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Sent: 05 December 2002 10:20
Subject: 80: Research into bio-fertilisers and bio-pesticides
This is from Fintan Scanlan, horticulturist. My comments are based on some 20 years experience in crop production in tropical, sub-tropical and semi-arid climates.
I would like to draw your attention to the potential benefits of carrying out research into biotechnology for small farmers in the context of conservation agriculture and other sustainable practices such as crop rotation and green manuring while minimising the use of non-renewable inputs especially chemical pesticides and inorganic fertilisers that may be harmful to farmers and consumers and damaging to the environment.
As you might know, conservation agriculture (CA) advocates minimum disturbance to the soil through reduced tillage or zero tillage systems and strives to maintain a constant soil cover by virtue of a growing crop and retaining crop residues. Conventional tillage, especially in hot climates, leads to rapid depletion of organic matter (OM) and loss of residual soil moisture. Tillage also causes a sudden and dramatic change to the micro-climate in the soil, wreaking havoc with the myriads of organisms that live in the soil. While this may be desirable to control weeds and macro-organisms such as leather jackets (i.e. range crane fly larvae), what of the untold damage caused to the less visible microbial life in this hostile environment!
CA on the other hand greatly facilitates the preservation of OM, the lifeblood of the soil, resulting in a living soil and conditions favouring soil fertility while also countering soil erosion. It is indeed pleasing to note that CA is being practiced in many agro-ecological zones and socio-economic contexts worldwide, including Africa, Asia and Latin America (notably Brazil).
Biotechnology has also made substantial inroads in the development of a range of bio-fertilisers and bio-pesticides, reducing our dependency on chemical products. To quote Drs. Teruo Higa and James Parr, "An area that appears to hold the greatest promise for technological advances in crop production, crop protection and natural resource conservation is that of beneficial and effective micro-organisms applied as soil, plant and environmental inoculants". [In "Beneficial and effective microorganisms for a sustainable agriculture and environment" (1994), http://www.agriton.nl/higa.html ...Moderator]. Research has shown that the inoculation of beneficial micro-organism cultures to the soil/plant ecosystem can improve soil quality and soil health leading to increased yield and quality of crops. These products do not contain exotic or engineered organisms but are made up of mixed cultures of naturally occurring species that exist in the soil.
One can appreciate the sustained benefits that come from combining CA with inoculants of beneficial microbes to the soil/plant ecosystem where the soil micro-climate is not punctuated by tillage and where OM levels favour proliferation of biological activity. However, it may not be in the interest of bio-product manufacturers to promote CA, where the benefits of such products are likely to continue through natural regeneration under favourable conditions, thereby potentially reducing sales of their products.
I believe there is much potential in promoting applied/adaptive research into these technologies as they represent minimum input systems, affordable to poor resource farmers. Such technologies can contribute greatly to sustainable agriculture/agro-ecology while nurturing, rather than compromising, the environment. When associated with other desirable practices including promotion of biodiversity, multiple cropping systems, indigenous plant species, improved germplasm and integrated production and protection (IPPM), they can have much impact in addressing household food security and creating sustainable livelihoods in Low-Income Food-Deficit countries.
Fintan Scanlan, M. Agr. Sc.
Food Security Officer, FAO
fintan.scanlan (at) fao.org
Sent: 05 December 2002 15:15
Subject: 81: Re: Research into bio-fertilisers and bio-pesticides
This is Jagdish Nazareth, doctoral student in agriculture at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, India.
In 1987 I thought of a theory of indirect nutrition by which one is able to nourish the rhizospheric soil micro-organisms that nourish the plants. From 1989 to 2002, I was able to develop and test the technology for converting locally available crop residues and animal manures into probiotic fertilizers which do this. These trials and experiments have been done by more than 320 farmers in 60 villages in 7 districts on 40 crops, with crop yields increasing under rainfed agriculture conditions from 20 - 300% against existing local practice controls. Nearly all the above farmers can be considered small farmers. Some of these trials have been done through other non-governmental and parastatal organizations. In these experiments it has been noted that plants have been able to resist flood and drought (in one case both together), demonstrate remarkable resistance to epidemic fungal disease in paddy, resist pest attack and produce superior quality and quantity of desired crop components. (In many instances comparative controls have been chemical fertilizers and pesticides.)
The cultural practice compared to other forms of chemical and organic agriculture becomes simpler and labour conserving. In rainfed agriculture, risk of total crop failure and uncertainty of crop yields can be reduced considerably. In irrigated agriculture, irrigation intervals can be lengthened (typically from 7 or 8 days to 10 to 15 days even for a sensitive crop such as hybrid cotton for seed production). Plant secondary metabolism can be stimulated in ways that are not possible with conventional chemical or organic fertilization practices. Pest resistance can be improved to the point where pesticide application is uneconomical, thereby making organic agriculture feasible. There are implications for improving micronutrient malnutrition in large animal and human populations. On-farm biodiversity improves considerably.
I therefore propose that agricultural biotechnology do more research on the nutritional approach to soil micro-organism and plant interactions. The recommendations will be simpler, more low-cost, robust and easier to adopt by small farmers than other methods proposed thus far and probably more generalizable to many agricultural environments.
D-0716, Indian Institute of Management,
Vastrapur, Ahmedabad, Gujarat,
Phone: 91-79-632 6716
jagdish_nazareth (at) hotmail.com