Archive for ‘agriculture’

02/05/2017

Secrets of tea plant revealed by science – BBC News

Botanists have unlocked the genetic secrets of the plant prized for producing tea.A team in China has decoded the genetic building blocks of the tea plant, Camellia sinensis, whose leaves are used for all types of tea, including black, green and oolong.

The research gives an insight into the chemicals that give tea its flavour.

Until now, little has been known about the genetics of the plant, despite its huge economic and cultural importance.

“There are many diverse flavours, but the mystery is what determines or what is the genetic basis of tea flavours?” said plant geneticist Lizhi Gao of Kunming Institute of Botany, China, who led the research.

“Together with the construction of genetic maps and new sequencing technologies, we are working on an updated tea tree genome that will investigate some of the flavour.”

A botanist collects tea leaves for research

The Camellia grouping, or genus, contains over 100 species, including ornamental garden plants. But only Camellia Sinensis is grown commercially for making tea.

The researchers found that the leaves of the tea plant contain high levels of chemicals that give tea its distinctive flavour. They include flavonoids and caffeine.

Other members of the Camellia genus contain these chemicals at much lower levels.

Dr Monique Simmonds, deputy director of science at Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, UK, who is not connected with the research, said it provided an important insight into the genetic building blocks of tea.

She told BBC News: ”Overall, the findings from this study could have a significant impact on those involved in the breeding of tea but also those involved in breeding many plants used medicinally and in cosmetics, as the compounds that occur in tea are often associated with the biological properties of plants used medicinally or in cosmetics.”

Decoding the genome of the tea plant took more than five years. At three billion DNA base pairs in length, the tea plant genome is more than four times the size of the coffee plant genome and much larger than most sequenced plant species.

“Our lab has successfully sequenced and assembled more than 20 plant genomes,” said Prof Gao, who carried out the work with scientists in South Korea and the US.

“But this genome, the tea tree genome, was tough.”

More than 50 types of plant have now had their genetic code laid bare

The genetic knowledge could lead to ways to improve the quality and price of tea, by selective breeding of tea plants.

Guy Barter, chief horticulturist at the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), UK, said the work gave plant breeders a “powerful new tool”.

“Once you understand the basis for the flavours and the processing quality of the tea, you can then have genetic markers that breeders can look for when trying to produce new varieties,” he told BBC News.

Six main types of tea are produced from Camellia sinensis – white, yellow, green, oolong, black and post-fermented. Each has its own aroma, taste and appearance.The distinctive flavours of these teas are created by their different chemical compositions.

Dr Simmonds said knowledge of the genome of tea helped us understand how the plant evolved.

”Another important finding is that the biochemical pathways involved in the synthesis of the compounds important in the taste of tea are also present in some of the ancestors of tea and have been conserved for about 6.3 million years,” she said.

The first plant genome was sequenced more than 15 years ago.

Since then more than 50 types of plant have been sequenced, including food crops such as the banana, potato and tomato.

The research is published in the journal Molecular Plant.

Source: Secrets of tea plant revealed by science – BBC News

01/02/2017

India Budget 2017: Promise to boost rural spending – BBC News

India’s government has unveiled its annual budget, with promises to boost rural spending and pull more people out of poverty.

It comes months after the controversial withdrawal of high value banknotes which caused chaos in the economy, hurting farmers and the poor most.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley allocated funds to bring more irrigation, roads, electricity and sanitation to villages.

Farmers would also have more access to credit, he said.

The government also plans to spend a record $7.09bn (£5.69bn) on a scheme which guarantees every rural household 100 days of work each year.

Overall rural and farm spending would be increased by 24% as part of the government’s plan to double farm incomes over five years, Mr Jaitley added.

Tax plan

The finance minister also revealed plans to halve income tax rates for people earning between 250,000 rupees to 500,000 rupees ($3700; £2945 to $7,400; £5888) annually, which Mr Jaitley said should also encourage more people to pay tax.

“The present burden of taxation is mainly on the taxpayer and the salaried employees who are showing their income correctly,” he told parliament.

“Therefore post-demonetisation, there is a legitimate expectation of this class of people to reduce their burden of taxation. Also an argument is made that if nominal rate of taxation is kept at a lower slab, more people will prefer to come in the tax rate.”It is not clear how many people the move would impact, but India has a long-running problem of collecting income tax.

In 2013, the latest year for which data is available, only 2% of Indians completed a tax return and only 1% paid tax.

Other proposals announced in the budget speech included:Cutting tax rates on small and medium-sized companies

Banning cash transactions for sums above 300,000 rupees ($4440; £3533)

Political funding reforms including a cap on the cash donated to a political party by a single source

Nothing for foreign investors: Analysis by Shilpa Kannan, BBC News, Delhi

Arun Jaitley had to do a balancing act between the need to stimulate India’s growth and ensuring that the country’s spending is under control.

But I’ve been at an event run by one of India’s biggest business groups, the CII, and the mood is one of general disappointment.

The finance minister had promised to gradually bring down corporation tax from 30% to 25% – but he didn’t do it last year and it didn’t happen this year either.

Many here are saying there was nothing in for foreign or domestic investors. They fear a flee of money from India.

‘Bright spot’

India’s economy is expected to grow by 6.5% in the year to March 2017, down from 7.6% the previous financial year, a key economic report revealed ahead of the budget.

However, the country was a “bright spot” in the world economy, Mr Jaitley said, adding that the impact on growth from the government’s cash crackdown would wear off soon.

He said the currency ban was a “a bold and decisive measure” and would leaded to larger GDP, more tax revenues and a cleaner economy.

The dramatic move to scrap 500 ($7.60) and 1,000 rupee notes was intended to crack down on corruption and so-called black money or illegal cash holdings.

But the Economic Survey, released on Tuesday and written by the government’s chief economic adviser, admitted the rupee withdrawal had been bad for economy. in the short term.

Source: India Budget 2017: Promise to boost rural spending – BBC News

15/09/2016

Why water war has broken out in India’s Silicon Valley – BBC News

On Monday afternoon, a school bus was stopped in the Banashankari area in southern Bangalore. Three drunk men got into the bus and asked aloud: “Which child belongs to Karnataka and and which child belongs to Tamil Nadu?”

The 15-odd students, aged between 10 and 14, were stunned. Their school had asked them to leave early because the situation was tense, with violence and arson breaking out in many parts of the city.

“Luckily the driver handled it tactfully. He told the intruders that everyone was a native of Bangalore and that their families supported Karnataka on [water sharing with] Cauvery,” said a parent, not wanting to be identified.

Battle for access

By dusk, dark smoke had filled the Bangalore skies. Some 35 buses had been set on fire by protesters, just because the buses belonged to a travel agency whose owner is Tamil.

Is India facing its worst-ever water crisis?

India to ‘divert rivers’ to tackle droughtEarlier this month India’s Supreme Court ruled that Karnataka must release 12,000 cubic feet of water per second to Tamil Nadu from the Cauvery river until 20 September. Both states say they urgently need the water for irrigation and a battle about access to it has raged for decades.

Karnataka says water levels in Cauvery have declined because of insufficient rainfall

India’s water war

The Cauvery originates in Karnataka and flows through Tamil Nadu before joining the Bay of Bengal.

The dispute over its waters originated in the 19th Century during the British rule between the then Madras presidency (modern day Tamil Nadu) and the province of Mysore (now Karnataka).

Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have both argued that they need the water for millions of farmers in the region.

The Cauvery river water tribunal was set up in 1990 after the failure of several rounds of talks between the two states.

Dozens of meetings have been held to find a settlement to the century-old dispute.

In 2007, the tribunal ruled Tamil Nadu state would get 419bn cubic feet of water a year. Karnataka would get only 270bn.

Karnataka says water levels in the Cauvery have declined because of insufficient rainfall – 42% of the 3,598 irrigation tanks in the state are dry – and that it cannot therefore share water with Tamil Nadu. So Tamil Nadu went to the top court demanding 50,000 cubic feet of water per second.

When the Supreme Court on 2 September asked Karnataka to “live and let live”, the state softened and offered to release 10,000 cubic feet of water per second to Tamil Nadu every day for five days.

On 5 September however, the top court ordered Karnataka to release 15,000 cubic feet of water per second for 10 days. This ruling was later modified to 12,000 cubic feet of water per second until 20 September.

This would mean that nearly a quarter of the water now available in the Cauvery basin will flow into Tamil Nadu.

A truck from neighbouring Tamil Nadu set on fire in Bangalore

Tamil Nadu says it badly needs the river water for irrigation. Drought-hit Karnataka argues that most of the river water is now needed for drinking water supplies in Bangalore and some other cities, leaving no water for irrigation at all.

But even farmers in Tamil Nadu are unhappy with their share.P Ayyakannu, president of the local South Indian Rivers Interlinking Farmers Association, called it “akin to giving pigeon feed to an elephant”.

Rising violenceFeeling let down by the top court’s order, Karnataka is boiling.

The main city of Bangalore is the worst affected: the violence in the technology hub forced the closure of many offices and much of the public transport system. Police have imposed an emergency law that prohibits public gatherings, and more than 15,000 officers have been deployed across the city.

One person was killed when police opened fire on protesters on Monday evening. Buses and trucks bearing Tamil Nadu number plates have been attacked and set on fire. Schools and colleges are closing early and many businesses are shut.

A group of activists belonging to a fringe pro-Karnataka group assaulted an engineering student because he had ridiculed Kannada film stars for supporting the strike on Friday, by posting memes on Facebook. The student was hunted down and forced to apologise.

Across the border, in Tamil Nadu, petrol bombs were hurled at a popular restaurant owned by a resident of Karnataka in Chennai while the driver of a vehicle with Karnataka number plates was slapped and ordered to say “Cauvery belongs to Tamil Nadu”.

Normal life has been disrupted in Bangalore

Protests have shut down Bangalore city

The latest violence brings back memories of the anti-Tamil riots in Bangalore in 1991 over the same issue.

Then, some 200,000 Tamils were reported to have left the city, after incidents of violence and arson targeting them.

There was a proposal in 2013 to set up a panel comprising representatives from the two warring states to resolve disputes over river water sharing.

But successive governments have dragged their feet on this, and the two leaders – Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah and his counterpart in Tamil Nadu, Jayaram Jayalalitha – have not reached out to each other to resolve the crisis. And with Delhi reduced to being a reluctant referee, the onus has fallen on the Supreme Court to crack the whip.

Source: Why water war has broken out in India’s Silicon Valley – BBC News

27/07/2016

India’s farmers seize offer of free registration of land sold on ‘plain paper’ | Reuters

When Telangana announced a three-week window for free registration of land that had exchanged hands via handwritten notes on plain paper, the offer triggered more than a million applications.

All over the state the sale of land on notes known as “sada bainamas” has been customary because of widespread inability to pay the registration fees, illiteracy or ignorance of the law.

Around a million farmers in Telangana lack secure title to land bought this way, according to a 2014 survey carried out in the state by Landesa, a U.S. based charity .

Guram Muttaya is a beneficiary of the registration drive and one of many farmers who occupy land they have been cultivating for 30 to 40 years on the strength of informal documents.

“Registering the land will bring me government agriculture loans, compensation for crop damages and crop insurance too,” Muttaya told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, holding up a torn piece of paper bearing a signature.

The piece of paper is his only proof of ownership of a fifth of a hectare of land he bought in Kannayapally village 27 years ago for $67 and whose market value has risen to $3,000.

Studies have shown that broadly distributed secure land rights for farmers can help to pull families out of poverty and boost sustainable economic development.

Source: India’s farmers seize offer of free registration of land sold on ‘plain paper’ | Reuters

23/06/2016

Why India’s monsoon is difficult to forecast | The Economist

METEOROLOGISTS are forecasting a bumper monsoon for India this year. This is good news for the more than 600m people—about half of India’s population—who depend on the rains it brings. Knowing when and where the monsoon will arrive is especially important for farmers; even now, two-thirds of India’s fields lack irrigation. But forecasting the monsoon remains fantastically difficult, especially as four in every ten monsoons are classified as abnormal anyway. What makes India’s monsoon so unpredictable?

The word monsoon derives from mausam in Hindi (and originally from Arabic), meaning “weather”. Monsoon climates typically have two very distinct seasons: wet and dry. In India, the onslaught of the rains begins when moist air is carried northwards from the Indian ocean during the summer. The winds transporting the main or “south-west” monsoon come from an area south of the equator which is characterised by high atmospheric pressure. As the air gathers moisture during the journey, atmospheric convection forms huge storm clouds which arrive first in southern India around early June (as they did this year). The monsoon creeps north and west, showering Pakistan and north India about a month later. By September it is in retreat, and has normally withdrawn from the south of the country by December. Many factors seem to affect the duration and intensity of the monsoon. One is El Niño, a climatic phenomenon associated with warmer temperatures in the tropical Pacific ocean. Last year the monsoon proved disappointing while El Niño was in full swing: total rainfall between June and September was 14% below the 50-year average. How exactly the phenomenon interacts with the monsoon is not well understood, however, as even large Niños in the past have coincided with normal monsoons.

Anthropogenic emissions also seem to affect rain patterns. India is the world’s fourth-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. The insulating effect of such emissions helped make last year the hottest on record; this year looks set to be even more scorching. A warmer atmosphere probably means even greater variability in the monsoon. Rainfall extremes are expected to increase, thanks in part to the fact that a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture (about 7% more, for every degree Celsius of warming). Air pollution complicates matters further. It is a terrible problem in India, contributing to more than 600,000 early deaths a year. Cooking at home, and the smoke it releases, accounts for much of the trouble. Aerosols such as black carbon interact with sunlight. Some of these tiny particles—many less than a tenth the width of a human hair—scatter light, while others absorb it. In the former case, this prevents the light from warming the earth’s surface. In the latter, absorbing the light causes the particles to warm the air around them. Both alter the heating of the atmosphere, and therefore the heating of the land relative to the ocean—the process which drives the monsoon.

Scientists are using a variety of techniques to better forecast the monsoon, from monitoring changes in land use (because vegetation stores more moisture) to sending underwater robots into the Bay of Bengal (to learn more about the salinity and temperature of the ocean). Their research could improve climate models and farming practices—but improved water-storage facilities, better irrigation and more access to insurance schemes might have to make up for the gaps in knowledge that will persist.

Source: The Economist explains: Why India’s monsoon is difficult to forecast | The Economist

21/06/2016

India’s suicide farmers’ widows face living death | Reuters

At the age of 24, Joshna Wandile and her two children were thrown out of the house she shared with her in-laws after her farmer husband hanged himself. He left a pile of debts after years of drought laid waste to his land.Wandile is not alone. More than 300,000 farmers have killed themselves in India over the last two decades, leaving their widows battling with the state, moneylenders, in-laws and their communities.

While widows in rural India are often ostracised and abused, farmer widows have it particularly tough, activists said ahead of International Widows’ Day on Thursday.”I had nothing when my husband died – he sold everything in the house, even the cooking vessels, to pay the creditors,” said Wandile who lives in Vidarbha in Maharashtra, among the worst affected by farmers’ suicides.

“I couldn’t even feel sad. I could only think: where will we live? How will I earn enough money? How will I keep us safe?” said Wandile, who was married at 17.

Maharashtra, which is struggling with its worst drought in four decades, accounted for more than half the 5,650 farmer suicides in India in 2014, according to official data. Some estimate last year’s toll exceeded 3,000.

“Bankruptcy or indebtedness” was the most common reason cited. Most were small farmers, with holdings of under two hectares.

There is little information on the families left behind who struggle to claim their right to the land they till and the house they live in, while battling archaic stigmas that dog their every step.

Source: India’s suicide farmers’ widows face living death | Reuters

18/06/2016

India looks to China’s technology for making clouds rain|Government|chinadaily.com.cn

China is in talks with India on the transfer of cloud-seeding technology.In the first such engagement between the Asian giants, a team of scientists and officials from Beijing, Shanghai and East China’s Anhui province, were recently in Maharashtra to discuss weather conditions with the government of the western Indian state, parts of which have experienced severe droughts over the past two years.

line art drawing of cloud seeding.

line art drawing of cloud seeding. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Chinese team’s days-long tour concluded on June 2.If the discussions are successful, Chinese experts would provide training to officials of the Indian Meteorological Department on their latest cloud-seeding technology, according to two sources with knowledge of the matter.

One of the sources had earlier described it as an “exploratory visit by the Chinese side to discuss with relevant Indian authorities how to go about it”.

The training is expected to be given on procedures to seed clouds successfully, the source said.

The training is aimed at inducing rain over Maharashtra’s Marathwada region in the summer of 2017 if needed, the source said.

While summer rains have arrived this year in India, the region has been traditionally vulnerable to drought.

The sources spoke to China Daily on condition of anonymity.

An official in the China Meteorological Administration said that arrangements are still in progress.

The development follows a meeting between Han Zheng, Shanghai’s top official, and Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, in the Indian state’s capital of Mumbai in early May.

Han, who is also a Communist Party of China Politburo member, had asked Fadnavis if China could do anything for drought relief in Maharashtra, one of the sources said.

Monsoons and temperatures nearing 50 C have triggered many agrarian crises in India, with poor farmers being hit the hardest.

Indian media said in April that the Maharashtra government would begin cloud-seeding experiments in June and continue through August – the period of summer monsoons.

China started to use cloud-seeding technology in 1958, and today has one of the most advanced systems in the world.

Source: India looks to China’s technology for making clouds rain|Government|chinadaily.com.cn

18/06/2016

New App Promises to Tell Indian Farmers When to Sow Crops – India Real Time – WSJ

Monsoon season in India has just begun, but farmers in Andhra Pradesh, a southeastern coastal state of India, won’t need to look to the skies to know when to sow their crops.

A new mobile application launched earlier this month and developed by a local agriculture research institute, Microsoft India and the state government tells farmers in the state which week is perfect for sowing seeds, the health of their soil and other indicators.

The app uses rainfall data collected from farms in 13 districts in Andhra Pradesh over 45 years to give farmers a sense of when to start planting, Suhas P. Wani, director of Asia research at the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics or ICRISAT, a research organization in Hyderabad said.Farmers are asked to register a mobile number with the state government, choose a language–currently limited to the regional Telugu and English–and enter details of the village, district or sub-district.

The advice received could vary from farmer to farmer and from village to village, Mr. Wani said. “The app has crop-specific information such as 10 years of groundnut sowing progress data” to guide farmers who grow specific crops, he added.

He said that constant data on crop yield was being collected on a monthly basis by field officers and sent for evaluation to provide regular forecasts to farmers.

A weather button shows the temperature and rainfall as well as fertilizer recommendations for the day and projection for the next seven days. Additionally, a farmer can get weather alerts for extreme conditions like hailstorms or unseasonal rains that impact crop yields.

Andhra Pradesh logged the highest number of farmer suicides in the country last year. At least 58 farmers took their own lives in the state, according to an agriculture ministry report.

But not every farmer can afford to invest in expensive smartphone technology.

So far, most of the farmers have requested to be sent the information via SMS message. Mr. Wani said once registered, farmers can get the predicted sowing date through SMS. “The main idea behind the application is to help farmers reduce losses by telling when to sow seeds or spray the plants,” he said.

The application will be rolled out in other Indian states next year, based on feedback from farmers in the state, he added.

Source: New App Promises to Tell Indian Farmers When to Sow Crops – India Real Time – WSJ

16/06/2016

Reaping what they sow: Shaolin monks harvest wheat as a form of Zen practise | South China Morning Post

Monks at Shaolin Temple in Henan province have been harvesting wheat as a method to practice Buddhism, the China News Agency reported on Thursday.

The 1,400-year-old temple, famed as the birthplace of Chan (Zen) Buddhism and martial arts traditions, operates a farm of of about 70 hectares where they grow wheat, corn, vegetables and herbs.

During the wheat reaping season in June, groups of monks cut the crops, thrash the grain, bag it and carry it to the barn.

Farming is also a kind of self-cultivation,” said Shi Yanzi, the monk in charge of the farm. “We farm with the spirit of Zen, and plough and sow in our own mind too.

”Shaolin’s millennium-long tradition of farming was interrupted in the past decades, but was resumed by head abbot Shi Yongxin in recent years.

Shi believes producing food in the temple’s fields can also ensure food safety.

The Shaolin temple farm also opens to tourists to experience harvesting fresh vegetables or fruit.

Source: Reaping what they sow: Shaolin monks harvest wheat as a form of Zen practise | South China Morning Post

30/07/2015

Chinese potatoes to chip in as water shortages hit staple crops | Reuters

Once seen as food for the poor, the humble potato is being pushed in China as a tasty, nutritious part of any meal as the world’s most populous country struggles with water shortages and looks for alternatives to the traditional rice and noodles.

China already produces 95 million tonnes of potatoes a year, a quarter of the global total, and is aiming to raise that to 130 million tonnes by 2020, government officials said at the World Potato Congress on the outskirts of Beijing this week.

“In China, the potato industry is no longer an industry for underdeveloped areas or the poor, but highlights the country’s modern agricultural drive and enriches people’s dining tables,” Agriculture Minister Han Changfu told the conference.

Beijing has begun this year to promote the potato as more of a staple food, particularly as a substitute foodstuff for grain, an idea that has taken on urgency as water problems threaten to undermine food security, vital for political legitimacy.

The North China Plain is suffering as a result of decades of excessive underground water use by both industry and wheat farmers.

In some parts of Hebei, the third-largest wheat-producing region, farmers have been banned from growing wheat in order to preserve underground water. Excessive digging for irrigation has caused subsidence and even landslides, the local government has said.

David A. Thompson, president of the World Potato Congress, told reporters that potatoes would serve China’s plans to improve agricultural sustainability.

“Potatoes provide more energy and protein per acre than other crops,” he said.

The congress was held in Yanqing, a suburb of Beijing around 100 km (62 miles) northwest of the city center, where a 12,000-square-metre international potato center has been built along with a museum for the vegetable and a potato breeding center.

“Small potatoes, stand up and become a staple to ensure the country’s grain security,” urges a banner outside the museum.

In an exhibition hall, potatoes are used to make dozens of different types of food, including popular local fare such as steamed bread, noodles and dumplings as well as western-style pizza and even cookies.

“Potatoes can make hundreds or even thousands of dishes, as well as more than 200 types of staple and western-style food,” said Zhang Aiguo, a cook at the exhibition.

“If more and more consumers get to know that potatoes have more nutrition, they are willing to take them. People nowadays care more about quality and healthy food,” said Zhang, holding a big plate of steamed bread made with potatoes.

via Chinese potatoes to chip in as water shortages hit staple crops | Reuters.

Law of Unintended Consequences

continuously updated blog about China & India

ChiaHou's Book Reviews

continuously updated blog about China & India

What's wrong with the world; and its economy

continuously updated blog about China & India