| A painted cow sculpture: Fanning out
New Delhi, Feb. 26: India’s scientists may think the nuclear deal with America stinks, but they are game for joint research on an equally explosive subject: how to curb the indigenous dirty bomb.
In other words, how to control release of the harmful methane gas by cows and buffaloes each time they break wind or belch.
With India boasting 280 million cattle and other livestock, researchers estimate 10 tonnes of methane ' a greenhouse gas that traps heat from the sun and contributes to global warming ' are burped or blasted into the atmosphere each year.
Indian agricultural scientists, therefore, are ready to seek help from the nation of cowboys. The subject is listed in a draft proposal for projects under the Indo-US knowledge initiative on agricultural research.
All this is no gas, however. Indian and US experts are negotiating details of the initiative, and if the research is okayed before George W. Bush’s trip, the Texan rancher could find himself giving the thumbs-up to a deal on a subject that shouldn’t be totally unfamiliar to him.
Indian experts, on their own, have already been searching for ways to reduce the menace of methane, which is produced in livestock’s guts by bacteria during digestion. One way is to give them herb-based fodder supplements.
Herbs that contain chemicals called saponins and tannins, when added in small amounts to fodder, can cut methane production, an Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) scientist said.
Another plan involves nutritional supplements in fodder. “Extra protein and minerals are also expected to reduce methane,” said Kamal Kishore Singhal, head of animal nutrition at the National Dairy Research Institute, Karnal.
Singhal said that while livestock keepers send cattle out to graze, they also routinely give milk-animals nutritional supplements. “The plan is to introduce special supplements to reduce methane,” he said.
Methane from livestock, however, accounts for only a small proportion of greenhouse gases in the air. The most important greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide, released when fossil fuels are burnt.
The ICAR says the American universities could help enrich the quality of the livestock feed with modifications and supplements.
The likely Indian institutions in such a project include the National Dairy Research Institute, the West Bengal University of Animal Husbandry and Fishery Sciences and the Indian Grassland and Fodder Research Institute in Jhansi.
The US partners could be the University of Florida, the Ohio State University and the University of Utah.
The research projects under the initiative are expected to concentrate on four areas: biotechnology, water, food-processing and education.
“The goal is to build local capacity through collaborative research programmes in these areas with US universities,” said Mruthyunjaya, a senior ICAR official.
The ICAR has also proposed research aimed at developing ways to boost milk yields, producing crops that can tolerate high temperatures, salt-laden soils and low-water conditions, and raising capabilities in food-processing and product development.