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Deccan Herald » Science & Technology » Detailed Story
Reclaiming poisoned land
Radhakrishna Rao
Scientists at the The Energy and Resources Institute, Delhi have mastered the art of greening wastelands and land contaminated by industrial waste.
The New Delhi based The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), which made its beginning in 1974 as Tata Energy Research Institute with funding from the Tata Group of Companies has successfully mass produced a mixture of mycorrhizal biofertilizer.

“Mycorrhizal Consortium” is a technological innovation with multiple organisms as against its earlier version that contained single species. TERI’s Centre for Mycorrhizal Research achieved the technological breakthrough in developing a consortium of mycorrhizae making use of “a semi synthetic medium under sterile environmental conditions”.

Common fungi

Mycorrhizae are a group of common, symbiotic fungi endowed with the potential to provide plant roots with extended arms that help them tap nutrients which are otherwise beyond their reach. This implies better uptake of phosphorus, more nitrogen, greater availability of other micro nutrients, leading to the enrichment of the soil and a vastly decreased need for chemical fertilizers.

Dr Alok Adholeya, Associate Director of TERI’s Bioresources and Biotechnology division who led the team that developed this biofertilizer says, “Though mycorrhiza is a naturally occurring fungi found in most soil types, excessive and incessant use of chemical fertilizers and insecticides has had an adverse effect on this organism".

Against a backdrop of rapidly declining fertility and nutrient levels in farm lands in India due to intensive cultivation and excessive use of chemical fertilizers, the TERI research breakthrough holds the promise of turning wasteland stretches into highly productive farmlands.

The mycorrhizal organic fertilizer offers sustainable and environmentally friendly solutions to almost all cultivable plants and crops by enhancing nutrition and yields up to 50 per cent and curtailing chemical fertilizer inputs by upto 25 per cent.

Greening wastelands

Close to 55-million hectares of wasteland and fallow land in India can be brought under fruitful cultivation by making use of mycorrhizal technology. Perhaps the biggest advantage associated with this technology is that it could bring about a massive reduction in the use of phosphatic fertilizers.

TERI sources say that, a couple of companies in India.—- Cadila Pharmaceuticals of Ahmedbad and KCP Sugars and Industries, Hyderabad —- have initiated the commercial production of this innovative biofertilizer. Moreover, a few industrial outfits in Europe and the United States have shown interest in TERI’s mycorrhizal technology.

Greening fly ash dumps

On another front, TERI has successfully used mycorrhizal technology to reclaim fly ash dumps and turn them into green oasis. Lush green expanses surrounding the thermal power plants -— which produces a huge quantity of hazardous fly ash — at Badarpur in New Delhi, Korba in Chattisagarh and Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh stand out as a vibrant testimony to the utility of TERI technology. The mycorrhizal fungi, accumulate heavy metals from fly ash through their mycelial network and retain them in their physical structure.

Fly ash reclamation has many beneficial features. First, it requires no chemical fertilizer. Secondly, it reduces fugitive dust emission in power plants and also it checks ground water contamination. Further, it enables biodiesel yielding plants to grow on ashes. Many entrepreneurs have shown interest in setting up floricultural and silivicultural projects on fly ash dumps.

Reclaiming toxic land

Another breakthrough for the TERI project team was the successful reclamation of wastelands contaminated with chlor alkali sludge. The team was able to successfully carpet the toxic chemical bed with lush green plantations of bio diesel yielding Jatropha curcus as well as acacia and casurina plantations which were fortified with mycorrhizal biofertilizcr that in turn enhanced the nutritional uptake from soil to help plantations to get the much needed phosphorous and nitrogen.

The technological innovation that helped reclaim the toxic wasteland had many other roles to play as well. First, the new vegetation reduced the fugitive dust emission and improved the physico chemical properties of the substrate thereby marking their return to near normal levels. Both ground water leaching and fugitive dust emission causing air and water contamination reduced significantly and the biggest surprise was when old seeds, planted during unsuccessful trials started germinating.

Distillery effluent

Also, in the largest Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, a distillery effluent loaded site was turned green with the planting of a species known for it’s higher transpiration capacity using the services of mycorrhiza and a few other useful microbes.

The TERI team devised a system wherein effluent from the distillery were channelled into a carefully designed field layout with wide ridges, furrows and plants known for their high transpiration rate.

The site was transformed into a veritable, eye soothing green cornucopia with the planatations of bamboo, guava and jatropha curcas.
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