Monday, 31 August 2015

Web Enabled Project Management Information System for Department of Bio Technology Projects

Dhirendra Kumar
News Curator cum Moderator
Indian Botanists
The Union Minister for Science & Technology & Earth Sciences Dr. Harsh Vardhan launched web enabled project management information system for the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) projects. While inaugurating the DBT Strategy Meet at the NCR Biotech Science Cluster, Faridabad today, he also unveiled a mobile app for the purpose. The application will be available at

Dr. Harsh Vardhan launching the “eProMIS”,  for the DBT projects
These applications will help registration of new investigators, online submission of proposals, Upload project related documents and even Online tracking of projects, reviewing the proposals and intimation of release of grants. 

Screen Shot of website
 This is expected to avoid delay in processing project proposals and access of information to the applicants on their proposals from anywhere. Delays could be avoided as there can be peer review of the projects online. 
Source: Press Release, Press Information Bureau, India

Thursday, 27 August 2015

TRIFED Invites R & D Project Proposals on Minor Forest Products

Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India Limited (TRIFED), Ministry of Tribals Affairs, Government of India invites Research and Development (R&D) project proposals on Minor Forest Products (MFPs) which should consist of the development of new /innovative products and/or low cost processing technology or other scientific research work which enhances the value of existing MFPs such as Sal seed & leaf, Mahuwa seed & flower, Lac , Chironjee, Wild Honey, Myrobalan, Tamarind, Gum Karaya, Karanj seed and so on. The outcome of the project should be useful for the tribal communities to undertake the same in their places of habit at so that after the use of derived products, techniques/ application, tribal beneficiaries can get higher benefits in terms of their livelihood & income  generation.

Last Date : 30th September 2015

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Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Environment Minister Calls for Nominations for India Biodiversity Awards 2016 at Tenth Annual Meeting of State Biodiversity Boards

Dhirendra Kumar
News Curator cum Moderator
Indian Botanists

The two-day national meeting of the State Biodiversity Boards (SBBs) organised by the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) concluded here today. The meet serves as a platform to share the collective experiences on the implementation of the Biodiversity (BD) Act at national, state and local levels and deliberate the way forward to meet the challenges ahead jointly. This is tenth in the series of such a national conclave since the establishment of the NBA in the year 2003.

The wrap-up session was attended by Minister of State (Independent Charge) of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Shri Prakash Javadekar and Mr. Yuri Afanasiev, UN Resident Representative, UN. The Minister announced the call for nominations for India Biodiversity Awards 2016, which is a collaborative initiative between the Ministry and UNDP-India. The Chairman, NBA informed the Minister about the discussion held on various issues such as formation of Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs), documentation of Peoples’ Biodiversity Register (PBRs), implementing Access of Benefit Sharing (ABS) mechanisms, notification of threatened species and updating the State Biodiversity Action Plan.

Logo belongs to NBA, India
Recognising the need for continuous engagement and constant dialogue with the SBBs as well as strengthening of institutional framework as an important element in the effective implementation of the BD Act, the meeting reviewed the progress made on the resolutions adopted in the Environment & Forest Ministers’ Conference held in April 2015. It is notable that Telangana and Jammu & Kashmir have notified their state-specific rules as a part of compliance of the resolution made in the April meet.

Many SBBs are proactively taking forward the Access of Benefit Sharing (ABS) Regulations 2014 issued by the National Biodiversity Authority in their respective States. During deliberations, the SBBs like Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal shared their best practices on the above score. The experts who participated in the meeting provided clarity on the queries raised by the SBBs, especially on the formation of Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs), sharing of benefits to the community and interpretation of certain provisions of the Act.

Twenty six State Biodiversity Boards, members of the Authority, Chairpersons of the Expert Committees and Chairperson and Member Secretaries participated in the event. Chairman, NBA and other senior officers of the Ministry also participated in the meeting.

The meeting had been inaugurated by Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), Shri Ashok Lavasa, yesterday. 
The National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) was established in 2003 to implement India’s Biological Diversity Act (2002). The NBA is Autonomous body and that performs facilitative, regulatory and advisory function for Government of India on issue of Conservation, sustainable use of biological resource and fair equitable sharing of benefits of use.
Source: Press Release, Press Information Bureau

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Indian Agriculture: Where Are We Headed?

Arpita Bhattacharjya
Food Policy Blogger at Thought+Food
Washington DC
@greenfork on twitter
Editorial Handling: Rabish Chandra, Scientific Curator cum Moderator, Indian Botanists


As long as I can remember, Indian Agriculture has been beset with problems. The Green Revolution was a significant change and a huge step for a country struggling to prevent famine but those productivity gains did not spread through the sector. Indeed, on my summer holiday trips, as the train would move away from the lush fields of Haryana and Punjab and towards the east, the difference in the levels of prosperity would be evident through the windows. In the years that have passed what has changed? It would seem, not much. As I participate in social media debates on the food system today, I often have to respond to the "Indian farmer suicides" issue and this prompted me to look further at the state of Indian Agriculture today.

Indian Agriculture today: the numbers

I learned that according to the National Sample Survey Office Report, 58 percent of the total population of India, about 90.2 million households, are in the agricultural sector. The observed path in most growing economies is for the number of households in the agricultural sector to fall. By that standard, this is a huge proportion and clearly, the health and vitality of this sector would have implications for the entire Indian economy and its ability to grow.

More than half the agricultural households are in debt, and 40 percent of these households are in debt to informal/non-institutional sources such as money lenders. Of the total debt, the banks and cooperative societies' share was about 60 per cent and the rest was the share of the informal sector. Farm households’ reliance on crop insurance is limited because of lack of awareness. Hampered by lack of access to credit on reasonable terms and constrained by the weather, the condition of the Indian farmer appears precarious.

The Farming Variables

For a farmer to introduce improvements, fragmented and small landholdings, threat of acquisition on unfair terms, and quality of the land that he/she owns are deterrents. The news is full of reports of murky land dealings where money and muscle power are the dominant factors, marginalizing the small landholder. Add to that the astonishing fact that the last time land surveys were conducted was during the British era. Why would a farmer invest in land over which his ownership is not secure? Lack of investment means low productivity and low income.

The Indian farmer continues to rely on the monsoons for his crop to prosper. Irrigation facilities fall short of requirements and access to pumps or drip irrigation is expensive. What is the option for rain dependent farmers’ farms facing groundwater depletion and hotter temperatures?

Climate Change
Recent spikes in the price of pulses was attributed to unseasonal rain and hail. This meant India had to rely on imports and the vendor countries were able to charge a premium which is reflected in the higher prices in the market. As we feel the increasing impact of climate disruptions, the situation will only get worse. How is Indian Agriculture going to cope with this?

Post-Harvest Loss
There is a sense of pride in being a self-sufficient nation but this is negated if the crops are left to rot or be eaten by rats in warehouses while people go hungry outside. Consider how monumental this waste is: the labor, water, nutrients that went into the harvest, all lost. From the farmer’s perspective, the lack of storage at the farm is a huge disadvantage. He is thus forced to rush the harvest to the market and accept whatever price is on offer. Being able to store the harvest would enable farmers to bring grains or produce to the market in response to demand and command a better price.
The solution lies partly in policy measures by the government: measures that will increase investment in infrastructure, extension, agricultural research, improve access to credit and new technology for farmers and partly in the methods of cultivation. Given these constraints, biotechnology can offer significant options.

Potential Biotechnology

Climate resilience
In the past, floods meant destruction of the year’s rice harvest for the farmer. The swarna 1 rice variety developed by the International Rice Research Institute is able to survive upto two weeks of standing water and is a huge gain fro rice farmers.

China has reportedly developed a modified rice which could require less fertilizer, less nitrogen would be released into the atmosphere which would help reduce smog. In Vietnam where flooding and sea water intrusion are threatening the Mekong delta, new varieties of rice are being developed to combat both these challenges. Bangladesh has indigenously developed a strain of rice than can grow in high salinity areas. This is not a genetically modified variety but developed by crossing two breeds. Conventional efforts like this can take time, mapping out the genes of different strains can speed up the development of the new varieties required to equip the food system to combat climate change.

Pest resistance
The best known examples of the use of biotechnology to prevent crop loss due to pests are Bt corn, soy and cotton. Bangladesh’s introduction of Bt Brinjal is being viewed with interest and the reports are encouraging. There is a sharp drop in pesticide application by the farmers growing the new variety and increasing demand from farmers to be allowed to use the improved seeds.

A recent study noted the major environmental benefits from biotechnology, including reduction use in pesticides in 2013 to the level of 600,000 tonnes. They also cause a “halo effect” so that neighboring non-GMO fields also experience reduced pest activity. Reduction in greenhouse gases from no-till and other practices associated with biotechnology were equivalent to removing 12.4 million cars from the road. The net economic benefit for that year from the use of biotechnology was $20.5 billion, divided roughly equally between the developed and developing countries.

By producing greater yields, GMO crops require less land to grow and that means that land can go into conservation creating more green spaces.

Where Are We Today?

It is encouraging to know that field trials for modified rice, cotton, maize, mustard, brinjal and chickpea have been approved. This holds great promise for Indian agriculture. There have been delays in bringing these crops even as far as these trials because of opposition to biotechnology and the testing process needs to be a thorough and rigorous one. Indeed, no responsible advocate for this technology will call for its adoption without careful consideration and the setting of a biosafety framework is also recommended. GMO crops are the most tested, conventionally grown crops or hybrids do not face such in depth scrutiny yet they are readily available in the market.

The idea that organic or agro-ecology methods are incompatible with the use of biotechnology is misplaced. Practices like cover crops, crop rotation, no till which promote soil health when combined with high quality seeds are a sounds basis for raising agricultural productivity. The call to go back to the “good old past” is based on a false sense of nostalgia: there is nothing good about spending hours bent over weeding in the hot sun. We remember how close we came to famine while following the good old ways and the gains of the Green Revolution that saved us from that fate. We have the option of choosing to take the path offered by biotechnology and we need to base our decision on the facts and not on unfounded fear.

Addressing the Concerns

1. Are they safe?
Over 2,000 studies have concluded that GMO crops are safe for human consumption. Europe is often cited as an example of caution against GMOs. Even here, a decade long study found that GMOs are safe and hold potential. It should be noted that GMO feed is widely used in Europe for livestock without any adverse impact. The scientific consensus on this issue is as strong as that on climate change.

2. Control of multinational corporations
 Monsanto is the company most associated with this technology and most often evoked to demonstrate the negative impact of GMOs but it is only one of many companies like Syngenta, Dow, Dupont etc which produces seeds for GMO crops. Biotechnology is a technique, not to be confused with the company that uses it to produce seeds. Google is the most widely used search engine, which does not make its technology or Google itself, evil. Indeed we have all found it very useful. All companies work to make profits and that is not a reason to condemn their technology either.

Also, there are many instances where there is no corporate presence at all, for instance in the case of Bt Brinjal in Bangladesh. The best example of this is perhaps Golden Rice which was developed by two scientists, provided for free to the International Rice Research Institute (a multilateral research organization) which further improved it and will make the seeds available for free to farmers when the opposition to it ceases. In the meantime, lives are lost every year to Vitamin A deficiency while the means to combat this stays unused.

India has skilled scientists and could develop the potential of biotechnology in ways appropriate and required for agriculture to prosper and this research could be in the public domain without fear of control by foreign corporations.

3. Patents
GMO crops do carry patents for a limited time, some of Monsanto’s patents expired last year, for instance. Patents are common in pharmaceuticals and other industries as well, they are not a particular feature of GMOs, if they are acceptable elsewhere then there should not be an issue in this case.

4. Saving seeds
There has been a lot of fuss made over the fact that farmers have to sign a contract not to reuse seeds. In fact, this practice is true for non-gmo hybrid seeds as well. That is because the traits which they are bred for may not show up in the second generation so new seeds are required. The cost of purchasing seeds is more than covered and profits made on the new crop which will be healthy and fetch a good price in the market. Saving seeds is also dependent on having proper storage facilities so that seeds are not damaged by weather, mold or rodent activity, and such facilities are rare for poor smallholders.

5. Unknown consequences
Humans have been trying to improve crop varieties for thousands of years, and they have been doing it randomly, crossing one strain with another in the hopes of finding the apple that would be juicy and last longer or the corn that would ripen faster and have better taste. There was no way of knowing what was happening at the genetic level in these cases. Now we have the techniques that allow us to be precise and modify the single gene that would increase drought tolerance or ensure pest resistance so the concern over consequences is limited.

6. It is not “natural”
There is a lot of misinformation in the public domain over what genetic modification means, it is not the random insertion of genes from different species. Rather it is a means of achieving a goal in the most precise way, so a rice gene is spliced in to increase flood tolerance in sub 1 rice, a gene is silenced in apples to prevent browning and wastage in Arctic apples. Being able to determine exactly which gene to work means the possibility of unintended consequences is minimal. In fact, there is even a naturally occurring GMO sweet potato. Scientists at the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru have found genes from bacteria in sweet potato varieties grown in the US, South America, Africa, China and Indonesia. It is proposed that the bacteria genes helped the potato plants make two hormones that alter the root and make it edible.


The division of agriculture into organic, conventional and GMO is arbitrary and false. To meet the challenge of providing adequate and nutritious food for all the people on the planet in a time of climate disruption, we need to consider all options, and farmers already use a mix of farming practices that yield best results. For example, farming practices such as crop rotation and cover crops are ebing used in farms growing conventional and GMO crops as all farmers are interested in maintaining soil health. Organic crops can be strengthened further: consider the proposal of “rewilding” in which genes from an ancient plant variety (no longer in use) is fused with a modern variety which would create a desirable trait like saline tolerance or drought resistance. This would not involve genes from another species which has been the basis of objections. Newer varieties of GMOs now being developed, may also allow for seed saving.

The farm sector today is characterized by disenchantment, the younger generation is looking to move out from this sector but industry has not provided avenues of employment either. It is time to strengthen agriculture instead of looking elsewhere. The growth plans for the Indian economy need to incorporate a strong plan for the agricultural sector. We cannot keep waiting for the monsoons and lurching from one weather disaster to the next, a very likely prospect as climate change grows more disruptive.

This will require investment in infrastructure: better irrigation, better roads, post-harvest storage facilities, extension to share new technology with farmers, access to credit so that farmers can make the required investment in their farms, security of land tenure and the seeds that will ensure climate resilient, nutritious and abundant yield. A vision that encompasses every sector and level of activity is the optimum path to a truly strong and secure economy.

As for the issue of farmer suicides which started this piece, analysis that these are not linked to the use of GMOs is available from different sources. But to Indians, this piece which identifies crippling indebtedness, market uncertainty, insecurity of land ownership, among others, as the factors causing stress on the farm may resonate more because it states what we have all known for a long time, a reality reflected in our villages, our literature and memories: that these deaths are only the latest in a long history of our sad failure to support those who grow our food.


Author completed her M.Phil in Economics from Punjab University, India
Worked as consultant for The World Bank

Monday, 3 August 2015

CSIR-TKDL Unit Successfully Prevented UK Company’s Bid to Patent Use of Turmeric, Pine Bark & Tea for Treating Hair Loss

Dhirendra Kumar
News Curator cum Moderator
Indian Botanists
India once again has been successful in protecting its traditional knowledge by preventing an attempt made by Europe's Leading Dermaceutical Laboratory-Pangaea Laboratories Limited, to take patent on a medicinal composition containing turmeric, pine bark and green tea for treating hair loss.

Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL), a Unit of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, located the patent application filed at European Patent office by M/S Pangaea Laboratories Limited and filed pre-grant opposition along with prior-art evidences from TKDL, proving that turmeric, pine bark and green tea, are being used as a treatment for hair loss, since long in Indian systems of medicine like Ayurveda and Unani. The above UK based company had filed the patent application at European Patent office in February, 2011. CSIR-TKDL Unit had filed evidences from TKDL on January 13, 2014 after the patent application got published on website, pursuant to which the patent application is finally deemed to be withdrawn by the applicant on June 29, 2015. Till date CSIR-TKDL Unit has achieved success in about 200 such cases without any cost.

Recently, CSIR-TKDL Unit has foiled an attempt of M/S Colgate-Palmolive Company to patent a mouthwash formula containing herb (Nutmeg- Jayaphal) extract used in Indian traditional systems of medicine to cure oral diseases, at European Patent office.

Traditional Knowledge Digital Library of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR-TKDL), headed by Dr. Archana Sharma, submitted proof in the form of references from ancient books in this case, which said the herb and its extracts of Myristica Fragrans were historically used for oral diseases in Indian systems of medicine. 
TKDL is a collaborative project between Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Ministry of Science and Technology and Department of AYUSH, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and is being implemented at CSIR. It provides information on traditional knowledge existing in the country, in languages and format understandable by patent examiners at International Patent Offices (IPOs), so as to prevent the grant of wrong patents. TKDL thus, acts as a bridge between the traditional knowledge information existing in local languages and the patent examiners at IPOs.
[Source: Press Release, Press Information Bureau, India]

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Flood and Drought Resistant Seeds Developed by The National Agricultural Research System, India

Dhirendra Kumar
News Curator cum Moderator
Indian Botanists

The National Agricultural Research System (NARS) comprising Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and State Agricultural Universities has developed flood/drought tolerant crop varieties for different regions of the country. Important flood and drought tolerant varieties/hybrids of different crops are listed below. 

Important flood and drought tolerant varieties/hybrids of different crops

The seeds of flood/drought tolerant varieties of different crops are made available to the farmers in the area/state/region of recommendation. Besides, under technology demonstration component of National Initiative on Climate Resilient Agriculture some of these varieties are also demonstrated to farmers in various flood/drought prone regions of the country.

This information was given by the Minister of State for Agriculture Dr. Sanjeev Kumar Balyan in Rajya Sabha on July 31st 2015.
[Source: Press Release, Press Information Bureau, India]

CSIR notifies Joint CSIR-UGC Test for JRF (NET) Dec 2015

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