Uzbek delegation explores climate-resilient crop options for arid, degraded ecologies and avenues for academic exchange
A delegation from Uzbekistan visited ICRISAT headquarters in India in search of a short-duration second crop suited to arid ecologies that mature before winter. The visit aligns with the Government of Uzbekistan’s efforts to increase agricultural production through double cropping. The visitors were briefed on dryland crop options and expressed interest in academic exchanges and internships based on the Institute’s expertise in genomic technologies and dryland agri-food systems.
The arid climate of Uzbekistan, with variances in temperatures that exceed 40-45 °C and low humidity, to sub-zero conditions, call for crops that are tolerant to heat, cold and drought, said Dr Zabardast Buriev, Director General, Center for Genomics and Bioinformatics, Tashkent. He spoke of climate change and its impact in terms of changing weather patterns, rising temperatures, lower precipitation levels and increased soil salinity in the regions around the Aral Sea.
Addressing the visitors, Dr Rajeev K Varshney, Research Program Director – Accelerated Crop Improvement, ICRISAT, mentioned the cultural links between the countries and said that the crop requirements of the country made it a ‘natural’ partner. He spoke of the multi-faceted expertise available that the group could tap into from state-of-the-art genomic facilities to developing seed systems amongst others. He said that genomic services can be availed for other crops as well that suit the agro-ecology of Uzbekistan and that advanced training courses are available for scientists and research students. Mr Akmal Nuriddinov, Representative of the Ministry of Innovation and Development, Uzbekistan, spoke of ties with ICRISAT in terms of internship opportunities and academic exchanges.
Previous association with Uzbekistan
Dr SK Gupta, Principal Scientist, and Head of the Pearl Millet Breeding Research Program, spoke of previous partnerships in developing salinity-tolerant pearl millet mainly for forage. He said that in the past, germplasm was shared extensively and a new variety Hashaki 1 was released in the country in partnership with the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA).
Dr Venkatesh Kulkarni, General Director, Nath Bio-Genes, Central Asia, said the group was interested in producing grain and that non-saline areas were available for cultivation. He said that the group was looking for a variety that matures in 75-80 days. Dr Gupta said that dual purpose pearl millet hybrids are available which can suit the required maturity group, and moreover some of them are biofortified and have high levels of grain Fe and Zn content for enhanced nutrition.
Dr Harish Gandhi, Principal Scientist and Cluster Leader-Crop Breeding, spoke about high-biomass and quality forage sorghum suited to both tropical and temperate climates. Under this context, Scientist, Dr. Prakash Gangashetty, provided insights on the sorghum breeding lines shared with Tashkent and which is released as the variety “ Keshen” in Uzebekistan. He also drew attention to a paper that was published on the response of sorghum bicolor varieties to soil salinity for feed and food production in Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan.
Cereal-legume cropping system for improving soil health
Noting that Uzbekistan’s hard soils may not be viable for groundnut cultivation, Dr P Janila, Principal Scientist, Groundnut Breeding, suggested that a scoping study for a viable cereal-legume cropping system be conducted. The delegation mentioned that groundnut was cultivated, but insect infestation and the inability to address it, led to farmers abandoning the crop, with a preference now for mung bean
Pigeonpea to soften hard soils and chickpea for domestic consumption
Pigeonpea breeding lead Dr Prakash Gangashetty said that cultivating pigeonpea can soften hard soils and the super-early variety (110-120 days) is ideal for a second crop. Referring to chickpea demand in the region, Dr Varshney said that it could be cultivated as a second crop to meet the demands of domestic consumption.
Given the many avenues for partnership, Dr Varshney said that an MoU could be considered to deliver services for crop development and the modernizing (through digitalization) and development of seed systems.
The team from Uzbekistan visited ICRISAT on 20 September.
Senior Communications Officer, ICRISAT