Photo: PIB
Photo: PIB

Asafoetida or heeng cultivation in India might become a reality soon. Farmers in Himachal Pradesh's Lahaul Valley recently sowed their first seeds as part of an initiative taken up by the CSIR constituent laboratory, Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology (IHBT) in Palampur. This will help utilize the vast expanses of waste land in the cold desert conditions of the region.

What is asafoetida?

It is the dried latex that is exuded from the the roots of several plant species belonging to the Ferula genus. Asafoetida, otherwise known as heeng, is a frequently used spice and is a high-value spice crop. Used along with turmeric, it is a common ingredient in many curries. However, asafoetida is not commonly used in all cuisines, and is even used as an insecticide in some parts of the world.

Where does it grow? How does India get it?

India imports about 1,200 tonnes of raw asafoetida annually from Afghanistan, Iran and Uzbekistan and spends approximately USD 100 million per year for it.

How will India venture into heeng cultivation?

Lack of planting material of Ferula assafoetida plants in India was a major bottleneck in cultivation of this crop. The first seedling of asafoetida was planted by Dr. Sanjay Kumar, Director, CSIR-IHBT on 15th October, 2020 at farmer’s field in village Kwaring of Lahaul valley to mark initiation of cultivation of asafoetida in India. The Palampur-based IHBT had brought in the asafoetida seeds and developed its agro-technology.

What were the challenges they had to overcome?

Heeng does not grow naturally in India. As such, the institute introduced six accessions of seeds from Iran through the ICAR-National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (ICAR-NBPGR) in October 2018. ICAR-NBPGR confirmed that in the past 30 years, this has been the first attempt for introduction of asafoetida (Ferula assa-foetida) seeds in the country.

The seeds were quarantined, studied and then subjected to several tests. While this process took several months, the main challenge that had to be overcome was the low and slow germination rate. The seeds were subjected to special chemical treatments, and eventually germinated under a controlled laboratory set-up.

When can we see the results of this attempt?

The plant prefers cold and dry conditions for its growth and takes approximately five years for the production of oleo-gum resin in its roots. The cold desert areas of the Indian Himalayan region are suitable for its cultivation.

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