Desertification:causes, impacts and control

>> Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Scientists across the world, are of the opinion that desertification is the result of climatic variations and atmospheric changes. But all of them now accept that some human activities are the real causes behind the desertification in the current age. The whole world agrees that desertification has many serious consequences that cause suffering and dangers to the whole life existing in the particular areas, and also, that disrupt many of the environmental processes in those areas. Some of the remarkable causes of desertification and its consequences are mentioned below.

There are a number of causes of desertification and some significant ones are -
(i). Massive deforestation for various activities like extension of agriculture, pasture development, industrialization, mining, urbanization etc.
(ii). Overgrazing by cattle that renders the earth- surface bare, infertile, and thus unproductive.
(iii). Over cultivation that depletes most of the organic content of the soil and makes it prone to soil erosion by wind and water.
(iv). Growth of human population and consequent degradation of land through increasing human activities causes desertification.
(iv). Unscientific irrigation practices and flooding of fields makes the soil saline and unproductive.

Impacts of desertification –
(i). It reduces the ability of land to support life.
(ii). It adversely affects the lives of wild species, domestic animals, agricultural crops and people.
(iii).Desertification reduces plant cover from the earth surface and accelerates soil erosion through wind and water. Here is an example: South Africa is loosing about 300 to 400 million tones of top soil every year.
(iv).The reduction of plant cover which is caused due to desertification causes reduction in the quantity of humus and plant nutrients in soil.
(v). It is a self- reinforcing process. It means, once the process of desertification starts, the conditions are set for continual deterioration of land.
(vi). Desertification causes a drop in biological productivity which to a decline in economic productivity. It further forces farmers into poverty and compels them to migrate.

Image: Face of Desertification

Controlling desertification
Desertification can be controlled by averting the processes that cause desertification. Desert lands can be reclaimed by adopting appropriate technologies of developing plant covers over the desert lands. Rows of trees can be planted at the margins of deserts as shelter-belts for checking the spread of deserts. According to United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), following measures can be adopted for controlling desertification

  • Banning of goat farming, which is destructive to the environment;
  • Reclaim desertified land for increased productivity though a comprehensive approach;
  • Development of appropriate farming practices suited to the fragile semi-arid region;
  • Refinement of economically viable traditional practices in land degradation control and rehabilitation;
  • Improve the living conditions and income of farmers in affected villages to lift them out of poverty.



Solanum virginianum: now the plant of rare occurrence

>> Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Kantakari or Bhatkataiya is a beautiful plant known to me since my childhood. In those days we used to call it Bhaktoiya in our local rural language. Now I know that it is a member of the family Solanacea, taxonomically named as Solanum virginianum. The taxonomic name indicates that it should be a native of Virginia. I don’t know when did it come to India from Virginia and who brought it here, but I can say that this plant is familiar to me since my childhood when it was abundantly found everywhere except in cultivated lands. Taxonomic literature shows that Carl Linnaeus, the father of Taxonomy had named it so in 1753. Hence botanists call it Solanum virginianum L.  I treat and rather consider it as an Indian plant of great cultural and ethnoherbological importance. Since very few out of all the wild plants in our country have been investigated and listed for their properties, and many of these have been facing cruel behavior of developing human beings who consider these plants as invasive, or weed at least; vary few researches for their medicinal properties have so far been done, and I fear that many of these plants are seriously threatened to go towards extinction sooner or later.

Kantakari is deep green in colour. It is shy in exposing its worth and existence. However, it shows its worth and existence when some one tries to disturb or damage it carelessly thinking it a small, lowly and minor plant as it grows in little high patches on ground with all its parts touching the soil, and does not even spare the naughty goats, the great grazers on the earth, whenever they try to eat its green leaves. The whole plant except flowers and fruits is armed with thorns. This plant is damaged severely by some insects principally by Lady Birds and caterpillars of some moths who try to destroy it completely leaving it reduced to mere skeleton.

Image 1: Kantakari or Bhatkataiya 

In my childhood, once in a year in the morning of the day of Govardhan Pooja when sisters demanded kanta (thorny plants) and kusha (a weed of traditional and cultural importance taxonomically known as Saccharum ravennae) to plant on dung made Govardhan Mountain we used to come out of our houses like great warriors in search of Kantakari or Bhatkataiya plant to which we called Bhaktoiyas in our local rural language and attacked its branches to cut them into small pieces and collected those pieces in whatever container we used to carry on that day. For kusha, we did not worry as it used to grow abundantly on waste land or on demarcation lines of fields of farmers. Our sisters and other ladies of the village used to clean an area out side the village in the middle of which they used to construct a dung-Govardhan mountain on which they planted the twigs of Bhktoiya, kusha and other weeds. Then all the ladies used to sit around the Govardhan in a big circle.Any one of those ladies used to tell the story of Lord Krishna who had once holded the Govardhan mountain on the tip of his fore finger and all the inhabitants of Gokul village had taken shelter under it with all their cows and necessary commodities to escape from the great flood that was caused by angry Indra, the Hindu God, by the help of other gods to merge the whole village. In Hindu mythology there are a number of Gods and each God has some special power. So, if a great work is to be done all the Gods are requested to offer their powers. Lord Krishna had holded the mountain till the great divine calamity was over after Indra had accepted his defeat. 

Now, why had the Lord of Gods Indra got angry on Gokul inhabitants is not known to me. In our childhood there used to be a great Pandit, a great scholar of Sanskrit who used to tell these stories to villagers whenever they requested to arrange for his preaching programmes mostly during the summer evenings. A good high asana or sitting place had to be prepared by the villagers for sitting of the great pandit under the great banyan tree out side the village.

The Govardhan Pooja was performed by ladies of the village with great devotion. They used to worship Govardhan mountain for protecting the villagers and to bless their brothers who always remain ready to protect their sisters during adverse conditions.

The great traditional worship or the Govardhan Pooja is still practiced by Hindu ladies but kantakaries or Bhatkataiyas are hard to be found. Now that we have migrated in a city due to employment bhatkataiya plants are hard to be seen. However, I have a hobby of looking towards plants and greeting to the familiar ones. I search out most of the plants of my childhood even now. I have walked towards the country side to meet my friends of childhood but I am sad to say that very few of them are found here now a days.

Kantakari or Solanum virginianum has become a rare plant now. I have seen small children selling pieces of kantakari plants in the morning hours of the days of Govardhan Pooja, making small units with kush and other grasses to sell. In any one sale  unit if you purchase, you may hardly see a very small twig or leaf of kantakari and it indicates that the plant is very rare in the wild now.

Local vaidyas say that kantakari is a medicinal plant and it has immense medicinal properties but what of that? Kantakari is going away. On its place a similar plant of the same family, a brave erect exotic plant with white flowers is often seen growing along road sides and in waste lands.Some taxonomists call it Solanum attroprurience. To me, now it seems that this plant is an introduced species and fear that it may take the place of kantakari as the same is vanishing fast.

Image 2: Solanum attroprurience



Emission Trading and achieving development objectives

>> Monday, August 23, 2010

An administrative approach at global level that tries to keep control on pollution by producing economic incentives for achieving reduction in the emission of pollutants is called as Emission Trading. Along the same line the carbon Trading can be defined as – The administrative approach which is used to control emissions by providing economic incentives for achieving reductions in the emissions of carbon dioxide and its compounds is called as carbon trading.

In emission trading, a central authority or a government agency fixes a limit on the amount of a pollutant that can be emitted out. The pollutants- emitting bodies (companies, groups or industries) are given credits or allowances which represents the right to some particular pollutant only in a limited amount. The companies or the industrial units that pollute beyond their allowances are pressurized to buy credits from those who pollute less than their allowances. This transfer is called as a trade. If these rules are applied for carbon related pollutants like carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide gases, then the trade of this type is called as carbon trading.

The aim of Carbon Trading or the emission trading is to air reduce pollution at global level. In carbon trading, free market is used in order to determine how to deal with the problem of air pollution. The industrial units can reduce their emissions by applying whatever the technology these companies want to apply.

The countries of the world that have signed the treaty of the Kyoto- protocol of 1997 (126 countries) are under obligation to reduce their green house gas- emissions or to pay a price for that. The central idea behind it, was to make developed countries pay for their carbon emissions while at the same time monetarily rewarding the countries cutting down the GHG emissions. Suppose if a company in India applies Clean Technology and cuts x-tones of carbon emission, it can sell this carbon to a company located in, suppose- United States, which emits more GHGs.

Many countries of the world have started cutting in the emission of carbon on their own levels.According to a report published in The Times of India(July 2010)-
China will start carbon trading in domestic businesses during the next five-year plan beginning in 2011 with an aim to reduce carbon emission. The decision was made at a closed-door meeting chaired by Xie Zhenhua, deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), and attended by officials from related ministries, enterprises, environmental exchanges and think tanks, China Daily reported Wednesday quoting an unnamed participant. 

"The consensus that a domestic carbon-trading scheme is essential was reached, but a debate is still ongoing among experts and industries regarding what approach should be adopted," the paper quoted the source as saying. 

The meeting concluded that such efforts are self-imposed and should be strictly separated from ongoing international negotiations for a successor to the Kyoto Protocol to fight global warming, the source said. 
Experts say, the carbon trading programmes aimed at shifting towards low-carbon economy by pushing the market to adopt energy efficient measures will help China meet its energy intensity target. 

As a developing country, China does not shoulder legally binding responsibilities to reduce carbon emissions, according to the basic principle set by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. 
However, putting a price on carbon is a crucial step for the country to employ the market to reduce its carbon emissions and genuinely shift to a low-carbon economy, industry analysts said. 

China has mostly relied on administrative tools to meet its 20 percent energy intensity reduction target between 2006 to 2010. To that effect, the country's top 1,000 energy consumers have signed contracts with the central government to improve their energy efficiency.

But with rising energy demand, administrative measures are too expensive for the country to meet its future energy conservation targets - something that was also agreed at the meeting, said Tang Renhu from the low-carbon centre at China Datang Corporation who also joined the discussion. 

Although China has refuted the International Energy Agency's label of being the world's top energy consumer, its energy consumption for 2009 stood at 2.132 billion tonnes of oil equivalent, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. "The market-based carbon-trading schemes will be a cost-effective supplement to administrative means," said Yu Jie, an independent policy observer who previously worked for several international climate-related institutes. 

Possible sectors for piloting carbon trade projects include carbon-intensive industries such as coal-fired power generation, Tang said. China has pledged to cut its carbon emissions per unit of economic growth by 40 to 45% by 2020.

The GoI has identified the following project ideas(TERI)  in accordance with its development objectives.
· Removal of implementation barriers of biomass-based power generation.
· Strategy for removing barriers in achieving industrial energy efficiency.
· Carbon reduction through grid-interactive PV power generation.
· Energy conservation through technological upgradation of steel rerolling
· Solar PV diesel hybrid systems for decentralized village electrification.
· Cogeneration in cement plants.
· Carbon emission reduction in power plants.
· Decentralized rural electrification through biomass and solar energy
through private participation.
· Switching to non-petroleum fuels, electricity-powered and hybrid
engines in transport sector.
· Demand-side management in basic material and construction industry.
· Improving efficiency of rural agriculture pumpsets.
· Energy conservation in paper industry.



Impacts of Global Warming

About two thousand leading scientists of the world got together in 1995 to discuss and decide about the Global Warming. These scientists, discussing and deciding under the banner of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), came to the conclusion that the global warming was real, serious and accelerating. The panel predicted that the earth’s average temperature could rise further by 1.4 to 5.8 Celsius degrees within next 100 years. It may cause serious changes in weather pattern that may surely endanger our lives, our agriculture, and our plants as well as our animals.

The Global Warming has following effects on human societies, agriculture, other plants and animals –

I. Effects of Global Warming on Human Society
Any adverse change in the weather pattern or in the environment on the whole, is sure to affect adversely the lives of human beings. We can easily understand that a warmer climate is sure to change the patterns of rain fall and snow fall. It is sure to cause increases in the frequency and severity of drought and floods also. The increasing heat will cause the air to expand and develop more capacity of holding moisture. In turn, this is sure to affect our resources like water, forests, and different ecological systems. These conditions will affect the conditions of power generation, infrastructure, tourism and healthy living. 

The changes in temperature have already caused a number of disasters like cyclones, hurricanes, and other forms of storms across the world. In a nut shell we may conclude that changing climate due to the global warming will damage natural resources, together with causing spread of deadly diseases, displacement of human populations, hunger, loss of economy and shortage of human resources, in case the problem of global warming is not averted properly.

The Global Warming has various types of impacts on the whole earth, its systems and the whole human society.  Global Warming may cause frequent natural disasters like cyclones, storms and hurricanes, floods and droughts. Thus it may claim lives of large sections of human society. It may also cause cloud bursts, avalanches, landslides, mud- flows and earthquakes. A very large number of men, women and children are killed in these disasters. Thousands of people become homeless and migrate elsewhere to take shelter as refugees. Global Warming is causing melting of ice and glaciers which is leading to a rise in sea- level. As a result, the creeping up oceans swallow low laying islands, coastal areas, people and their property etc.  Such is the case of SATBHAYA village of Orissa State of India.

According to the fourth assessment Report, Brussels, April 2007 of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Global Warming Induced Climate Change causes following adverse impacts on human health –

•Increases in malnutrition and consequent disorders, with implication for child growth and development;
•Increased deaths, diseases and injury due to heat waves, floods, storms, fires and droughts;
•The increased burden of diarrhoeal diseases;
•Increased frequency of cardio-respiratory diseases due to higher concentrations of ground level ozone related to climate change; and
•The altered spatial distribution of vectors of some diseases.

Global Warming has wide ranging effects on many aspects of human life. It threatens economies, lives and traditions. In the U.S.A., Chicago experienced one of the worst weather related disasters in Illinois history when a heat wave resulted in 525 deaths during 5 day period in July of 1995. A warmer climate can expand the geographic range of tropical mosquito borne diseases such as Malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever etc. to higher altitudes and the maturation of certain disease causing agents and their vectors. India was hit by a severe heat wave in 2003. Temperature reached as high as 50 Celsius degrees in May across the worst hit areas and over 1200 people died. Just 5 years earlier, the most disastrous heat wave that hit India during April- June 1998 with an estimated fatalities 3028. The temperature rose as higher as 45 to 49.80 Celsius degrees in several Indian states. The human caused global warming may have already doubled the chance of killer heat waves like the one that scorched Europe in July- August2003. The summer was hottest in Europe in July –August 2003. That summer was hottest in Europe in at least last 5000 years.

The rising sea level is causing loss of land, loss of property and loss of lives. It may also cause large scale displacement of people which may further create a problem of rehabilitation. The rising temperature due to global warming has melted down the ice of a number of glaciers. The total surface of glaciers worldwide has decreased by 50 per cent since the end of 19th century. According to a report, the snow cap that covered Mountain Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain of Africa, since last 11000 years, i.e. since the last ice age, was about to disappear up to March 2005. The ice caps of this mountain that gave it the name of the Shining Mountain are no longer shining now. Fascinated by its shining appearance, the famous author Ernest Hemmingway wrote his classic ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro”. But about 80 per cent of its snow has vanished now, since 1912. 

Image 1: Mount Kilimanjaro (source: Wikipedia)

II. Effects of Global Warming on Agriculture
Our demands for more and more food are rising on day by day due to increasing human population. The supply of food mainly comes from agriculture. But the increasing temperature followed by changes in climatic conditions due to global warming is sure to damage it.

Global warming may cause drought and outbreak of insects. Both of these conditions are damaging to agriculture. Higher temperature accelerates the maturation of earlier disease causing agents and their vectors. All these conditions cause damage to and failure of crops.

Climatic factors like temperature, wind, relative humidity, rain fall etc. have direct effects on agriculture. Since global warming is changing the global climates, adverse changes in agriculture and its production is bound to occur. On the other hand changing frequencies of natural disasters such as floods, cyclones, hurricanes, landslides, mud-flows etc. tend to vanish out our crops besides causing great losses to life and property. Hail storms, wind storms and also, fog and mist cause serious damages to our crops each year. In many parts of India, farmers go on demonstration and road jams demanding compensations from the government whenever their crops are damaged due to any of these reasons.

 In a democratic country the government is formed by the people themselves. On the other hand, climate change is a global tragedy the responsibilities of which go in everyone’s share. However, since the climate is changing, agriculture is sure to be damaged and such incidents are bound to follow because every one wants to live.

III. Effects of Global Warming on other Plants and Animals
Since all the plants and animals depend on a favorable climate, suitable habitats, food and appropriate breeding conditions for survival and development, the global warming followed by the climate change is sure to impose disastrous effects on them. In 1990s, the out break of Spruce Bark Beetle in South Central Alaska damaged 4 million acres of spruce forests. The Animal populations in Arctic region are declining fast due to rising temperature across the region. The disproportionate warming in this region has had detrimental effects on many arctic species including the Arctic Gull, Emperor Penguins , Arctic fox, and the polar beer. The total area of the Arctic sea ice has declined by 6 per cent over the last twenty years. Since 1979 damage to coral reefs and events of coral bleaching on a large scale has increased considerably.

The global warming has destructive effects on the world biodiversity. So far vast varieties of birds, reptiles, insects, bacteria, fungi, rodents etc. have vanished out due to these effects. The golden toads in the mountains of Costa Rica are believed to have gone extinct in recent years. The population of Salamanders and similar species are at the brink of extinction as their embryos do not develop properly under the conditions of rising temperature due to global warming.

Image 2 : Golden Toad of Florida( source Wikipedia)

In Central South America many of the mountain amphibians including the golden toads have been vanished due to global warming. This worldwide calamity is compounded by habitat loss and alien invasive species ‘making their impacts considerably worse. According to the WWF (Worldwide Fund for nature), with the doubling of carbon dioxide, climate change could eventually destroy 35 per cent of the world’s existing terrestrial habitats. Birds’ habitats will be altered through changes in sea level, fire regimes, vegetation and land use etc. Due to the Climate Anomaly caused by global warming, the population of the Emperor Penguins declined by 50 per cent during 1970s due to reduced adult survival caused by prolonged abnormally warm temperatures with reduced sea ice.

The population of the Siberian Crane, which is a critically endangered species, has reduced considerably up to few thousand individuals. It demonstrates the vulnerability of a wet land migratory bird to the climate change. Some populations of migratory birds have been declining sharply because of unfavorable variations in climatic conditions. The increasing deposits of carbon dioxide in oceanic waters due to global warming and other incidents are damaging mollusks due to which their population in marine waters has declined sharply.

Image 3: Siberian Crane (source: Wikipedia)

The global warming is damaging various ecosystems like mangrove- swamps, coral reefs and coastal lagoons etc. due to various reasons like reduction in pH of oceanic water and increasing deposits of acids. The migration time of spring butterflies in Britain has become earlier than it was 30 years ago. It has been observed that the behaviors of some bird species have changed due to climatic variations in the Indian state of Orissa. Some birds like Black Headed Oriole and Open Billed Stork have changed their times of migration where as some birds like Bronze Winged Jacana and Indian Small Skylark have changed their nesting behaviors. The change in climate due to rise in global temperature is causing migration of species of wild animals towards poles and high altitudes. Since those areas are already inhabited by animals of different species, the migrated species receive the status of Refugee Species.

The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) -2001, has made following predictions about the financial losses due to Climate Change caused by Global Warming-

(i).The annual loss due to frequent tropical cyclones; rising sea level causing loss of land , damage to fishing stocks, loss of agriculture and water supplies etc. could be more than US $300 000 million.
(ii).The Water Industry is estimated to face extra cost of US$47 000 million annually, on the global level up to 2050.
(iii). Droughts, floods and fires are estimated to cause a loss worth US$42 000 million to agriculture and forestry worldwide, in case  the levels of carbon dioxide reach up to twice of their concentration during pre-industrial era.
(iv). The cost of protecting homes, factories and power stations from floods due to the rising sea levels and storm surges may reach up to US$1000 million annually, on the global levels.
(v).The losses to different ecosystems including mangroves, swamps, coral reefs, and coastal lagoons could amount to more than US$70 000 million by 2050.



Kantakari : A prickly medicinal weed

>> Thursday, August 19, 2010

Kantakari or Solanum virginianum syn. S. xanthocarpum as known taxonomically, is an upright, thorny perennial shrub or a sub-shrub which may either creep on ground or grow one to two meters in height. It belongs to family Solanaceae. There is another species named as Solanum atropureum which grows tall and bears white flowers. Another specific character of the species is its fruits that become as red as small ripened tomatoes. Aurveda describes kantakari as three types- white flowered, violet flowered and yellow flowered plants. White flowered plants grow tall and erect while violet flowered plants spread on the ground branching profusely. Different researchers name these plants differently and lots of confusion exists about correct nomenclature of different species of Kantakari. The plant bearing violet coloured flowers is considered to be native of India and is popularly known as bhatkataiya. However, the erect white flowered and light green plants have also acclimatized themselves in Indian conditions and are seen frequently here and there in waste land, along rail tracks, rods and wall sides.

Image 1 : Solanum virginianum with violet flowers

Image 2: Solanum attropureum in the wild

Image 3

Solanaceae is a family of flowering plants,many of which are edible; while others are poisonous (some have both edible and toxic parts). The name of the family comes from the Latin solanum meaning “the nightshade plant", but the further etymology of that word is unclear. It has been suggested that it originates from the Latin verbsolari, meaning "to soothe". This would presumably refer to alleged soothing pharmacological properties of some of the psychoactive species found in the family.

Solanum virginianum is a very prickly perennial herb, usually with woody base. It creeps on the ground and bears violet coloured flowers. Solanum atropureum is a tall and erect plant, as tall as about four to five feet or even more.
Stem is profusely branched and younger ones usually remain clothed with dense, stellate and tomentose hairs. Prickles are compressed straight, glabrous and shining, often 1 to 3 cm long.

 Leaves are ovate or elliptic, sinuate or subpinnatifid, obtuse or subacute, stellately hairy on both sides, armed on the midrib and often on the nerves with long yellow sharp prickles. Petiole is long, stellately hairy and prickly. The shape of its leaves is similar to that of the Oak, but these bear thorns.

Flowers are in cymes or some times reduced as solitary. The flowers are bisexual and actinomorphic or only slightly zygomorphic. The perianth and androecium whorls generally are isomerous and usually are 5- or sometimes 4- or 6-merous. The calyx is synsepalous, ranging from tubular to deeply cleft. Calyx tube is short, globose and lobes are linear-lanceolate, acute, densely hairy and prickly. The corolla is sympetalous and ranges from forms with a short tube and rather long, reflexed lobes to forms with a long tube and short lobes. Petals are purple in colour; lobes are deltoid, acute, and hairy outside. Anther filament is long, glabrous and anther opens by a pore.  The stamens are distinct, alternating with the lobes of the corolla, and adnate to the corolla tube or perigynous zone. The gynoecium consists of a single compound pistil of 2 carpels, a single style, and a superior ovary with 2 or rarely more locules by false partitioning, each with nearly always numerous axile ovules. Ovary is ovoid and glabrous. A nectary disk is generally present around the base of the ovary. The fruit is a berry or septicidal capsule. Berries are green and blotched. They are of the size of a golf ball and they become yellow on ripening. These remain surrounded by enlarged calyx. The fruits smell sweet and attract to livestock and wild herbivores. Seeds are glabrous. Though many herbivores fear from its thorns, goats spare these plants rarely.

Image 4

Image 5

Weed status
This plant is considered an invasive weed which reduces biological diversity by displacing native plants and disrupting the ecological integrity. Prickles of the plant create a physical barrier to animals and prevent movement of humans and animals through infested areas. This plant contains a poisonous chemical known as Solasodine which is dangerous to humans also. It also serves as a host to some viruses that infect vegetable crops.

The plant is native to Argentina and Brazil. However, the violet flowered kantakari or Solanum virginianum is reportedly native to India. Its other species which bears purple flowers and creeps basically on ground is native to Arabia, Afghanistan, Iran, China, Indian Subcontinent, Indo-China, Malaysia etc.

 It is believed that Solanum atropureum was introduced to Florida in 1980s. In India it came along with grains and other crop produce and spread through out the country in a short period of time. It is a wasteland plant, but grows abundantly along with crop plants and garden bushes. It is mostly found near walls and at those places where building debris is dumped. The Federal Government has declared it a noxious weed and has designed a comprehensive programme for its eradication. In United States, it is basically found in open semi shaded areas, such as pastures, ditch banks, roadsides, recreational areas, citrus groves, sugarcane fields and wet areas of rangeland. It is typically found in poorly drained soils, and sandy soils. However, it can not tolerate waterloging.

Local names
Kantakari is variously named in different languages. In Hindi it is called as dwarf brinjal,In Wnglish it is commonly known as night shade. In Assamese and Bengali it is called as Kantakari,in Gujrati it is called as bethi bhoy ringani, in Kannad it is known as nelagulla, in Manipuri it is called as leipungkhanga, in Marathi it is called as dorall ringani, in Nepalese it is called as areri, in Oriya it is called as rengini bhejri, in Sanskrit it is called as agni damani,in Pujabi it is known as Chhoti mauhari, in Tamil it is known as Kantankattari, in Telugu it is called as gurrapu-gatt-apu etc.

Solanaceae are known for possessing a diverse range of alkaloids. As far as humans are concerned, these alkaloids can be desirable, toxic, or both, though they presumably evolved because they reduce the tendency of animals to eat the plants.

One of the most important groups of these compounds is called the tropane alkaloids. The term "tropane" comes from a genus in which they are found, Atropa   (the belladona genus). The belladonna genus is so named after theGreek Fate, Atropo   who cut the thread of life. This nomenclature signifies the toxicity and lethality that has long been known to be characteristic of these compounds.

Tropane alkaloids are also found in the Datura, Mandragora, and Brugmansia   genera, as well as many others in the Solanaceae family. Chemically, the molecules of these compounds have a characteristic bicyclic structure and include atropine, scopolamine, and Hyoscimine. Pharmacologically, they are the most powerful known anticholinergic in existence, meaning they inhibit the neurological  signals transmitted by the endogenous  neurotransmitter acetyle choline.Symptoms of overdose  may include dry mouth, dilated pupils,ataxia, urinary retention, hallucinations convulsion, coma, and death.

Despite the extreme toxicity of the tropanes, they are useful drugs when administered in extremely small dosages. They can reverse cholinergic poisoning, which can be caused by overexposure to pesticides, and warfare agents such as sarin and VX. More commonly, they can halt many types of allergic reactions. Scopomine , a commonly used Ophthalmological agent, dilates the pupils and thus facilitates examination of the interior of the eye. They can also be used as antiemetics in people prone to motion sickness or receiving chemotherapy. Atropine has a stimulant  effect on the central nervous system and heart, whereas scopolamine has a sedative effect.

An infamous alkaloid from the Solanaceae family is nicotine. Like the tropanes, its pharmacology acts on cholinergic neurons, but with the opposite effect (it is an agonist  as opposed to an antagonist). It has a higher specificity for nicotinic acetyle choline receptors  than other ACh proteins. Its effects are well known and many claim that it is the single most addictive substance on earth. Nicotine occurs naturally in the Nicotiana or Tobacco genus.

Another class of toxic substances found in this family is the glycoalkaloides, for example solanine which has occasionally been responsible for poisonings, in people who ate berries from species such as Solanum nigrum or solanum dulcamara, or green potatoes. The chemical in chili peppers responsible for the burning sensation is capsacin . Capsaicin affects only mammals, not birds. Pepper seeds can always survive the digestive tract of birds and their fruit becomes brightly colored once its seeds are mature enough to germinate. Capsaicin extract is used to make pepper spray, a useful deterrent against aggressive mammals.

Medicinal Properties
Solanum virginianum is an important medicinal weed which has been in traditional Ayurvedic, Unani, Chinese, and ethnoherbological healthcare systems since time immemorial. The decoction of roots is given in urinary diseases. Root extract is used in cough. Extract of whole plant is used to check hair falling.

Roots of this plant are used in Dashmularista, an ayurvedic tonic for lactating mothers. The extract of leaves is administered orally for the treatment of fever, cough, and asthma. The fumigation with the vapour of burning seeds is prescribed for curing tooth ache in traditional medicine. The leaf extract is also used as diuretic and the juice of berries of the plant are given internally for the treatment of soar throat. In Punjab the juice of leaves of this plant are given for the treatment of rheumatism. The decoction of the plant is used in the treatment of gonorrhea. It also promotes conception in females. A fine powder of the fruits of this plant mixed with honey is used for the treatment of chronic cough in children.

Ayurveda describes this plant as aperients, pungent, bitter, digestive, and astringent. The extract of roots of this plant is an effective diuretic, expectorant and febrifuge. The extract of leaves of this plant if taken internally is an important agent for the treatment of tenacious phlegm. It is also useful in the treatment of influenza, enteric fever, cardiotonic, and laxative. It is also used against difficult urination.

According to an other traditional medicinal system this plant is extremely useful in all types of coughs and problems related to respiratory system. This herb is useful in curing allergies leading to cough. This also forms a part of Dash Mul (Ten Roots). Roots, Stem, leaves, flowers and fruits are useful parts of this herb as Ayurvedic medicinal herb. Anticancer (fruit and plant); alleviates spasms, stimulates the cardiovascular system and antiarrhythmic (fruit); antiviral and spermicidal (plant); expectorant and carminative (plant).

Miller, J.H. 2003. Nonnative invasive plants of southern forests: a field guide for identification and control. Gen. Tech. Rep. SRS-62. Asheville, NC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Research Station. 93 pp (USDA SRS).
Chhote, L., Chunekar, K.C. (1985) - Study of lakśmanā in SamhitasSachitra Ayurved 37, 10, 601-605.
Garg, S.K., Gupta, D.R. (2006). Chemical examination of the seed fat of Solanum ferox L. Fette , Seifen, Anstrichimittel. 68(6): 449-450
 Govindan, S.; Viswanathan, S.; Vijayasekaran, V. and Alagappan, R. (1999). Journal ofEthno pharmacology. 66(2):205-10.
Heble, M. R., Narayanaswami,S. (1968). Diosgenin and ß-Sitosterol: Isolation  from Solanum xanthocarpum Tissue Cultures.Science 161(3846): 1145
Karnick, C.R. (1976b) - On the correct identity of the plants termed as “lakśmanā "; a comparative, botanical, chemical, pharmacological, and Ayurvedic confirmation, National Medical Gazette 15, 1-9.
Mafel, C. (1999). Ysrael. Tonkin herbal drug: a multidisciplinary approach to development.  Clinical Hemorheology and Microcirculation. 29(3-4): 247-251.
Mali, P. C., M. Chaturvedi, et al. (1996). Journal of Phytological Research. 9(1): 13-17.
Sharma, N., Sharma, A.K., Zafar, R. (1990). Indole alkaloids in the callus culture of Ipomoea muricata Linn. Indian Journal of Pharmaceutica Sciences. 52(2): 111-2.
Singh, A.P. (2005). Dravyaguna Vijnana. Gupta, A. Chaukhambha Orientalia, New Delhi.
Singh, A.P. (2007). Bhavapraksha Nighantu. Gupta, A. Chaukhambha Orientalia, New Delhi.
Singh, A.P. (2007). Dhanwantri Nighantu. Gupta, A. Chaukhambha Orientalia, New Delhi.
Singh, A.P. (2007). Raj Nighantu Gupta, A. Chaukhambha Orientalia, New Delhi.
Verma, R (1975) - LakśmanāDhanvantri 49.2/3, 320-323.
Yadev, C.L., Chunekar, K.C. (1984) - The Wonder Āyurvedic lakśmanā for progeny. A historical appraisal. IJHS 19, 3,272-278.



What is Introduced Biodiversity?

>> Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Many species of plants and animals are deliberately or accidentally transported by human beings to new locations like islands, countries or regions where they have never inhabited under natural conditions. Disease causing organisms, weeds (like Parthenium or congress grass, Lantana camara and Eupatorium shrubs), insects, pests and rats are introduced to new locations where they form the introduced biodiversity. Species of plants and animals introduced in a country from some foreign land are called as exotic species. These species of plants and animals are potential threats to the lives of indigenous varieties of plants and serious hazards to local biodiversity.

Image 1: Lantana camara

The examples of some most talked about exotic weeds and their impacts in the new habitats are mentioned below –

(i). Lake Victoria is the largest lake of Africa. The introduction of the Nile perch in this lake has driven about 50 per cent of the 400 original species of fish of the lake towards extinction.Also, the introduction of Echornia plants is causing further deterioration of the ecology of the lake.

Image 2: Lake Victoria

Image 3:Nile Perch

Image 4:Lake Victoria - growth of Eichornia plants

(ii)Eucalyptus and Casurina are plants of families Myrtaceae and Casurinaceae respectively. These plants are abundantly seen here and there in India but these are of foreign origin. Eucalyptus has been introduced in the Indian sub-continent from Australia and Tropical Americas where as Casurina has been introduced here from the Southern Hemisphere especially Australia. Though these plants have acquired their places in the country as sources of rough timber their presence is a potential threat to the local species of plants.

(iii). A number of exotic weeds have been transferred form one country to the other country. Parthenium hysterophorus (Congress grass), Agrostemma githago (Corn cockle), Eichornia crassipes, Alternanthera philexeroides (Alligator weed), Salvinia molesta etc. are names of some common weeds of the world that were brought to India along with other materials and were introduced on the Indian land along with seeds of crop plants. These weeds are causing hazardous conditions for the Indian native plants and have already driven away to extinction, many of the Indian plant species besides causing great losses to agriculture.  

Image 5:Parthenium sp.



Microfinancing for Sustainable Development: The Gramin Bank Model

Some decades ago some voluntary organizations in India searched out a tool to fight poverty, empower the rural poor and remove human deprivation in rural India. That tool was the MICROFINANCE. Most of the poor in rural areas lack access to banking and related services. Some NGOs offer provisions of financial services to poor farmers to support agriculture and to entrepreneur so as to encourage them start their own income generating activities. This process of helping the poor and entrepreneur by providing small financial help as credits in order to help them become self reliant is called as microfinance.

According to Adams and his co-workers (1984) – the objective of microfinance is to create a “ world in which as many poor and near poor households as possible have permanent access to an appropriate range of high quality financial services including not just credit but also savings, insurance, and fund transfers.” As per a report from the World Bank (2006) – the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor(CGAP) prepared some principles pertaining to microfinance to assist the poor  in 2004 and those were incorporated in G8 Summit on June 10, 2004 are –
1.     Poor people need not just loans but also savings, insurance and money transfer services.   Microfinance must be useful to poor households: helping them raise income, build up assets and/or cushion themselves against external shocks.
2.     "Microfinance can pay for itself."     Subsidies from donors and government are scarce and uncertain, and so to reach large numbers of poor people, microfinance must pay for itself.
3.     Microfinance means building permanent local institutions.
4.     Microfinance also means integrating the financial needs of poor people into a country's mainstream financial system.
5.     "The job of government is to enable financial services, not to provide them."
6.      "Donor funds should complement private capital, not compete with it.
7.     "The key bottleneck is the shortage of strong institutions and managers." Donors should focus on capacity building.
8.     Interest rate ceilings hurt poor people by preventing microfinance institutions from covering their costs, which chokes off the supply of credit.
9.     Microfinance institutions should measure and disclose their performance – both financially and socially.

It has been observed that, if committed for social development, non-government organizations can support societies in sustainable development by providing finance accessibility to the poor by organizing Self Help Groups (SHGs). A number of such organizations in India are on their ways of providing aids of microfinance to the poor. At present more than 1000 NGOs are implementing micro finance projects in the country. By learning from the example of Gramin Bank Bangla Desh many NGOs in this country have come forward to provide financial services to the rural poor. In all this NGOs get some financial support in terms of grants from apex financial institutions like NABARD (National Bank for Rural and Agricultural Development) and RMK (Rashtriya Mahila Kosh).

NABARD was set up on 12th July 1982 under an act of the Parliament, and owned by the Government of India and the Reserve Bank of India. It is an apex development bank for supporting and promoting agriculture and rural development. The examples of such NGOs following SHG promotion approach are: MYRADA in Karnataka, SHARE in Andhra Pradesh, RDO (Rural Development Organization) in Manipur, PREM (People’s Rights and Environment Movement) in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, YCO (Youth Charitable Organization) in Andhra Pradesh, PRADAN (Professional Assistance for Development Action) and RUDSOVAT (Rural Development Society for Vocational Training) in Rajasthan and ADITHI in Bihar.

There are different models of Microfinance like Gramin Bank Model, Spandan, Gramin Koota, Swayam Krishi Sangam (SKS), Danda Credit Society and many morte.The Swayam Krishi Sangam of Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh is an initiative in Rural India to empower the poorest of the poor to become self-reliant. This initiative started taking shape in June 1998, and soon began operating its main activity, microfinance which follows the Gramin Bank model by seeking to eradicate poverty by offering small loans for income generating activities through a process of collective peer lending. With 53 lakh members and 1627 branches spread across India it has its office in USA also. It established its Women’s Banking Sangam in the Narayankhed region. As of July 2005, SKS Microfinance has grown into 32 branches in six districts of Telangana and serves over 100,000 clients.

The SKS has also started its educational activities by implementing a Preschool Programme in February 2001 in one of the poorest parts of India- the Nayankhed region of Medak District in Andhra Pradesh.
Adams, Dale W., Douglas H. Graham & J. D. Von Pischke (eds.). Undermining Rural Development with Cheap Credit. Westview Press, Boulder & London, 1984
Helms, Brigit (2006). Access for All: Building Inclusive Financial Systems. Washngton D.C. The World Bank. ISBN 0821363603.
Muhammd Yunus and Karl Webber.Creating a World Without Poverty: Social Business and the Future of Capitalism. PublicAffairs, New York, 2007



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