Down To Earth(may01-15 2022)

Note: Please note that some inputs have been given by our team in order to make the topic more relevant to UPSC

1. Institutional Oversight

Topics covered from the syllabus:

  • GS-1: Important Geophysical phenomena such as earthquakes, Tsunami, Volcanic activity, cyclone etc., geographical features and their location-changes in critical geographical features (including water-bodies and ice-caps) and in flora and fauna and the effects of such changes.
  • GS-3: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.

Prelims Focus

Geological Survey of India: It is a scientific agency to provide earth sciences and geo-morphological data about India.

  • It is headquartered at Kolkata and was set up in 1851 primarily to study the coal deposits in India for newly formed Indian railways.
  • Sir Thomas Oldham, an Irish Geologist, was appointed as first director of GSI.
  • GSI studies the geological process and assesses mineral, energy and water resources for the country and facilitates their optimal exploration.
  • It also studies the physical, chemical and biological hazard geo-investigations, along with climate change geostudies.


Context: Developmental activities in the Himalayan Region have caused a huge amount of destruction in the area. This has led to loss of precious archaeological and historical data.

Geo-morphology of Himalayas

  • Formation of Himalayas: During the Mesozoic era (200 Million years ago), the single continent Pangaea disintegrated into Angaraland and Gondwanaland. At the same time, Tethys sea was formed in the region of current Himalayas. The collision between Indian and Eurasian plate 65 Million years ago (Mya) caused the formation of Himalayas.
  • Parts of Himalayas: The Himalayas consist of four litho-tectonic mountain ranges:
  1. Trans Himalayas: It was formed first in the Eocene period (65 Million year ago). It is devoid of fossil remains.
  2. Greater Himalayas: The Greater Himalayas were also formed in the Eocene period.
  3. Lesser/Lower Himalaya (Himachal Himalayas): The lesser Himalayas were formed in the Miocene period (45 Mya). They do not contain much fossils, as earlier the area was a shallow sea. It majorly consists of old rocks. The fossils of small animals, existing almost 250 million years ago, have been found in this region.
  4. Outer Himalayas (Shivalik Himalayas): The lesser Himalayas were also formed in the Miocene period. They consist of sedimentary rocks deposited by rivers. Thus, they have abundant fossils of mammals and plants.
  • The evergreen forests were replaced by deciduous plants due to the middle Shivalik. The formation of Middle Shivaliks made the area devoid of rain, which would have been required to sustain the evergreen forest.
  • Extent of Himalayas: The Himalayas are spread across the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, as well as the States of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. The offshoot of Himalaya known as Purvanchal Himalayas runs in the North eastern states of Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram. The process of subduction and compression of Indian and Eurasian plates is still continuing, leading to an increase in the height of Himalayas peaks.
  • Thrust Boundaries: During the formation of Himalayas, almost 10 million years ago, thrust boundaries were formed between Greater Himalayas and the Lesser Himalayas, which is known as Main Central Thrust (MCT). Similarly, Main Boundary Thrust (MBT) lies between lesser Himalayas and Shivalik Himalayas and, Himalayan Front Fault (HFF) lies between Shivalik and Northern Plains of India.

Importance of Himalayas

  • Climate: The Himalayas prevent India from cold Siberian winds. They intercept south-west monsoon winds, which are responsible for rain across the country. Without Himalayas, India would have been a dry, cold land.
  • Natural resources: The Himalayas are a source of perennial Rivers viz. Indus, Ganga and the Brahmaputra river system. They also provide minerals and Forest Produce for the Economic development of the country. They are the source of soil for the fertile plains of Northern India as well as the region of North East. 
  • Defense, Tourism and Pilgrimage: The Himalayas form a natural boundary with China and Myanmar, thus providing a cover against any adventure by the Foreign militaries. The Doons, Valleys, scenic Hill Stations and Religious Sites attract millions of tourists from India and the world. 
  • Scientific studies: The Himalayas are home to numerous geological, as well as geographical phenomena. The scientists study these phenomena to uncover mysteries of formation of earth, rock system, geomorphology and study recent climate change. For e.g., geologists have criticized the development of infrastructure in Spiti Valley, which has damaged the exposed coral reefs of the Tethys Sea, formed 200 Million years ago.
  • Similarly, imprints depicting movement of a giant scorpion have been covered up by the construction of Roads in the region. As per the geologists, such movements are rare and can be a source of information like the behavior and environment of such organisms.
  • Rapid Infrastructural Development: The Himalayan states have witnessed rapid infrastructural development in recent decades. The construction of Roads, Tunnels, Railway lines, Dams and canals and Defense infrastructure have led to a serious disruption in the geomorphology of Himalayas. Frequent landslides, flash floods, glacial lake bursts and abrupt weather are the result of such human interference.
  • Destruction of Critical Data: Due to these infrastructural developments, many geological sites have been destroyed. These sites could provide clues to crucial data like climate and weather of the Indian subcontinent; time period and process of monsoon; tectonic movement, flora and fauna of India, thus aiding scientific studies.

Importance of Historical Data

  • Evolution of Life: Fossils are studied by the Geologists and Scientists to understand the evolution of Life. For e.g., findings of fossil related to a big cat has led the scientists to believe that big cats like snow leopard evolved in Asia. Similarly, fossil remains of Palm trees show that once Ladakh region had lush green vegetation and rainfall.
  • Evolution of Himalayas: Geological studies not only provide data of the past but they also shed light on the future evolution of flora and fauna, monsoon and geomorphological changes in Himalayas. For e.g., Geological Survey of India (see inset) has flagged the rapid construction of human settlement, which has led to obliteration of important data like the cuts of slopes and inclinations of rocks in the Himalayan region.
  • Conversion of Forests: At the same time, Lower Shivaliks were earlier Rainforests. However, the evolution of Middle Himalayas led to cutting off of Rainfall from reaching the Lower Himalayas. Thus, adequate rainfall was not available to sustain the rainforests, which gradually gave way to deciduous forests.
  • History of Monsoons: Again, an example of criticality of Himalayan fossils is the understanding of Monsoons, which has been aided by such fossils. Geologists claim that it is due to the interpretation of this data, we know that Indian summer monsoons started about 25 million years ago and full-fledged monsoons just 10-15 million years ago. This is gathered from the study of plant fossil leaves existing during the period.
  • Formation of Boundary Thrusts: As illustrated earlier, Main Boundary Thrust and other Thrusts were formed later in the evolution history of Himalayas. However, to understand such geological formations, scientists need to study the layers of rocks existing in the Himalayas. These layers have been damaged due to the construction of Infrastructure in Himalayas.


  • The ecology of Himalayas is crucial and fragile. Infrastructural development in this region is causing imbalance and an irreversible loss in this fragile ecosystem. Coordinated steps and policy of Central and State government universities, along with researchers are required to preserve such ecosystems. It would be helpful if the protection is accorded by a law, similar to archeological sites, to protect the geo-heritage of Himalayas.


Practice Question

  • Discuss how fossils can be useful in deciphering the evolution of life and geophysical phenomena on the planet, along with suggestions on how to safeguard the same.


  • Rehabilitation of human settlements is one of the important environmental impacts which always attracts controversy while planning major projects. Discuss the measures suggested for mitigation of this impact while proposing major developmental projects.                                                                                                       (GS3: 2016)
  • How can the mountain ecosystem be restored from the negative impact of development initiatives and tourism?

                                                                                                                                                                                        (GS1: 2019)


Topics covered from the syllabus:

  • GS-3: Major crops-cropping patterns in various parts of the country, - different types of irrigation and irrigation systems storage, transport and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints; e-technology in the aid of farmers.
  • GS-3: Issues related to direct and indirect farm subsidies and minimum support prices; Public Distribution System-objectives, functioning, limitations, revamping; issues of buffer stocks and food security; Technology missions; economics of animal-rearing



Prelims Focus

African Union: It is a union of African nations, consisting of the 55 nations of African continent.

  • It was launched in July 2002, in Durban, South Africa. The Headquarter of AU is in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
  • Organization of African Unity (OAU) is its predecessor organization.

Context: Civil Society has flagged the increasing influence of Multi-National Seed companies in the African Nations. There is a possibility of existing informal systems, consisting of poor farmers, being pushed to the side-lines, due to the onslaught of deep-pocketed Seed companies.


Importance of Agriculture to African Continent

  • Demography of Africa: Africa is the second largest continent in the world and also the second most populous continent. It accounts for 20% of the world area and about 16% of the global population. Majority of the African population is engaged in primary sectors such as agriculture and agriculture allied activities. Agriculture sector accounts for 60% of the labor force and contributes 32% to the GDP. 
  • Hunger in Africa: According to a UN estimate, Africa will have the world’s highest number of people (433 million) living in hunger by 2030. Due to low agricultural productivity, Africa is a net food importer. It spends $35 billion on importing food, which is estimated to increase to $100 billion by 2030. The high population growth rate and interruption in global supplies may create havoc for the food security in African Nations. 
  • High Yielding Varieties: In order to increase productivity and secure food security in Africa, the governments of different countries are adopting the policy of promoting High-yielding Varieties (HYVs) of seeds, along with fertilizers, pesticides and other inputs. This has led to a debate between the proponents of traditional seed systems and those of the modern Formal Seed systems.



Informal Seed Systems in Africa

In the informal seed system, farmers obtain, develop, produce, maintain and distribute seeds from one growing season to the next, without any external help. The farmers save seeds post-harvest for next sowing season and share them with each other, through barter or at an affordable cost. Benefits of Informal Seed Systems are:

  • Preserve diversity of seeds: Informal systems have a built-in element of choice. Different farmers save different varieties of seeds post-harvest for the next sowing season. These seeds are also shared with each other at the time of sowing. Such seeds are less prone to pest attack due to their genetic diversity.
  • Climate change and local weather conditions: Through genetic evolution and survival of the fittest, informal seeds are well adapted to the local weather conditions. They are resistant to climate change and variations at the local level.
  • Low cost and easy availability: The farmers share seeds through barter or at very low cost among local communities. These seeds are cheap and affordable as they do not require expensive inputs viz. fertilizers and pesticides. At the same time, they do not come under cumbersome regulations as this system does not come under the quality regulation systems of government and are not controlled by national seed certification agencies.
  • Familiarity of seeds: These seeds are also preferred as the farmers are familiar with the variety since generations. They know the requirements of inputs and the timing of crop. In fact, around 80 to 90% of all the seeds planted in Africa come from informal systems.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Formal Seed System

These are certified seeds, developed and mass produced by national and multinational companies after extensive research. Benefits of Formal Seed System are:

  • Increased yield per unit area: These seeds are known as high yielding varieties (HYVs). They are developed after extensive biotechnological and genetic research to increase yield as compared to traditional seeds.
  • Early maturation: At the same time, the maturation period of the crops is much less than traditional seeds, letting the farmers obtain multiple crops in a year. Thus, the farmers benefit from an increased output.
  • Resistance to Specific Diseases: Modern technology allows for the development of seeds as per the requirements. The seeds can be genetically modified to resist certain diseases through scientific intervention.


However, the formal Seed System has the following disadvantages:

  • High cost: The high yielding varieties (HYVs) of seeds are developed after extensive research, thus the cost of these seeds is much higher than traditional seed, as it has to factor in the cost of research and equipment as well as the compensation due to the scientists.
  • Loss of genetic diversity: It is an offshoot of the process. As HYVs are more profitable, the farmers gradually stop growing local varieties. Over time, local varieties and the traditional seeds become extinct. This is a cause of concern as a particular disease of the crop has the potential to wipe out entire output in the region.
  • Increased requirement for fertilizers and pesticides: These seeds require much higher amounts of pesticides and fertilizers for producing the high yield. The seeds are also water intensive and require irrigation facilities round the growing season. At the same time, they consume much more water than the traditional seed crops. This is especially relevant in the African Nations which are vulnerable to water-scarcity.
  • No replantation: The HYV seeds are designed to be planted only once. The farmers are required to buy new seeds for every growing season. Even if the farmers save these seeds, they are designed to not produce the same yield in the following years. The supply of these commercial seeds are controlled by multinational companies, thus they are not readily available and make the farmers dependent on such MNCs for their supply.
  • Issue for African Nations: Some countries have criminalized the use of uncertified seeds, leading to traditional farmers being forced to buy costly certified seeds. At the same time, domestic seeds sector is unable to compete with Multinational Seed companies, which is equipped with capital and technology. Also, the monopoly of multinational companies over the supply of HYVs of seeds poses serious risk to the food security of the country.


  • Burden on Farmers: In the long term, local varieties may become extinct as HYV seeds are subsidized by the government and farmers do not want to take risks with local varieties. At the same time, high input cost by farmers and high subsidy burden on the governments may lead to economic destabilization of the economy, especially in the case of a widespread plant pandemic and wipeout of the crop. This is complicated by the over-leveraged farmers.

Global Treaties on Rights of Farmers and Seeds

  • United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other People working in Rural Areas (2018): This resolution consists of an extensive list of farmers rights, which includes the right to land, water, seeds and the right to biodiversity.
  • United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007): The declaration protects indigenous peoples’ rights to their collective bio-cultural heritage as a whole, including traditional knowledge and resources, territories, cultural and spiritual values, and customary laws. These instruments protect farmers’ right to freely save, reuse and exchange seeds.
  • International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV): It is an intergovernmental organization with headquarters in Geneva (Switzerland). UPOV was established by the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants. The Convention was adopted in Paris in 1961 and it was revised in 1972, 1978 and 1991. UPOV promotes an effective system of plant variety protection, encouraging the development of new varieties of plants for the benefit of society.
  • International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (also known as International Seed Treaty or Plant Treaty): It was signed in 2001 in Madrid, and entered into force on 29 June 2004. The agreement aims at guaranteeing food security through the conservation, exchange and sustainable use of the world’s plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA), the fair and equitable benefit sharing arising from its use, as well as the recognition of farmers’ rights.

Seeds Treaties by African Regional Organizations

The African Union and other regional organizations in Africa passed various agreements in order to regulate production certification and supply of seeds in Africa:

  • African Union (AU- see inset): African Seed and Biotechnology Programme of 2008, governs seed systems and the application of biotechnology in the seed sector.
  • The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), an economic bloc of 21 African nations, adopted COMESA Seed Harmonization Implementation Plan (COMSHIP) in 2014;
  • The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a regional economic and political bloc of 15 nations, passed the ECOWAS Seed Regulations in 2008.
  • Southern African Development Community (SADC), a security and political bloc of 16 nations, adopted the Harmonized Seed Regulatory System (HSRS) in 2013.
  • African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA), a free trade 55 countries signed the African Continental Free Trade Agreement that consists of application of biotechnology in agriculture.
  • Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa 2006 (AGRA): Kofi Annan, the Rockefeller Foundation and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation established AGRA, with its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya.

Way Forward

  • Redesign the seed law: In coherence to the above mentioned treaties, the African nations passed various domestic laws to regulate seed variety, certification, quality, quarantine and phytosanitary measures. Due to these regulations, various private companies such as Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer, Syngenta, SeedCo and Vilmorin have witnessed an increase in their sales.
  • However, the seed treaties are not particularly beneficial to the farmers as the traditional seed systems are unable to compete with the corporates. Therefore, there is a need to decriminalize the use of traditional seeds. Traditional seeds should be automatically certified and provision should be made to protect the genetic diversity of seeds and the national laws should be coherent to Rights of farmers as recognized in various global conventions.
  • Breaking the Monopoly: The National government should break monopolies of multinational companies in supply and distribution of seeds. The farmers should have the right to replant the seed and conserve the purchased seeds. At the same time, technological and economic help should be provided to traditional seed growers to make them compete with the MNCs.


  • Among all the inputs, seeds are one of the most critical input as they determine both the quality and the quantity of crop. Due to rapid population growth, the demand for food has increased and food security is one of the major concerns of countries across the world. Thus, there is a need for the government to have a balanced policy considering famers’ rights and food security, while promoting scientific advancements.

Practice Question

  • Differentiate between the Traditional and Modern Seed Systems, while highlighting the relative advantages and disadvantages of both.


  • How can biotechnology improve the living standards of farmers?                                                        (GS3: 2019)
  • What is allelopathy? Discuss its role in major cropping systems of irrigated agriculture.             (GS3: 2016)