Friday, June 08, 2018

Feeding the Planet

The 'Green Revolution' of the 1960s prompted worldwide use of nitrogen-based fertilizers and pesticides. Rice, like other crops relies on getting its essential nutrients from nitrogen fertilizer, but over 50% of the fertilizer used either evaporates, or washes away. It forms nitrogen dioxide which is 300 times more harmful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. The excessive use of fertilizers has continued to be so inefficient, more nitrogen is pouring off into the waterways and oceans than ever before. Excess nitrogen causes 'dead zones' by unleashing algal blooms, which then rot and consume all available oxygen, suffocating other marine life. Today there are more than 500 dead zones in the world's oceans, a figure that has quadrupled in the last 50 years. With half the world's crops and farmers depend on synthetic fertilizer, how can we feed the world's growing population without causing further harm to the environment?

Bioscientist Dr. Ted Cocking, from the Centre for Crop Nitrogen Fixation in the UK, was the first to unlock the potential of bacterium - Gluconacetobacter diazotrophicus, or Gd for short.

 Treated plants are coated in nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Normally found in sugarcane, these bacteria enable the rice plants to extract nitrogen directly from the air, instead of being reliant on artificial fertilizer.

"As the plant grows, an aerobic relationship between the bacteria and the rice plant develops" says Dr. Pham Thi Thu Huong. "This allows the bacteria to take nitrogen straight from the atmosphere in a form the plant can use. I think this nitrogen-fixing bacteria is one of the best solutions to ensure food security for the future as well as farming more sustainably."
In Vietnam, they are seeing up to 50% reductions in nitrogen fertilizer, combined with a 15% increase in rice yields.

No comments: