Archive for the ‘Agriculture’ Category


Organic Honey


Once upon a time honey was considered to be one of the most natural and healthy food products. As modern, chemical intensive agriculture started dominating farm practices, doubts were cast whether pesticide residues would be found in honey. Sure enough, when the research and analysis was done, many different pesticides and even antibiotics were found in the honey. See

Introduction of foreign species of bees to improve honey production meant that commercial beekeepers had to resort to use of antibiotics to prevent the bees from succumbing to infection. Bee keeping also requires that when honey is not available substitute feed sources have to be used. So the honey has the potential to be contaminated from several sources.

The standards for organic production of honey specify the following:

  1. General principles
  2. Conversion period
  3. Origin of the bees
  4. Siting of the apiaries
  5. Feed
  6. Disease prevention and veterinary treatments
  7. Husbandry management practices and identification
  8. Characteristics of hives and materials used in beekeeping

The details of the European standard can be seen at

Social enterprises have found that production and sale of organic honey and the byproducts can be highly beneficial as additional income to small and marginal farmers.

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Organic Cotton


It may seem like Organic Cotton is a fashion statement being made for and by the elite of society but it is actually a dire need for cotton farmers in India and for the environment. India has the largest area under cotton cultivation amongst all countries in the world and provides a livelihood to around 7 million people. Cotton cultivation also uses more than half the total pesticides used in Indian agriculture as a whole. In terms of the cultivable land in India cotton takes up 5% and when you consider more than 50% of total pesticides is used for concentration it can be understood what an effect it would have on the environment and the cultivators.

Organic or eco-friendly cotton cultivation can address the issues of human health, environmental pollution, soil health, ecology of the surrounding areas and mainly the profitability of cotton farming. For a more detailed understanding of these issues see

“Mikaal Fibres” was a company that was a pioneer in the field of organic cotton farming. It brought together more than 1500 small and marginal farmers and proved that organic cotton farming can significantly improve the livelihoods of small farmers. A detailed report on the project and the productivity of the farmers in comparison to conventional farmers is given in

Zameen Organics has part shareholding with cotton farmers and is providing organic cotton products at different process points such as cotton lint, cotton seed, yarn, fabrics, garments and home wear. There is a good video here.

The introduction of Bt Cotton was supposed to improve the livelihood of conventional cotton farmers. But independent researchers are claiming that organic farming is better for farmers than Bt Cotton.

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Biodynamic Association of India


The Biodynamic Association of India is currently being run from Kodaikanal by David Hogg ( In previous blog entries I have written about my experiences with preparations, chromatograms and the calendar. For those of you who found that interesting please note that there is a Biodynamic Association of India and their work statement is below along with the link to the website.

Bio-dynamic agriculture is an advanced form of organic farming, with techniques to ‘farm the air’ as well as farm the soil, and is the oldest organic farming movement practiced in over 20 countries in the world. It includes the normal organic farming practices, such as the use of compost, green manures, and crop rotation. In addition, Bio-dynamic agriculture uses a series of Preparations numbered from 500 to 508 which are based on various mineral, plant, and animal substances. These enhance all the bacterial, fungal and mineral processes that are found in the organic farming system. Placing great importance on the auspicious positions of the moon, sun and planets, a Planting Calendar is used for applying the biodynamic preparations, sowing seeds, planting plants, applying liquid manures, spraying fruit trees and crops, and other farming activities. Experience has shown that use of the Bio-dynamic techniques can make all organic farming processes work more quickly and better.

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Biodynamic Calendar


Indian farmers use a “panchangam” as a guide to farming activities. “Krishi Panchangam or Agro-almanac or Agro-panchang may be defined as ‘basic astro-agricultural guide book/ calendar published annually, giving calendrical information on various aspects of agriculture and allied activities, basically suggesting region-wise, season-wise and crop-wise crop strategy based on astro meterological predictions, giving auspicious/ inauspicious time for undertaking / avoiding various farm related operations, along with a list of performing religious rites, festival, observation fasts and some non-astrological guidance, primarily useful for the farming communities and persons having interest in agricultural development” (from ).

The Biodynamic system of agriculture too has an active calendar and largely follows the cycles of the moon. There are three methods for planting by the moon, the Synodic, or waxing and waning cycle, the Sidereal, and the Biodynamic cycle. These can be seen at The Biodynamic Association of India has its own calendar that can be seen at

The theory behind the use of the panchangam and the biodynamic calendar is based on some scientific truth. The tides on our ocean are controlled by the proximity of the moon to the earth. When the moon is closer its gravitational attraction is higher and it pulls the water towards it causing high tide.  A good animation can be seen at

In a similar fashion it is suggested that after a seed is put into the ground the gravitational attraction of the moon can make it easier for the germination to take place. The idea is that the moon helps pull the germinating seed to break ground. There is a skeptics view presented at It also good to see:

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Measuring fat Improves Income of Dairy Farmers


Artificial Insemination technology that BAIF introduced and spread throughoutt India (see  has gone towards improving cattle livestock, improving milk yields and better remunerations for farmers. There was another technology breakthrough implementation that gave dairy farmers raised incomes and better input quality control for the milk processing plants.

A small company called Shree Kamadhenu Electronics Pvt. Ltd. pioneered the technology and implementation of Milk Collection Systems.

“Shree Kamdhenu Electronics Pvt. Ltd. (INDIA) provides one stop solutions to the dairy sector Since 1996 under the brand name AKASHGANGA‘ ™. We offer a total integrated solution for Automatic Milk Collection Systems (AMCS). More than 3,252 AMCS units are already installed. Simple, but appropriate solutions to facilitate timely collection of milk and thereby generating higher earnings for the rural milk producers by introducing Quantity, Quality based Payment System for the Milk Producers.”


The company is being modest on its own web site. The really important piece of technology they introduced was a means of quickly measuring the % of fat in the milk brought to the collection centre by the farmer.

This measurement when integrated with the existing Automatic Milk Collection System  gave farmers more transparency, better incomes (higher milk fat means higher earnings) and better quality control for the milk processing plant. The system helped remove the practice of dilution of milk with water practiced by farmers and rewarded them for offering a better product.

“One key operation is to measure/weigh milk, indicate fat percentage, price payable to the supplier, indicate customer number, date-time and session of supply through a printout. For the record of Village Cooperative, a report is generated at the end of each session containing customer  number, milk  procured in litres fat content, amount payable to each customer separately for Cow milk and Buffalo milk. This report also contains additional feature to print total weight and average fat for Cow milk and Buffalo milk separately. Every ten days customer wise ledger containing information on total milk supplied and the amount payable to the customer for the period is generated.”


One small company with a daily impact on a very large number of small dairy farmers.

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Biodynamic Chromatogram as an Analytic Tool


The use of chromatograms in Biodynamic Agriculture was supposed to show the presence of a spiritual component a “formative force”. The chromatogram is an image developed from an extract of substances like soil, dung or food using simple commonly available chemicals. (see )

I first saw the chromatograms at a Biodynamic workshop held at Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu, by C Jeyakaran and friends. I was accompanied by Dr. K Perumal and we were both representing Shri A M M Murugapa Chettiar Research Centre (MCRC), Chennai. Perumal and I, were both fascinated by the chromatograms and we discussed the similarity of the technique with conventional chromatography. I suggested to Perumal it would be good to see how important soil nutrients like Nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P) and Potassium (K) looked like with this technique.

Perumal kept working on this and a couple of years later after I had left MCRC we met again and discussed the technique. By then I was with n-Logue Communications Private Limited. n-Logue was putting up internet kiosks in villages and I was searching for special applications to put on the internet for the kiosks set up in the villages.

I suggested that Perumal should create a library/database of chromatograms. The IIT Madras had a bunch of researchers working on pattern recognition. If the chromatogram kits could be standardized then a chromatogram of the soil at a farmers field could be compared with images in the database using pattern recognition software through an internet connection at the village. The comparison and subsequent interpretation would be used to give guidelines on the quantity and type of nutrient the soil needed to become healthy.

These were just ideas we were throwing around at that time but Perumal continued to work on it and he even got research funding from Department of Science and Technology, Government of India. He worked and built a kit that gives repeated and reliable results. He also created a vast library of images. Validation of results used conventional techniques as well.

Today this technology is to be used to advise farmers on their soil nutrient requirements. Fo more information contact Dr. K Perumal ( at Shri AMM Murugappa Chettiar Research Centre. (

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Biodynamic Farming


When I first came across Biodynamic Gardening I was 22 years old and understood it as a form of kitchen gardening that would maximize yield by close planting and stay healthy with companion planting all done on raised beds and was watchful of planetary rhythms. This was at Vadakadambadi village campus of the Shri A M M Murugappa Chettiar Research Centre outside Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu. (You can see the campus:

Almost 2 decades later I came to understand that the Biodynamic system was evolved by Rudolph Steiner (and his mysterious companion) who was part of the Theosophical movement led by Annie Besant. I learnt that the system had many other aspects including Biodynamic preparations and analytical techniques using chromatograms.

There are critics of the techniques and also many studies done to compare organic and conventional systems of agriculture with biodynamic agriculture. Most of these comparisons are incomplete and don’t really answer the question of which method is superior. However the results show that the biodynamic system works with minimal inputs and produces yields similar to the other systems of agriculture. Interestingly analysis of the soil in lands where biodynamic system is practiced showed “The Biodynamic farms proved in most enterprises to have soils of higher biological and physical quality: significantly greater in organic matter, content and microbial activity, more earthworms, better soil structure, lower bulk density, easier penetrability, and thicker topsoil.” ( see:

To any technocrat the methods of making the biodynamic prepartions seem more like magic than science. As a technocrat I have to say that despite my great skepticism the results I saw in the field were exceptional. While inspecting a tea garden where the system was practiced, one of the preparations called bark paste was applied on the tea bush, in a pruned section. In a neighbouring pruned section the paste was yet to be applied. Both sections had been pruned at the same time. The new bud generation on the section where bark paste had been applied was at least double or triple compared to that on the section where it had not been applied. This same garden has consistently yielded higher than the average for the district.

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Organic Food – an alternative


If conventional food abounds with chemicals that are harmful to humans and animals what are we to do?  “The advantages of consuming organic food products over their chemically-doused counterparts is obvious. Since they are grown in an environment that’s completely free of synthetic inputs, such as fertilisers and pesticides, switching to organic food can help prevent a myriad of health defects like lower body weight, poor immunity and a damaged nervous system.” See the full article at.

The article contains several myths but is a good read. One of these myths is with regard to the yield that can be obtained from organic farming. The perception is that the yield will be lower than conventional systems of agriculture. A rigorous analysis of the data from many trials conducted across the globe will show that this is not true.

Conventional agriculture with its intensive use of fertilisers, high yielding varieties, pesticides and other synthetic inputs causes degradation of the soil. This degradation leads to higher cost of inputs and declining yield. Farmers at this stage are at their wits end as the land has negative productivity, meaning inputs and costs don’t match with yield and income. This degradation has to be reversed.

Reversal means that the soils have to be brought back to good health. This process can be speeded up or can be done at a slow pace. It requires time and money.

The fast way would be to replace unhealthy soil with healthy organic soil. Another way would be to improve the top layers with the addition of good quality compost. Depending on what crop is to be grown vermi-compost can be used around the individual plant root system and isolating it from the surroundings. In all these measures the residues left from conventional agriculture are not taken care of (except if the soil is replaced).

Organic farm certification requirements (according to the European Union) stem from the knowledge that most harmful residues reduce within a 3 year period and this period is called the in-conversion period for perennials (trees plants and shrubs that have a productive life cycle of more than 2 years). The in-conversion period for annuals (plants that are replanted like rice and wheat) is 2 years. This in-conversion period also varies from country to country.

Certainly, when a soil is unhealthy the yield will be poor whether you practice conventional or organic agriculture. However, once the soil is brought back to good health the organic system gives sustained good yields and in some cases can exceed the yield from conventional practice as plant vigour and ability to resist disease and infections is made better by good soil nutrient (compost, animal dung, oil cake, wood ash etc.) control and pro-plant inputs (plant protection and plant health inputs).

My personal experience while inspecting organic farms has been that when agriculturists practice scientific organic principles the yield will increase over conventional farming methods and provide a good return on investment.

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Notes from the field: Observations from DNE Network’s operations in Thanjavur

Contributed by Robert Moore

Siddharth Tata was invited by IFMR to take a hard look at DNE’s (Dairy Network Enterprise) SY0-301 exam Dairy Healthcare and Productivity Services Delivery Model in Thanjavur and tell them about things they needed to watch out for. His
comments include financial sustainability, the capacity of MFI partners, and importance of communication.
CCNP 642-902 exam

Read Tata’s entire post on the IFMR blog, here.

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Enhacing Food Value Chains

Agricultural practices have a direct bearing on how an economy feeds itself and the general quality of life of a population. Adopting sound agricultural practices is therefore crucial for any economy. Agri-businesses no doubt, play a strong role in enhancing agriculture value chains.

According to a recent report by the World Economic Forum, “Next Billions: Business Strategies to Enhance Food Value Chains and Empower the Poor,” more than 70% of the bottom of the pyramid depends on agriculture value chains for their income. The benefits of enhancing these value chains through new business models is no doubt huge.

Tapping in on this opportunity, the report takes a look at the several business models that can be employed to enhance value for the several actors in play. The report presents solutions to producers, consumers and solutions to empower entrepreneurs.

It also makes recommendations for stakeholder engagement, such as strengthening incentives for business engagement, providing complementary funding and capacity, facilitating corporate engagement.

The report offers business models that have the potential to create substantial value for the poor consumers, producers and entrepreneurs as well as for companies. It hopes to provide a roadmap for companies seeking a win-win approach in emerging markets, and those that wish to establish a workable, profitable and scalable business model.

Read the complete WEF report here.

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