Although agricultural research institutions supported by the government have significantly contributed to increasing cereals production, development of new varieties of pulses and oilseeds has been lagging, leading to increasing dependence on import as consumption grows. Trilochan Mohapatra, director general, Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), spoke to FE’s Sandip Das on issues related to research initiatives being undertaken for augmenting the output of pulses and oilseeds.
Public-sector research institutions have developed various varieties of rice and wheat leading to increase in production, while in case of pulses and oilseeds, R&D efforts don’t seem to have kept pace with the demand for these items?
ICAR-affiliated research bodies have contributed significantly to enhancing production of cereals. Besides, there has been huge increase in production of milk, horticultural crops and poultry products. We have increased cereals production by five times. In that sense, policy makers, research institutions and farmers have contributed to these kind of situations. In terms of food security and nutritional securities, we have improved significantly.
I do agree that in terms of pulses and oilseeds, we have not able to meet the requirement of the country. We have huge imports of these two commodities. Annually, we are importing at least 4-5 million tonne (MT) of pulses and 10-12 MT of oilseeds. This is an area of concern.
What are the areas of research on pulses’ varietal development?
In terms of technologies, we need shorter duration arhar and moong. Trials are being conducted at present. May be in two years, we will be in a position to have varieties less than 60 day for moong and 120 days for arhar. After the harvesting of rice and wheat in northern regions, 10 million hectare is available to us to fit in moong bean. The increase in areas of moong will lead to higher production of pulses. However, availability of time following harvesting of wheat and rice in Indo-Gangetic plains is the key. The new variety of seed has to be less than two months duration. We do not have 50-55-day moong varieties. It is in the pipeline. In this rice-wheat system of northern regions, there is a lot of carbon depletion in the soil. If we have shorter duration moong bean, it will improve soil fertility as pulses fixes nitrogen in the soil.
What are the areas of research for increasing pulses production in other parts of the country?
We need to promote production of arhar in the kharif season. Here also we need shorter duration varieties, say 125 days or fourth month duration against the existing 160-day varieties. But, more serious is the problem of pest attack. The genetic modification approach is desirable in this particular case. The gene – bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) – has been found to be effective in case of Bt cotton. It is also found to be effective in dealing with port polour pest in pulses. We have several lines in the pipeline. We need confined field taste, bio-safety evaluation on this. Though there are promising events, they need to be taken forward. The genetically modified arhar and chana is desirable.
What are areas of research in developing high yielding varieties of oilseeds?
In terms of productivity in mustard, there is a huge gap between what we realize in research farm and at the fields. Oilseeds productivity at our field for mustard is around 3-3.5 tonne per hectare while in farmers’ field in Rajasthan, the yield is around 1.5 tonne. In terms of area expansion, there are issues relating to water logging, seeds availability, irrigation and pests attacks.
We need to promote short-term mustard in rice fallows of eastern regions. We have not been able to address low productivity issues in groundnut, soybean and mustard. We need to do more on-promoting cultivation of oil palm.