Monday, September 7, 2020

Edible Insects: Alternative protein source and potential market

The industrial ways of meat production is unsustainable causing deforestation, soil degradation, pollution of soil and water bodies. The animal feedlots cause severe human health issues for people living close to these confined industrial animal production units. There are concerns on use of hormones, antibiotics and other chemicals that has severe effect on human and animal health. Growing population and rising meat consumption is driving disruptive innovations for alternative protein sources. Entomophagy or consuming insects offers lot of potentials to address the current concerns.

Insects are historically consumed as food in many cultures. The consumption of insects started about 7000 years ago. The Bible mentions the food of John the Baptist was locust and wild honey (Matthew 3:4). In Asia, Africa,  Europe, central and south America’s  several insects are eaten. About 2300 insect species of 18 orders are consumed as food in 113 countries. Most of them are harvested from wild, however few species are reared commercially. Insects are common snacks in the streets Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and several African countries. The most commonly eaten insects are grasshoppers, termites, crickets, larvae, beetles, bees and ants.  

Insects as food is becoming a trend now, it’s no more a poor man’s food. Edible insect industry is growing very fast in the US and Europe. In addition to food, insects are used in pharmaceutical, cosmetics, pet food and agriculture industry. The research and development on edible insects is still in its nascent stage. Both fundamental research and its application offers tremendous potential to address some of the current environmental and humanitarian challenges. It may take a while for insects to be consumed as food in the US and other countries where eating insects is not a part of the local tradition. 

Insects are made into powder, commonly referred as flour that is used in snacks and nutrient bars. Insect flours has several applications as feed sources for pets, fishes, livestock and poultry. Insects can be reared using the biomass from the farm and recycled back as feed sources for livestock and pets. It perfectly blends into the concept of circular economy and regenerative systems. Insects can be reared in a low-cost simple insect farm to a highly sophisticated system with automation, sensors, robots and IoT.

Insects can also be used as food additives. For example the dark red dye carmine is used for clothes, cosmetics and food. The red dye of lac insect is used for cloth dying and beverage industry.Likewise there are several applications of insects in healthcare and industrial products.

Use of insect waste products

While rearing insects their droppings commonly referred as frass that also contains outer skeleton (exoskeleton) is generated in large quantities. Frass has an application in agriculture industry as a manure. I was involved in advising a company for using the frass in agriculture and realized that it cannot be used directly in commercial agriculture. However with technical tweaks the product can be redesigned to suit appropriate soil and crop conditions.

Insects offer several solutions to address the current challenges of food and nutrition security. Rather than focussing on 30 major staple crops, entomophagy offers diversification of food sources that not only supplements protein but also reduces the ecological footprints. However care needs to be taken on food safety concerns. Some insects can have poisonous products in them. For example the giant African silkworm has thiaminase that is considered as carcinogen. People experiencing allergies after eating grasshoppers, crickets, cicadas and wasps are reported.

Entomophagy is a sunrise industry. It perfectly fits into a decentralized setup where people rear insects in their houses or backyards like kitchen garden, say, ‘edible insect gardens’. Several companies are now producing insects at an industrial scale that has a great potential with the rising market for alternative protein sources.

 

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Regenerative urban garden in Italy

 Italy, known for its food and gastronomy still sustains their culture and traditions. While walking through the lanes and streets one feels the reminiscence of European novels dating back to few hundred years. The ancient architecture is restored and preserved for the future generations to visualize history in their surroundings. Certain provinces have restrictions on the use of certain colors of paint on their houses. During my morning walks it was a common scene to see the elders of the house busy cleaning the surroundings of the house. They look like a tribe of clean freaks!

In the past 2 years I had an opportunity to visit Italy 4 times. People are very friendly, I consider it as my second home. There is a growing awareness on safe, nutritious and local food. Large number of Italians are concerned about the rising popularity of junk food outlets in cities. However, several little towns have farmers markets where local farmers sell their produce. Farmers sell fruits, vegetables, breads and a variety of local food.

This local movement of creating awareness in regenerative urban gardening was started by Ms. Michela Savia who came to know about my work in Bhutan and other countries after reading several articles on the internet. Michela is the proprietor of an Ayurvedic spa in Borgomonero near Milan. She along with a group of women were interested to learn low-cost farming methods utilizing the resources available locally and promote these practices to a large group of rural and urban farmers. Though organic agriculture or regenerative agriculture systems are becoming popular, farmers and gardeners are still dependent on purchased inputs like compost, growth promoting sprays and bio-pesticides. It defeats the very purpose of regenerative gardening.

Nature provides all the requirements for proper functioning of a healthy plant or animal. If we could mimic the forest ecosystems where every plant and animal cooperates and shares the resources. Moreover, the waste of one is the resource of the other. If the same principles are used in gardening farmers can be independent and self-reliant. For example, the fallen leaves, pruned litter, hedge clippings, weeds, food and kitchen wastes are disposed as trash. My workshops in Italy were focused on how to use the wastes in gardening as a resource. It was well attended by several people and now there are several examples of success by people who are adopting these simple low-cost practices in their gardens or farms.






































Manuring Peach trees






Bountiful Harvest



Friday, May 1, 2020

Biodynamic Agriculture: Farming in service of life


It was a pleasure to share my views and participate in a beautifully shot short film " Biodynamic Agriculture: Farming in service of life" by Kiss the Ground team. I appreciate the professionalism of the young team of film makers Ben Cowan and Taliesin Black-Brown. Thanks to Erin Sojourner for the introduction.

Biodynamic agriculture has changed my perceptions towards life and environment. The deep ecological concepts facilitated me to understand the fundamental sublime creative principle of life that we see around us. Rudolf Steiner was a mystic and a clairvoyant who studied the eastern philosophies of life. He was very much influenced by the Vedic scriptures and mentions those concepts vividly.

Steiner reiterates the ancient wisdom of viewing nature as an organism that is harmonious, self regulating entity. Unfortunately the 16th century concept of " fallen nature' that considers nature as disorderly and chaotic changed the perception of humans towards nature. It was felt that humans have a reason to control the blind forces of nature. Manifest destiny and dominion of nature became the progressive paradigms during those period. The impacts of of such ignorance can be witnessed even today.

I was fortunate to get introduced to Peter Proctor from New Zealand in 1996 who became my 'guru' in biodynamic agriculture. Peter was a great human being who was passionate about biodynamics and its field applications. The deep spiritual underpinnings of this system of agriculture helps to understand the holistic integrity of creation.

In the past 20 years I have advised large scale projects in organic and biodynamic agriculture in 10 countries across Asia, Europe and the US. It's such a fulfilment to see the transformation that can be seen on soil, health of plants, quality of food and people who are engaged in farming. Food tastes good when it is produced in tandem with laws of nature. Food nourishes not only our body but also our thoughts. There is a old saying " As the food so our mind, as the mind so our thoughts, as our thoughts so our actions". All our actions are due the food that we consume. The quality of food determines the quality of our actions.

I would like to share this beautiful short film "Biodynamic agriculture: farming in service of life" and also a brief conversation during the premiere of this film. Hope you enjoy it !


Biodynamic Agriculture: Farming in service of life




Interview on Biodynamic Agriculture


Sunday, February 16, 2020

Sustainability in Bali: Through the lens of perennial wisdom


During the past two years I visited Bali, Indonesia 7 times! Bali is a fine tourist destination with its beautiful shores, splendid peaks, great cuisine and culture. One can spend their entire life in Bali, there’s so much to explore and learn. Balinese are wonderful hosts, they greet people “Om Swasti astu” meaning, may health and wellbeing be upon you. It’s a common way of saying hello when we meet people in the island.

With progressive farmer Mr.Suweden in Bali
The perennial Hindu philosophy of Bali is called ‘Agama thirta’. It can be summed up as the grand narrative of the island, an incredible concept called ‘tri hita karna’ means three actions for fulfilment. It’s all about human relationships with fellow human beings, the environment and the divine. The human pursuit to live in harmony with nature by being gentle and respectful to her during changing times and situations. Life is a worldwide web where every species are interconnected and each of them play an important role to regenerate nature through their endeavors. 'Tri hita karna’ guides a person to dig deep into their consciousness to find the purpose and meaning for their life. It sets a inquiry in our minds; how can I add value to people and planet and influence people to add value to the environment.


Rice terraces in Bali
In Bali, I was advising the Government's Ministry of Education to develop a curriculum to integrate Balinese Hindu culture with Agriculture in collaboration with Bali Schools Project. It was a great opportunity for me to research the subject, meet people to understand their culture and practices. Their understanding of nature and her personification was an epiphany, a revelation that blew my mind. Agriculture in Bali is not just planting seeds and harvesting the produce. It’s a sacred act, a collaboration, a promise with nature that all human actions will be under the laws of nature. It’s all about treating nature as we wish to be treated. 

With the officials of Bali Government 
Rice is one of the major crop in Bali. They grow many tropical fruits, vegetables and  also coffee. Coffee plantations are close to my heart since I was born and brought up in a coffee estate. Coffee is intercropped with mandarins and bananas. They also have 'luwak coffee'. The wild civet cats are called luwak in Bali, they feed on the coffee beans and their droppings are collected, cleaned and roasted. It's a speciality coffee that is sold 10 times higher the price of a regular coffee. I call it " poo coffee" !! We live in an interesting world.

Every rice field has a small temple, it’s a sacred place. Rice cultivation for Balinese is festival of life, a celebration of nature for her kindness and generosity for providing bountiful gifts. It’s a miracle of mother earth where one seed of rice multiplies to 10,000 seeds, a perfect interplay of matter and energy. They practice about 40 rituals from the day when rice seed is sown unto the harvest.  The rice plants are cared as their fellow beings, not different from their family members. Balinese farmers seek permission from mother earth before tilling the rice terraces and before harvest.  They adopt an ancient system of fair sharing of water among all the rice farmers, it’s called as ‘Subak system’. All the members in the village discuss how to manage the irrigation water so that all the farmers benefit. I feel it’s the world’s oldest living democratization system of natural resources to benefit the community. This echoes with the thoughts of Buckminster Fuller,” A world that works for everyone and no one is left over.”


Farmer Suweden with 5 feet high paddy crop

I love meeting farmers and learn from their wisdom. Farmers are the best teachers of agriculture. I met farmer Mr.Suweden, the head of a farmers group in a village Jutiluwih known for it's picturesque rice terraces. My purpose was to introduce the ‘System of Rice Intensification’ (SRI) in Bali that could reduce water usage in rice cultivation by 50%. Mr Suweden agreed to experiment in one of the rice terrace. He was surprised to see paddy plants reaching a height of 5 feet. He never saw such robust, tall rice plants. Through this simple technique he could double the rice production. There is a need to promote SRI method of rice cultivation in Bali to reduce the ecological footprint.

With actor Jim Carrey planting rice seedlings in Iowa.
I had an opportunity to meet the renowned actor Jim Carrey to plant rice seedlings in Iowa ! Jim is known all over the world for comedic and dramatic roles in movies. Little we know about this great actor and his passion to support smallholder farmers. In many countries women are predominantly involved in transplanting and weeding of rice. They spend several hours standing in water logged paddy fields. Water stagnation breeds mosquitoes and other parasites causing several diseases to the farming community. Jim's Better U foundation promotes the SRI method of rice cultivation in Asia and Africa. 

Having fun with actor Jim Carrey !

The Governor of Bali, Mr. Koster is keen to transform entire Bali into a green island and shift to regenerative agricultural systems. I had a wonderful discussion with him and was invited to speak at an event in Bali to connect the ancient culture of Bali with the concepts of ecological agriculture. Besides I developed a course curriculum for Bali Government by integrating their culture with agriculture. The Minister of Education, Province of Bali, Ms. Tia Kusuma Wardhani and representatives of Bali Schools project Adam and Wayan Sutrisna were very supportive in evolving a new curriculum that is rooted in the values of Balinese culture and heritage.  

Meeting Governor of Bali Mr. Koster (Photo: Bali Post)
There can be no better way of communicating sustainability and ecological consciousness by connecting the people through their own traditions and culture. Communication is all about connecting people to create a passion to influence others. When native cultures are embedded into our communication, people own the knowledge and connect to their glorious past and act consciously in the present. It has a great potential to impact communities leading to social change.


Speaking on Connecting Agriculture with culture
Sustainability is better understood through native cultures and perennial philosophies. It's an amazing experience of unlearning, learning and relearning. Schools, Universities, developmental agencies and foundations need to integrate culture into their pedagogy and communication strategies.  Traditional knowledge systems have their depth and width  in their concepts and approaches since these thoughts and experiences evolved over a millennia. They are ancient, time tested, scientific and replicated over the years by several generations. Bali is a great place to learn and understand deep sustainability through their perennial wisdom and culture.  " Om swasti astu"








Monday, January 6, 2020

Crop Insurance and Organic Agriculture in the US

Irregular weather patterns are becoming regular, posing a great risk for crop and livestock production. During the last few years variable weather patterns were observed globally affecting food production. Flooding, droughts, fires, hailstorms, heat waves are becoming a common norm. The current bush fires in Australia and its impact in neighboring New Zealand is a testimony of the risks that farmers and ranchers face irrespective of their geographical location. Crop insurance is a great tool to manage risk and adapt to climate related uncertainties and market price instability.  

Crop insurance are broadly two types; one protects the yield and the other provides revenue protection. Crop Yield insurance is also called as multiple peril crop insurance predominantly suits commodity crops and crops that have a well-established yield history in a county or nearby counties. In US, commodity crops have a very well documented yield histories and easily qualify for protection against yield losses. Up to 95% of the crop yield could be insured.

Organic agriculture predominantly is a biodiverse farming system. Whole farm revenue Protection (WFRP) is a perfect match since it’s designed for a diversified cropping system. In WFRP upto 85% of the revenue generated from the farm from crops and livestock can be insured upto a maximum limit of $8.5 million of insured revenue. If the farm is a livestock operation or a greenhouse/nursery the insurable income is $2 million maximum.   Farm revenue is the price of the farm produce. For farms to be eligible under WFRP, farmers need to cultivate three or more crops and have a history of farm tax forms (Schedule F) for atleast 5 years. Beginning farmers (having 10 years or less farming experience) or Veteran farmers or ranchers need to have 3 years of farm tax forms.  There is a scope for mix and match with WFRP and Crop Yield Insurance. One or two main crops can come under crop yield insurance and the rest in WFRP depending on local situation and farmer’s choice.



I would like to share my experiences of my discussion with organic farmers on crop insurance and what are some of the reasons for not opting them.  Large number of farmers are still not fully aware of WFRP and its benefits. Farmers felt the insurance agents are not well equipped with answering questions related to organic agriculture and diverse farming systems when compared to their expertise in commodity crops. They also feel insurance agents promote the most popular crop yield insurance products that are at times more expensive to organic farmers when compared to WFRP. Few organic farmers were still of the opinion that 5% surcharge is charged on organic operations which is not true anymore. There is a need to educate the farmers that no such surcharge is levied on organic farms. In 2014, Risk Management Agency (RMA) has eliminated the surcharge that was charged on organic operations. Creating awareness amongst organic farmers and associations is key to educate farmers on WFRP so that they can take advantage of federal programs and simultaneously mitigate risk.

The growing organic sector has tremendous scope to recover a large portion of the expected income in the advent of crop failure or loss through WFRP. Roughly about 60-65% of the premium is federally funded. In the 2018 Farm bill 24% of the total budget is allocated for crop insurance. Even industrial hemp is covered under insurance protection from the loss of farm revenue. Crop Insurance companies need to train their insurance agents in regenerative organic agriculture practices so that they understand them and confidently interact with farmers. WFRP is a great choice for organic farmers and comparatively less expensive compared to individual crop insurance products. WFRP can not only mitigate risk in diverse cropping systems but also promote regenerative agriculture to conserve soils, produce safe food and nourish our environment.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Regenerative Organic Agriculture - Television interviews in Italy

Telecolor the national television channel of Italy has been very kind to interview me whenever I am in Italy for my consulting projects. The Director of Telecolor Ms. Micol is very passionate to promote regenerative agriculture in Italy, she comes from a farming family. Telecolor is known for creating programs in food, agriculture, health and alternative lifestyle that that are not  common in the mainstream media.  Following are my 3 interviews translated in Italian. Thanks to Michela Savia for translating my spontaneous thoughts so well.