Thursday, December 22, 2011

Climate Smart Management of Crop Pests

Crop protection plays a very important role in agriculture. Like human beings, plants are also affected by pests. A ‘pest’ is any organism that is responsible for significant losses both in production and profits in agriculture and the term may include insects, micro-organisms, weeds, rodents, etc. The incidence of the pest is an indication of poor health of the plant and soil. A healthy soil always produces a healthy plant. The root cause of the incidence of pests is the use of synthetic chemical fertilizers that makes the plant soft and succulent which attracts the pests. In the conventional synthetic chemical based farming system, toxic pesticides are used to manage the pests. These toxic chemicals have a great impact on the soil, water, food, health and the environment.

 In Climate smart agriculture based on organic farming approaches, the synthetic toxic pesticides are not used instead, natural methods which are non-polluting are employed to manage the pests. A variety of plants and micro-organisms have an ability to manage pests efficiently. In addition, cultural and mechanical methods are also utilized. All insects are not pests. Less than one percent of insects are pests, while a large majority of insects are beneficial. There are many natural enemies of pests like, insects, spiders, birds and other organisms which prey and predate on them. These natural enemies which are very important get killed by the toxic synthetic pesticides resulting in the turning a pest into pandemic. In organic farming it is very important to understand the intricate prey-predator relationship of the food web.

The common characteristics of different approaches in crop protection in organic agriculture are,
1.    Multi-portaged approach to manage the pest/disease.
2.    Focus on improving soil health thereby increasing its resistance capacity of plants.
3.     Utilization of the biodiversity of the region and traditional knowledge.

There are different approaches of managing pests like cultural and mechanical methods, use of botanicals and biological pest management.

Let me discuss on how plants can be used in the management of pests at the field level.
Euphorbia sp.
The first question arises is that how to identify these plants which are effective on pests. Quick solution comes from the traditional knowledge. The farming communities of any region have a vast knowledge on a variety of plants that are used in traditional medicine. The rule of thumb is, any plant that has strong odour preferably a wild plant has most of the properties to manage pests.
Infact most of the obnoxious weeds can be used to manage pests in farming. For example, Parthenuim (Parthenium hysterophorus) a major weed in agriculture is an excellent plant for pest management. Unfortunately research on managing Parthenium has failed as the common approach is to halt the growth and spread of this plant which the scientific fraternity has failed miserable amidst inventing toxic weedicides.

As I mentioned in my earlier blog that ‘weeds’ are the plants whose uses are not known to human beings. There is no plant on earth which is useless. In Climate smart Agriculture, we make smart choices. Instead of wasting our efforts in controlling the weeds, we try to use the weeds in a variety of preparations for managing pests. Also weeds can be a good natural resource for composting.

Tagetes sp
Equesetium sp.

How to use these weeds or plants for managing pests?              

 These weeds or plants needs to be fermented in an appropriate way to transform into liquid formulations for managing pests.  In a container or barrel, the weeds are well chopped fermented with cattle urine and cattle dung. Care should be taken that the container should be stirred regularly to facilitate active fermentation. The preparation is ready in 30-45 days and can be used on crops. Generally, I recommend a dilution of one part of the concentrated fermented solution with 10 parts of water and sprayed on crops to manage a variety of pests. Even these sprays can be used as a prophylactic sprays. These preparations needs to be tailor-made to suit different crops and climatic regions.

Melia fruits

Separating the Melia fruits
Crushed Melia fruits ready for fermentation

Likewise a variety of plants which are weeds can be efficiently used in agriculture which will have twin benefits; managing weeds and pests. 

Climate smart Agriculture is all about "common sense". Wish and pray, may common sense prevail in the minds of those who are into research and promotion of toxic pesticides. 

........Wish you all a Climate Smart and a Wonderful New Year 2012......

Friday, November 18, 2011

Climate Smart Agriculture : Building Resilience through Organic Techniques

Climate smart Agriculture is about making smart choices in agriculture techniques to address climate change. Organic agriculture technologies blended with traditional knowledge provides many  low-cost options. Moreover these low-cost approaches can empower the farmers by being less dependant on the external farm inputs resulting in empowering them.

Bhutan is highly vulnerable to the impact of climate change. It is widely recognized that Himalayan countries will suffer disproportionally. Agriculture is one of the sectors which will need to brace itself for unpredictable rainfall patterns, droughts, untimely hot and cold spells, irregular water supply from rivers and natural sources, increased pests and diseases and increased disruptions from wildlife.

But agriculture is also a cause of climate change: it accounts for about 14 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, or approximately 30 percent when considering land-use change, including deforestation driven by agricultural expansion for food, fiber and fuel (IPCC, 2007).

However, agriculture can be a part of the solution if climate smart agriculture technologies and approaches are introduced. Climate smart agriculture can contribute to both climate change adaptation and mitigation. Moreover, it befits Gross national Happiness (GNH), an unique paradigm of development of Bhutan.

The livelihoods of farmers can be improved by climate smart technologies, which integrate the need for sustainable food production and economic development while also increasing agro-ecosystem resilience to climate change impacts (adaptation) and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by agricultural production systems (mitigation).

Capacity building of stakeholders is key to sustainable impact ; climate smart agriculture approaches and technologies are ‘knowledge intensive’ rather than input intensive.

I presented a talk on 14th November, 2011 during the 'Climate Summit for a Living Himalayas' at Thimphu, Bhutan

The presentation can be viewed at

I am sure you will like my presentation.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Smart Technologies for Climate Smart Agriculture

Bio-digestor: A Smart Low-cost Technology for Farmers

Agriculture is a source of livelihoods for 1.5 billion smallholders and landless laborers. The vast majority of the farmers in the developing countries (about 85%) are farming with land holdings with less than 2 hectares (ha). Moreover 75% of the rural poor of which 2.1 billion live on less than $ 2 per day and 880 million on less than $1 a day, and most depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. (World Bank, 2007). According to the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), climate change is anticipated to have severe effects on food security, environmental sustainability and equity, possibly increasing the number of hungry people from 100 million to 380 million by 2080 (Easterling et al. 2007). The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge (IAASTD) report stated that “the way the world grows its food will have to change radically to better serve the poor and hungry if the world is to cope with growing population and climate change while avoiding social breakdown and environmental collapse.” (IAASTD, 2008)

The use of fossil fuel in agriculture is very high in agriculture. About 10 calories of fossil energy is required to produce one calorie of food energy by the modern high input agriculture systems. With the Climate smart agriculture technologies the energy requirement can be reduced by 20 to 50 percent and if well designed even more. Reduction or elimination of fossil fuel use in agricultural production will soon be crucial in the fight against hunger in a world where fossil fuels are in short supply (Tim et. al., 2008).

Reducing the cost of production and transforming agriculture into sustainable, productive and profitable by low-cost technologies is the need of the hour. Amongst different technologies available, bio-digesters are low-cost and apt for the resource poor small farmers.

What are Bio-digestors?

Bio-digesters are waterproof containers made using bricks and cement to ferment the biomass like weeds and crop residues that are available in the farm to prepare liquid manures to address the crop nutrition and pest management of a variety of crops. This low cost technology not only reduces the cost of production but also empowers the small holder farmers. It can be constructed by an individual farmer or group of farmers in one village and can become even more economical. This technology is promoted in Bhutan by the National Organic Program (NoP) to support and facilitate the small holder farmers to reduce the cost of production by efficiently utilizing the local natural resources and build capacities of farming communities to produce all inputs on-farm.

The liquid manure that is produced by the bio-digester is very effective in addressing crop nutrition in organic agriculture. The solution is diluted in 10 parts of water and sprayed on the foliage of the crops. The solution can also be used through irrigation water and also linked to drip and sprinkler irrigation systems.

In crops wherein the pests are a major problem, traditional medicinal plants or weeds that have strong odour like, Argemone mexicana, Artemesia sp., Calotropis gigantea, Clitoria terneata, Croton sparsiflorus, Eupatorium sp., Gomphrena globosa, Leucas aspera, Lantana camara, Ocimum canum and Parthenium hysterophorus are very effective.

Bio-digester can offer lot of benefits to small farmers. The liquid manure that is produced after the fermentation in a bio-digester can be used to,

a.      to provide nutrients to crops by foliar sprays

b.      to protect crops from pests and diseases

c.       help to avoid the use of synthetic chemicals like fertilizers and pesticides.

d.      the local resources can be used efficiently

e.      helps to save costs in crop production

f.       the preparations are environmentally friendly and protects the beneficial organisms

g.      helps to use the local and traditional knowledge

h.      empowers the farmers to be self reliant

Climate smart agriculture technologies are regenerative as they restore nutrients and carbon in the soil, resulting in higher nutrient density in crops and increased yields resulting in improving the capacity of the farming systems.


If these regenerative climate smart farming practices are applied to all the world’s 3.5 billion tillable acres, close to 40 percent of all global CO2 emissions can be mitigated. In addition the farmers of the developed and developing world can be empowered by being least dependant on the transnational agribusiness companies for all the farming inputs.


Extracts from the paper “Bio-digester: A low-cost technology for small holder farmers”presented at 17th IFOAM Organic World Congress , Republic of South Korea, 28 Sept – 2nd October, 2011

Underutilized Crops

Underutilized crops are those which are not in the mainstream food production like millets, local crops, native fruit crops etc.. Globally more than 80% of the food requirement is met by merely 15 crops. Woefully, emphasis on research and development programs is on the major 15 crops; research programs on breeding, agronomy, crop protection etc. Every variety of a crop throws a gamut of challenge to the scientists to find an appropriate answer and most of the solutions are short lived and static. 

On the contrary there are nearly 7000 species of plants which don’t require the conventional technical agro-inputs; they just grow naturally by utilizing the natural resources.In the present climate change scenario, there is need to use the abundant biodiversity which is available in every region.

With ignorance a large number of plants that we see around are termed as 'weeds'. There is need for rethinking and redefining the term weed. They are not unwanted plants. Weeds are the plants whose use and potentials are not known to humans. With awareness, research and sharing information on these ‘orphan crops’ we can reduce pressure on the main staple food crops and solve the food crisis.

There is enough in this world for everyone's need, but not enough for everyone's greed. —Mahatma Gandhi 

Let me share my experiences on some underutilized crops from Bhutan. To begin with, Slippery gourd or Cyclanthera pedata which is not only an excellent vegetable but also has lot of nutrition and health benefits. Though the origin of this crop is Andes, it is very popular in Bhutan and the Himalayan region. 

To know more about this underutilized crop visit