“Cancer prevention possible; change the way we produce our food”

Australian soil ecologist Dr. Christine Jones is among few who has understood soil biology and linked its deterioration due to extensive use of inorganic chemicals to cancer. She offers an accessible, revolutionary perspective for improving landscape health and farm productivity. Interviewed by Acres USA, Dr. Jones explains the life-giving link between carbon and healthy topsoil.

Here is what I learnt from the interview.

  • The issue we’re facing is that too much of the carbon that was once in a solid phase in the soil has become a gas. That could be dangerous for the human species. Climate change is just one aspect. Food security, the nutrient density of food and the water-holding capacity of the soil are also very potent reasons for keeping carbon in a solid phase in the soil.
  • Sugars are formed in plant chloroplasts during photosynthesis. Some of the sugars are used for growth and some are exuded into soil by plant roots to support the microbes involved in nutrient acquisition.
  • The most significant finding, at least from a human perspective, is that the flow of liquid carbon to soil is the primary pathway by which new topsoil is formed. In order for carbon to “flow” to soil, there has to be a partnership between plant roots and the soil microbes that will receive that carbon. We inadvertently blow the microbial bridge in conventional farming with high rates of synthetic fertilizers or with fungicides or other biocides.
  • Most life-forms obtain their energy either directly or indirectly from the sun, via the process of photosynthesis. Plants are what we call autotrophs. That is, they feed themselves by combining light energy with CO2 to produce biochemical energy. As heterotrophs, we obtain energy by eating plants or eating animals that ate plants. Even microbes in a compost heap are obtaining energy by breaking down organic materials originating from the process of photosynthesis.
  • We breathe out more CO2 than we breathe in, because as we utilize the energy we obtain from the assimilation of food, our cells release CO2. The decomposers in the soil are doing exactly the same thing — breaking down organic materials and releasing CO2. Rather than sugar being the end point, sugar is the start point. Soil microbes use sugars to create complex, stable forms of carbon, including humus.
  • Humus is an organo-mineral complex comprising around 60 percent carbon, between 6 and 8 percent nitrogen, plus phosphorus and sulfur. Humic molecules are linked to iron and aluminum and many other soil minerals, forming an intrinsic part of the soil matrix.
  • Phosphorus is a highly reactive element. As soon as there’s any free phosphorus floating around in the soil, including whatever we may add as fertilizer, it becomes fixed. In other words, it forms a chemical bond with another element like iron or aluminum or calcium, making it unavailable to plants. But certain bacteria produce an enzyme called phosphatase that can break that bond and release the phosphorus. Once released, the phosphorus still has to be transported back to the plant, which is where mycorrhizal fungi come in. Mycorrhizal fungi also transport a wide variety of other nutrients, including nitrogen, sulfur, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and essential trace elements such as zinc, boron, manganese and copper. In dry times they supply water. Mycorrhizal fungi form networks between plants and colonies of soil bacteria.
  • If a plant photosynthesizes faster it’s going to have higher sugar content and a higher Brix level. Once Brix gets over 12, the plant is largely resistant to insects and pathogens. High-Brix plants have formed relationships with soil microbes able to supply trace elements and other nutrients that the plant needs for self-defense, for its immune system. When plants are able to produce high levels of plant-protection compounds, the insects go elsewhere.
  • Cultivating the soil and using chemical fertilizer and pesticides break up the mycorrhizal networks. If plants can obtain nitrogen or phosphorus easily, they will stop pumping carbon into the soil to support their microbial partners. If carbon is not flowing to soil via the liquid carbon pathway, soil deteriorates. Carbon is needed for soil structure and water-holding capacity as well as for feeding the microbes involved in nutrient acquisition. When soil loses carbon, it becomes hard and compacted.
  • If the soil is well aggregated, it will look like a handful of peas. If the soil remains in hard chunks that don’t break easily into small lumps, then it isn’t well aggregated. The aggregate is the fundamental unit of soil function. A great deal of biological activity takes place within aggregates. For the most part, this is fueled by liquid carbon. When aggregates aren’t forming — because of cultivating the soil or using chemicals or having bare soil for six months or more with no green plants — crops are not able to obtain sufficient nitrogen. The tendency is then to add fertilizer nitrogen, exacerbating the situation.
  • Nitrogen fixing bacteria produce ammonia, a form of inorganic nitrogen, inside soil aggregates and rhizosheaths which are protective cylinders that form around plant roots. They’re basically a bunch of soil particles held together by plant root exudates. You can easily strip them off with your fingers. Within these biologically active environments the ammonia is rapidly converted into an amino acid or incorporated into a humic polymer. These organic forms of nitrogen cannot be leached or volatilized. Amino acids can be transferred into plant roots by mycorrhizal fungi and joined together by the plant to form a complete protein.
  • Inorganic nitrogen applied as fertilizer often ends up in plants as nitrate or nitrite. Nitrates cause a range of metabolic disorders including infertility, mastitis, laminitis and liver dysfunction. There is also a strong link between nitrate and cancer. Milk can also have nitrate levels above the safe drinking standard, but people happily consume it, not realizing it’s unhealthy.
  • The first rule for turning hard, compacted soil into loose, fragrant soil teeming with life is to keep the soil covered, preferably with living plants, all year round. Aggregates will break down unless the soil is alive. Aggregation is absolutely vital for moisture infiltration and retention.
  • Maximize diversity in both cover crops and cash crops. Aim for a good mix of broadleaf plants and grass-type plants and include as many different functional groups as possible. Diversity above ground will correlate with diversity below ground.
  • Minimize the use of synthetic fertilizers, fungicides, insecticides and herbicides. There are countless living things in soil that we don’t even have names for, let alone an understanding of their role in soil health.
  • In Australia many farmers plant seeds treated with fungicide “just in case.” They’re actually preventing the plant from forming the beneficial associations that it needs in order to protect itself. After a few weeks of crop growth, they will then apply a “preventative” fungicide, which also finds its way to the soil, inhibiting the soil fungi that are essential to crop nutrition and soil building. The irony is that plants are then unable to obtain the trace elements they need to fight fungal diseases.
  • Not that long ago the cancer rate was around one in 100. Now we’re pretty close to one in two people being diagnosed with cancer. At the current rate of increase, it won’t be long before nearly every person will contract cancer during their lifetimes.
  • It’s not just the toxins in our food that are the problem, but the use of biocides — chemicals that kill living organisms — which reduce the nutrient content of food. If the plant-microbe bridge has been blown, it’s not possible for us to obtain the trace elements our bodies need in order to prevent cancer — and a range of other metabolic disorders.
  • soil1
  • We’re ingesting chemical residues, but not the trace elements and phytonutrients we need for an effective immune response. Plants need trace elements, like copper and zinc, to make these phytonutrients.
  • Cover-crop enthusiasts are experimenting with 60 or 70 different species in their mixes. The trend to polyculture is the most significant breakthrough in the history of modern agriculture.
  • Sometimes when farmers realize the importance of soil biology they immediately stop using fertilizers and chemicals. This is not necessarily a good thing. It takes time for soil microbial populations to re-establish. Include some clovers or peas with your wheat, or vetch with your corn — just on one part of the field. This reduces the risk. When farmers see that they’ve gained rather than lost yield — and that the crop looks healthier — they will be inspired to try a larger area and a greater variety of companion plants next time.
  • Plant a multi-species cover crop on part of the land that would normally be devoted to a cash crop. Once the diversity ramps up, the ladybirds and lacewings and predatory wasps appear and the need for insecticides falls away. And after heavy rain, it’s obvious that water has infiltrated better in the parts of the field where the cover crops were.
  • An easy way to transition is to reduce the amount of nitrogen applied by around 20 percent the first year, another 30 percent the next and then another 30 percent the year after. At the same time as reducing fertilizer inputs it’s absolutely vital to support soil biology with the presence of a wide diversity of plants for as much of the year as possible.
  • Another way to gradually reduce fertilizer inputs is to use foliar fertilizers rather than drilling fertilizer under the seed. Foliar-applied trace minerals can also help during transition. These can be tank-mixed with biology-friendly products such as vermi-liquid, compost extract, fish hydrolysate, milk or seaweed extract. Whichever path you choose to support soil biology, the overall aim is for soil function to improve every year. The overuse of synthetic fertilizers will have the opposite effect.
  • A team of University of Illinois researchers investigated how the fertilization regimes that were commenced in these plots in 1955 discovered that the fields that had received the highest applications of nitrogen fertilizer had ended up with less soil carbon — and ironically less nitrogen — than the other fields. The researchers concluded that adding nitrogen fertilizer stimulated the kind of bacteria that break down the carbon in the soil. The reason there is less nitrogen in the soil even though more has been applied is that carbon and nitrogen are linked together in organic matter. If carbon is decomposing, then the soil will also be losing nitrogen. They decompose together.
  • In most of our agricultural soils, we have far more bacteria than fungi. The good news is that farmers use multi-species cover crops, companion crops, pasture cropping and other polycultures — and the ranchers who manage their perennial grasses with high density short duration grazing accompanied by appropriate rest periods — are moving their soils toward fungal dominance. When you scoop up the soil, it has that lovely composty, mushroomy sort of smell that indicates good fungal levels.
  • The focus needs to be on transforming every farm that’s currently a net carbon source into a net carbon sink. If all farmland sequestered more carbon than it was losing, atmospheric CO2 levels would fall at the same time as farm productivity and watershed function improved. This would solve the vast majority of our food production, environmental and human health problems.
  • Many scientists have confused themselves — and the general public — by assuming soil carbon sequestration occurs as a result of the decomposition of organic matter such as crop residues. In so doing, they have overlooked the major pathway for the restoration of topsoil. Activating the liquid carbon pathway requires that photosynthetic capacity be optimized. There are many and varied ways to achieve this.
  • Compost is certainly a fantastic product, but compost alone is not enough. It will eventually decompose, releasing CO2. However, the application of compost to appropriately grazed pastures or polyculture crops can increase plant growth and photosynthetic rate, resulting in more liquid carbon flowing to soils. Diverse microbial populations — particularly fungi — supported by the compost, can aid in humification, improving soil structure, water-holding capacity and nutrient availabilities.
  • The use of natural plant or seaweed extracts as biostimulants is a relatively new but rapidly expanding area of R&D and farmer-adoption worldwide. The advantage of biostimulants is that they function at very low rates of application — milliliters per hectare — as opposed to a product such as compost which needs to be applied in tons per hectare. These products stimulate soil biota and enhance plant root function. The proliferation of roots is quite obvious when you dig in the soil. There can also be rapid improvements in soil structure.

For more visit http://www.amazingcarbon.com

An encounter with sword beans

If you don’t have the patience of a grandmother DO NOT attempt to cook sword beans for lunch. Wifey realized it on her first attempt while knifing the sword beans!  That’s Talwar Sem in Hindi.

sword beans

That’s why despite its nutritional benefits sword beans hasn’t become popular in the kitchen. I’ve yet to see a chef on the cookery shows telling his/her viewers: “Chalo aaj sword beans banaye (Let’s prepare sword beans, today).”

Sword beans arrive in the market in the second week of October and continue to be available till the second week of the following month, at a kingly price of Rs 120 a kilo!

Like most beans, sword beans need to be peeled from their spines and then peeled from the insides too. Not an easy thing to do. You’ve to use the knife point to dig under the skin and then peel it off. After all this work what’s left is not much. Meaning if you buy a kilo what is left after peeling and de-shelling is just around 400g. What a waste?

Last Sunday during my weekly visit to the farm I couldn’t resist picking up the newly-arrived sword beans swaying in the morning breeze. There were around 15 of them.

I brought them home ready to have a sword fight with wifey. I also remember what our house maid had sneeringly remarked having seen them on the kitchen table: Tumi eh khat ka? (Do you eat such stuff)?

Sword bean (abai in Marathi) is considered a rustic vegetable and a favourite among the tribals and villagers. That’s the impression I got when Mangal handing the initial harvest praised them.

Come November


Come November my farm plays host to scores of butterflies.  As the sun rises on the horizon they come to settle on my lone rattlepod plant. The plant has grown over 10ft high. It had fallen following wind and rains in September. But now stands supported by a bamboo pole, right as one enters the farm.

So far I have been able to identify only two of them, viceroy and monarch.


Butterflies use sunlight to regulate their body temperature. They need sunlight to keep themselves warm, but the outside temperature can also become too hot for them. As the sun rises their numbers decrease and by noon one can sight only a couple or two.

‘Nualgi superior, cheaper method to do farming’

Way back in 1993, T. Sampath Kumar, a qualified chartered accountant started a venture to make prawn seeds.  Intrigued, how the marine food chain developed and helped the growth of the fishes in the oceans he identified and cultivated diatoms—a major group of algae which are among the most common types of phytoplankton that provide more than 50% of the marine food chain. Over the next 12 years he relentlessly pursued research on diatoms and finally discovered that the algae produced vast amount of pure oxygen underwater by the process of photosynthesis.

Growing diatom algae in water in large quantities is a difficult proposition. That’s what Nualgi does. Developed by Sampath, Nualgi can grow diatom algae on almost any water substrate be it the sea, high saline water, fresh water, sewage water, effluent water etc.

In 2005, Kumar founded Nualgi Nanobiotech, a Bangalore-based company to manufacture nanotech products for growing diatoms for aquaculture. Nualgi contains trace, special and appropriate nutrients that can deliver in a biologically available form. Upon application to the water body in the presence of macro nutrients, like N, P, K and sunlight, phytoplankton predominately in the form of diatoms, bloom and is soon converted to live food like zooplankton, a source of nutrition to fishes and prawns.

T Sampath Kumar
T Sampath Kumar

Holder of three patents, Sampath’s bouquet of products which are exported to 15 countries include ‘Nualgi Lakes’ used for remediation of polluted water bodies, ‘Nualgi Aqua’ used in fisheries for growth of diatoms and zoo plankton in water bodies serving as food for aquatic animals and ‘Nualgi Foliar Spray’ used for boosting the efficiency of photosynthesis, providing high quality crops with greater yields and importantly doing away with chemical fertlisers and pesticides. Sundayfarmer spoke to T Sampath Kumar (60) on the efficacy of Nualgi Foliar Spray and how it’s likely to revolutionise the way we produce nutrient rich food, sans fertilizers  

What does ‘Nualgi’ stand for? Does the name have any significance?

When we started with the development of the marine food chain we started growth of a new type of algae, called Diatoms. This was a new type of algae. Hence we coined the term Nualgi. It is just a coined term.


How does Nualgi foliar spray work? What’s the science behind it?

Nualgi foliar spray delivers about 12 nutrients loaded on silica in the nano form directly to the chlorophyll of a leaf through the stomata. This package of nutrients helps boost the photosynthesis of a plant. Plants absorb more CO2 and make a liquid carbon pathway that is excreted through the roots to the soil as Oozuates. This helps soil microorganisms grow. They symbiotically deliver all nutrients from the soil and fix nitrogen from the air. This process is termed as Biomining. Instead of nutrients being made in factories outside, the soil microbes are the factories in the soil that deliver all nutrients to the plants.

In what crops has Nualgi been tried and do tell us about the responses from the farmers.

We have tested in all cereals, vegetables, tea, coffee, pepper, cardamom, oil seeds and horticulture crops. In fact, almost all type of crops. The results are very good with yields increasing by 20% to 100%, reduction of time of growth by 20% and better quality of crops. There are plenty of farmers in Hasan and Ramnagara districts of Karnataka who can vouch for our method.

When should the Nualgi foliar spray be used and how many times in a fruit/ vegetable crops?

For field crops 3 to 4 times spraying in the early morning on both sides of the leaves is recommended. For vegetables spraying time is reduced to 8-15 days. For horticulture crops we recommend 4to 5 times a year.

How does Nualgi impact the soil?

The liquid carbon pathway developed by using Nualgi helps soil regain their carbon contents. This helps in soil microbial growth and fertility. If no chemicals and fertilizers are added, the soil becomes more and more productive and fertile.

Do you see a future when farmers will stop using chemical fertilisers and pesticides all together?

Nualgi farming is economical and gives high yields. Farmers would definitely adopt this and stop using chemical fertilizers. Our process improves profitability of farming. The environment is saved too. As the benefits are established, even the governments will have to relook its fertiliser policy.

Organic farming which uses methods, like amrutjal and amritmiiti, popularised by Natueco, is considered very resource intensive as one needs plenty of biomass which is a deterring factor. Nualgi can be a boon for farmers who want to say ‘no to fertilisers’. In fact,  it’s an organic way of farming. Comment

Nualgi is a far superior and cheaper method to do farming as compared to other methods. We do not have any objections to people using other methods also in conjunction with ours.  Progressively farmers will realize that our method is far more efficient, yields higher quality of crops at a very nominal cost and without altering the soil biology.

For more view https://youtu.be/UFFSKgo56qo

As the fog descends

The fog doesn’t come so early, at least I haven’t seen it descend so soon. For the winter is still couple of months away. It’s the last week of September and I was greeted by the opaque landscape of Chon, the village which is home to my farm, this weekend. Generally, the fog appears in the month of November. Is it due to climate change? Maybe yes.


Early mornings are pleasantest here and you can see the leaf surfaces rich with dew, especially the plantain leaves. Bend the leaves a little and you can see the dews becoming one and a river flowing into your cupped palm! I didn’t let it go waste, collected them and drank them later, when the sun appeared on top of the trees.

This is the best time to visit a farm for its green all over and the ground wet with dew.


The lentils I had broadcasted all over the field in early September have sprouted. They are pencil high and are likely to flower within a fortnight or so when they will be chopped to provide nitrogen to the soil.

In Search of Black Turmeric

It was my familiarity with Ayurveda that I was introduced to Black Turmeric (Curcuma caesia). That was about three years back. Ever since then I had approached friends, relatives and even acquaintances to seek out Kali Haldi. Most often they were either laughed at or called names. Or plainly told: “How can Haldi be black? Haldi is yellow and it’s so.”


This June, having been member of a Facebook group I ultimately got hold of the rhizomes of the “very rare and auspicious plant” from Odisha.

In fact, enterprising individuals and nurseries are making a quick buck selling 100g rhizomes for Rs 2,500 while the regular haldi sells Rs 60 a kg.  A ebay seller I approached offered me a black turmeric plant for Rs 1200. Asked does he have buyers, he answered: “I have sold dozens of them.”

Native to north eastern states and Orissa, it is a perennial herb with bluish-black rhizomes. Its flowers are pink in colour. The rhizomes are bitter in taste with a pungent smell. The dried rhizomes are brownish black in colour. When the rhizomes are boiled, a camphoraceous odour is produced because of the presence camphor.

Presently Black Turmeric is on the verge of extinction because of deforestation, unfavourable climatic changes, over exploitation and bio-piracy.

Curcuma caesia, a wonderful herb, contains a very good percentage of curcumin among all the Curcuma or turmeric species. Curcumin is a chemical substance which possesses many curative properties. It is an anti-inflammatory and antibiotic compound. It increases antioxidant capacity of the body.

My Curcuma caesia plants are barely a month old. The leaves sport a strip of black running on the middle which identifies it as one.

Kadamba Memories

Now, it seems that it was ages back. Many, many summers ago. When I was a school-going kid, then in the sixth standard and we were asked to learn ‘by-heart’ Subhadra Kumari Chauhan’s Yeh Kadamb ka Ped. If we failed to recite the next day, either we had to stand on our desks or told to go ‘class se bahar.’ We generally agreed to do the former because we didn’t want our parents to know.
Like many others I had never seen a Kadamba tree but the poem about the wishes of a child to climb a tree on the river bank and play on a tiny wooden flute to surprise his mother remained with me all these years and on seeing a Kadamba tree today in full bloom, those memories of my school days came rushing. Of our Hindi teacher—the bespectacled, her long hair tied in a bun—Supriya madam dressed as always in a salwar kameej; Solil with whom I shared the desk and the view from the window—our huge playground which had played host to Palestine chief, Yasser Arafat.
The rains may play truant but Kadamba flowers are unlikely to desert you. In full bloom, the apricot-coloured spiny balls hanging from the branches of the Kadamba (Kaim, Mitragyna Parvifolia), standing on the roadsides, wait for the passersby to adore their beauty. They begin as yellow-green flowers spreading its scents, similar to jasmine, during nights and grow into oblong fruits containing seeds, as many as 8,000! The deep and thick fragrance of Kadamba flower at rainy night fills the surroundings with a mystique atmosphere. Only those who have experienced its aroma can feel it. On maturing, the fruit splits apart, releasing the seeds, which are then dispersed by wind or rain.
The globular fruits, from which the white clubbed stigmas project is compared to the cheek of a maiden mantling with pleasure at the approach of her lover, and are supposed to have the power to irresistibly attracting lovers to one another. Expressed beautifully in the couplet of the Saptasatika: “Sweetheart, how I’m bewitched by the Kadamba blossoms, all the other flowers together have not such a power. Verily Kama wields now-a-days a bow armed with the honey balls of the Kadamba.”
Mathematician-astronomer Aryabhatt had propounded the view that earth was round just as the bulb of a Kadamb flower is surrounded by blossoms on all sides, so also is the globe of the Earth surrounded by all creatures whether living on land or in water.
In Sanskrit it is called Kadamba or Kalamba, and has also many synonyms, such as Sisupala (protector of children); Hali-priya (dear to agriculturists) etc.
Kadamb flower marks an annual miracle in Bangladesh: borsha, the monsoon season, stretching through the months of Ashar and Shrabon. In Bangladesh it is said “Don’t offer Kadam/Kadambo flower to your lover lest it creates mistrust between you’’. If you visit Dhaka during the rains you’re likely to come young boys selling Kadamba flowers on the streets.
Thane has scores of Kadamba tree and these are the ones I come across during my morning walks in July. You too may have seen them in your neighbourhood. If not, keep looking.
Kadam ful-13
Here is the poem for those have not heard of it:
Yeh kadamb ka ped agar ma hota yamuna teere
Mai bhi us per baith kanhiya banta dhere dhere

Le deti tum mujhe basuri do paiso wali
Kisi tarah nichi ho jati yah kadamb ki dali

Tumhe nahi kuch kahata mai chupke-chpuke aata
Vahi baith phir bade maje se mai basuri bajata

Amma amma kah bansi ke swar me tumhe bulata
Bahut bolane per bhi ma jab nahi utar kar aata

Ma, tab ma ka hriday(dil) tumhara bahut vikal ho jata
Tum aachal faila kar amma vahi ped ke niche

Ishwar se kuch vinnti karti baithi aakhe meeche
Tumhe dhyan mai lagi dekh mai dheere dheere aata

Aur tumhare faile aachal ke neeche chup jaata
Tum ghabara kar aakh kholti, per ma khush ho jaati

Jab apne munna raja ko godi mai hi pati
Issi tarah kuch khela karte hum tum dheere- dheere
Yah kadamb ka ped agar ma hota yamuna teere.

The image of the boys on a Kadamba tree is courtesy http://weloveourbangladesh.blogspot.in/