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Young tribal woman inspires farming community to better livelihoods in Odisha

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A young tribal woman Raimati Ghiuria, not only proved to be a leader in conserving local traditional varieties of rice and millet seeds in her own land but also showed the path of development to the farming societies of Odisha’s Koraput district, an agricultural expert said.

Ghiuria is a leading woman farmer in Nuaguda village of Kundra block, which is in Odisha and has conserved 40 traditional landraces (lineages developed by farmers) of rice and 12 of millets and even trained about 340 neighbouring women farmers in conserving of local genetic resources.

She has also trained other women in the SRI (system of rice intensification) technique and line transplanting method of rice cultivation. These techniques have helped farmers in increasing their yields than what they were getting from traditional cultivation practices.

It all started nine years ago when Raimati became a member of a self-help group (SHG) in her village and participated in capacity-building training and awareness programmes at the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) here.

“This inspired her to lead the group undertaking various micro-enterprises. This converted the group into a model SHG which won the Most Progressive SHG award given by the district administration in 2013,” Kartik Lenka of the MSSRF told agencies.

“We develop hybrid varieties of paddy and other foodgrains. It is also equally important to conserve indigenous species to maintain the natural biodiversity,” Raimati told the agency, adding that training on value addition to the rice and millet crops is also provided to the members of 27 other SHGs.

“They took this micro-enterprise as an alternative livelihood option and each family is earning an additional Rs 2,000 to Rs.3,000 per month,” Raimati said.

Because of her passionate leadership and multi-skilled activities, she was convened the best leadership award by the district administration and Jamsetji Tata National Virtual Academy Fellowship Award in 2014 for being “a leading grassroot academician”.

She recently participated in the ‘Prajatiya Khadyotsav (an agro forest food diversity festival) organised by Tata Steel’s Sukinda Chromite Mine in Jajpur district.

“Even as conserving traditional species is not lucrative against hybrid products, we need to conserve so that these indigenous products do not go extinct,” Lenka pointed out.

Aboriginal varieties have to be conserved for further research on producing high-yielding varieties. B.B panda of the Cuttack unit of the Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI) said.

“We can develop high-yielding varieties through these indigenous varieties. With the unavailability of the varieties, there would be no further improvement,” Panda told agencies.

It’s important to preserve and multiply the traditional seed varieties to improve the adaptation mechanism of farmers as climate change is a major concern for the country’s farming society.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has conferred the Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS) status has been conferred by UN Food and Agriculture Organisation to the traditional agricultural system being practised in the Koraput region.

This means the tribal people have an aboriginal knowledge system for their various agricultural practices that they use to check the viability of seeds before sowing, maintain soil fertility and conserve their landraces.(IANS)

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The Future Farmer is Here and He is A Robot

The heavy lifting on Iron Ox’s indoor farm is done by Angus, which rolls about the indoor farm on omnidirectional wheels. Its main job is to shuttle maturing produce to another,

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Iron Ox CEO Brandon Alexander gives a tour at his robotic indoor farm in San Carlos, California. VOA

Brandon Alexander would like to introduce you to Angus, the farmer of the future. He’s heavyset, weighing in at nearly 1,000 pounds, not to mention a bit slow. But he’s strong enough to hoist 800-pound pallets of maturing vegetables and can move them from place to place on his own.

Sure, Angus is a robot. But don’t hold that against him, even if he looks more like a large tanning bed than C-3PO.

To Alexander, Angus and other robots are key to a new wave of local agriculture that aims to raise lettuce, basil and other produce in metropolitan areas while conserving water and sidestepping the high costs of human labor. It’s a big challenge, and some earlier efforts have flopped. Even Google’s “moonshot” laboratory, known as X, couldn’t figure out how to make the economics work.

After raising $6 million and tinkering with autonomous robots for two years, Alexander’s startup Iron Ox says it’s ready to start delivering crops of its robotically grown vegetables to people’s salad bowls. “And they are going to be the best salads you ever tasted,” says the 33-year-old Alexander, a one-time Oklahoma farmboy turned Google engineer turned startup CEO.

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The temperatures of some two dozen plant varietals are monitored at Iron Ox, a robotic indoor farm, in San Carlos, California. VOA

Iron Ox planted its first robot farm in an 8,000-square-foot warehouse in San Carlos, California, a suburb located 25 miles south of San Francisco. Although no deals have been struck yet, Alexander says Iron Ox has been talking to San Francisco Bay area restaurants interested in buying its leafy vegetables and expects to begin selling to supermarkets next year.

The San Carlos warehouse is only a proving ground for Iron Ox’s long-term goals. It plans to set up robot farms in greenhouses that will rely mostly on natural sunlight instead of high-powered indoor lighting that sucks up expensive electricity. Initially, though, the company will sell its produce at a loss in order to remain competitive.

During the next few years, Iron Ox wants to open robot farms near metropolitan areas across the U.S. to serve up fresher produce to restaurants and supermarkets. Most of the vegetables and fruit consumed in the U.S. is grown in California, Arizona, Mexico and other nations. That means many people in U.S. cities are eating lettuce that’s nearly a week old by the time it’s delivered.

There are bigger stakes as well. The world’s population is expected to swell to 10 billion by 2050 from about 7.5 billion now, making it important to find ways to feed more people without further environmental impact, according to a report from the World Resources Institute.

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A robotic arm lifts plants being grown at Iron Ox, a robotic indoor farm, in San Carlos, California. VOA

Iron Ox, Alexander reasons, can be part of the solution if its system can make the leap from its small, laboratory-like setting to much larger greenhouses.

The startup relies on a hydroponic system that conserves water and automation in place of humans who seem increasingly less interested in U.S. farming jobs that pay an average of $13.32 per hour, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Nearly half of U.S. farmworkers planting and picking crops aren’t in the U.S. legally, based on a survey by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The heavy lifting on Iron Ox’s indoor farm is done by Angus, which rolls about the indoor farm on omnidirectional wheels. Its main job is to shuttle maturing produce to another, as-yet unnamed robot, which transfers plants from smaller growing pods to larger ones, using a mechanical arm whose joints are lubricated with “food-safe” grease.

It’s a tedious process to gently pick up each of the roughly 250 plants on each pallet and transfer them to their bigger pods, but the robot doesn’t seem to mind the work. Iron Ox still relies on people to clip its vegetables when they are ready for harvest, but Alexander says it is working on another robot that will eventually handle that job too.

Also Read: Asian Farms Tackle Drug Resistance with Apps and Dictionary

Alexander formerly worked on robotics at Google X, but worked on drones, not indoor farms. While there, he met Jon Binney, Iron Ox’s co-founder and chief technology offer. The two men became friends and began to brainstorm about ways they might be able to use their engineering skills for the greater good.

“If we can feed people using robots, what could be more impactful than that?” Alexander says. (VOA)