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Human race started harnessing the natural resources like sunlight, water, soil to fulfil their needs of food and fibre. Starting from the stone age, man has been in a constant rapport with mother nature by growing plants and raising live stock for fulfilling his needs. Agriculture stands as livelihood in many developing countries.

Subsistence farming to feeding nations- a quick shift

Subsistence farming has been man’s approach in satisfying his own personal and family needs. Labour based ploughing, fallowing, irrigation for simple fruit and vegetable cultivation serving the basic needs of farmer grew up to current day country’s economy serves.
Serving economic feed depend on some other aspects. Weather conditions, soil fertility, water supply, pests, weeds, crop diseases-all together account for the crop productivity impacting the financial gains. Using primitive ploughing tools with help of bullocks has grown to using machines and tractors and farming witnessed a quick shift in reducing the manual labour.
This introduction of mechanizing in agriculture worked well in reducing the manual labour, however it could not balance the grownup food need.

Green revolution

Growing population demanded greater food grains and reducing labour has only simplified human task but in no way has contributed in reaching the global hunger. Countries witnessed crop failures due to natural calamities followed by famines.
Advancement in science have increased the crop productivity especially with the food grains. Employing biotechnology and genetics into crop science has led to developing high yielding varieties in food crops (rice, wheat). These varieties when supplied with adequate water and required amount of fertilizers showed greater results in terms of crop yield. Norman E. Borlaug was the man behind Green revolution.

Dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties of wheat and rice having greater tensile stems could bear more grain weight and withstand floods. Dependence on chemical fertilizers and weedicides has increased the grain yields. Crop yield attracted pests and farmers adopted the implementation of chemical pesticides in order to protect the crop produce. An extensive research on crop disease resistance and protection against pest made farmers more secure financially. This attracted more investments in farming.
On other edge than feeding the present generation, over dependence on chemical fertilizers has bashed the natural ecosystems. Excessive synthetic fertilizers utilization spoiled the soil quality. Chemicals breach through soil polluting the ground water resources and are never lost. The pesticides reach higher organisms by entering into food chains having “long term unerasable effects”. Nitrogen fertilizers breach down into nearby water systems and too much of them in water bodies (ponds, lakes) causes eutrophication. Thereby a disturbance in natural ecosystem is created.
Though the present-day food needs are satisfied, a great deviation that future generations have to go through is already been on its way.

Organic farming

Organic farming uses the natural measures in enhancing agricultural productivity. Rather than depending on synthetic standards, organic farming depends on crop rotation kind of natural strategies.
Growing the nitrogen fixing legumes in alternative cropping seasons restores the nitrogen deposits of soil. This reduces the dependence of farmer on synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and avoids the leaching of potassium and phosphorous (added as supplements to nitrogen) into water bodies.
Using green manures, vermicompost and animal manure restores the natural ecosystems.Ploughing the crop residues can serve as mulches for the next sow season.
Organic farming employs pest management strategies rather than depending on chemical pesticides. Following crop rotation interrupts the growth and reproductive cycles of pests. Using insect traps and beneficial predator pests are measures of integrated pest control system. Biological pesticides like pyrethrin (Chrysanthemum as source), neem oil (seeds of Azadirachta as source) are natural killers for caterpillar stage of crop enemies.
Though organic farming does not demand extra expenditure, the costs are high for organic certifications for organic products that consumers or the end user expects. Farming needs more of expertise and setting up the organic farm is a cost driving process. Because a simple understanding that conventional farming needs the land “as it is” and farmer make the produce by adding fertilizers to it. While organic farming “makes the land fertile” and then start farming on it. Which demands proper infrastructure, implementing rain water harvests for irrigation needs and efficient knowledge about pest management strategies etc.
More interaction of farmer with the crop is needed in organic farming. Keen observation on pest and weeds is needed which is quite time and labour consuming. Finding the rotation crops for main crop and finding market for rotation crops is also important for financial gains of growers. After all this strain obviously a purely organic grown product deserves extra rate in market than the conventional product.
This is where the organic farmed products are “confined largely to cream section” of society and cannot feed the masses of globe. So still the global hunger continues.

Agriculture in economic terms

In developing economies, agriculture largely stands as livelihood for countries population. Yield per hectare of farm are dependant on the prevailing climatic conditions during that particular crop season. Starting from day of sowing till the day of picking up harvest, climatic conditions are of main concern for growers.
Depending on monsoon for irrigation has been a frightening expectation for farmers. Right amount of rainfall during the right stage of crop can only stand as mirage in the present environmental scenario.
With the burning problem of global warming, monsoons have started to never or at least shower to meet the existing requirement.
Either too much of rains causing floods may make the crop wash away or too less rainfall imposes situation of drought both of which pose loses for small and margin scale farmers.
Rather than depending on monsoon, farmers have started relying on ground water resources for water needs. And again changing life styles, excessive usage of chemical pesticides, dumping of industrial effluents in water bodies- all collectively have led to
  • Depletion of ground water resources
  • Polluted ground water resources
  • Additively the dependence on ground water for agriculture without disturbing the urban and industrial needs is another twinkling point in water allocation.
If climatic conditions during cropping season needs such balance, the post-harvest climatic conditions are another big terror for farmer.
Pulses and staple food items like rice, wheat sit in godowns before they reach market. Maintenance of the warehouses, proper storage conditions in godowns are all important to allow the crop produce reach the hungry masses.
Commercial crops like sugarcane, oil seeds, fibre crops contribute to the country’s economic gains so they occupy some space in agricultural lands.

Finding other options in farming

Globalization has brought up farmers less dependent on local markets. The term globalization refers to increase in movement of information, input, output, finance and goods across vast geographical areas. Globalization resulted in considerable change in patterns of agriculture in developing countries. Feeding the local masses growing to supplying the necessities of far off continents has been witnessed because of globalization. From farming as livelihood has changed to farming as agribusiness. Developing countries have started depending on farming for counting the GDP (gross domestic product) which eventually lead to encouragement of cash crop cultivation and horticulture. Both are quite profitable by ensuring the farmers with financial security and have a large guaranteed market far across on globe.
Constraining land for biofuel crops, biomaterial and agri-based commodities deviates land usage from food crops to commercial and industrial needs. Land dedication for the crops feeding industrial needs reduces the crop land expected for food crop production. With the ever-growing population to hunger ratio sole dependence on agricultural land and fertility restoration measures cannot satisfy the growing up needs.
With the day by day doubling population and even increasing modernization,food crisis is one big thing that the world has to face. Though the drift from conventional farming methods has satisfied the grownup present-day food needs. These drifts cannot satisfy the hunger of future generation if the population is increasing at this alarming rate.
Research in science and biotechnology has brought in new approaches of farming that can still work well with polluting soils and changing lifestyles. New approaches for farming based on urban living has grown up.
Big farmers started depending on artificial intelligence (AI) for obtaining greater gains.

Using drones in monitoring the crop area for preventing pest and disease infestation,
Employing predictive analysis of environmental conditions at each critical phase of crop.
Soil analysis and crop monitoring
Using robotics for harvesting procedures
are some of the approaches that big farmers of modern day started to take up in order to improve their gains.
Apart from artificial intelligence modern farming stands on other toes too. Tissue culture, vertical farming, relying on greenhouses rather than natural farm environment stand as modern farming approaches. Farmers adopt modern methods to withstand the current climatic trends.

Tissue culture is a descendant of biotechnological studies on vegetative propagation and has proved good results with modern day farmers.
Vertical farming is classic choice of urban growers hailing from metros.
Hydroponics is entirely separate science for cultivating small herbs with vegetable and fruits crops. Hydroponics need a separate green-house set up with artificial lighting and can be even small and suitable for urban concrete life styles too. Aeroponics and aquaponics stand as subsets of hydroponics.
Relying on green houses and using hybrid seeds for high produce, have already been in practice in medium and bigger investment farms.
Probiotics are live-microorganisms that provide beneficial effects when consumed, especially for the digestive system. They are most commonly bacteria and yeasts not confined to a single species. Basically, these are “healthy-microbes”and cannot be confused with the routine word “microbes” that we denote for infection causing harmful microorganisms.

probiotics title image

Eating microbes?

Human body itself is a reservoir to vast community of microorganisms collectively called as microbiome. This microbial community is acquired during the journey of foetus through the birth canal.
Hundreds of different species of bacteria, archaea, protozoa,yeasts and viruses entirely make the gut flora.Gut flora resides in large intestine and performs numerous beneficial activities.
Specific species of microbiome are active in synthesis of vitamin B and K. Few species are involved in metabolism of sterols and bile acids. The carbohydrates that are not digested in upper part of intestine are fermented and absorbed by the action of colonal microflora. Some strains are involved in metabolizing the fibre in diet. Fibres are shortened into simple butyrate, acetates and propionates that strengthen the gut wall which is known as gut barrier reinforcement. This is helpful for material reabsorption.

Shift from more of “good” bacteria to more of “bad” bacteria: Dysbiosis

Sometimes the gut flora is spoiled with changes in lifestyle. High sugar diet, life style deprived of physical exercise and overuse of antibiotics can lead to gut dysbiosis. Intake of unwashed fruits and vegetables can render an unwanted chemical (pesticide) load for the bowels which disturbs naturally inhabited bacteria.
gut dysbiosis

Sometimes antibiotics administered for treating infectious diseases can have a negative shadow on the gut environment leading to clearance of numerous “good-microbes”.
This is where the probiotics work. Probiotics are living microorganisms that maintain healthy digestive tract by allowing the colonization of useful bacteria. They improve gut function and digestion by protecting the gut flora from harmful species.

Probiotics and prebiotics

Probiotics are the live bacteria or yeasts that are naturally present in fermented foods, available as dietary supplements and added to other food products.
Probiotics cannot be confused with prebiotics. Prebiotics are non-digestible complex carbohydrates like inulin and fructo- oligosaccharides. Prebiotic diet is the metabolic fuel for gut flora and helps improving their number by active colonization.

Prebiotics as baits for microbiome!

Prebiotics are generally the oligosaccharides that are resistant to digestive enzymes of anterior parts of digestive tract. So, they remain intact till they reach colon where they are fermented to short chain compounds. The existing microbiota feed on these short chain compounds and multiply in number. Thereby, the healthy colonies grow up and healthy gut is maintained well.
This could be the possible reason for our ancestors to include all kinds of natural products into diet. “A balanced diet for balanced health”.

probiotics and prebiotics healthy gut

Garlic, artichoke, banana, asparagus, chicory, lentils, bamboo shoots, rye, soy bean, wheat are naturally available prebiotic foods.
Commercially synbiotics are available which are a combination of probiotic microbes along with the prebiotic sugars for their feed.
Commercial preparations of probiotics are identified based on labels of the species, sub species, strains and alphanumeric strain designation. Most common genera available in probiotics are Lactobacillus, Escherichia, Enterococcus, Bifidobacterium, Streptococcus, Saccharomyces.
Probiotic dietary supplements available as capsules, powders and liquids contain a mixture of cultures rather than a single specific culture of microorganisms.

Who can take?

Since probiotics are live and viable microorganisms, they can cause infection in people with severe illness and those suffering from compromised immune system.
Pregnant woman and people on special diet due to some pre-existing medical condition needs doctor advise before including probiotics into diet.
In healthy individuals they rarely cause infections. Advise of health care professional is better choice before opting for dietary supplements as capsules or liquids. Probiotics in form of yogurts are already popular in different flavours and are commercially available.
Gut bacteria are believed to play a crucial role in nutrient and energy extraction from food. They are involved in absorption of leftover carbohydrates from upper parts of intestine. Since probiotics are one best source for gut bacteria restoration, they are found effective in specific conditions.

Antibiotic associated diarrhoea

Long-term use of antibiotics like penicillin and erythromycin can kill the useful bacteria in gut. People experience diarrhoea even after the infection is cleared off. Probiotics help in restoring the healthy gut environment.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Frequent stomach pain associated with bloating, changes in bowel movements, diarrhoea, constipation with discomfort mainly due to dysbiosis. Too many “bad” bacteria outnumbering too less “good” bacteria could be the possible cause for existing discomfort in IBS. Probiotic intake helps in easing the symptoms of IBS aiding the patients more of bowel comfort.

Facts in mind while purchasing

Probiotics are measured based on the colony forming units (CFU) which is an indication of number of viable cells. Some supplements may range to 10 billion CFU per dose while some products may have up to 50 billion CFU per dose.
Labelling regulations requires the manufacturers to mention total weight of microorganisms on the product. However, manufactures may voluntarily notify CFU count along with weight of microorganisms in the supplement fact sheet.
The weight on label includes both dead and live microorganisms. And there are chances that live microorganisms may be lost out. So, while the consumers are purchasing the product, it is better to cross check the CFU count at end of products shelf life rather than that at its manufacturing time.
Some probiotics need recommended storage conditions of refrigeration. While others need normal room temperature. Storage conditions are important for maintaining the viable count of microorganisms and consumers should be careful with this aspect.

Not all fermented products are probiotics

If any food containing live bacteria are probiotics, does all fermented food fall under category of probiotics?
There are several misconceptions over this question.
Though the fermented food contains active live cultures, they undergo additional processing like baking, filtering, pasteurization etc. Beer, Wine, Sourdough bread, Idli, Dosa are processed food and beverages that are made from fermented process. However, the live microbial (bacteria and yeasts) cultures are lost during the processing.

Probiotic supplements or probiotic foods?

Probiotics supplements available nowadays are specific commercial preparations free from allergens and artificial sweeteners. They are devoid of sweeteners that is helpful in maintaining the body’s sugar balance.
Few people are allergic to gluten and soya. They cannot feed on the respective natural probiotics because there are chances that their system develops some other problem rather than easing the situation. For them probiotic supplements are better option rather than the natural ones.
Probiotic dietary supplements are either single of combination of one or two specific microbial strains that can address a specific health discomfort. For example, Lactobacillus acidophilus containing probiotic supplements are effective against lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance is most common in adults where they develop a discomfort in digesting milk products and the bacteria L. acidophilus is helpful in mitigating the discomfort. L. rhamnosus works well with symptoms of antibiotic associated diarrhoea.
Pushing apart with probiotic supplements, probiotic foods are a rich source of essential micronutrients. They are plant based unprocessed foods and so are the source of “raw antioxidants” that can fight against oxidative stress and associated damage.

In the Schedule VII and VIII of FSSAI, all the permitted pre and probiotics are listed. These probiotics are used in the food supplements must have non GMO.

Below are the list of approved pre and probiotics: 

Schedule –VII
List of strains as probiotics (live micro-organisms)

S. No. Name of the Microorganism
1.         Lactobacillus acidophilus
2.         Lactobacillus plantarum
3.         Lactobacillus reuteri
4.         Lactobacillus rhamnosus
5.         Lactobacillus salivarius
6.         Lactobacillus casei
7.         Lactobasillus brevis
8.         Lactobacillus johnsonii
9.         Lactobacillus delbrueckii sub- sp. bulgaricus
10.       Bacillus coagulans
11.       Lactobacillus fermentum
12.       Lactobacillus caucasicus
13.       Lactobacillus helveticus
14.       Lactobacillus lactis
15.       Lactobacillus amylovorus
16.       Lactobacillus gallinarum
17.       Lactobacillus delbrueckii
18.       Bifidobacterium bifidum
19.       Bifidobacterium lactis
20.       Bifidobacterium breve
21.       Bifidobacterium longum
22.       Bifidbacterium animalis
23.       Bifidobacterium infantis
24.       Streptococcus thermophilus
25.       Saccharomyces boulardii
26.       Saccharomyces cerevisiae
27.       Lactobacillus paracasei
28.       Lactobacillus gasseri

Schedule – VIII
List of prebiotic compounds

S. No. Prebiotic Compounds
1.         Polydextrose
2.         Soybean oligosaccharides
3.         Isomalto-oligosaccharides
4.         Fructo-oligosaccharides
5.         Gluco-oligosaccharides
6.         Xylo-oligosaccharides
7.         Inulin
8.         Isomaltulose
9.         Gentio-ologsaccharides
10.       Lactulose
11.       Lactoferrin
12.       Sugar alcohols such as lactitol, sorbitol, maltitol, inositol, isomalt
13.       Galacto-oligosaccharides

/Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is just for the information of General Health Supplements. Science Arena Does not claim any health benefits nor its authors in any form, all the data and information shown are based on the personal experience and reference health data taken from Health practitioner. [Not For Medicolegal Purpose]/
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