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NEWS Science and Environment

7 October 2014 Last updated at 12:39 ET

By Claire Marshall
BBC environment correspondent

A closer look at how a tree injection works

Injecting trees with a concentrated form of garlic might help save trees in the UK from deadly diseases.

Operating under an experimental government licence, a prototype piece of technology to administer the solution is being trialled on a woodland estate in Northamptonshire.

Widespread use of the injection process is impractical and expensive.

But it could potentially help save trees of historic or sentimental value.

Garlic is one of nature’s most powerful antibacterial and antifungal agents.

It contains a compound called allicin, which scientists are interested in harnessing.

The experimental injection device is made up of a pressurised chamber and eight “octopus” tubes.

The pressure punches the solution through the tubes and through special injection units in to the tree’s sap system. The needles are positioned in a way to get allicin evenly around the tree.

The moment the active agent starts to encounter the disease, it destroys it. The poison is organic and isn’t rejected by the tree.

tree injection_78065849_78065848Tree injection

The treatment could potentially help save trees of historic or sentimental value
It is pulled up the trunk out along the branches and in to the leaves by the process of transpiration – the flow of water through a plant.

Tree consultant Jonathan Cocking is involved with the development and deployment of the treatment.

“Over the last four years we have treated 60 trees suffering badly with bleeding canker of horse chestnut. All of the trees were cured.

This result has been broadly backed up by 350 trees we have treated all over the country where we have had a 95% success rate.”

Oak trees with acute oak decline – which eventually kills the tree – have improved after being treated. In laboratory conditions allicin kills the pathogen chalara which is responsible for ash dieback.

The solution is made by a company in Wales. “Organic cloves of garlic are crushed,” said Mr Cocking, “and a patented method is used to amplify the volume of allicin and improve the quality of it so it is stable for up to one year. Allicin in the natural world only lasts for about 5-10 minutes.

If you go back to the tree the day after, and crush a leaf that is in the extremity of the crown, you can often smell the garlic.”

The goal is to get a commercial licence by the beginning of next year.

According to Prof Stephen Woodward, a tree expert at Aberdeen University: “The antibacterial properties of allicin are well-known in the laboratory. I have not heard of it being used in trees before, but yes this is interesting. It could work.”

However Mr Woodward cautioned about such methods of “biological control”. “Despite being plant-based that doesn’t mean it can’t harm an ecosystem. For example cyanide is plant-based.”

Many conservationists also caution against such drastic intervention. Dr Anne Edwards from the John Innes Centre was one of the first to identify ash dieback in a coppice wood in Norfolk.

She said that this treatment would not be effective for ash dieback: “In a woodland setting we really have to let nature take its course. It’s very depressing,” she explained.

The Woodland Trust also favours a different approach. The organization is investing £1.5m in a seed bank. The idea is to grow trees that are fully traceable and therefore free from foreign disease.

Austin Brady, director of conservation and external affairs, said: “Our native woodland needs to build its resilience to disease and pests. By starting from the beginning of the supply chain we can ensure that millions of trees will have the best possible chance of survival in the long term.”

In recognition of the threat posed by current and future tree and plant biosecurity, Defra recently appointed a Chief Plant Health Officer, and has earmarked £4 million for research in to treatments.

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http://www.ekantipur.com/the-kathmandu-post/2014/05/02/onsaturday/back-to-basics/262360.html

Kathmandu Post

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By: PRAGATI SHAHI

KATHMANDU, MAY 02 –
Integrated Pest Management has been adopted by a growing number of organic farms in all districts of Nepal

Arjun Neupane, a farmer in Dhaibung, Rasuwa, owns a farm that’s all organic. His prize produce is tomatoes, and they grow in a plastic-roofed shed that’s surrounded on all sides by marigold plants. The rest of his farmland, used for growing cauliflower and spinach, is spotted with plastic drums that house a slurry of buffalo dung and urine mixed with titepati, neem and sisnu leaves. It’s the employing of slurries of this kind that’s at the heart of a farming method called Integrated Pest Management (IPM)—a method that’s been adopted by a growing number of organic farms in all districts of Nepal.

The IPM philosophy is a simple one: It’s a way of using, as much as possible, plants (mostly those that grow in the wild) and animal waste to keep pest numbers down and fertilise the soil at the same time. The buffalo urine in the slurry, which Neupane ferries by the bucketloads to his vegetable beds, acts as a fertiliser—by adding nutrients such as ammonia in its natural form to the soil—and the plants used in the slurry kill germs and keep away animals such as rodents, with their bitterness. Live plants, too–such as the marigold plants around Neupane’s greenhouse—can be marshalled as a defensive front: in Neupane’s case, they keep at bay the nematodes, a kind of worm, which would otherwise prey on his tomatoes.

IPM took off in the late 90s in Nepal, with the government’s encouraging farmers to make use of the method as an alternative to depending on chemical fertlisers, which are harsher on the soil and whose use over time can lead to the land’s turning effete. The government knew that it had to wean the farmers off chemical fertilisers if they wanted to preserve the farmlands’ soil. The advent of globalisation had by then seen a marked increase in Nepali farmers’ switching to various types of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, which had become readily available in all markets across the country. And the farming sector had transformed from one which primarily used organic fertilisers and biological agents to one that relied increasingly on fertilisers that degraded the soil quality of the farms and which furthermore had untold adverse effects on the environment and in turn on public health.

Most farmers who use only chemical fertilisers are locked in a vicious cycle. The chemical fertilisers produce better yields, and as most other farmers now opt for using chemicals (even as they further degrade their land), they have to keep up if they want to compete in the marketplace. Furthermore, many of them have also taken to using industrial-strength pesticides to keep away pests—such as insects, disease-bearing pathogens, weeds, rodents, and mites—which are the major constraints to increasing agricultural production and which can cause productivity losses of up to 40 percent. This increase in the use of chemical pesticides ends up not only upsetting the natural balance of chemicals of the soils in the fields, but also leads to an increase in the populations of secondary pests.

It was to help those farmers who wanted to get back to using biopesticides that the concept of the IPM approach was pushed by the government. The first phase of IPM farming in Nepal was launched just before the turn of the century by the Department of Plant Resources, under the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. The government was aided in its venture by various developmental partners and together they helped set up the practice for farmers in various districts, including Jhapa, Morang, Bara, Chitwan, Kapilvastu, Bardiya, Banke, Kailali, Ilam, Kavre, Syangja, Surkhet, Dadeldhura, Tanahu, Dhading, Mustang and Manang.

Ironically, the government had to sell the idea as a ‘modern’ method of farming, even though local versions of IPM were what the farmers used to work with before the farmers switched wholesale to chemical fertilisers. Wood ash, for example, has been widely used for pest control in west Nepal for generations. Today, the national IPM Programme seeks to teach the farmers how to find their way back, says Yubak Dhoj GC, a government official and former coordinator at the Plant Protection Directorate. To help farmers make the switch, the government and various non-governmental agencies have set up IPM farmer schools all across Nepal, in which farmers such as Neupane learn the science of using botanical pesticides, which can be made from more than 50 plant species readily available in Nepal: plants such as neem, marigold, titepati, sisnu, garlic and timur are used in IMP to ward off pests such as the cabbage butterfly larvae, hairy caterpillars, cutworms, red ants, termites and aphids.

Today, it is estimated that around 11,000 farmers in 17 districts have completely adopted IPM techniques and that the number is increasing at the rate of more than 10 percent each year. Thus there are quite a few farmers who are getting sold on the idea, but there still remains the challenge of helping the IPM farmers compete with those who still haven’t given up the use of chemical fertilisers. The IPM model requires more man-hours in the field; furthermore, as Neupane, says, it’s difficult for IPM farmers like him to compete with farmers who use chemical fertilisers, andwhose tomatoes look larger, redder and juicier than his.

According to GC, the IPM programme is at a crossroads now. He says the government has to play a larger role in helping farmers such as Neupane. At present, the agricultural produce grown using chemical fertilisers and the IPM methods are competing in the same markets. The government doesn’t have the mechanism in place to certify certain products as being organic. If that were to happen, Neupane thinks that he could sell his tomatoes to hotels in Dhunche, where the tourists who prefer organic produce could seek vegetables like the ones he grows.

In cities like Kathmandu, there are already many farmers who are able to sell their products in the niche markets that the organic farmers, who employ IPM, have carved for themselves. For the farmers outside the Valley, the main draw of IPM farming is that the soil will remain fertile in the long run. These farmer can only compete with those who use chemical fertilisers, says GC, if the government were to provide subsidies and help improve market access for them. “We have been successful in involving the farmers in the IPM approach but have failed to improve the accessibility to the market for their products. Thus it’s still difficult for most of them to benefit from the agriculture practice they are adopting,” says GC.

Posted on : 2014-05-03 08:15

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