biotic factors where every stratum flourishes while relying on each other. The current pandemic is a living example of what disruption of any of these layers can bring. Thus, it is the very much right time that we align our development in harmony with nature. We need this planet to thrive not the planet needs us.

Table 1. Top Ten Recommended Sustainability Monitoring Apps (www.activesustainability.com)

Top Ten Recommended Sustainability Monitoring Apps

References:

  1. Alabi OA, Ologbonjaye KI, Awosolu O, Alalade OE (2019) Public and Environmental Health Effects of Plastic Wastes Disposal: A Review. Journal of Toxicology and Risk Assessment 5:021. doi.org/10.23937/2572- 4061.1510021
  2. Anonymous (1992) Convention On Biological Diversity. URL: https://www.cbd.int/doc/legal/cbd-en.pdf. Accessed on 18 August 2020.
  3. Anonymous (2017a) What’s wrong with the fashion industry. URL: https://www.sustainyourstyle.org/en/whats-wrong-with-the-fashion-industry. Accessed on 18 August 2020.
  4. Anonymous (2017b) https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/overeating-animal-products-devastating-wildlife. Accessed on 19 August 2020.
  5. Anonymous (2018a) Marine Plastics. URL: https://www.iucn.org/sites/dev/files/marine_plastics_issues_brief_final_0.pdf. Accessed on 19 August 2020.
  1. Anonymous (2018b) Inconvenient truth: fashion is one of the most polluting industries of the world. URL:https://www.greenofchange.com/textile-pollution. Accessed on 20 August 2020.
  2. Anonymous (2019a) A Guide to Sustainable Living. URL: https://www.unicefusa.org/stories/guide-sustainable-living/35821. Accessed on 18 August 2020.
  3. Anonymous (2019b) The Truth About Environmentally Harmful Chemicals in Cosmetics. URL: https://greentumble.com/the-truth-about-environmentally-harmful-chemicals-in-cosmetics/. Accessed on 18 August 2020.
  4. Anonymous (2020) Top 7 Most Environmentally-Friendly Countries in The World. The European Business Review. URL: https://www.europeanbusinessreview.com/top-7-most-environmentally-friendly-countries-in-the-world/. Accessed on 18 August 2020.
  5. CropLife International (2012) The Carbon Footprint of Crop Protection Products. URL: https://www4.unfccc.int/sites/SubmissionsStaging/Documents/201811071654—CLI%20Submission%20Carbon%20Footprint.pdf. Accessed on 03 September 2020.
  6. Dopelt K, Radon P, Davidovitch N (2019) Environmental Effects of the Livestock Industry: The Relationship between Knowledge, Attitudes, and Behavior among Students in Israel. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 16(8): 1359. doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16081359
  7. Ilea RC (2008) Intensive livestock farming: Global trends, increased environmental concerns, and ethical solutions. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 22(2): 153-167. doi.org/10.1007/s10806-008-9136-3
  8. Nara R (2018) Microplastic Contamination of the Food Supply Chain. Food Safety Magazine. URL: https://www.foodsafetymagazine.com/magazine-archive1/december-2018january-2019/. Accessed on 19 August 2020.
  9. Pereira JX, Pereira TC (2018) Cosmetics and its Health Risks. Global Journal of Medical Research: B 18(2): 63-70.
  10. Sajn N (2019) Environmental impact of the textile and clothing industry. European Parliamentary Research Service.
  11. URL:https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2019/633143/EPRS_BRI(2019)633143_EN.pdf. Accessed on 19 August 2020.
  12. Simon M (2020) Plastic Rain Is the New Acid Rain. URL: https://www.wired.com/story/plastic-rain-is-the-new-acid-rain/. Accessed on 19 August 2020.
  13. Soete L, Schneegans S, Eröcal D, Angathevar B, Rasiah R (2015) A world in search of an effective growth strategy. UNESCO Science Report: Towards 2030 pp. 33. URL: http://uis.unesco.org/sites/default/files/documents/unesco-science-report-towards-2030-part1.pdf. Accessed on 18 August 2020.
  14. www.wwf.org.uk Why We Promote Sustainable Living. URL: https://www.wwf.org.uk/what-we-do/promoting-sustainable-living. Accessed on 03 September 2020.
  15. www.activesustainability.com Top 10 apps for sustainable living. URL: https://www.activesustainability.com/sustainable-life/top-10-apps-for-sustainable-living/. Accessed on 18 August 2020.

About Author:

Soumi Paul

 

 

Soumi Paul
Department of Environmental Biotechnology, Bharathidasan University, Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu – 620024
E-mail: soumipaul.ebt@bdu.ac.in

Wild uncultivated edible plants of India

Part  7
(……after part 6)

Oxalis corniculata L.
Family: Oxalidaceae

Commonly called as creeping wood sorrel, the plant with the clover-shaped leaves stays closer to the ground and is a popular green in the kitchens of India. The leaves are charged with in vitamin C, oxalic acid, protein and lipid, minerals and antioxidants, can be used as a supplementary diet in emergency. The species has many weedy characteristics namely, self-pollination, abundant seed production, and adaptability that render them to grow rapidly in different climatic conditions.  However, more than its adaptive traits, the widely appreciated culinary derivatives accelerated the deliberate spread of the species.  In the southern parts of India, not only the tribals but even the remote village folks cook the leaves with red gram and eat it with cooked rice. Presumably, the acidic taste has led its acceptance in preparing chutneys (crushed leaves mixed with spicy ingredients) in various cultural geographic regions of India, e.g., in Kerala, the leaves are ground with bird eye chilies (Kanthari) and used as a chutney. Chutney and the fried forms are also quite popular in eastern states of Odisha, Bihar, and West Bengal. Furthermore, the tribes of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh (Gonds and Sahariya) also make use of the leaves in chutneys. On the other hand, in Uttar Pradesh, crushed leaves are mixed with curd for eating purposes. The high vitamin C content made it popular among the sailors. Many herbal teas and concoctions are now available online.

Oxalis Combine

 


Parkia timoriana
(DC.) Merr.

Family: Leguminosae

A tree legume which is quite common in the east and northeast of India especially in the contiguous Assam – Manipur region. The tree is a heavy producer of pods and can bear up to 500-1500 pods (90-260 kg / plant) depending upon the age and growing condition. The episode of fruiting and pod holding begins with the flowering in mid-August. It continues till mid-October when fresh pods are harvested. The beans are harvested along with stalks for better storage life. A single brunch may hold 8-30 pods and each pod contains 12-18 seeds. A tree can produce more than 15,000 pods, a real hefty amount, in a season!  As usual in a mega-diverse country like India, it is known by different vernacular names: Sapota in Hindi, Shivalingada mara in Kannada, Unkampinching in Marathi, Khorial in the Assamese. It is also popular in Manipur as Yongchak which is a traditionally valued plant. Both flower and pods are eaten as vegetables, in preparation of Singju, a typical Manipuri salad. They may be mixed with fish and dashed in preparation of local delicacy Iromba. For this reason, perhaps, four to five pods sell for a sizable amount in Manipuri markets. Understandably, wealthy families or those with agricultural background gift Yongchak to their daughters during weddings, so that she gets regular income from the tree once it blooms. In other parts, the tender beans are cooked with fish and eaten with rice. Flowers, tender pods, and seeds are also edible and are a better source of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals compared to other legumes. It is packed with of vitamin C, minerals like Magnesium, Zinc, and Calcium in addition to its rich protein content.

Parkia Combine


Passiflora foetida
L.

Family: Passifloraceae

A wild woody and perennial vine that bears delicious fruits in purple or in yellow though moderately cultivated in parts of India where it was perhaps introduced from the distant land of South America. Gradually, it became naturalized in and around south and southeast Asia growing wild as well as cultivated. Owing to its distinct taste, it has become common in many of the rural and urban areas of India, eaten raw or made into juice or smoothies or other exotic thirst-quenchers with added vitamin-rich ingredients. In the Nilgiris and also in Northern India, people have enjoyed its good harvest while it went wild at other places. Recipes are diverse as one travels across India. The rural women of Kerala and Tamil Nadu make chutney from passion fruit pulp along with shallots, coconut, chilies, ginger, and curry leaves to accompany rice, idli, or roti. In Telangana and Tamil Nadu, fruit juice is popular among rural people. In the frontier provinces of the north-east region, mostly juicy extract in different enticing forms are available in cool colors and taste, concentrate, ice cream, squash, confectionery, or blended its juice with other fruits etc. The food value of the fruit is high as it is rich in vitamin C, vitamin B6 (riboflavin), vitamin B3 (niacin), and iron. Realizing the economic potential, the plant has been commercially exploited in places in northeast, especially in Manipur, and the fruit is also sold online as fresh pieces and as preserved purees.

Passiflora Combine


Solanum nigrum
L.

Family – Solanaceae

The magic berry belongs to the family of tomatoes, potatoes, and chilies, i.e., to Solanaceae. The plant is a shrub with appreciable antioxidant and vitamin levels; especially the leaves are rich in vitamins and minerals. Though unripe fruits contain ‘solanine’ and preferred to get matured before use, nutritional analysis reported a high protein, lipid, and crude fiber content along with vitamins (vitamin C, riboflavin, and thiamine) in fruits. It is widely known as ‘Makoi’ in the north of India as especially in the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, and Himachal Pradesh. In Kashmir, leaves are stir-fried in oil to prepare Kainkothi fry. In Gujarat and Rajasthan both leaves and fruits are popular food among the rural folks. At the opposite end of the country, it is often used with tamarind, coconut, and chili powder along with other regular spicy ingredients, especially by the Tamil brahmin community; where it is called Manathakkali or Marthangali. Moreover, in Tamil Nadu, the unripe fruits of this black berry can be seen spread on palm leaf mats for drying. They are treated with buttermilk and salt, fermented and dried under the sun. This dried ‘Vattal’ (chips) is an export item. In the developed countries, its use as the edible species is under-explored though sparingly welcomed for infusing diversity to the cuisines.

Solanum Combine

 

Glimpses Of Nature And Culture

A hotel for solo traveler….. visit the Bee hotel

By pronouncing “Bee” we imagine those tiny powerful creatures in a group with whom you cannot mess up, hexagonal bee hives with honey and wax, bee-keepers with their astronaut-like attires, and so on. However, here is more for your attention. Like, we know that they are pollinators responsible for the crop and fruit production, and they are also under threat due to multiple reasons. Well, what does the hotel do here?

The “Bee Hotel” is meant for those who are lonely with great foraging habits and are under the threatbee hotel of a declining population. This is a temporary shelter for the bees to lay their eggs and nur-ture the young. The customers are mostly mason bees (Osmia spp.) famous for using masonry products (e.g. mud) for building their nests in naturally occurring gaps or tunnels. The hotel is providing them places like artificial holes or tunnels (made up of woods, papers, reeds, etc.) for completing their life cycle. A fairly common practice in the temperate countries, in early spring, queen bees come out from hibernation and become active in mating and nest selection. After mating, they go for nest modification like, making mud walls, collecting pollen and nectar for feed, laying egg over the stored food, and blocking the entrance for unwanted members. Gradually the larvae come out from the egg, feed on the stored items, make cocoons, and finally turn into adult bees. These adult bees leaving the hole, again start the life cycle as soon as possible due to their short life span. Bee hotel facilitates this reproductive phase, especially where nest building habitats are at risk or not available.

Given the current threat to pollinators and its impact on agriculture, the bee hotel offers an alternative means of conservation for native pollinator bees. Mason bees are a suitable candidate in this regard. Neither social nor in the honey production but, they are important for their pollination performance. Compared to honey bees mason bees have higher pollination capacity like 250-300 female bees can pollinate an entire acre of a fruit orchard.

On the flip side, how attractive and popular they are, bee hotels are not devoid of drawbacks. They have to confrot unwanted guests like wasps, ants, parasites, and birds who come for shelter and food (both the stored food and young larvae). A recent study also shows that bee hotel facilitates native wasp populations more than native bees. Moreover, it also raises concerns that the facility may act as a sink for the bee population due to the higher chance of parasite at-tack and faster disease spread among the densely packed bee rooms. It is also found that near-natural hotel sites are more favorable for native bees than sites in parks, rooftops, or community gardens. Therefore, cleanliness and locality are two important factors for our buzzing neighbors. Let’s see what more we can offer to nature’s solo travelers.

Image: Jacquelyn Fitzgerald
Collector: Rajasri Ray

 

Anurans – the quadruped soil engineers

Frogs are an integral part of agriculture throughout the world, although not visually appealing to many of us. The sticky legs, popped out eyes and remarkable spit make them unique as well as interestingAnurans_CEiBa_ subjects for study for centuries. Look at the frog inhabited rice fields. You may catch a view on frog preying on insects thus keep their population at check. However, you may not notice their silent, underground activities contributing simultaneously towards the enrichment of soil microbiota, increment in biochemical activities, and promoting plant growth. That’s something happening very close to our eyes but many of us may not be able to view – that is what a group of frog researchers uncover and help us to know.

They say that frog activities in the rice field are far more than traditional pest control services. In this micro-environment of the water-soil-rice plant world, every move of the frog like stirring and burrowing in the rice field, increases soil aeration, thus, enhancing oxygen in soil and water. As we all know, oxygen is a key factor for life, so abundant oxygen stimulates the growth of soil biotas like bacteria, fungus, and others. Beyond that, oxygen also facilitates organic compound mineralization i.e. biogeochemical cycle. Likewise, frog excreta is a good resource for organic compounds (e.g., ammonium NH4+) thus, raises soil quality. As a result, frog inhabitation stimulates soil enzyme activity and nutrient status which in turn promotes higher plant growth with greater grain yield.

Sounds like an eco-system engineer? yes, indeed. So in a quiet evening, passing through a grain-laden rice field, one may realize the relentless activities of these quadruped engineers who along with the farmers and other bewildering number of soil members ensure our food availability.

Source: Teng et al., Influences of introducing frogs in the paddy fields on soil properties and rice growth. Journal of Soils and Sediments, DOI 10.1007/s11368-015-1183-6

Image: Rajasri Ray 
Collector: Rajasri Ray

 

The knowledge of natural biodiversity saves us billion

Biological control_ Aleiodes indiscretus
Biological control: The wasp Aleiodes indiscretus parasitizing a caterpillar of gypsy moth – a serious pest of forestry

We are quite a penchant for tangible benefits that can be measured in terms of monetary value. Many a time intangible benefits derived from our environment are so obvious and well-impregnated into our daily lives that we tend to forget their overriding importance. The role of biodiversity often goes unnoticed in a similar vein, but the knowledge can be instrumental in designing ecologically and economically sustainable strategies. One such example is employing biological control of the pests of crops. Through biological control, scientists have greatly lessened the risk faced by many of the farmers living on the edge and spurred rural growth in marginal environments across the world. To implement such a program, these scientists have to be meticulous to inventory, test, select, and release natural enemies of insect pests that used to wreak a havoc. A deeper understanding of the natural history of the beneficial co-evolved insects is of utmost essential so to keep it ecologically viable.

A classic example of biological control of pests can be sought from the case of coconut scale or transparent scale (Aspidiotus destructor). It threatened the crops like coconut, bananas, and also avocado, breadfruit, cassava, guava, oil palm, sugarcane in the early Twentieth Century with a huge economic loss. Then in 1920, the control of the outbreak began, beetles from Trinidad and parasitic wasps from Java were introduced and positive results were immediately discernible. Of all, the ladybird beetle, Cryptognatha nodiceps (and later Cryptognatha gemellata) were the most efficient in bringing the scale rapidly under control. Consequently, coconut scale ceased to be an issue and a huge economic loss and crisis have been averted thereby.

There are many other examples to fit into these classic cases of biological control. And, the benefits accrued from the process can be enormous, at the tune of billions, so says a freshly baked study (Wyckhuys et al. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-020-01294-y) by an international group of researchers. They employed cutting-edge analyses to estimate the economic benefits ushered by nature-based contributions to productivity in over a century (1918–2018) and across 23 different Asia–Pacific geopolitical entities. They found that biological control resolved invasive pest threats in multiple non-rice food crops saving farmers in Asia a phenomenal amount (around US$14.6-19.5 billion) per year. They add further that scientifically informed biological control of 43 exotic invertebrate pests allowed 73–100% yield-loss recovery in food, feed, and fiber crops such as banana, bread-fruit, cassava, and coconut. The study hinging on agroecological innovations opened avenues for the ways to mitigate invasive pests, instill ecological resilience, and thereby sustainably intensify the production of global agri-food. These innovative approaches armed with a better scientific approach would help feed the world, conserve and use on-farm biodiversity, and improve farmers’ quality of life.

Image source: Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1214858
Collector – Avik Ray

 

Acorns, Nuts, Seeds, Tubers, Water Chestnut…….Pollens; …Pollens? Why not!

We, humans, have an intrinsic ability to experiment with the resources around, it appears to be true especially for food plants and animals. In the course of our evolutionary trajectory we have gathered and tasted acorns and nuts, harvested seeds, dug out roots and tubers, collected water chestnuts or foxTypha domingensis nuts, fished, hunted and butchered wild animals, and so on. Therefore, it can be imagined that bright yellow or brown superbly attractive pollen-candies of Typha aka inflorescence were not unheeded.

Prehistoric investigations have also revealed the use of Typha as a prominent food source. The wetlands of China, especially the Lower Yangtze Region, are famous for early rice cultivation. Alongside rice, wetland amassed the members of Typha, so say the archeologists. The pollens of the plant, a rich source of protein, perhaps made a sumptuous luncheon or supper for the Neolithic people. That charged them with the required calorie to sustain longer in the hostile environment. But, the use of Typha as a food source has a rather older tradition buried in prehistory. Before this discovery, the preparation flour employing grindstones from various Typha or Brachipodium species have been found in Upper Palaeolithic Europe around 25000 years BP.

However, the eating Typha as well as using it otherwise continues to this day across the globe. The fleshy and fluffy stems of Typha are superb material in matting as seen in many cultures. Above all stand their food value and diverse culinary use. The rhizomes and lower stems, ripe and unripe inflorescence, mature pollens find their place in many local and ethnic cuisines. The young flower stalks can be cut off and removed from their sheaths, boiled or steamed to be eaten just like corn. The bright yellowish pollens, fine substitutes for flours, were yearned for. They can drape pancakes, baked bread, or biscuits in a lovely yellow color quite tempting for kids and adults alike. The usage of pollens as a food source has been observed in broad geographic regions including India, China, Iraq, New Zealand, South Africa, United States,  Canada, and many tropical regions around the world, but not in Europe. The reason perhaps rooted in prehistoric adaptation, or maybe not. Why bother? The only thing we can now to crave for Typha pollen-ed pancakes or cookies and keep hunting for Typha pollen-candies.

Image source: Stan Shebs, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10666956 
Collector – Avik Ray