ICRISAT’s World Vegetable Centre helping farmers in crop diversification
The per capita vegetable consumption in India significantly lags behind the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) recommended daily intake. According to World Vegetable Centre, while the FAO suggests a daily consumption of 200 grams of vegetables, the current average stands at a mere 86 grams. To improve the nutrition of families in rural areas, it is imperative to amplify vegetable cultivation while also fostering its seamless integration into the prevailing cereal-focused agricultural systems (rice, wheat, barley, millets, and ragi) of the region.
Addressing the issue becomes even more crucial due to the burgeoning demand for food resources among the urban poor dwelling in mega cities. Striving to meet this demand, the South Asia team of the World Vegetable Centre at ICRISAT Hyderabad, established in 2006, is playing a pivotal role. The centre is helping farmers from Telangana and across India in diversifying their crop production.
The centre actively promotes home gardening and urban/semi-urban vegetable cultivation and marketing, aiming at fostering income generation, nutritional security, diet diversification, and overall health improvement. The centre emphasises the implementation of sound agricultural practices, ensuring safe vegetable production under controlled conditions.
Celebrating its 50th anniversary since its inauguration in Taiwan, the World Vegetable Centre remains committed to its mission. While the potential for vegetable cultivation is universal, the key lies in the dissemination of targeted information to optimise yields. “Despite the popularity of vegetarian diets, the challenge remains in maintaining a well-balanced nutritional intake. Even with considerable vegetable consumption, malnutrition persists, extending to urban areas as well,” said Jacqueline Hughes, Director General of ICRISAT.
At present, the advantages of improved tomato and chilli pepper yields, attributed to genetic material from WorldVeg, benefit around five lakh Indian farmers. This progress contrasts with the limited availability of support, consisting of 114 research institutes and 74 agricultural universities in India catering to farmer inquiries. Astonishingly, India’s annual tomato production reaches a staggering 21 million tonnes, yet the country imports tomato puree. This inconsistency prompted WorldVeg Board Member A.K. Singh to call for increased crop diversification. He highlighted that a mere nine vegetable crops contribute to nearly 90% of the nation’s total production. In contrast, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) focuses its research on a pool of 210 crops, of which only 26 are vegetables.
ICRISAT invited farmers to the centre and made them aware of various techniques like grafting, staking and how to put these to use for better production, said the Regional Director Ramakrishnan M. Nair. “Now we are also looking at collaborating with the government of Telangana on a pilot basis on how we can start home gardens in gated communities located in Hyderabad,” he said.
Farmers hailing from Mahabubnagar, Nagarkurnool, and Sangareddy were offered first-hand experience of home gardens established within the ICRISAT campus. The initiative educated them about mulching sheets, a practice that enhances crop longevity. Research Assistant Ravi Kumar, with three years of association with WorldVeg, plays a vital role in bridging the gap between farmers and knowledge resources. An organic farming practitioner from Nagarkurnool district affirmed his commitment to sustainable farming practices across his 14 acres of land.
Speaking on the recent tomato price surge, an official from the centre said that while it is common for prices of vegetables to go up and down, farmers should grow certain crops during off-season so that they get better prices when there is scarcity of the vegetable.