Tuesday, May 6, 2008

‘Smart’ biofuel crops ensure food and environmental security

While the global debate rages on whether the biofuel revolution is causing imbalances in food security systems and increasing the greenhouse gas emissions the ‘smart’ biofuel crops developed, utilized and promoted by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Patancheru, Andhra Pradesh, ensure energy and environmental security.

According to Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, the time has come to ensure that only smart biofuel crops are developed and utilized so that they can link poor dryland farmers with the biofuel market, without compromising on their food security, or causing environmental damage.
Energy security 

“Smart biofuel crops are those that ensure food security, contribute to energy security, provide environmental sustainability, tolerate the impacts of climate change on shortage of water and high temperatures, and increase livelihood options,” he said.

Through its BioPower Strategy, ICRISAT is developing and promoting sweet sorghum as a major feedstock for producing bioethanol. 

Sweet sorghum is a carbon dioxide neutral crop, which is a big contributory factor to being called a smart crop.

ICRISAT-bred sweet sorghum varieties and hybrids have increased sugar content in their stalks. 

It has a strong pro-poor advantage since it has a triple product potential, that is grain, juice for ethanol, and bagasse (waste) for livestock feed and power generation. 

Its highlight is that there is no compromise on farmers’ food security, since the grain is available for the farmers, along with sugar-rich juice from the stalk that can be distilled to manufacture ethanol.

There are other benefits also. It is a cost-effective and competitive feedstock. It has a shorter crop cycle of 4 months compared to sugarcane, which is a 12-month crop and requires lesser water. 

It requires only half of the water required to grow maize and one eighth of the water required to grow sugarcane. The cultivation cost is less when compared to sugarcane.

The juice from the stalks is used for fuel alcohol production. The leftover stalks (called sillage), after juice extraction, can be used for animal feed, according to Dr. Belum Reddy, Principal Scientist, Sorghum Breeding, of the Institute.

Sweet sorghum is tolerant to water scarcity and high temperatures, two qualities which will keep the crop in good stead in the context of climate change. It also has high water use efficiency. 
Environment friendly 

It is a carbon dioxide neutral crop that makes it environment friendly, and does not add to greenhouse gas emissions. During its growth cycle, a hectare of sweet sorghum cultivation absorbs about 45 tonnes of carbon. 

It has been found from studies that gasoline blended with ethanol has lower emissions when run through an automobile engine than pure gasoline. 

Field experiments conducted have proved that from one hectare of sweet sorghum, a farmer can harvest about 30 tonnes of fresh stalk. The cost of cultivation of sweet sorghum works out to Rs.10,500 per hectare. It generates a total income of Rs. 21,000 with a net return of Rs 10,500. 

Good animal feed 

The stalks of sweet sorghum are relished by cattle and the digestibility is higher compared to grain sorghum. In the absence of a distillery, the farmer can sell the stalks to animal feed manufacturers. The sillage from sweet sorghum stalk is a good animal feed like grain sorghum.

ICRISAT’s initiative to produce biofuels is not limited to bio ethanol from sweet sorghum alone. 
Water shed project 

Through its watershed development project, it is promoting the cultivation of Pongamia and Jatropha also from which biodiesel can be extracted.

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Technology today has provided us with innumerable comforts that have simplified our lives a great deal. Today we have the best most efficient automobiles to ferry us around from destination to destination, we have the most sophisticated household appliances that do most of the work for us around the house. In short, all these machines have made our lives more comfortable. However, this comfort has come with a price. The lack of physical activity has brought with it many health problems such as diabetes, hyper tension, chronic heart diseases, high blood pressure and more recently obesity.

To combat these problems people used medicinal drugs, pills and sometimes even go in for surgery in extreme cases( in case of heart attacks). But recently exercise, more specifically aerobic exercise has become popular. Exercise not only helps to cure these problems but it also helps us to keep fit in the long term.

Climbing up a staircase, jogging, brisk walking, working around the kitchen, doing normal household tasks all come under aerobics. Hence it can be done by almost anyone and does not require any special training or class. This is the reason why aerobics is more popular than any other form of exercise.

There are also more specific form of aerobics such as step aerobics, dance aerobics, water aerobics and low impact aerobics. These aerobics are done in a class and in the presence of an instructor. They help in reducing weight, maintaining the body shape and increasing flexibility. As they do not require any special training and are not very strenuous in nature, they can be done by anyone from working men and women, housewives and even overweight youngsters.

What is Aerobics?
Aerobic exercise is defined as any repetitive physical activity that is done long and hard enough, to enhance circulatory and respiratory efficiency. Aerobic means `with oxygen` and it requires the lungs and heart to meet the body`s increased oxygen demand. Hence, it may be called a system of physical conditioning that involves exercises such as running, swimming, cycling and skipping.

Ailments, such as hypertension, stroke, heart disease, diabetes and cancers can be avoided by regular aerobic exercise. The other benefits of regular aerobic exercises are that it can also lower our blood pressure, build stronger bones, improve muscle strength and flexibility. Aerobics also helps us to control depression and body weight thus enabling us to lead a happy and healthy life.

Exercises are not same in nature. It depends on an individuals own potential and capabilities. However, it is interesting to note that a certain form of aerobics called water aerobics suits most individuals. The reason is because it makes the body buoyant, thus causing less strain and stress on the joints and muscles. There are also many other types of aerobics such as low-impact aerobics, step aerobics and dance aerobics. Dance aerobics has become one of the most popular forms of aerobic exercise as it not only gives an excellent workout but it is at the same time enjoyable. It is popular with the young crowd and also with housewives and working women as it is entertaining as well as useful.

There are various types of aerobics such as 
1. Low impact aerobics
2. Water/Aqua aerobics
3. Step aerobics
4. Dance aerobics
5. Sports aerobics

Advantages of aerobics
Normal day to day task is also a part of aerobics, though we may be unaware of it. These include walking running, hiking, bicycling, swimming, cross country skiing, stair climbing, rowing, aerobic dance and many other activities. Some of the benefits are as listed below: 
Aerobics helps to strengthen our heart and lungs which in turn leads to better expulsion of waste materials such as carbon di oxide.

It helps the heart by increasing its blood stroke volume. 

Efficient use of oxygen helps to burn fat more effectively.

It strengthens the defense system, lowers blood pressure and helps in reducing the risks of developing diabetes and other life threatening diseases.

Aerobics increases good cholesterol and decreases bad cholesterol and helps a person to recover faster form any sort of disease.

Our cardiovascular system is also affected. It becomes more efficient while doing aerobics and as a result it increases our chance of maintaining healthy weight later in life.