Taste of Life: Dealing with “tikka” by introducing exotic varieties of groundnuts

Coincident with the introduction of the exotics and the disappearance of tikka, the exports of groundnuts from Bombay began to increase. In just ten years, they rose to 48,800 tonnes. The recovery was almost as phenomenal as the decline previous to 1902
It was soon evident that the crop was suffering very severely from a disease, locally known as “tikka,” which was determined to be due to the fungus Septogloeum arachidis. (REPRESENTATIVE PHOTO)
It was soon evident that the crop was suffering very severely from a disease, locally known as “tikka,” which was determined to be due to the fungus Septogloeum arachidis. (REPRESENTATIVE PHOTO)
Published on Nov 25, 2021 04:19 PM IST
Copy Link
ByChinmay Damle

The decline in the export of groundnut seed from the port of Bombay flummoxed the Bombay Chamber of Commerce and the Agricultural Department in 1900. The largest export was in 1894-95 when 78,488 tonnes of groundnuts were shipped. In 1902-03, the amount had fallen to 2,890 tonnes, and this once important trade had practically ceased to exist.

The trade figures collected from Poona in 1900 showed a rapid decline in the surplus available for export, and a district inquiry indicated that the crop had ceased to be profitable and that the area sown was rapidly contracting.

The Chamber attributed it to a degeneration of the locally-grown seed. But there was no valid evidence then of any degeneration in the quality of the Indian stock. The plant was a native of South America and had been introduced into India in the 16th century. A number of races developed in India in the course of time, and what was commonly referred to as the “indigenous variety” in India was actually of Brazilian origin.

Analyses of the seed made in 1838 and 1904 did not show any appreciable difference in the oil content and no evidence whatever was obtainable to show that the indigenous races had deteriorated as regards quality. But there appeared to be no doubt that the yield per acre had fallen off considerably.

Sir W Thiselton-Dyer, director of the Royal Gardens, Kew, sent a representative to Poona and a few sites in the Madras Presidency and opined that the “degeneration of the seed” was a facile theory which was continually advanced when the production of a crop was disappointing. According to him, the real explanation of the falling off was to be found in the exhaustion of some constituent of the soil.

A succession of unfavourable seasons had no doubt helped to increase the unpopularity of the crop, but this reason was insufficient by itself to explain the prolonged period of depression which was experienced not only in Bombay and Poona but in the much larger trade of Madras and Pondicherry.

It was soon evident that the crop was suffering very severely from a disease, locally known as “tikka,” which was determined to be due to the fungus Septogloeum arachidis.

Septogloeum arachidis was first described in 1898 when it was discovered attacking the immense fields of groundnuts grown in Java. These fields were often entirely wiped out by the disease. A similar attack of the disease had happened in Germany, East Africa and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

The disease had now made its presence known in the Bombay Presidency. It struck when the plants were from one to two months old. The lower leaves were the first to be attacked; dark spots, surrounded by a bright yellow ring, came out in large numbers on the green leaves; a few also occurred on the petioles and stem.

The leaf slowly lost its green colour and fell to the ground. After the disease had been in progress for a week or two, affected plants could be recognised by the litter of fallen leaves around their base.

Naturally, when the attack began early, the plant was unable to mature its nuts. Those that had begun to form as the attack reached its height, ceased development, and at harvest were found shrivelled and loose in the shell.

To combat the disease, experiments were carried out at the Kirkee farm owned by the Agricultural Department. Steeping the seed with various fungicides did not prove successful in checking the disease. The fungus was not found on any other plant than groundnut.

In those cases where the disease had appeared in localities where the crop was previously unknown, it was probable that it was introduced with the soil adhering to the shell, and not with the seed themselves. It was found that the subsequent spread was largely affected by the wind.

The Bombay Chamber of Commerce then advocated the expediency of importing a new and better quality, such as was reported to be grown in Mozambique and Senegambia, in the hope of obtaining kinds which would yield well, even in the presence of the disease.

The first importation was in 1901 when one tonne of Pondicherry seed was obtained from Madras and distributed in Poona and Satara districts. The Pondicherry variety was of Mozambique origin, introduced into Madras, via Mauritius. The same year small quantities of “Spanish peanut” and “Virginia” varieties were obtained from the USA and of “Small” and “Large” Japanese from Japan. These were grown on the Kirkee and Surat farms.

The next year, the seed of all these kinds was distributed in the same districts as the previous year. Tikka appeared in August, the variety first attacked at Kirkee being Spanish peanut and at Manjari the “Small” Japanese. At Surat, tikka did not affect the yield where the Pondicherry variety was grown. This established the importance of varieties that matured their nuts early. It was then decided that the Pondicherry variety would be given preference, since though similarly affected by tikka, the damage done was much less, as the nuts were formed by the time the crop was attacked.

The experiments continued for the next four years, and every year thousands of tonnes of exotic seeds were introduced in the districts of Maharashtra. As a result of this work, the exotic varieties, especially the Pondicherry variety took permanent hold in almost all the districts of the state. In the Poona district, the indigenous were preferred to the exotics in the local market, being almost entirely grown for eating raw.

The crop soon spread from Madras to Gujarat, and gradually to a wide swath of states all the way down to the southwest of India. The variety, subsequently named Coromandel, has since dominated the production of groundnuts all over India.

By 1912 no specimens of tikka disease from Bombay and Poona were received in the Mycological Laboratory at Pusa.

Coincident with the introduction of the exotics and the disappearance of tikka, the exports of groundnuts from Bombay began to increase. In just ten years, they rose to 48,800 tonnes. The recovery was almost as phenomenal as the decline previous to 1902.

The experiment made scientists in Poona and elsewhere realise that a field crop was not in any sense a unit; that it consisted of a complex of races responding differently to the environment (in which must be included disease)and that the composition of the complex might be profoundly modified, especially if crossing occurred, by the introduction of new kinds, or by the growth of a variety in a new environment; and that there was no means of knowing whether the disease might not, in itself, had brought about the establishment of a crop resistant to its effects, by killing out those constituents of the varietal mixture which were most susceptible to its attack.

The case is one of considerable interest, as being one of the few recorded in which a serious crop disease was checked by the introduction and acclimatisation of exotic varieties.

Chinmay Damle is a research scientist and food historian. He writes here on Pune’s food culture. He can be contacted on chinmay.damle@gmail.com

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close Story
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP
×
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Thursday, December 09, 2021