Ozone killing enough crops to feed millions of poor


Subhra Priyadarshini

Ozone pollution is destroying 12% of India’s annual cereal production – enough to feed 94 million people below the poverty line through the year. This startling estimate has been revealed in the first ever calculation of ozone pollution in the country¹.

A study by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune points a finger at the absence of air quality standards to protect agriculture from ground-level ozone pollution, primarily from vehicles and cooking stoves.

Ground level ozone is the main component of smog and is formed when polluting vehicles, industries or burning matter emit nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and volatile organic compounds. These pollutants react with sunlight to form ground level ozone, which is killer for vegetations.

Sachin Ghude

IITM scientist Sachin Ghude and Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a professor of climate and atmospheric sciences at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, at the University of California San Diego carried out the modeling study, supported by emission inventories and crop production data. They quantified the impact of ozone on the yields of cotton, soybeans, rice and wheat crops in India for the year 2005, an year they used as representative of the first decade of the 21st century.

Through the simulation studies, the scientists estimated that wheat was the most impacted crop – every year the country was losing around 3.5 metric tonnes – followed by rice at around 2.1 metric tonnes, mostly in central and north India.

On national scale, this loss is about 12% of the cereals required every year (61.2 Mt) under the provision of recently implemented National Food Security Bill (September-2013) by Government of India, the duo report.

“This study, since it was led by Indian government institutions, should have a major impact on the country’s approach to air pollution mitigation. It should speed up India’s attempts to drastically cut pollution,” Ramanathan told Nature India. High surface ozone concentration over major agriculture regions in India, particularly the Indo-Gangetic Plains, one of the world’s most important fertile agricultural lands is a threat to the country’s food security, the scientists say. They estimate that ozone concentrations will only increase further in the future.

The greatest losses of rice and wheat crops were reported from Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, West Bengal and Uttaranchal states.

“The possible ways to minimize these losses is to reduce anthropogenic emissions especially from vehicular and Industrial source and cooking stoves,” Ghude points out. He says another alternative could be to breed ozone-tolerant crops.

Veerabhadran Ramanathan

Ramanathan says some off-the-shelf technologies could be put to use immediately to cut the most damaging pollution – the emission of nitrous oxides from the transportation sector. “This contributes to more than half of the nitrous oxides produced and controlling it would have a major impact in reducing ozone. In so doing, we will also reduce the global warming effect of ozone,” he says.

The study puts India’s economic losses from ozone-induced crop damage at $1.29 billion in 2005, mostly stemming from losses in rice and wheat crops.


1. Ghude, S. D. et al. Reductions in India’s crop yield due to ozone. Geophys. Res. Lett.(2014) doi: 10.1002/2014GL060930

Sunkoshi tragedy exposes failure in hazard mapping


KATHMANDU, Aug 7: The landslide that killed more than 150 people and blocked the Sunkoshi River last Saturday at Mankha village of Sindhupalchowk district has exposed yawning gaps in Nepal´s hazard mapping and early warning mechanisms.

Hours before the dawn of August 2, a massive landslide occurred, creating a huge debris dam that completely blocked the course of the Sunkoshi River for over 12 hours. Only after a Nepal Army (NA) team created a channel through controlled explosions, some of the blocked water started flowing downward. However, almost a week later, the dam is still there, posing flood threats to people living downstream.

As per a report released by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), a 1.9 km long slope of land perched 1,350 meters above the river bed collapsed in Jure area of Mankha village, burying around two dozen houses. Within the first three days of the disaster, rescuers recovered 33 dead bodies from under the rubble. On the fourth day, the government declared all 123 missing people dead.

Nepal Army soldiers perched atop rocks in the Sunkoshi River as they set up ropes for possible rescue efforts in view of the continuing threat of flooding.(Phot Couresy: Nepal Army)

Immediately after the Sunkoshi landslide, the government declared downstream villages along the river a flood emergency zone and evacuated more than 100 vulnerable families from the area. As days passed, normalcy seems to be slowly returning to downstream villages. With the NA team trying to release more water through controlled explosions, a lurking crisis seems to have been averted.

However, the Sunkoshi disaster could just be a wake-up call. If serous efforts are not undertaken, immediately, more such disasters could strike Nepali villages in future, say experts.

Haphazard settlements

In Larcha, a little village located between Tatopani and Fulping Katti VDCs of Sindhupalchowk, a massive landslide had occurred in 1996, sweeping away dozens of houses. However, the landslip-affected families resettled in the same village.

The Larcha landslide is a testimony to how hundreds of thousands of families are haphazardly living in flood and landslide prone villages. They are often struck by floods and landslides but continue to live there. Worse, the government has no plans and programs to identify flood and landslide prone villages and rehabilitate people from there.

Even in Jure, the hill where the Sunkoshi landslide occurred had collapsed around 60 years ago, according to Amrit Kumar Bohara, a CPN (UML) leader who witnessed the disaster when he was just a six-year-old child. But, the locals of Jure neither relocated to safer locations nor the government ever tried to evacuate them.

Suresh Nepal, who was Vice President of the Sindhupalchowk District Development Committee (DDC) when the Larcha landslide occurred, says, “People always want to live near the road even though there is constant fear of flooding and landslides. This is why the locals in Larcha and Jure did not move elsewhere even after being struck by landslides in the past.”

It is not just the locals who choose to overlook the threats of possible disasters. Even big companies have built hydropower plants fully knowing the risks of possible floods and landslides. Along the Sunkoshi (Bhotekoshi) River, there are at least three major hydro power plants apart from many other micro hydropower projects.

“Some people know the risks but are too poor to go elsewhere,” says Arun Bhakta Shrestha, a senior climate change specialist at the ICIMOD. “But, if you look at houses built along the Sunkoshi River, it would be hard to say that all the locals are poor and therefore incapable of moving elsewhere. In fact, they take calculated risks. So do hydropower companies.”

Risks can be reduced

The Sunkoshi river basin is vulnerable to Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF) and Landside Dam Outburst Floods (LDOFs). In the last 30 years, one GLOF and two LDOF events, excluding the August 2 tragedy, have already occurred in this region.

After a GLOF event in 1981, the level of the Araniko Highway was raised and taller bridges were built in an effort to minimize damages that future GLOF and LDOF events could cause. Beside, early warning system was set up by the Bhote Koshi hydropower plant.

What was done in the wake of the 1981 GLOF needs to be scaled up, say experts. They say hazard mapping and early warning system need to be developed not only in the Sunkoshi basin but across the country. “Although we cannot control natural hazards like landslides and floods, there are many things that can be done to minimize their adverse impact on lives, livelihoods, and valuable infrastructure,” says the ICIMOD report on the Sunkoshi landslide. “More efforts to map landslide risks are needed, and much more frequent monitoring of potential landslide sites is necessary.”

Can what the ICIMOD report recommends be done? “It is not a question of whether we can,” says Dr Shrestha. “We can and we must do it. If we cannot do it across the country at one once, let us start it from the most vulnerable village. But, let us do it right now.”

Published on 2014-08-08 03:06:2


Combating climate change through forest conservation


When he was a young farmer, Chandra Bir Kumal, a resident of Gobardiya village in Dang district, never had to rely on water stored in artificial reservoirs for rice plantation. He always used fresh water freely flowing through local streams.

“I do not know whether fresh water is better than stagnant water,” says Chandra Bir. “But, when I was active in farming, I never had to look for alternatives. I used to get a plenty of rainwater.”

Affectionately called by the local folks as Thula Ba (or the eldest villager), Chandra Bir is one of the first Kumals who settled in Banmari area of Gobardiya village. Later, many other Kumals, one of Nepal’s minority indigenous communities, settled down there. Today, the whole Banmari area is known as Kumal Gaun.



Combating climate change through forest conservation

When he was a young farmer, Chandra Bir Kumal, a resident of Gobardiya village in Dang district, never had to rely on water stored in artificial reservoirs for rice plantation. He always used fresh water freely flowing through local streams.

“I do not know whether fresh water is better than stagnant water,” says Chandra Bir. “But, when I was active in farming, I never had to look for alternatives. I used to get a plenty of rainwater.”

Affectionately called by the local folks as Thula Ba (or the eldest villager), Chandra Bir is one of the first Kumals who settled in Banmari area of Gobardiya village. Later, many other Kumals, one of Nepal’s minority indigenous communities, settled down there. Today, the whole Banmari area is known as Kumal Gaun.

Nearly five decades ago, when Chandra Bir and a few other Kumal families started living in Banmara, chopping trees and fighting malaria, they did not have irrigation facilities. All they had was rainwater. And it was sufficient and reliable. “We did not need water reservoirs,” says he. “We did not even think of building them.”

However, as years passed by, rains started to get erratic. It became increasingly difficult to predict when monsoon would start and end. “It was not like this when I was young,” says Chandra Bir. “Then, the monsoon would normally start and end around the same time.”

As Chandra Bir aged and became too weak to work, his son Kalpa Ram, shouldered the burden of cultivating their eight kattha of farm land. But unlike in the time of his father, Kalpa Ram, now 50-year-old, did not find it easy to irrigate their farm land with rainwater. “If the monsoon arrives early this year, it gets late the next year,” says Kalpa Ram. “Rains are no longer predictable, no longer reliable.”

Fortunately, Kalpa Ram no longer needs to depend on just rainwater. He gets water supply for irrigation from a local pond. Built by a local Community Forest Users’ Group (CFUG), of which Kampa Ram is a member, this pond regularly supplies water to more than 200 families of Gobardiya village. “If this pond was not built, we all would have to leave this village a long ago,” says Kalpa Ram.

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New seeds of hope for Nepal’s farmers

By Om Astha Rai

Climate-resilient varieties of rice could help to protect crop yields from the ravages of droughts and floods caused by the increasingly erratic weather patterns in South Asia.

KATHMANDU, 30 July, 2014 − Farmers badly affected by changing weather patterns in South Asia now have the opportunity to improve food security by planting new varieties of rice capable of withstanding the impact of both severe droughts and floods.

This is particularly good news for countries such as Nepal, where around 65% of its more than 26 million people are involved in agriculture. Rice is the country’s most important crop, planted on more than 50% of its arable land.

And it comes at a time when new research using satellite imaging has highlighted the growing need to change agricultural practices in South Asia as higher average temperatures cause the reduction of crop yields on the Indo-Gangetic plain.

Scientists say the new seeds, developed by the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines and approved by the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC), are vital in order to deal with changing weather patterns − in particular, the increasingly erratic behaviour of the all-important South Asia monsoon.

“These new varieties can really change the future of the country’s farmers,” says Dr Dil Bahadur Gurung, NARC’s executive director. “The new rice can, in most cases, beat the effects of droughts and floods.

Reduce impact

“All these varieties have been tested in Nepal’s soil and climate over and over again. If all the country’s farmers replace their traditional varieties with these new ones, the impact of climate change on our agriculture could be reduced considerably.”

Local scientists say the timing of the South Asia monsoon − the only source of irrigation for the majority of Nepali farmers − is changing.

“Each year, we see the monsoon arriving later,” says Mani Ratna Shakya, a leading meteorologist in Nepal. “The duration of the monsoon is also getting shorter as each year passes.”

According to Nepal’s Meteorological Forecasting Division, the monsoon − which usually arrives in Nepal during the first week in June − came 10 days late this year.

Droughts are becoming more frequent. This year, the monsoon is generally judged to be very weak, leaving a vast area of arable land parched, particularly in western parts of Nepal. And often, when the rains eventually do arrive, they are torrential, causing flash floods.

So far, NARC has approved six drought-tolerant varieties of rice, under the name Sukkha − meaning dry.

“Ordinary rice varieties dry out and die in droughts,” says Hari Krishna Uprety, a paddy expert at NARC. “The new seeds survive droughts even in the early stage of growth. And uncertainty about the onset of monsoon has made these varieties even more important.”

Hari Krishna Uprety, NARC paddy expert, with new rice seed varieties Image: Om Astha Rai
Hari Krishna Uprety, NARC paddy expert,
with the new rice seed varieties
Image: Om Astha Rai

The new varieties still need water, of course, but they become more drought tolerant by being able to store energy during the early stages of their growth.

Two rice varieties capable of surviving flood conditions for up to two weeks have also been approved by NARC.

Erratic climate

Although the experts are backing the introduction of the new seeds in order to combat an increasingly erratic climate, persuading farmers to change their cultivation methods is a difficult task.

Farmers are often reluctant to replace traditional rice varieties, which in Nepal tend to be specific to each part of the country, depending on soil conditions, elevation, and other factors.

The new seeds are no more expensive than the traditional ones, and farmers even get a 30% discount on seeds approved by NARC, but a factor that could hamper uptake is that distribution is through the National Seed Company, which is not yet reaching out to farmers in every village.

But scientists warn that the new varieties must be planted – not only to combat changes in climate, but also to feed growing populations. – Climate News Network

• Om Astha Rai is a reporter with Nepalese national newspaper, Republica Daily.



Nepal wins hearts and minds with biogas boom

By Om Astha Rai

Villagers in Nepal are increasingly being persuaded that small biogas installations using human waste to provide fuel are not only desirable but are also helping to reduce deforestation of the Himalayas and carbon emissions. 

KATHMANDU, 2 July, 2014 − Sunita Bote, a 30-year-old housewife from the small village of Kumroj in eastern Nepal, was far from convinced when energy specialists from the capital city, Kathmandu, talked about the benefits of constructing a small biogas plant near her house.

“At first, I shuddered at the thought of connecting my cooking stove with a toilet’s septic tank,” Sunita recalls.

But she was eventually persuaded – and now realises the multiple benefits of the biogas system. The plant not only produces enough energy for cooking for her family of seven, it also gets rid of both human and animal waste.

“It is no longer seems disgusting to me,” Sunita says. “Instead, it has eased my household chores.”

Most of Sunita’s neighbours feel the same way, and Kumroj has now been named by the government as Nepal’s first model biogas village, with more than 80% of households having their own biogas installations.

Frequent blackouts

Nepal, a landlocked country of just over 26 million people, has big energy problems. Its cities and towns, reliant on imported fossil fuels for energy, suffer frequent electricity blackouts due to ageing infrastructure and shortages of funds.

With its mountain ranges and many rivers, there is great potential for hydropower, but tight budgets mean there has as yet been little investment in these big, capital-intensive projects.

However, the energy outlook is slowly changing. Instead of building big hydropower plants, local groups − helped by NGOs and outside funders − are constructing micro hydro projectsall over the country. So far, more than 1,000 such plants have been built. There has also been investment in developing solar power.

Meanwhile, thousands of biogas projects are being put in place in backyards and fields throughout the country.

Fuel needs

According to the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC), a government agency responsible for promoting renewable energy, there are now more than 300,000 biogas plants providing for the fuel needs of nearly 6% of Nepal’s households.

“At first, people were wary about getting energy from their toilet septic tanks,” says Professor Govinda Pokharel, vice-chairman of the government’s National Planning Commission and, until recently, a director of AEPC.

“It was human faeces that caused the trouble. People, especially those who were not educated and were living in remote villages, were against the idea of using their faeces for cooking food. In some cases, those who installed biogas plants were even ostracised by their neighbours. But attitudes have changed. When animal dung is mixed with human faeces, greater power is generated.”

Traditionally, wood has been the main source of fuel for cooking and heating. But deforestation – with the resulting landslides and floods – has been a big problem.

Trees saved

The Biogas Sector Programme, a Kathmandu-based organisation that promotes the use of biogas, says every biogas plant can save 1.25 trees each year, That means that, due to biogas, nearly 400,000 trees a year throughout the country are saved from being chopped down.

Biogas not only replaces wood for fuel, it can also help reduce carbon emissions. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) calculates that a standard biogas plant saves greenhouse gas emissions of between three and five tons each year, compared with other energy sources such as wood.

The AEPC says that Nepal, through the use of biogas and by not cutting tree cover, is helping to reduce the country’s overall emissions by more than one million tons a year. “It may not be a huge contribution at the global level, but it is not negligible either,” Prof Pokharel says.

There are plans to install at least 26,000 biogas plants around the country each year. “The more we install, the more we save trees,” Prof Pokharel says, “And the saving of each tree is important in combating climate change.” – Climate News Network

• Om Astha Rai is a reporter with Nepalese national newspaper, Republica Daily.



Drought begins to bite in Sri Lanka

COLOMBO, 4 April 2014 (IRIN) – Sri Lanka has had six months of drought and could face severe crop losses and electricity shortages if the coming monsoon is as weak as forecasts predict, experts say.

“The situation is really, really bad,” said Ranjith Punyawardena, chief climatologist at the Department of Agriculture. “Already there are harvest losses and more are anticipated.”

According to Punyawardena, 5 percent (280,000 tons) of the 2014 rice harvest has already been lost due to the ongoing drought, which stretches back to November 2013. With 200,000 hectares of rice fields (20 percent of the annual cultivated total) planted during the secondary harvesting season already lost, experts say the losses from the drought could be exacerbated by the forecasted weak southwest monsoon, due in May.  http://www.irinnews.org/report/99884/drought-begins-to-bite-in-sri-lanka


Loss of forests accelerates as Myanmar opens for business


YANGON, Myanmar (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – It is still home to some of the most pristine forests in Southeast Asia. But forest experts warn that Myanmar is fast losing its woodlands due to a combination of commercial logging, agricultural expansion and firewood harvesting. According to the UN-REDD Programme, at least half of Myammar’s land of 667,000 square kilometres is still covered in forest. But the country also has suffered an alarmingly high rate of deforestation. The UN–REDD Programme estimates that in the 15 years between 1990 and 2005, the country lost 18 percent of its forests, and the deforestation rate may have since increased.The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), looking at a somewhat longer period, estimates that Myanmar lost more than half of its dense forest cover between 1990 and 2010, with the area covered by forest falling from 45 percent to around 20 percent. http://www.trust.org/item/20140326124321-kpqdz/?source=hptop

Women Left Vulnerable as Flood-Hit Men Migrate


LAWPANI (ASSAM), INDIA: Whenever the villagers of Lawpani, a nondescript village in the North Indian state of Assam, organize meetings to discuss local issues, Rita Devi Magar, a 40-year-old illiterate woman, represents her family there. Her husband never attends local meetings.

Like Rita Devi, many women in Lawpani village, which is located by the Brahmaputra River, attend local meetings as de-facto heads of their families. Usually, they are the ones who decide what contribution their families can possibly make to dealing with recurring problems like flood, inundation and erosion by the Brahmaputra River, which is the source of both livelihood and misery for hundreds of thousands of people in Assam.

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