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Switch to heat-tolerant potato to save crop, say scientists

With the mercury level steadily rising across the country, potato growers need to switch to new varieties of heat-tolerant seeds for saving their crops, agriculture scientists have suggested.

kolkata Updated: Aug 20, 2010 12:34 IST
Snigdhendu Bhattacharya
Snigdhendu Bhattacharya
Hindustan Times

With the mercury level steadily rising across the country, potato growers need to switch to new varieties of heat-tolerant seeds for saving their crops, agriculture scientists have suggested.

“The way the temperature level is increasing, potato growers would get less time to mature their crops. They need to switch to either heat-tolerant varieties of seeds or to seeds that mature early,” Bir Pal Singh, director of Central Potato Research Institute, told HT.

The research unit has already developed some such varieties and is working on to develop few more varieties that would be able to combat the changed weather pattern being observed for last few years.

The first heat-tolerant variety the research unit produced is named Kufri Surya, which is being tested at different areas including Hariyana, Uttar Pradesh, Punjub and West Bengal.

“The new breed has shown good results,” said Singh.

He explained that the changing pattern of climate would not give crop the needed time to grow and it would lead towards premature production, resulting in losses. Hence the peasants need to grow such varieties, which would either be able to combat the heat wave or mature early.

“While the traditional varieties such as Jyoti and Chandramukhi it takes about 80 days to mature, it would come down to 70-75 days as the temperature rises. This has every possibility of ruining the crops,” Singh told HT.

India at present produces 23.91 million tons of potato on 14,00,000 hectare land and stands third in global potato production. Peasants in Bengal, which is second in the country in production quantity, suffered havoc in two back-to-back years (2008 and 2009), once because of overproduction and the other time because of underproduction.

“Climate change has wreaked havoc in potato production in the state. We are planning to bring some heat-tolerant variety of seeds from the CPRI,” Bengal agriculture minister Naren De told HT.

Dipankar Dasgupta, retired professor at the Indian Statistical Institute, said that the per capita food grain production in the country has fallen at 1.7 per cent on average and global worming was one of the reasons responsible for that. “Global worming affected farming mostly in last two years and it is likely to have a very serious impact on agrarian production in the country in the coming years,” Dasgupta said.

However, this phenomenon is observed not only in India but also in other potato growing countries in South Asia. This trend led the International Potato Centre, a Peru-based institute, too, to stress more on developing heat-tolerant variations that would suit the gradually increasing mercury level in the South Asian countries.

Weather experts had earlier said that the increased average temperature should be observed as “new normals” and that there is hardly any possibility of drop in the mercury level. Climate expert Amit Dhorde recently pointed out that the country is observing warming rate of .6 degree centigrade (1 degree Fahrenheit) per century and most of it is attributed to the heat trend in last decade.

Agriculture scientists are also stressing on developing draught-tolerant potato varieties, as rain deficiency is becoming almost regular in some parts of the country, especially Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal.

“In 2008 the heat wave had badly damaged our crops. Besides deficient rainfall, the temperature remained at a much higher level for unusually long time and the crop seemed to be unable to survive the scorching sun,” Achyut Mondal, a peasant of Punduah in Hooghly district, said.

However, he said that they have no access to the newly developed heat-tolerant potato variations.

“The way the climate is changing, we need to change the crop pattern too. Production would suffer unless new varieties of seeds are used that can combat this changing features of climate,” said Singh.

First Published: Aug 20, 2010 12:32 IST