Indian scientists developing drought-resistant groundnut

July 3rd, 2008 - 12:16 pm ICT by IANS  

By Rajeev Ranjan Roy
New Delhi, July 3 (IANS) Indian farmers will soon get access to a new variety of groundnut that is drought-resistant and can be cultivated even in areas where water is scarce. “Genetic mapping has discovered certain genes in groundnut that are drought- resistant. The testing of seeds of this variety is at an advanced stage,” Rajeev K. Varshney, a senior scientist at Hyderabad’s International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), said.

“The new seed can grow even in drought-prone areas and will produce higher yields. In Asia and Africa, where water shortage is a major issue, the new seed will be a boon for farmers,” Varshney, whose specialisation is applied genomics, told IANS.

A majority of Indian farmers are dependent on the monsoon for their requirement of water. However, rainfall is not uniform in the country.

In 2006, for instance, of the 533 meteorological districts, 112 received excess rain, while the situation was normal in 193 districts.

Rainfall was deficient in 195 districts, while 17 districts received only scanty rain.

Varshney, who was in the national capital to attend a seminar of the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS), said ICRISAT was also developing improved seeds for chic-pea, pigeon-pea, pearl millet, and sorghum.

“There is need to develop improved seeds for several crops by making them drought- resistant. India has vast stretches of land that are semi-arid or drought-prone. The new seeds will help a lot in these areas,” he said.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has sponsored the research on the new groundnut variety. Scientists from Brazil’s Catholic University, the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, and the University of Georgia are also engaged in the project.

According to ICRISAT, groundnut is the 13th most important food crop of the world, the fourth most important source of edible oil and the third most important source of vegetable protein.

It is grown on 26.4 million hectares worldwide in nearly 100 countries with the main producers being China, India, Nigeria, the US, Indonesia and Sudan.

An official estimate says that India produced 4.09 million tonnes of groundnut in 2006-07 against 5.94 million tonnes in 2005-06.

According to ICRISAT, groundnut in India is grown on 5.7 million hectares of land with an average productivity of 0.8 tonnes per hectare.

Enhanced productivity would translate into greater foreign exchange for India, which exports groundnuts to over 60 countries worldwide, with Malaysia being one of the key importers.

Data with the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) shows that India exported 251,428 tonnes of groundnut in 2006-07 against 177,154 tonnes in 2004-05.

“Groundnut has a huge world market. If we enhance productivity, our exchequer will earn more foreign exchange. For this, we need to increase the area under groundnut cultivation. This will be made possible through seeds that are drought-resistant,” Varshney pointed out.

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