How plantation sector can turn ‘near organic’

N Lakshmanan | Updated on August 03, 2019

Harnessing the effects of nitrate reductase can help curtail the applications of chemical fertilisers

The environmental excesses of the input-intensive Green Revolution have been examined at length over time. To take just one example, according to Duke University, the population in 16 States consumes water with a higher uranium content than permissible under UN standards. Indian standards do not specify the minimum levels of these hazardous chemicals. The government, however, cannot shirk responsibility on this sensitive issue. There are ways to modify farming to create a better tomorrow for all. A neglected dimension of input application is the ‘nitrate reductase’ principle.

This remarkable enzyme secretes in the root zone to denote that it is ready to absorb the nutrients derived out of the nitrogenous format. This enzyme is synchronised with the sunshine hours. It is supposed to remain active for two hours a day.

The hypothesis is simple. By synchronising the use of nitrogenous fertiliser with the secretion of the enzyme, their use can be minimised and a near-organic form of cultivation can be achieved. The abuse of nitrogenous fertilisers can be contained. The behaviour of nitrate reductase needs to be closely understood. It denotes that the plant is craving for edible material to be converted into bright chlorophyl that is responsible for quality shoots, a direct visible measurable observation in the form of a bright green soft texture full of polyphenols. (Similarities between haemoglobin in our bodies and chlorophyll are apparent.)

Work on the actions of this enzyme was published by Venkadesan of UPASI in 1995. Further research was not done, but taking cue from those research papers we can move ahead. My experience is based on observations in the case of tea, a dicotyledon plant.

The impact of nitrate reductase can be studied and a database created for the precise application of inputs. The use of technology will help, with operations being simulated and shown on a computer screen. As a senior planter I understand that the challenge is to design individual drip dispensation mechanisms. Entire manuring schedules will have to be reworked based on the ‘nitrate reductase’ principle. Precision technology can be used for drip irrigation and fertigation.

Once the plantation shifts to a nitrate reductase regimen, it may take five years for the plants to get acclimatised to the new system. These five years are said to be the consolidation period, and whatever additional resources we garner becomes a reserve. Finance would be required to see through this period. Repayment of the loan can begin from the sixth year and be completed after 15 years. The Centre could provide a sovereign guarantee to arrange a multilateral agency loan, refinanced by NABARD through commercial banks, to the beneficiaries on the agreed terms and modalities. Technology through AI can be effectively harnessed for assessment of beneficiaries’ finances. This is a worthwhile investment for the Centre.

The behaviour of this enzyme can have a major bearing on the use of nitrogenous fertilisers. It furthers absorption of zinc sulphate, boron, magnesium sulphate and manganese, which are essential micro nutrients to ward off infections such as canker phomopsis, blister blight and tea mosquito attack.

Other steps

The plantation sector can take to pisciculture as well. To this end, mini earthen dams may need to be created, for which we may have to obtain clearance from the IMD, since the belt starting from Colcumbaie in the Nilgiris up to Pune is supposed to be a seismologically disturbed area. These earthen dams can be a source of additional income to the planter. This will discourage the planting community from selling land to real estate developers.

On the marketing side, manipulation of the tea auction system is a big problem. Policymakers should appreciate that the ills of the plantations need to be addressed in a comprehensive manner, in the context of global warming.

Verdant forest was cleared about 150-200 years ago to develop commercial crops. In its place we brought in mono-cropping and, in the process, lost forest density. Now, if the plantations are likely to be converted into resorts, health cities or housing complexes, it could lead to an environmental disaster. A new approach based on prudent application of inputs and optimal use of nitrate reductase can create the basis for environmentally sustainable agriculture in India.

The writer is a senior tea planter based in the Nilgiris

Published on August 03, 2019

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