Nuclear agriculture programme develops 41 new crop varieties

The crops include 15 varieties of groundnut, eight of greengram, five of blackgram, four of pigeonpea, three of mustard, two of soyabean and one each of sunflower, cowpea, rice and jute. (Image source: R E B E L/Flickr)

India’s Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) has developed 41 new crop varieties under its nuclear agriculture programme

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.

BARC’s Nuclear Agriculture and Biotechnology Division head Suresh Bhagwat said, “If India 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.

“Not many are aware that nuclear radiation-based technologies can contribute to this effort very significantly.”

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 various states have been approved by the Indian central government for commercial cultivation.

Bhagwat said BARC had also developed several protocols for micro-propagation of elite varieties of banana.

Chief of BARC’s Food Technology Division Arun Sharma said the key to sustainability was in ensuring proper food preservation and safety, for which reduction in post-harvest losses was of utmost importance.

Sharma said, “Radiation processing of agricultural produce offers a major technology alternative to chemical fumigants for this purpose.

“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.”