Making world greener

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Making world greener

Sunday, 22 November 2020 | Shalini Saksena

Making world greener

SHALINI SAKSENA chats up remote sensing data scientist and a PhD student in environmental science and sustainable development to bring you a report on their innovative ideas and research. In a first, these women from India are proud winners of Green Talent Competition 2020

‘Need better Government policies’

Nidhi Singh, 32

PhD Student

Institute of Environment and Sustainable Development, BHU

Born and brought up in Varanasi, this PhD student always wanted to pursue a career in environmental sciences. When she was doing her PhD, it was a project that studied the effect of climate change on agriculture. During a discussion, she found that there was little work done on the impact of climate change on health. This made her shift her focus of study.

Nidhi Singh, who has been doing her research for the last five years tells you that it has not been easy to collect the data. “Back in 2016, there were only a few reviews, one can say there was a big void from India that showed the impact of air pollution and climate change on health. We knew that there was an impact on health from studies from other countries, but no data from India,” Singh says.

What got her interested in pursuing a PhD is her father who did his research in Psychological. “As a child, what he did fascinated me and I knew that I wanted to do something similar. I chose Science in Class XI as I wanted to be a doctor but I couldn’t. So environment beckoned me,” Singh recalls.

However, to submit her thesis, it has not been easy.

“Getting data was a challenge. Hospitals are unable to maintain a proper data. But we managed to get data from the Municipal Corporation of Varanasi. That data had gender, age, place and date of death and cause of death. In 70 per cent cases, it read cerebrovascular death. I had to struggle to ascertain the actual cause of death. If we had specific data, my research would have better impact due to the findings. Also, there is no single body that keeps a record of proper cause of death; this is a limiting factor. There are no studies that directly indicate that Diabetes or even BP could be attributed to air pollution. Each city has different pollution levels depending on the weather. For proper conclusion we need better monitoring,” Singh opines.

Since she lives in Varanasi, her primary focus involved two areas. First, the impact of heat and cold wave and second, impact of air pollution on mortality. In the first instance, she found that impact of heat wave was more pronounced here and the elderly and male were more vulnerable.

Her second area of study involved black carbon, the first kind of study on this from India. In fact, both her studies are pioneer works from the country.

“I used black carbon and PM2.5  and PM 10 and gases like NO2, SO2 and ozone. We wanted to study the impact of these on mortality. We found black carbon is the most important pollutant that increases the risk of mortality and is in fact most lethal of them. This was followed by SO2, NO2 and then particular matter. These are good findings and can help the Government to base their policies and include black carbon in order to define quality of air pollution,” Singh tells you.

Also, the entire Indo-Gangetic region due to its geographical position makes cities in this area highly polluted and densely populated. “Many people, due to socio-economic conditions, are unable to take required steps to avoid extreme temperatures or air pollution. Again, these findings are important and immediate action is needed by the Government to take corrective steps,” Singh says.

Her recommendation based on her research, for her city for now, better traffic rules, doing away with outdated vehicles, introducing LPG and doing away with burning fossil fuel and creating awareness among the public of the impact of air pollution on health.

Out with the old. Bring in the new

Parmita Ghosh, 25

Remote Sensing Data Scientist

CORTEVA Agriscience

What if it was possible to predict that a disease was about to hit your lush crop? What if there was a way to pinpoint the exact time to harvest your crop to get the most out of it? What if there was a way to predict how the weather will affect your crop in a particular year and necessary steps one could take to prevent damage?

 This and much more is now possible due to the remote sensing data that is available and there are scientists who can read these numbers and help farmers. Meet one such scientist who won the Green Talent Award this year — Parmita Ghosh who has done her bachelors in agricultural engineering and masters in Geoinformatics.

This young scientist who has been working with Corteva Agriscience in Hyderabad for the last one year tells you that her expertise is in remote data science agriculture, her company is a big player in this field and hence chose to be associated with them. “Working with this organisation will help me reach the farmer who can benefit from my research. Solutions I develop directly go to the farmer,” Ghosh says.

She tells you that her work involves developing solutions that she gets from the remote sensing data assist the farmer in his cropping pattern like which crop to grow and when to sow the seed, how to save resources and then to generate an alert system for any risk that can arise due to a disease attack and take timely measures to protect their yield.

For example, for a farmer in Punjab growing wheat, what Ghosh can do sitting in Hyderabad is monitor the entire wheat season and if there is any crop pests or if the crop needs irrigation, she can, via the satellite images. monitor the health of the crop and check for any stress and inform the farmer accordingly who can then take preventive steps. What is even better is that Ghosh can even predict the yield so that the farmer can plan post-harvest activities much in advance.

However, all the information that Ghosh has at her finger tips is not necessarily welcomed by the farmers. “There have been times when we have sent alerts to them but they are just not ready to accept our advice because they have been following ageold practices and beliefs. To educate farmers, we have ground staff who visit the farmers regularly. This instills some confidence in the advisory. There are so many new crop diseases today, diseases that their forefathers have not even heard of or seen. Take foliar new worms; this is new to India. So some farmers today depend on the advisory given to them and slowly they gain confidence in our methods,” Ghosh says.

She agrees that it is easier to bring the younger farmer to the fold since we are living in the era of digital technology and so are they. “These young farmers are looking for methods to increase their yield. They are also aware of the alert system. Workshops that we hold regularly helps the traditional farmer to adapt to using technology to help them,” Ghosh tells you.

While she has only been in the profession for a year, she tells you that there are a few basic problems that India’s farmers face. “More than the use of technology, it is the reachability of technology to each farmer,” Ghosh says.The good part is that the data models are available countrywide depending on cropping patterns and kind of diseases that may be indigenous to that region.

“There are, of course, challenges that come when monitoring the satellite and getting the numbers and algorithm correct. But regular monitoring and taking into account the unpredictability of Mother Nature, we are able to get the number right up to 95 per cent. The advice we give therefore comes with riders,” Ghosh says.

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