Person is diagnosed with bird flu after being in contact with cows in Texas

ATLANTA — A person in Texas has been diagnosed with bird flu, an infection tied to the recent discovery of the virus in dairy cows, health officials said Monday.

The patient was being treated with an antiviral drug and their only reported symptom was eye redness, Texas health officials said. Health officials say the person had been in contact with cows presumed to be infected, and the risk to the public remains low. 

It marks the first known instance globally of a person catching this version of bird flu from a mammal, federal health officials said.

However, there’s no evidence of person-to-person spread or that anyone has become infected from milk or meat from livestock, said Dr. Nirav Shah, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Genetic tests don’t suggest that the virus suddenly is spreading more easily or that it is causing more severe illness, Shah said. And current antiviral medications still seem to work, he added.

Last week, dairy cows in Texas and Kansas were reported to be infected with bird flu — and federal agriculture officials later confirmed infections in a Michigan dairy herd that had recently received cows from Texas. None of the hundreds of affected cows have died, Shah said.

Since 2020, a bird flu virus has been spreading among more animal species – including dogs, cats, skunks, bears and even seals and porpoises – in scores of countries. 

However, the detection in U.S. livestock is an “unexpected and problematic twist,” said Dr. Ali Khan, a former CDC outbreak investigator who is now dean of the University of Nebraska’s public health college.

This bird flu was first identified as a threat to people during a 1997 outbreak in Hong Kong. More than 460 people have died in the past two decades from bird flu infections, according to the World Health Organization. 

Most infected people got it directly from birds, but scientists have been on guard for any sign of spread among people. 

Texas officials didn’t identify the newly infected person, nor release any details about what brought them in contact with the cows.

The CDC does not recommend testing for people who have no symptoms. Roughly a dozen people in Texas who did have symptoms were tested in connection with the dairy cow infections, but only the one person came back positive, Shah said.

It’s only the second time a person in the United States has been diagnosed with what’s known as Type A H5N1 virus. In 2022, a prison inmate in a work program picked it up while killing infected birds at a poultry farm in Montrose County, Colorado. His only symptom was fatigue, and he recovered.

Poliovirus near extinction in Pakistan, Afghanistan, health experts say

islamabad, pakistan — Global eradication efforts have “cornered” polio in a “few pockets” of Pakistan and Afghanistan, the last two countries where the virus continues to paralyze children.

Experts hailed the progress being made in tackling the “outbreak-prone” disease during a virtual briefing last week to mark a decade since India was declared polio-free in March 2014.

“We have Pakistan and Afghanistan [where polio is] still endemic, but the virus is cornered in very few pockets in very few districts of these two countries,” said Dr. Ananda Bandyopadhyay, deputy director of polio technology, research and analytics at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“The virus is gasping in these last corridors,” Bandyopadhyay said.

Pakistan has reported two wild poliovirus cases this year, while the number stood at six in 2023. Afghanistan has yet to detect a polio case this year and recorded six cases last year.

Experts credited continued efforts to vaccinate populations with pushing polio to the verge of extinction.

Wild poliovirus affects young children and can paralyze them in severe cases or can be deadly in certain instances. The paralytic disease is the only currently designated public health emergency of international concern.

Hamid Jafari, director of polio eradication for the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region, told the event that until 2020, about 13 families of wild poliovirus had spread across the neighboring countries.

Since then, only two families have survived, and they remain endemic to Pakistan “in a very small geographic area” in southern parts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa border province and in eastern Afghanistan, he said.

While the “historic reservoirs” have been cleared of the virus in Pakistan and Afghanistan, transmission is now surviving in “exceptionally hard-to-reach” populations, making it difficult for polio teams to inoculate children there, he said.

Jafari said “militancy and extensive population movement” across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and keeping track of those populations, were the kinds of “last-mile challenges that we have.”

“The genetic cluster that seems to be on its way out and getting eliminated is in the heart of the area of militancy in Pakistan,” he said.

Jafari noted that India’s polio program did not face the same militancy challenge that Afghanistan’s did until the Taliban takeover in August 2021, and that it remains a significant problem in Pakistan in the last stages of eradicating the virus.

Bandyopadhyay said successes against the poliovirus in both countries raise hope it is on the verge of extinction there.

He said clinicians “observed similar trends” even in the countries that “saw polio’s disappearing act.”

“Initially, we would have multiple families or lineages of the virus … and then you saw that disappearing act,” he said.

Jafari said that lessons learned in India had been applied to Nigeria, which was declared polio-free in June 2020. He added that many of “these practices were instilled in the program” in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

WHO has said that cases caused by wild poliovirus have dropped by more than 99% since 1988, from an estimated 350,000 in more than 125 endemic countries to just two endemic countries as of October 2023.

It attributed the decline to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, led by the WHO, the U.N. Children’s Fund, Rotary International, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Jay Wenger, director of the polio program at the Gates Foundation, said that even though Afghanistan and Pakistan had reported a handful of cases, global efforts against the virus must continue.

“As we get to the end of the [polio program], it’s critical to finish. We usually say if there is polio anywhere, it’s a threat to everywhere,” he said.

How to View a Solar Eclipse Safely

DALLAS — Millions of people along a narrow band in North America will look up when the sky darkens during a total solar eclipse on April 8. When they do, safety is key.

Staring directly at the sun during a solar eclipse or at any other time can lead to permanent eye damage. The eclipse is only safe to witness with the naked eye during totality, or the period of total darkness when the moon completely covers the sun.

Those eager to experience the eclipse should buy eclipse glasses from a reputable vendor. Sunglasses are not protective enough, and binoculars and telescopes without a proper solar filter can magnify light from the sun, making them unsafe.

“Please, please put those glasses on,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said.

Where to find eclipse glasses

Since counterfeit glasses abound, consider purchasing glasses from a local science museum or order online from a seller cleared on the American Astronomical Society’s website.

Eclipse safety experts say legitimate eclipse glasses should block out ultraviolet light from the sun and nearly all visible light. When worn indoors, only very bright lights should be faintly visible – not household furniture or wallpaper.

Old eclipse glasses from the 2017 total solar eclipse or October’s “ring of fire” annular eclipse are safe to reuse, as long as they aren’t warped and don’t have scratches or holes.

Glasses should say they comply with ISO 12312-2 standards, though fake suppliers can also print this language on their products. NASA does not approve or certify eclipse glasses.

How to view the eclipse without glasses

If you don’t have eclipse glasses, you can still enjoy the spectacle through indirect ways such as making a pinhole projector using household materials.

Poke a hole through a piece of cardstock or cardboard, hold it up during the eclipse and look down to see a partial crescent projected below. Holding up a colander or a cracker will produce a similar effect.

Another trick: Peering at the ground under a shady tree can yield crescent shadows as the sunlight filters through branches and leaves.

Eye experts warn against viewing the eclipse through a phone camera. The sun’s bright rays can also damage a phone’s digital components.

Why looking at a solar eclipse is dangerous

Eye damage can occur without proper protection. The sun’s bright rays can burn cells in the retina at the back of the eye. The retina doesn’t have pain receptors, so there’s no way to feel the damage as it happens. Once the cells die, they don’t come back.

Symptoms of solar eye damage, called solar retinopathy, include blurred vision and color distortion.

In a rare case of eclipse eye damage, a woman who viewed the 2017 eclipse without adequate protection came to Mount Sinai’s New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, complaining of a black spot in her vision. Doctors discovered retinal damage that corresponded to the eclipse’s shape.

“The dark spot she was describing was in the shape of a crescent,” said Dr. Avnish Deobhakta, a Mount Sinai ophthalmologist.

There’s no set rule for how long of a glance can lead to permanent damage. Severity varies based on cloudiness, air pollution and a person’s vantage point.

But doctors say looking at a solar eclipse for even a few seconds unprotected isn’t worth the risk. There are reports of solar retinopathy after every solar eclipse, and U.S. eye doctors saw dozens of extra visits after the one in 2017.

Spectators who plan ahead can secure a stress-free eclipse viewing experience.

“It can be dangerous if we aren’t careful, but it’s also very safe if we take the basic precautions,” said Dr. Geoffrey Emerson, a board member of the American Society of Retina Specialists.

Japanese Authorities Raid ‘Health Supplements’ Factory Linked to 5 Deaths

tokyo — Japanese government health officials raided a factory Saturday producing health supplements that they say have killed at least five people and hospitalized more than 100 others. 

About a dozen people wearing dark suits solemnly walked into the Osaka plant of Kobayashi Pharmaceutical Co. in the raid shown widely on Japanese TV news, including public broadcaster NHK. 

The company says little is known about the exact cause of the sicknesses, which include kidney failure. An investigation into the products is underway in cooperation with government health authorities. 

The supplements all used “benikoji,” a kind of red mold. Kobayashi Pharmaceuticals’ pink pills called Benikoji Choleste Help were billed as helping lower cholesterol levels. 

Kobayashi Pharmaceuticals, based in the western Japanese city of Osaka, said about 1 million packages were sold over the past three fiscal years. It also sold benikoji to other manufacturers, and some products have been exported. The supplements could be bought at drug stores without a prescription from a doctor. 

Reports of health problems surfaced in 2023, although benikoji has been used in products for years. 

Kobayashi Pharmaceuticals President Akihiro Kobayashi has apologized for not having acted sooner. The recall came March 22, two months after the company had received official medical reports about the problem. 

On Friday, the company said five people had died and 114 people were being treated in hospitals after taking the products. Japan’s health ministry says the supplements are responsible for the deaths and illnesses and warned that the number of those affected could grow. 

Some analysts blame the recent deregulation initiatives, which simplified and sped up approval for health products to spur economic growth. But deaths from a mass-produced item is rare in Japan, as government checks over consumer products are relatively stringent. 

The government has ordered a review of the approval system in response to supplement-related illnesses. A report is due in May.  

Businesswomen Envision a Greener Mozambique

Two female entrepreneurs in Mozambique have started businesses that help fight climate change and reduce pollution. Amarilis Gule has this story from the capital, Maputo. Michele Joseph narrates.

Latin America, Caribbean Set for Record Dengue Season

WASHINGTON — Latin America and the Caribbean should prepare for their worst dengue season ever, as global warming and the El Niño climate phenomenon fuel the mosquito-borne epidemic, a U.N. health agency warned Thursday.

In less than three months in 2024, regional health authorities have already tallied more than 3.5 million cases and a thousand deaths from the virus, which is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito.

“Probably this will be the worst dengue season [in the region],” said Jarbas Barbosa, director of the Pan American Health Organization.

The 3.5 million cases recorded so far are three times more than the number of infections at this point in 2023, a record year that saw 4.5 million cases, Barbosa said.

Dengue, which can cause hemorrhagic fever, is common in hotter countries and occurs mainly in urban and semi-urban areas.

It infects an estimated 100 million to 400 million people yearly, though most cases are mild or asymptomatic, according to the World Health Organization.

The increase in the number of infections is seen in all countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, but especially in Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, which represent 92% of all cases and 87% of deaths. 

Aborted Space Launch Sees Success on Second Try

A space launch aborted only to find success days later. Plus, Japan makes a push into private spaceflight, and NASA really wants you to see the solar eclipse — but safety first. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi brings us The Week in Space.

Japan Moon Probe Survives Second Lunar Night

TOKYO — Japan’s unmanned moon lander woke up after surviving a second frigid, two-week lunar night and transmitted new images back to Earth, the country’s space agency said Thursday.

“We received a response from SLIM last night and confirmed that SLIM had successfully completed its second overnight,” the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said in a post on the official X account for its Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) probe.

“Since the sun was still high in the sky last night and the equipment was still hot, we recorded images of the usual scenery with the navigational camera, among other activities, for a short period of time,” it added.

A black-and-white photo of the rocky surface of a crater accompanied the post on X, formerly Twitter.

The SLIM lander touched down in January at a wonky angle that left its solar panels facing the wrong way.

Around three hours after the landing — which made Japan only the fifth nation to touch down on the moon — JAXA decided to switch SLIM off with 12% power remaining to allow for a possible resumption later on.

As the sun’s angle shifted, the probe came back to life in late January for two days and carried out scientific observations of a crater with a high-spec camera.

But the spacecraft was not designed for the freezing, fortnight-long lunar nights, when the temperature plunges to minus 133 degrees Celsius.

So space agency scientists had cause for celebration when it was successfully revived in late February after its first lunar night.

JAXA has dubbed SLIM the “Moon Sniper” for its precision landing technology.

The aim of the mission is to examine a part of the moon’s mantle — the usually deep inner layer beneath its crust — that is believed to be accessible.

Thursday’s news came after an uncrewed American lander called Odysseus — the first private spaceship to successfully land on the moon — was unable to wake up, its manufacturer said on Saturday, even after its solar panels were projected to receive enough sunlight to turn on its radio. 

Gaza Hospital Patients in Jerusalem Face Uncertainty

Israel has ordered Palestinian hospital patients back to the Gaza Strip after they’re done with treatment in East Jerusalem medical facilities. As Linda Gradstein reports from East Jerusalem, the order has sparked an outcry from human rights groups, and the Israeli Supreme Court has put their transfer on hold.

US Supreme Court Hears Case on Access to Abortion Pill

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in a case that could significantly restrict access to the drug mifepristone, which is used in medication abortions. Deana Mitchell has our story.

Schools to Reopen in South Sudan After Two Weeks of Extreme Heat

JUBA, South Sudan — South Sudan’s government on Tuesday said schools will reopen next week following a two-week closure due to extreme heat across the country. 

The health and education ministries said temperatures were expected to steadily drop with the rainy season set to begin in the coming days. 

South Sudan in recent years has experienced adverse effects of climate change, with extreme heat, flooding and drought reported during different seasons. 

During the heatwave last week, the country registered temperatures up to 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit). 

Teachers have been urged to minimize playground activities to early morning or indoors, ventilate classrooms, provide water during school time and monitor children for signs of heat exhaustion and heatstroke. 

Health Minister Yolanda Awel Deng singled out Northern Bahr El-Ghazel, Warrap, Unity and Upper Nile states as the most-affected areas. 

Higher learning institutions have remained open. 

Some schools in rural areas also have continued despite a warning from the education ministry. 

West Reliant on Russian Nuclear Fuel Amid Decarbonization Push

An analysis by Britain’s Royal United Services Institute has found that many Western nations still rely on Russian nuclear fuel to power their reactors, despite efforts to sever economic ties with the Kremlin following its 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Geomagnetic Storm From Solar Flare Could Disrupt Radio Communications

BOULDER, Colo. — Space weather forecasters have issued a geomagnetic storm watch through Monday, saying an outburst of plasma from a solar flare could interfere with radio transmissions on Earth. It could also make for great aurora viewing.

There’s no reason for the public to be concerned, according to the alert issued Saturday by NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado.

The storm could interrupt high-frequency radio transmissions, such as by aircraft trying to communicate with distant traffic control towers. Most commercial aircraft can use satellite transmission as backup, said Jonathan Lash, a forecaster at the center.

Satellite operators might have trouble tracking their spacecraft, and power grids could also see some “induced current” in their lines, though nothing they can’t handle, he said.

“For the general public, if you have clear skies at night and you are at higher latitudes, this would be a great opportunity to see the skies light up,” Lash said.

Every 11 years, the sun’s magnetic field flips, meaning its north and south poles switch positions. Solar activity changes during that cycle, and it’s now near its most active, called the solar maximum.

During such times, geomagnetic storms of the type that arrived Sunday can hit Earth a few times a year, Lash said. During solar minimum, a few years may pass between storms.

In December, the biggest solar flare in years disrupted radio communications.

WHO: Investing in TB Prevention, Screening, Treatment Will Save Lives, Money

Geneva — In marking World Tuberculosis Day, the World Health Organization is calling for action to rid the world of this ancient scourge, which has sickened and killed millions of people throughout the ages.

This year’s theme, “Yes! We can end TB,” is intended to send a message of hope that ending the epidemic, which WHO says each year causes the deaths of some 1.3 million people, is possible.

While the disease is curable and preventable, heads of state at the 2023 U.N. high-level meeting on TB estimated that $13 billion was needed every year for prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and care to end the epidemic by 2030.

The heads of state, who pledged to accelerate progress to end TB and to turn these commitments “into tangible actions,” approved a series of global targets for moving this process forward.

“These include reaching 90% of people in need with TB prevention and care services, using WHO-recommended rapid tests and the first method of diagnosing TB, and providing a health and social benefit package to all people with tuberculosis,” said Dr. Tereza Kasaeva, director of WHO’s Global Tuberculosis Program.

“This is a watershed for the global fight to end tuberculosis. The next five years will be critical for ensuring that the political momentum we have now is translated into concrete action towards reaching global TB targets.”

Tuberculosis is the world’s second leading infectious killer after COVID-19, above HIV and AIDS. WHO reports 1.3 million people died from TB in 2022 and an estimated 10.6 million fell ill with the disease.

This is the highest number of new cases since the agency began monitoring the disease in 1995. WHO says the sharp rise may be linked to “delays in treatment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

TB, an airborne disease, spreads when infected people cough, sneeze, or spit. It is present in all countries and age groups.

“Preventing TB infection and stopping progression from infection to disease are critical for reducing the incidence to the levels envisioned by the anti-TB strategy,” said Saskia Den Boon, technical officer, WHO Global TB Program.

“One of the key health care interventions to achieve this reduction is TB preventive treatment, which WHO recommends for people living with HIV, household contacts of people with TB and other risk groups.

“Strategies to provide preventive treatment are often linked to screening, to find and treat people earlier in the course of their disease and thus help to prevent transmission and improve outcomes,” she said.

In recent years, new tools developed and recommended by WHO are making TB screening more feasible. These include shorter preventive treatments of one or three months and a new antigen-based skin test for TB infection.

“For screening, WHO recommends the use of artificial intelligence or AI for the computer aided protection of tuberculosis abnormalities on chest x-ray among other tests,” said Den Boon.

WHO has released a modeling study that examines the costs and benefits of screening and preventive treatment in four countries — Brazil, Georgia, Kenya, and South Africa.

“The investment case studies showed that in all four countries, many TB episodes can be prevented, and lives saved by investing in TB screening,” Den Boon said.

“The modeling showed that relatively modest investments can achieve significant health and economic benefits in all four countries… From a societal perspective, the intervention package was cost-saving in all four countries. The return on investment varied between countries and was up to $39 gained for every dollar invested,” she said.

WHO scientists agree that early diagnosis is crucial to tackling, curing, and preventing the spread of tuberculosis. By the same token, they agree on the importance of developing new vaccines for prevention and eventual eradication.

Currently, only the BCG TB vaccine for children is available and it is 100 years old.

“Indeed, it is absolutely unacceptable that in the 21st century with a lot of innovations, we still do not have a new effective, TB vaccine,” said Kasaeva.

She said WHO’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus, launched a TB Vaccine Accelerator Council last year to bring attention to this problem and attract investments for research and development.

She said the U.N. high-level meeting is backing WHO’s initiative, adding, “This will make it possible to have new TB vaccines within the next five years.”

“We have more than 16 candidates in the pipeline, some of them in the later stages,” she said, “but we need more attention, more prioritization, more investments.”

Uganda Sees Bamboo as a Crop with Real Growth Potential

ALONG RIVER RWIZI, Uganda — Along a stretch of bush by a muddy river, laborers dug and slashed in search of bamboo plants buried under dense grass. Here and there a few plants had sprouted tall, but most of the bamboo seedlings planted more than a year ago never grew.

Now, environment protection officers seeking to restore a 3-kilometer stretch of the river’s degraded banks were aiming to plant new bamboo seedlings, clear room for last year’s survivors to grow and look after them better than they did the first time.

A successful bamboo forest by the river Rwizi — the most important in a large part of western Uganda that includes the major city of Mbarara — would create a buffer zone against sand miners, subsistence farmers and others whose activities have long threatened the river. The National Environment Management Authority estimates that the Rwizi has lost 60% of its water catchment area over the decades, and in some areas this winding river runs as narrow as a stream.

“Once bamboo is established, it is almost like a net,” said Jeconious Musingwire, an environment officer who was the project’s technical adviser. “The roots trap everything, including the surface runoff, and stabilize the weaknesses of the banks.”

Uganda is seeing growing interest in bamboo, a perennial plant cultivated in many parts of the world. It can be burned for fuel in rural communities, taking pressure off dwindling forest reserves of eucalyptus and other natural resources. It’s a hardy plant that can grow almost anywhere. And businesses can turn it into products ranging from furniture to toothpicks.

Some of the bamboo species grown in Uganda are imported from Asia, but many — like one whose shoots are smoked and then boiled to make a popular traditional meal in eastern Uganda — grow wild.

The Ugandan government has set a 10-year policy that calls for planting 300,000 hectares of bamboo, most of it on private land, by 2029 as part of wider reforestation efforts.

That’s an ambitious target. The Uganda Bamboo Association, the largest such group with 340 members, has planted only 500 hectares. Even with growing interest in bamboo farming, authorities will have to encourage more farmers in rural parts of Uganda to plant vast tracts of land with bamboo.

But signs are promising.

Not far from the scene where laborers were tending bamboo plants sits a large commercial farm that includes seven acres of bamboo. The plants at Kitara Farm were well-tended, and a stockpile of 10,000 bamboo poles sat waiting to be sold.

Caretaker Joseph Katumba said the property has become something of a demonstration farm for people who want to learn more about bamboo. He recalled that when they first began planting bamboo in 2017, some people asked why they were “wasting land” by planting bamboo when it grows wild in the bush.

Katumba said that’s changed, with skeptics now interested in planting bamboo “because they have studied it and they love it.” Unlike eucalyptus — a tall flowering plant widely planted here for its timber — “there is no bamboo season. The more you look after it well, weeding around it, the more and more years you will earn from bamboo.”

Bamboo grows faster than eucalyptus and regenerates like a weed. It also can thrive in poor soil. Kitara Farm stopped planting new eucalyptus lots while its bamboo acreage continues to expand, he said.

“We have so many eucalyptus forests. But we realized that once you cut the eucalyptus trees, eventually they get finished, and once they are finished there is no more money,” he said. “But with bamboo, we investigated and found out that when you plant it … the grandkids and their grandkids and their grandkids will earn from bamboo.”

A single bamboo pole brings a little less than a dollar, so farmers need to grow a lot to earn enough. Bamboo promoters are urging them to see a bamboo plantation as the same kind of cash crop as coffee or tea estates. Banks are offering bamboo “plantation capital” to clients, loans that promise ownership of substantial acres of bamboo.

“Each person should actually plant bamboo, and a lot of it,” said Taga Nuwagaba, a bamboo farmer and businessman who owns a bamboo furniture factory near the Ugandan capital of Kampala. He touts the plant as a a renewable resource that sequesters carbon, too.

“You cut one, five will grow,” he said.

Bamboo plants are normally ready for harvesting in three to five years, and a well-maintained plantation can be useful for at least 50 years, said Jacob Ogola, an agronomist who is working as a consultant at Kitara Farm. He said bamboo is easy to manage, and typically doesn’t need spraying for pests.

Bamboo seedlings are now more widely available via private nursery beds.

Steve Tusiime, a self-described bamboo collector, owns one such nursery in Mbarara. Tusiime said he’s been fascinated by the plant since seeing one as a boy. Before he got into growing, he recalls traveling to a farm in central Uganda to “hug” bamboo plants, and in 2018 spending his own money to attend a bamboo convention in China, where he got his first bamboo seeds.

Standing on another stretch of land by the river Rwizi where he and his partners have created a bamboo park in a recreation resort still to be commissioned, he waxed lyrical about how bamboo “energizes” him.

“Each bamboo you see here has a story. It has where it comes from and it has different use and it has a different name,” he said. “When you come here the story is bamboo. You learn about different species, different uses. You see different features of bamboo.”

Still, Uganda’s bamboo plantations aren’t growing fast enough to build an industry around the plant. Tusiime’s nursery has sold fewer than 10,000 seedlings in the past two years, confounding his own assessment of bamboo as an important cash crop which also happens to benefit the environment.

“Bamboo can be a future tree for Uganda or for even Africa. For example, you’ve heard people talking about charcoal and firewood and this and that. Bamboo is a better solution,” he said. “You can produce the briquette, you can use it directly as firewood. Bamboo is going to be a game changer in Africa. You can eat bamboo, you can use it to build, you can create an industry for bamboo, you can feed it to your animals, and it can take care of your land.”

India’s Millions of Dairy Farms Creating Tricky Methane Problem

BENGALURU, India — Abinaya Tamilarasu said her four cows are part of the family. She has a degree in commerce from a local college, but prefers being home milking cows and tending to her family’s land.

“Our family cannot let farming go, it’s a way of life for us,” said the 28-year-old, who lives on her family farm in India’s southern Tamil Nadu state. Even when she could be making more money elsewhere, she said she’s “still happy we have our cows.”

India is the world’s largest milk producer, and is home to 80 million dairy farmers who made 231 million tons of milk last year. Many farmers, like Tamilarasu, only have a few cows, but the industry as a whole has 303 million bovine cattle like cows and buffalo, making it the largest contributor to planet-warming methane emissions in the country. The federal government has made some positive steps to reduce methane, but wants to focus emissions cuts elsewhere, like by moving to renewable energy, saying most methane emissions are a fact of life. But experts say the industry can and should make more reductions that can quickly limit warming.

India is the third-largest emitter of methane in the world, according to figures published earlier this month by the International Energy Agency, and livestock are responsible for about 48% of all methane emissions in India, the vast majority from cattle. Methane is a potent planet-warming gas that can trap more than 80 times more heat in the atmosphere in the short term than carbon dioxide.

The Indian government has not joined any global pledges to cut methane emissions, which many see as low-hanging fruit for climate solutions, as methane emissions only last in the atmosphere for about a dozen years, compared to CO2 that can linger for a couple of hundred years.

But there’s some work on methane reduction in agriculture on the national level: The government’s National Dairy Development Board, which works with more than 17 million farmers across the country, is looking into genetic improvement programs to provide more nutritious feed to livestock which would make cows more productive, meaning each farmer would need fewer cows to produce the same amount of milk. Studies by the NDDB show that emissions are reduced by as much as 15% when a balanced diet is provided to the animals.

The board is also looking into reducing crop burning, a high-emitting practice that some farmers use to clear their lands, by feeding those crops to cows.

“Climate-smart dairying is the need of the hour,” said Meenesh Shah, the board’s chairman.

Vineet Kumar, from the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment, agreed that good quality feed can help lower emissions. He also said encouraging more local breeds that emit less can help. “These solutions can be a win-win for everyone,” he said.

But Thanammal Ravichandran, a veterinarian based in the southern Indian city of Coimbatore, noted that there’s currently a shortage of feed in India, so farmers give their cattle whatever they can, which is mostly lower quality and higher emitting.

“Farmers are also not able to invest in better quality feed for their cattle,” she said. To get better, and more affordable feed, dairy farmers need more government support, she said.

Whatever measures are taken to reduce methane emissions, experts note that it should have minimal impact on farmers’ livelihoods, and should account for the ways people raise their livestock.

“Livestock have been closely integrated within the Indian farming system,” said Kumar, meaning any drastic changes to farming methods would have severe effects on farmers. He added that efforts to reduce emissions shouldn’t reduce the use of cow manure as fertilizer on India’s farms, as chemical fertilizers emit nitrous oxide, an even more potent greenhouse gas.

But looking at India’s methane emissions as a whole could provide some more obvious solutions to slashing the gas, said Bandish Patel, an energy analyst at the climate thinktank Ember. Focusing on the energy sector is an easy win for targeted reduction of methane emissions, he said.

“You look at agriculture, those emissions are very dispersed in nature, whereas, with oil, gas and coal mining, there are very pointed sources from which you can basically reduce methane going forward,” he said.

Shah from the NDDB added that India’s high agricultural emissions must be considered in the context of the country being home to the world’s largest cattle population, the largest producer of milk, and the largest rice exporter, as rice production also produces significant methane emissions.

“In this light, India’s agriculture sector emissions must be considered significantly low,” Shah said. Because of its large population, India’s per capita emissions are well below average.

For dairy farmers like Tamilarasu, better welfare for her cows and programs for farmers to have better practices are welcome, but she won’t be leaving her cows for the climate any time soon. She plans to continue dairy farming for the foreseeable future.

“The way we see it, our cows and us support each other. If we can make their lives better, they will make ours better too,” she said.