Mumbai : The Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) has developed 41 new crop varieties under its Nuclear Agriculture programme, a top official said on Tuesday.
These include 15 varieties of groundnut, eight of mungbean (greengram), five of udad (blackgram), four of tur (pigeonpea), three of mustard, two of soyabean and one each of sunflower, chavali (cowpea), rice and jute.
“If the country has to be food self-reliant, it is imperative to embrace nuclear agriculture technology, particularly with agriculture land getting scarcer and food demand growing exponentially,” said scientist Suresh G. Bhagwat, head of BARC’s Nuclear Agriculture and Biotechnology Division.
India needs to boost food production and ensure its safety and fair distribution to its increasing population. “Not many are aware that nuclear radiation-based technologies can contribute to this effort very significantly,” Bhagwat said, speaking at the Knowledge Series, organised by Public Relations Council of India and Mumbai Press Club here.
A major benefit of radiation effect on plants is enhancement of genetic variability, which can be harnessed to develop new crop varieties, including cereals, pulses and oilseeds with desirable characteris like increased yield, early maturity, salinity or water stress tolerance and disease resistance.
Till date, the 41 crop varieties development at BARC in collaboration with some agriculture universities in different states have been approved by the central government for commercial cultivation.
Bhagwat said BARC had also developed several protocols for micro-propagation of elite varieities of banana. Chief of BARC’s Food Technology Division Arun K. Sharma said the key to sustainability lies in ensuring proper food preservation and safety, for which reduction in post-harvest losses is of utmost importance.
“Radiation processing of agricultural produce offers a major technology alternative to chemical fumigants for this purpose,” Sharma said.
“Treatment with gamma radiation or electron beam enables dis-infestation of insect pests in stored products, delay in ripening of fresh fruit, inhibition of sprouting in tubers and bulbs like potatoes and onions, destruction of food spoilage bacteria and elimination of parasites and pathogens in food,” Sharma said.
Since India is the world’s second largest producer of fruits and vegetables, the immense potential of radiaton processing for export needs to exploited for which BARC has developed irradiation protocols for several food products.
“Very encouraging signs are increased public acceptance of food irradiation and interest of private entrepreneurs in setting up radiation processing plants,” Sharma said.