Dr T V Venkateswaran and Jyoti Singh
New Delhi: Round-the-year availability of vegetables like okra (bhindi) and green peas are not only adding to the choice of consumers but also to incomes of vegetable farmers. Behind this development are efforts of Indian scientists who are developing new varieties of common vegetables, making them tasty as well was sturdy.
Vegetables are an integral part of Indian diets and essential for ensuring food and nutrition security of people. The Varanasi-based Indian Institute of Vegetable Research (IIVR), under Indian Council of Agricultural Research, is exclusively devoted to research on vegetables with focus on improving their quality and productivity.
“Your favourite bhindi masala or bhindi fry is on your dinner plate, its thanks, IIVR”, says Dr Bijendra Singh, Director of the Institute. Almost all of okra grown in India is based on the parent variety developed by the institute.
Earlier farmers used to grow low yielding and hard to harvest varieties of the popular vegetable. The traditional varieties grew very tall but had very few pods. Farmers had to pluck the vegetable frequently. When they waded through fields, small hairy thorns of the plant caused irritation and itching all over their body. The plants were also susceptible to Yellow Mosaic virus, a deadly infection.
Scientists at IIVR developed a new variety, which has found favour with farmers. Today farmers all across India grow hybrids made from this parent variety. “Our okra variety Kashi Pragati has till now earned a revenue of Rs 816 crore and has generated employment for about eight crore people, mostly unskilled and landless,” Dr Singh noted in an interview.
The new variety is bushy and shorter. This makes it easy to harvest the pods. The nodes where flowers and pods emerge have also multiplied. The total number of leaves, and length of the stem have reduced and biomass that got saved in the process has been diverted to production of more number of flowers. All of this results in higher yield per crop. The Institute has also made the plant resistant to Yellow Mosaic Virus using plant breeding techniques.
The story is similar with green pea or mutter. Till the Institute stepped in, harvests of crop planted at the beginning of winter were generally sweet, but those planted after January suffered from powdery mildew disease. They were also not as tasty and the yields were low. The new two varieties of peas called Kashi Uday and Kashi Nandini developed at IIVR are heat-tolerant, have higher yield and are resistant to powdery mildew disease. “Ninety percent of green peas grown in India today are those developed by this institute,” says Dr Singh.
As per Dr Singh, the work is in progress on pumpkin, carrot and moringa (drumstick), which are celebrated as important vegetables by FAO as they are rich in vitamins and other nutrients.