I India is a predominantly vegetarian nation. Traditionally milk has always been a favorite part of diet all over India. Modern nutrition science informs us that there are some important proteins for human nutrition which can be made available only from animal sources. This could be the basic reason why the Indian traditions of vegetarian diets allow milk and its products as essential for human diets.
Of late diabetes, heart disease, bone, and joints related diseases particularly in females have assumed an epidemic proportion of growth in the Indian population. This situation has manifested itself more in urban areas due to the widespread supply of milk from crossbred high-yielding cows, European cows, and buffalos, instead of Indian breeds of cows. The urban lifestyle of more indoor living also results in little exposure to natural sunlight. This causes Vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D deficiency is now recognized to be directly related to the poor bioavailability of essential minerals like Calcium for skeletal health.
1. A1/A2 Milk
Desi Cows have Amino acid Proline at 67th position of 209 element DNA. In European Cows the proline has been replaced with histidine by a mutation that took place, some 8000 years ago during the migration of the cows from warmer regions of India to colder regions of Europe. (All mammal bipeds/quadrupeds are known to have originated on earth in the warmer regions i.e.on Indo African landmass.)
(Ref: Ng-Kwai-Hang KF, Grosclaude F.2002:Genetic polymorphism of milk proteins / PF Fox and McSweeney PLH (eds), Advanced Dairy Chemistry,737-814, Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York
- Proline at 67th position binds very closely to isoleucine amino acid next to it at position 66, whereas Histidine at 67th position linkage is very easily broken by digestive enzymes. This releases a 7 element peptide designated as BCM7 (Beta Caso Morphine7) in the human body.
- BCM7 is an opioid (narcotic) a very strong oxidizing agent and is strongly associated with the incidence of Autism and Pediatric Diabetes in children, All diseases related to immune stimulation or immune compromisation eg, Diabetes and ischemic heart disease is connected with the amount of BCM7 released in the human body. The epidemic proportion of growing Diabetes and Heart problems in India are strongly associated with the consumption of milk that has Histidine at the 67th position of DNA.
All over the world the dairy industry is today quietly engaged in changing its cattle breeding policies to start producing ‘good’ milk i.e. BCM7 free milk. Internationally good milk is being designated as A2 type milk. Researches are also reported to have started, to bring about a genetic change in high A1 type milk-producing European cows to reestablish Proline at the 67th position of their DNA.
On a preliminary study undertaken in India by NBAGR –National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources, it is estimated that there are about 15 % crossbred cows in India- mostly with the dairy sector – that do not have A2-type milk.)
Omega3 is an EFA (Essential Fatty Acid) in the human diet. Omega for the human diet is mainly available only in grass-fed cow’s milk as established by researchers at Wisconsin University and New Zealand. For non-vegetarians diets, fish oil is the only other source of Omega3.
DHA (Decosa Hexaenoic Acid) is the major promoter of the human brain and faculties such as eyesight. DHA is converted from dietary Omega3 in the human body. Incidentally, females have the ability 20 times better than males to convert Omega3 to DHA.
As per studies confirmed by NIH of the USA, Omega 3 rich diet, not only provides immunity and protection from metabolic degenerative diseases such as diabetes, atherosclerosis, heart trouble, blood pressure, brain stroke but is also found to be curative. This is why milk from an Indian cow is referred to as an amrit (nectar) in Indian tradition.
The milk of Indian cows is particularly rich in Beta Carotenes from exposure to sunlight. Indians often say that Indian cow’s milk has ‘gold’ in it.
Beta Carotene is known to perform the following important functions:
- Protect human body cells from damage by free radicals.
- Provide a natural source for Vitamin A
- Enhance the functioning of the immune system.
- Help in maintaining the proper functioning of the reproductive system.
This is the most significant component of Indian Cow’s milk.
Fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E & K are found in large quantities in cow’s milk. It is from sun rays that the cow derives the golden-colored carotenes that are precursors for Vitamin A. Buffalo being of black color and without any fur to provide heat insulation prefers to avoid exposure to sun and usually take shelter underwater. Consequently, buffalo milk has very small quantities of solar energy supplied nutritional elements.
1. Most dairy cows do not get adequate sunshine and their milk is deficient in this extremely important nutritional component Vitamin D. Dairy milk in the USA is required by law to have added Vitamin D. This is one of the great disadvantages of stall-fed intensive dairy farming.
2. Without fat-soluble Vitamin D in diets minerals such as calcium cannot be assimilated by the human body. Cow’s milk is not only rich in calcium but is also accompanied by Vitamin D to ensure its bio-availability for the human body
3. Modern medicine is still discovering the numerous benefits of naturally produced Vitamin D. Example of these findings online:
Sunlight and vitamin D are critical to all life forms. Standard textbooks state that the principal function of vitamin D is to promote calcium absorption in the gut and calcium transfer across cell membranes, thus contributing to strong bones and a calm, contented nervous system. It is also well recognized that vitamin D aids in the absorption of magnesium, iron, and zinc.
Vitamin D also enhances the uptake of toxic metals like lead, cadmium, aluminum, and strontium if calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus are not present in adequate amounts.
Receptors for vitamin D are found in most of the cells in the body and research during the 1980s suggested that vitamin D contributed to a healthy immune system, promoted muscle strength, regulated the maturation process, and contributed to hormone production.
During the last ten years, researchers have made a number of exciting discoveries about vitamin D. They have ascertained, for example, that vitamin D is an antioxidant that is a more effective antioxidant than vitamin E in reducing lipid peroxidation and increasing enzymes that protect against oxidation.
Vitamin D deficiency decreases biosynthesis and the release of insulin. Glucose intolerance has been inversely associated with the concentration of vitamin D in the blood. Thus, vitamin D may protect against both Types I and Type II diabetes.
The risk of senile cataracts and Macular degeneration with age is reduced in persons with optimal levels of D and carotenoids.
Vitamin D plays a role in the regulation of both the “infectious” immune system and the “inflammatory” immune system.
Low vitamin D is associated with several autoimmune diseases including multiple sclerosis, Sjogren’s Syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroiditis, and Crohn’s disease.
Osteoporosis is strongly associated with low vitamin D. Postmenopausal women with osteoporosis respond favorably (and rapidly) to higher levels of D plus calcium and magnesium.
Vitamin D deficiency has been mistaken for fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, or peripheral neuropathy.
Infertility is associated with low vitamin D. Vitamin D supports the production of estrogen in men and women. PMS has been completely reversed by the addition of calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D. Menstrual migraine is associated with low levels of vitamin D and calcium.
Breast, prostate, skin, and colon cancer have a strong association with low levels of D and lack of sunlight.
Activated vitamin D in the adrenal gland regulates tyrosine hydroxylase, the rate-limiting enzyme necessary for the production of dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Low D may contribute to chronic fatigue and depression.
People with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s have been found to have lower levels of vitamin D.
Low levels of D, and perhaps calcium, in a pregnant mother and later in the child may be the contributing cause of “crooked teeth” and myopia. When these conditions are found in succeeding generations it means the genetics require higher levels of one or both nutrients to optimize health.
Behavior and learning disorders respond well to D and/or calcium combined with an adequate diet and trace minerals.
Vitamin D and Heart Disease
Research suggests that low levels of vitamin D may contribute to or be a cause of syndrome X with associated hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Vitamin D regulates vitamin-D-binding proteins and some calcium-binding proteins, which are responsible for carrying calcium to the “right location” and protecting cells from damage by free calcium. Thus, high dietary levels of calcium, when D is insufficient, may contribute to calcification of the arteries, joints, kidneys, and perhaps even the brain.
Many researchers have postulated that vitamin D deficiency leads to the deposition of calcium in the arteries and hence atherosclerosis, noting that northern countries have higher levels of cardiovascular disease and that more heart attacks occur in the winter months.
Scottish researchers found that calcium levels in the hair inversely correlated with arterial calcium-the more calcium or plaque in the arteries, the less calcium in the hair. Ninety percent of men experiencing myocardial infarction had low hair calcium. When vitamin D was administered, the amount of calcium in the beard went up and this rise continued as long as vitamin D was consumed. Almost immediately after stopping supplementation, however, beard calcium fell to pre-supplement levels.
Administration of dietary vitamin D or UV-B treatment has been shown to lower blood pressure, restore insulin sensitivity, and lower cholesterol.
It is no wonder that the yogic exercise of Surya Namaskar has always received very high priority in Indian tradition.
The Right Fats
The assimilation and utilization of vitamin D are influenced by the kinds of fats we consume. Increasing levels of both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids in the diet decrease the binding of vitamin D to D-binding proteins. Saturated fats, the kind found in butter, tallow, and coconut oil, do not have this effect. Nor do the omega-3 fats. D-binding proteins are key to local and peripheral actions of vitamin D. This is an important consideration as Western civilization has dramatically increased its intake of polyunsaturated oils (from commercial vegetable oils) and monounsaturated oils (from olive oil and canola oil) and decreased their intake of saturated fats over the past 100 years.
In traditional diets, saturated fats supplied varying amounts of vitamin D. Thus, both reductions of saturated fats and an increase of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats contribute to the current widespread D deficiency.
Trans fatty acids, found in margarine and shortenings used in most commercial baked goods, should always be avoided. There is evidence that these fats can interfere with the enzyme systems the body uses to convert vitamin D in the liver.)
It is the naturally available Vitamin D that makes calcium in cow’s milk available for healthy bone in a human body. Buffalo milk although contains enough calcium but contains no Vitamin D. Therefore, calcium from buffalo milk has no bioavailability for the human body. Dairy milk in India is mostly buffalo milk and is therefore increasing calcium deficiency in the population. Incidence of bone porosity, weak bones, and joint pains are assuming epidemic proportions in India because the population is not getting and promoting cow’s milk. This is very important for elderly persons and ladies.
The only source of separately available Vitamin D is by a highly complicated patented process that is based on the processing of slaughterhouse skins as described below. For vegetarians, it should be known that all medicines such as Calcium supplements containing Vitamin D are based on products derived from slaughtered cow’s skins.
The natural form of vitamin D for animals and humans is vitamin D 3 (also called cholecalciferol) that is produced from cholesterol and 7-dehydrocholesterol. Vitamin D 3 is not technically a vitamin because it can be produced by exposure of animal/human skin to ultraviolet light or sunlight. Normally, the skin contains a high level of 7-dehydrocholesterol, and exposure of skin to sunlight for regular intervals causes the photochemical conversion of 7-dehydrocholesterol to vitamin D 3. There is no requirement for vitamin D when sufficient sunlight is available. However, if the animal/human lives in the absence of sunlight (e.g., Alaska in the winter) or exclusively indoors, there is a regular requirement for vitamin D that must be met through dietary intake. For this reason, vitamin D 3 is classified as a vitamin.
U.S. milk suppliers began supplementing milk with vitamin D 3 in the 1930s and by the ’40s incidence of juvenile rickets had decreased by 85%. Industrial manufacture of vitamin D 3 developed into a huge business. In 1973, the U.S. produced around 290 trillion IU (8 tons) of vitamin D 3 that sold for over 3 million dollars. Cow’s milk naturally contains 35-70 IU/quart. Almost all milk sold commercially in the US contains 400 IU of supplemental, chemically synthesized vitamin D 3 per quart. The major producers of supplemental vitamin D 3 are the companies F. Hoffman LaRoche, Ltd ( Switzerland ) and BASF ( Germany ). Commercial production of vitamin D 3 begins with the collection of 7-dehydrocholesterol via organic solvent extraction of animal skins (cow, pig, or sheep), followed by extensive purification. Cholesterol is extracted from the lanolin of sheep wool and after thorough purification, it is converted by labor-intensive chemical synthesis into 7-dehydrocholesterol. Once the chemically pure, crystalline 7-dehydrocholesterol has been produced, it is impossible to use any chemical or biological tests or procedures to determine the original source (sheep lanolin or pig, cow, sheepskin).
Next, the crystalline 7-dehydrocholesterol is dissolved in an organic solvent and irradiated with ultraviolet light to carry out the transformation (similar to that which occurs in human and animal skin) to produce vitamin D 3 . This vitamin D 3 is then purified and crystallized further before it is formulated for use in milk. The exact details of the chemical conversion of cholesterol to 7-dehydrocholesterol and the method of large-scale ultraviolet light conversion to vitamin D 3 and subsequent purification are closely held topics for which there have been many patents issued.
FDA requires a notice on the milk carton label of added vitamin D 3. However, it is not required by law to indicate either the manufacturer of the added vitamin D 3 or the sources of cholesterol and 7-dehydrocholesterol used for its production. Individuals with strict religious reasons for avoiding food products from a particular species face a dilemma in the instance of milk and vitamin D 3.
Cows in Agriculture
The world over, the most engaging concern of educated informed persons are for a healthy sustainable life on this planet. Man has inherited nature’s plentiful bounties, and through tireless efforts and scientific pursuits, he has worked hard to make his life peaceful, comfortable, and healthy with the least social strife.
But the ever-increasing threat to environments, gradually disappearing green cover adding to global warming, depletion of ozone layers, gradual warming and melting of polar caps, rising of ocean water levels, the emergence of newer and newer self degenerating human diseases, threats posed by dioxins, pesticides, and growing immunity of various disease organisms, the fossil fuel depletion, and the host of concerns that its uses pose, are a vast uncontrollable the physical challenge to the intellectual community. This is in addition to the growing strife on the psychological planes, We find more and more of good successful people being less and less at peace with themselves, their families, their children, their jobs, the behavior of their relations, neighbors, and whatnot.
It may appear very simplistic and strange to talk about the role of domestic animals like cows and their progeny in this scenario. Cow and her progeny play an important role in the environmental cycle. They not only provide us milk, milk products, and draught energy but they also save our climate, environment, and thus our earth. That is why in India we recognize her as our mother. Western scholars, however, blame the cow for global warming but a number of scholars among them show the fallacy of their hypothesis too. It is now proved by modern science that cow and her progeny play an important role in maintaining the carbon and nitrogen cycle of the atmosphere. They also prevent water depletion. They provide many means in the form of manure, urine, and methane gas which significantly not only protect our climate but also provide us a sustainable and pollution-free source of energy. These facts were well iterated in our ancient scriptures and also revealed and established by modern science.
According to SAN (The Sustainable Agriculture Network of United States, Department of Agriculture) the cow is the one important link in the chain of Atmospheric Carbon and Nitrogen balance cycles.
Cow Soil Relation & Environment Cycles
Fertile soil is the basis for healthy plants, animals, and humans. Soil organic matter is the very foundation for healthy and productive soils. Understanding the role of organic matter in maintaining healthy soil is essential for developing ecologically sound agricultural practices. It’s true that you can grow plants on soils with little organic matter. In fact, you don’t need any soil at all! [Although gravel or sand hydroponics systems without soil can grow excellent crops, large-scale systems of this type are usually neither economically nor ecologically sound.] The top six inches of soil is said to contain four times more carbon than all living plants, animals, and the atmosphere. This carbon is locked in the organic matter in the soil held by the microflora. The use of chemical fertilizers results in the complete annihilation of the entire microbial population in the soil. This results in the unlocking of all the carbon held in the soil by the microorganisms. The release of this carbon dioxide is a much larger source of global warming by carbon dioxide than all the much talked about sources of global warming such as fossil fuels, chloro-fluoro carbon compounds, etc. As the organic matter of the soil is depleted it becomes a source of more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
The use of cow dung based manures keeps the soil carbon fixed and prevents the role of global warming by the use of chemical fertilizers as mentioned before.
The Carbon Cycle
Soil organic matter plays a significant part in a number of global cycles. People have become more interested in the carbon cycle because of the buildup of carbon dioxide (CO2) in. the atmosphere is thought to cause global warming. Carbon dioxide is also released into the atmosphere when fuels, such as gas, oil, and wood, are burned. A simple version of the natural carbon cycle, showing the role of soil organic matter, is given in figure 4.6. Carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere by plants and used to make all the organic molecules necessary for life. Sunlight provides plants with the energy they need to carry out this process. Plants, as well as the animals feeding on plants, release carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere as they use organic molecules for energy.
The largest amount of carbon present on the land is not in the living plants but in soil organic matter. That is rarely mentioned in discussions of the carbon cycle. More carbon is stored in soils than in all plants, all animals, and the atmosphere. Soil organic matter contains an estimated four times as much carbon as living plants. As soil organic matter is depleted, it becomes a source of carbon dioxide for the atmosphere. When forests are cleared and burned, a large amount of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. There is a potentially larger release of carbon dioxide following conversion of forests to agricultural practices that rapidly deplete the soil of its organic matter. There is as much carbon in 6 inches of soil with 1 percent organic matter as there is in the atmosphere above a field. If organic matter decreases from 3 percent to 2 percent, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could double.
The Nitrogen Cycle
Another important global cycle in which organic matter plays a major role is the nitrogen cycle. This cycle is of direct importance in agriculture because available nitrogen for plants is commonly deficient in soils. Some bacteria living in soils are able to fix nitrogen, converting nitrogen gas to forms that other organisms, including crop plants, can use. Inorganic forms of nitrogen, like ammonium and nitrate, exist in the atmosphere naturally, although air pollution causes higher amounts than normal. Rainfall and snow deposit inorganic nitrogen forms on the soil. Inorganic nitrogen also may be added in the form of commercial nitrogen fertilizers. These fertilizers are derived from nitrogen gas in the atmosphere through an industrial fixation process.
Almost all of the nitrogen in soils exists as part of the organic matter, which informs that plants are not able to use it as their main nitrogen source. Bacteria and fungi convert the organic forms of nitrogen into ammonium and different bacteria convert ammonium into nitrate. Both nitrate and ammonium can be used by plants.
Nitrogen can be lost from soil in a number of ways. When crops are removed from fields, nitrogen and other nutrients also are removed. The nitrate (NO3) form of nitrogen leaches readily from soils and may end up in ground water at higher concentrations than may be safe for drinking. Organic forms of nitrate , as well as nitrate and ammonium (NH4), may be lost by runoff water and erosion. Once freed from soil organic matter, nitrogen may be converted to forms that end up back in the atmosphere. Bacteria convert nitrate to nitrogen (N2) and nitrous oxide (N2O) gases in a process called denitrification, which occurs in saturated soils. Nitrous oxide (it is called a greenhouse gas) contributes to global warming. In addition, when it reaches the upper atmosphere, it helps to decrease the ozone levels that protect the earth’s surface from the harmful effects of ultraviolet CUV) radiation. So if you needed another reason not to apply excessive rates of fertilizers or manures in addition to the economic costs and the pollution of ground and surface waters the possible formation of nitrous oxide should make you cautious.
The Water Cycle
Organic matter plays an important part in the local, regional, and global water, or hydrologic, cycle due to its role in promoting water infiltration into soils and storage within the soil. Water evaporates from the soil surface and from living plant leaves as well as from the ocean and lakes. Water then returns to the earth, usually far from where it evaporated, as rain and snow. Soils high in organic matter, with excellent tilth, enhance the rapid infiltration of rainwater into the soil. This water may be available for plants to use or it may percolate deep into the subsoil and help to recharge the groundwater supply. Since groundwater is commonly used as a drinking water source for homes and for irrigation, recharging groundwater is important. When the soil’s organic matter level is depleted, it is less able to accept water, and high levels of runoff and erosion result- This means less water for plants and decreased groundwater recharge.
Role of Chemical Fertilizers
The role of chemical fertilizers in global warming is also established by the example of the US. The major part of the total emission of one greenhouse gas Nitrous Oxide in the US is agriculture. This happens due to the intensive use of chemical fertilizers. Estimated U.S. anthropogenic nitrous oxide emissions totaled 1.2 million metric tons in 2005, or 366.6 million metric tons carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2), 1.9 percent more than in 2004 and 9.9 percent above 1990 levels. The 2005 total for nitrous oxide emissions represents 5.1 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions for the year. Most of the increase in U.S. nitrous oxide emissions for 2005 can be attributed to emissions from agricultural sources, which increased by 7.0 MMTCO2e. Sources of U.S. nitrous oxide emissions include energy use, agriculture, waste management, and industrial processes. The largest component of U.S. anthropogenic nitrous oxide emissions is emissions from agricultural activities, at 279.9 MMTCO2e or 76 percent of total nitrous oxide emissions in 2005. Nitrogen fertilization of agricultural soils represents 78 percent of emissions from agricultural activities.
Nitrous oxide emissions from agricultural activities increased by 7.0 MMTCO2e (2.6 percent) in 2005 to a total of 279.9 MMTCO2e, compared with 272.9 MMTCO2e in 2004. Since 1990, nitrous oxide emissions from agricultural activities have increased by 12.3 percent. Agricultural activities were responsible for 76 percent of U.S. nitrous oxide emissions in 2005; smaller than the 86-percent share that agricultural practices contribute to nitrous oxide emissions globally. Nitrous oxide emissions from agricultural activities represent 3.9 percent of the total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Nitrogen fertilization of agricultural soils accounted for 78 percent of U.S. agricultural emissions of nitrous oxide in 2005. Nearly all the remaining agricultural emissions (22 percent) can be traced to the management of the solid waste of domesticated animals. The disposal of crop residues by burning also produces nitrous oxide that is released into the atmosphere; however, the amount is relatively minor, at 0.6 MMTCO2e or 0.2 percent of total U.S. emissions of nitrous oxide from agricultural sources in 2005.
Nitrogen Fertilization of Agricultural Soils
EIA estimates that 218.1 MMTCO2e of nitrous oxide was released into the atmosphere as a result of direct and indirect emissions associated with fertilization practices in 2005. (Estimated emissions increased by 2.9 percent compared with 2004 levels and were 16.7 percent higher than in 1990.
Nitrogen uptake and nitrous oxide emissions occur naturally as a result of nitrification and denitrification processes in soil and crops, generally through bacterial action. When nitrogen compounds are added to the soil, bacterial action is stimulated, and emissions generally increase, unless the application precisely matches plant uptake and soil capture. Nitrogen may be added to the soil by synthetic or organic fertilizers, nitrogen-fixing crops, and crop residues. Nitrogen-rich soils, called “histosols,” may also stimulate emissions. Direct emissions in 2005 (171.0 MMTCO2e) represented 78 percent of total emissions from nitrogen fertilization, with the primary components including the biological fixation of nitrogen in crops (70.7 MMTCO2e), nitrogen fertilizers (58.6 MMTCO2e), and crop residues (37.3 MMTCO2e).
Indirect emissions from nitrogen fertilization result from adding excess nitrogen to the soil, which in turn enriches ground and surface waters, such as rivers and streams, and results in emissions of nitrous oxide. This source is referred to as “soil leaching.” Additional indirect emissions occur from “atmospheric deposition,” in which soils emit other nitrogen compounds that react to form nitrous oxide in the atmosphere. Indirect emissions in 2005 (47.1 MMTCO2e) represented 22 percent of total emissions from nitrogen fertilization, with soil leaching accounting for 40.0 MMTCO2e and atmospheric deposition totaling 7.1 MMTCO2e.
There are significant uncertainties associated with estimating the amount of emissions produced by adding nitrogen to agricultural soils. Models used to estimate the amount are based on limited sources of experimental data. The uncertainty increases when moving from emissions associated with animal manure to soil mineralization and atmospheric deposition, where both estimating the amount of emissions and segmenting anthropogenic from biogenic sources become increasingly difficult.
This proves the importance of the role of cow and her progeny in the carbon, nitrogen, and water cycle. Cow dung and urine helps in maintaining the balance of organic matter in the soil and organic matter balances the carbon, nitrogen and water cycle.
Cow Dung: Source of Renewable Energy
Cow not only plays an important role in the environment but she also gives us a good source of renewable energy. Presently whole world including India is suffering a severe power crisis. All the fossil fuels like petroleum products and coal are consumed very rapidly and the world is compelled to think over some other long-lasting and renewable energy source. These conventional sources are a big source of pollution. In this situation again the cow enlightens a new way. Cow dung is a huge source of renewable energy. Western scholars blame cows for emitting greenhouse gas methane, but that methane gas is not a problem for the environment, instead it saves our environment. This gas can be easily used for cooking and electricity production. Ostensibly 84 percent of Indian villages are connected to the electrical grid, but only 27 percent of their inhabitants actually had access to power in 1991, according to R.K. Pachauri of the Tata Energy Research Institute in New Delhi. That means 435 million people, more than half of India’s population, lack electricity. And 80 percent of rural India faces difficulties in obtaining sufficient cooking fuel. Biogas bypasses these shortages and transmission problems by providing a decentralized and locally-controlled fuel supply from a readily available material.
Traditionally in India, dung is collected and fashioned into dung-cakes, to be burned directly as fuel or composted for fertilizer. Dung accounts for over 21 percent of total rural energy use in India, and as much as 40 percent in certain states.
Usually, dung used for one purpose is lost to the other, but biogas provides a means to both ends. It exploits the caloric content of the waste, while retaining the nutrients as fertilizer – and on both counts, it is more efficient than traditional methods. Direct burning only captures about 11 percent of the dung’s energy value, but biogas generation has 45 to 60 percent efficiency. In other words, biogas captures approximately 5 times as much energy as does direct burning. And the by-product slurry has twice the nitrogen content of composted dung because open-air composting allows much of the nitrogen to escape in the form of volatile compounds. The slurry also releases its nutrients more readily than composted dung. And unlike decomposing dung, it is odorless and does not attract flies or mosquitoes. Thus it also maintains the organic matter and nitrogen content in the soil which further maintains the carbon and nitrogen cycle and saves the environment.
In addition to the slurry’s nutrient recycling function, the gas itself has important environmental benefits. It offers an ecologically sustainable alternative to fuelwood, which currently provides over half of India’s rural household energy. Biogas can help check deforestation; in the 1980s, for instance, when biogas technology was introduced into villages near the Gir Lion Sanctuary in Gujarat, woodcutting within the Sanctuary dropped substantially. And since the conversion process in the digester is anaerobic (it occurs in the absence of oxygen), it destroys most of the pathogens present in dung and waste, thereby reducing the potential for infections like dysentery and enteritis.
The burning of traditional fuels like dung cakes or wood releases high levels of carbon monoxide, suspended particulates, hydrocarbons, and often, contaminants like sulfur oxides. (Dung contains traces of hydrogen sulfide, which is converted to sulfur oxides on combustion.) Exposure to these fumes in unvented cooking spaces increases the risk of respiratory disease. According to a study sponsored by the World Health Organization, Indian women cooking over firewood were inhaling as much of the carcinogen benzopyrene – a combustion by-product of wood – as they would by smoking 20 packs of cigarettes a day. Because it is a gas, biogas burns much more efficiently than these solid fuels. It leaves very few contaminants, although it is true that biogas releases small quantities of sulfur oxides. Biogas offers perhaps the most environmentally benign method for tapping the solar energy stored in biomass. It’s a renewable and decentralized alternative to the other methane-based fuel, natural gas, which is commonly used in cities.
THE ECONOMICS OF SELF-SUFFICIENCY
But biogas is more than just a renewable energy technology. As a comprehensive rural development tool, it allows villages to meet fundamental needs using local resources. It is a labor-intensive technology, and therefore a significant source of employment, especially for village women who collect the dung and sell the slurry, and for the rural laborers who construct and maintain the plants. Some family biogas digesters even support small-scale enterprises, by providing electricity for agricultural and cottage industries. Community digesters encourage collective responsibility and local participation in decision-making. The role that women play in the operation enhances their social standing. Biogas also helps ease the traditional burdens of women and girls, by reducing the amount of time they have to spend collecting fuel-wood. And with the advent of biogas-powered pumps, it also reduces the time spent fetching water.
There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning failure. – OLIVER SANDERO