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Indian American Soil Scientist Rattan Lal keen to share his knowledge with India to boost soil health and productivity, but ‘nobody listens’

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Dakhla (Morocco), April 2, 2017: His expertise as a soil scientist has helped arrest degradation and grow crops in several areas across Africa and the world. Much sought after and bestowed with many prestigious awards, Indian American scientist Rattan Lal is keen to share his knowledge with India to boost soil health and productivity, but sadly, he says, no one is interested.

“The trouble with India is nobody listens. But here (meaning abroad), people listen,” Lal, a Distinguished University Professor at Ohio State University, told IANS on the sidelines of an international conference here.

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Lal, in his early 70s, who has a slew of awards and honours to his credit, including the M.S. Swaminathan award and the Norman Borlaug award in India, says he tried to reach out to the then Manmohan Singh government and even to the current Narendra Modi government with his offer of help, but to no avail.

Simple and unassuming, Lal, who is Director of the university’s Carbon Management and Sequestration Centre, said his extensive work in Nigeria in the 1970s and 1980s at an institute that was part of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), focused on the impact of deforestation on climate change.

“The study focused on run-off erosion, drought stress, soil degradation for the whole of Africa, and humid tropics,” Lal said on the sidelines of the Crans Montana Forum on Africa and South-South Cooperation, where he was invited to read a paper.

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“We developed a method to cultivate soil so that erosion does not happen. Cultivation is done without the plough. Weeds are first controlled by herbicides, and we grow a cover crop to press down the weeds. We showed that this can work even if the land is at a gradient,” said Lal, who is also on advisory panels of the Moroccan and French governments.

“Right now, in 150 million hectares around the world, crop is grown following this method,” said Lal, who belongs to Punjab.

According to him, this method of agriculture is being followed in Ohio, where the “soil has not been ploughed since 1960”.

“Crops grow every year there. We kill the weeds with herbicides and leave the weeds on the ground. This covering prevents the soil from being washed away. Even the crop residue is left on the ground, as mulch.

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“The weeds and crop residue left on the ground prevents the carbon from escaping into the atmosphere,” he said.

“Soil carbon sequestration is my field of expertise. Plants absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during photosynthesis and the carbon remains in the leaf residue as humus, which enriches the top soil. If we do agriculture correctly, and the carbon taken from the atmosphere by plants is put back into the soil, then we can reduce the carbon footprint in the world — at the rate of 0.4 per cent a year.”

Lal said in India the crop residue is burnt off or fed to cattle and cow dung too is burnt. “The land gets nothing back, the soil is depleted. Carbon content in the top soil should be two per cent/100 gm of soil. But in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh — the granary of the country — the carbon content in the top soil is a mere 0.05 per cent.”

This leads to the fertiliser and pesticides leaching into the ground water, which causes cancer. “This is a serious problem,” he said, adding that he had met the then Planning Commission Deputy Chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia under the UPA government and told him that the crop residue and dung should “go back” into the land. “But he didn’t have the time to listen.”

When the Narendra Modi government came in, he tried to meet the Prime Minister on the subject. “We tried to fix an appointment to meet (External Affairs Minister) Sushma Swaraj last year, but it did not work out,” he said.

According to Lal, even brick kilns should be banned as brick-makers use the valuable top soil where all the nutrients reside, and it takes thousands of years to enrich the soil. Fodder for cattle should be grown in separate areas.

“The wheat and rice we grow is for the people to eat, but the husk is for the soil to eat. That equity we must maintain. India is pushing for improved crop varieties but ignoring soil and water very badly,” said Lal, who studied at the Punjab Agricultural University and the Indian Agricultural Research Institute in the early 1960s.

Among top international awards Lal has received are the IPCC – 2007 Nobel Peace Prize Certificate and the von Liebig Award. (IANS)

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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

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Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)