Second Green Revolution

Think about a future when synthetic nitrogen fertiliser will be a thing of the past. Yes, what you’re about to read is true. In what is being called a second green revolution scientists at the University of Nottingham have found a way of unlocking atmospheric nitrogen to help plants feed themselves.

Nitrogen fixation is the process by which nitrogen is converted to ammonia, a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen that is necessary for plants to grow. Problem is, only a few plants like legumes (peas, beans, lentils) can fix nitrogen from the atmosphere with the help of symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria. The vast majority of plants have to get their nitrogen from the soil, and there’s not enough of it everywhere. That’s why humanity uses so much synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. For instance, I have been using the leaves of  Gliricidia or Giripushp to provide nitrogen to the soil. In fact, I’ve ringed my farm with dozens of Gliricidia plants. So that I’m never short of them.

Professor Edward Cocking, Director of The University of Nottingham’s Centre for Crop Nitrogen Fixation, has developed a unique method of putting nitrogen-fixing bacteria into the cells of plant roots. His major breakthrough came when he found a specific strain of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in sugar-cane which he discovered could intracellularly colonize all major crop plants. This ground-breaking development potentially provides every cell in the plant with the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen. The implications for agriculture are enormous as this new technology can provide much of the plant’s nitrogen needs. If this can be done right and safely, it could be a major second Green Revolution, with tremendous impacts on the environment and world food production.

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Nitrogen Fixation

I had planted a Gliricedia (or Giripushpa as it’s locally known) a year and half back at the extreme edge of my garden. It has grown tall and  should be around 12 ft.  I have snipped all its leaves, which are rich in nitrogen and spread them close to my fruit trees. Now the tree, spread like a fan resembles a skeleton. New leaves will take some more time to come.

I remember telling Mangal to make cuttings of the plants and plant them during the rains. Though he said he did it. In fact, he didn’t. Few Sundays I chopped some branches and put them in plastic bags, in an effort to grow them.  I was foolish to think that one Gliricedia would be enough for my 100plus number fruit trees!

So that my plants do not miss their nitrogen fix I have now planted chana. Though I know it’s late. Still I’m trying.

You may ask why I’ve suddenly become ‘nitrogen conscious’. Being an organic farmer I’ve realized that I need to aid Nature to play its complimentary role and not interfere by using chemicals to feed my plants’ mineral requirements.

My farming friends tell me that Nitrogen is one of the most important chemical elements for plants. “If there is not enough nitrogen available in the soil plants look pale and their growth is stunted,” they say.

How does one usher Nitrogen?

Two ways: either introduce chemicals or grow Nitrogen fixing plants, called legumes. Legumes – and all peas and beans are legumes – are plants that work together with nitrogen fixing bacteria called Rhizobia, to “fix” nitrogen. The Rhizobia chemically convert the nitrogen from the air to make it available for the plant.

Legume plants live in a symbiotic relationship with the nitrogen fixing bacteria – the Rhizobia live in nodules in the plant’s roots. This way the plant can look after its own nitrogen needs without the use of fertilizer. In addition, when the crop is harvested and the plant cut back to ground level, the root nodules release all the valuable fixed nitrogen for following crops.