11) ICRISAT pigeonpea climbs the mountains of Uttarakhand

Pigeonpea (red gram, tuvar dal, arhar dal) varieties developed by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) are becoming popular over the hill slopes of Uttarakhand in North India, and providing an opportunity to the farmers to improve pulse production in the state.

The program is being implemented by ICRISAT in collaboration with Vivekananda Parvathiya Krishi Anusandhan Sansthan (VPKAS), Almora, and the Uttarakhand Department of Agriculture, Dehradun.

The annual demand for pulses in Uttarakhand is 0.3 million tons, but the present production is only 0.06 million tons, leading to a huge protein deficit among the poor of this state.

According to Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, the successful effort of promoting the cultivation of pigeonpea in new niches such as Uttarakhand has once again highlighted the importance of the Institute’s research in improving the agricultural productivity and farmers’ incomes in tough terrains, where a large proportion of rich top soil has been washed away with heavy annual rains.

Dr KB Saxena, ICRISAT’s Principal Pigeonpea Breeder and leader of the project, explained that the inspiration for promoting pigeonpea in Uttarakhand came from ICRISAT’s success in spreading the cultivation of pigeonpea in the sloping hills of southern China. In Uttarakhand, the first success was registered when the experiments conducted by the VPKAS rigorously tested ICRISAT’s short-duration pigeonpea ICPL 88039 in the hills, after which ICPL 88039 was released in 2007 under the popular name “VL Arhar 1”. Dr Vinay Mahajan, Principal Scientist at VPKAS, believes that VL Arhar 1 will suit cropping systems of the hills and farmers will have a good choice for protein-rich food.

To undertake the promotion of this pigeonpea a special project was initiated in 2006. The first testing program was launched in the 2007 rainy season. A total of 375 on-farm demonstrations were conducted in 13 districts and 67,400 kg of seed was harvested from 112 ha. with mean productivity of 600 kg per hectare. In 2007-08 a total of 1183 farmers of 408 villages cultivated VL Arhar 1. Most farmers felt happy because they harvested encouraging yields and made good profits in the very first trial.

The most interesting observation was that elevations up to and above 2200 m also recorded high yields. Amazingly, most pigeonpea areas in Uttarakhand are waste and rocky lands where no food crop could be grown earlier. It can also be grown as an intercrop with mango and litchi. The crop sown between 15 May to 10 June produced good yields and also allowed farmers to plant a second crop in the same land.

With the farmers being satisfied with pigeonpea cultivation the total area in 2008 has increased 15-fold, from 112 ha to more than 2000 ha. Pigeonpea is a profitable crop with high yields and little inputs. However, the production constraints at different altitudes and important issues like seed availability, value addition and marketing need to be studied and addressed. Also elaborate programs have been made for large-scale quality seed production, training, and monitoring.

For more information, contact Dr KB Saxena at .

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