BARC helps develop 41 varieties of different crops

Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC), a pioneer in nuclear research in the country, has helped to develop 41 varieties of crops under its nuclear agriculture programme, the head of Nuclear Agriculture & Biotechnology Division of BARC, Dr Suresh G Bhagwat, said.

These include 15 varieties of groundnut, 3 of mustard, 2 varieties of soybean, one sunflower variety, eight varieties of mung bean (greengram), 4 tur varieties (pigenopea), 5 varieties of urad bean (blackgram), one variety of chavali (cowpea), one rice variety and a new variety of jute, Bhagwat said.

He was speaking at a press club knowledge series event, organised by BARC and in association with Public Relations Council of India (PRCI).

''If the country has to be food self-reliant then it is imperative to embrace nuclear agriculture technology, especially when agriculture land is getting scarcer and demand for food is growing exponentially. India needs to boost its food production as well as ensure its safety and fair distribution to its increasing population. Not many will be aware that nuclear radiation based technologies can contribute to this effort very significantly,'' Dr Bhagwat said.

Radiation enhances the genetic variability of plants, which can be harnessed for developing new varieties of crops like cereals, pulses and oilseeds with desirable characters such as increased yield, disease resistance, early maturity, salinity or water stress tolerance etc, he added.

To-date 41 varieties of different crops developed by Nuclear Agriculture and Biotechnology Division, BARC at Trombay, in collaboration with some of the agricultural universities in different states, have been notified by the ministry of agriculture for commercial cultivation by farmers in different states, he said.

BARC has also developed several protocols for micro propagation of elite varieties of banana.

These achievements have been possible because of both - basic research inputs as well as strong linkages with agriculture universities and other major stakeholders, he added.

Presenting a study on post-harvest technology under nuclear science, Dr Arun K Sharma, head, food technology division, BARC, said: ''Much as we may produce, the key to sustainability lies in ensuring proper preservation and safety of food. For this purpose, 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.

Treatment with gamma radiation or electron beam enables disinfestation 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.''

In addition, he added, ''Dis-infestation of quarantine pests in fresh produce provides a major boost to international trade and promotes export. Considering that India is the world's second largest producer of fruit and vegetables, the immense potential of radiation processing for export needs to be realised and well utilised.

BARC, he said, has taken a lead in the development of irradiation protocols for several food products and have a unique R&D presence. Very encouraging signs are increased public acceptance of food irradiation and interest of private entrepreneurs in setting up radiation processing plants.''