Uprooting the Indian seed sector


16 October 2023
Report highlights how Apical Rooted Cuttings are bringing about change.

INDIA is the second-largest potato producer globally. Production increased fivefold from 8.3 million metric tons in 1980 to 50 million in 2020. Increasing farmer access to quality, affordable seed is critical to build on this success.

“Apical Rooted Cuttings(ARC) technology was introduced here in 2019, so it is really quite new,” said Ravindra, Project Manager, CIP India. “We think it is going to change the whole seed sector here– CIP has put clean seed in the hands of 50,000 farmers around the world, boosting yields and incomes by as much as 50%. The government here is looking at that and early trials we did in Assam and starting to see its potential here, and it’s huge.”

Currently, seed production in India is dominated by large companies based in Punjab that use aeroponics to produce cuttings – a way of producing plantlets without soil. With projects in Haryana (north), Meghalya (northeast) and Karnataka (south), the ARC initiative plans to put seed production back in the communities where it is needed.

High-tech approaches like aeroponics require high start-up capital. Also, the current seed system is based 2,000km from Haryana, Meghalya, and Karnataka and transportation costs add 30% to the seed price. Seed already accounts for 50% of production costs for farmers, which means they are more likely to reuse their seed, increasing the risks of contamination from pests and diseases over time. A low-tech, low-cost alternative like ARC can put quality seed production of early-generation seed into the hands of the farmers.

Apical Rooted Cuttings
Apical rooted cuttings are produced in a screenhouse from tissue culture plantlets grown under controlled sterile conditions to ensure they are disease-free. Each plantlet can produce more than 100 rooted cuttings which are then bought by seed producers who multiply the seed in the field. Each cutting can produce 10-20+ tubers which , after a further round of multiplication, can be sold as certified seed to farmers.

“Apical Rooted Cutting (ARC) has the potential to be a game-changer for smallholder potato farmers in India,” said Dr. K.M. Indiresh, vice-chancellor and director of education at the University of Horticultural Sciences, Bagalkot Karnataka, India. “By reducing cost and enhancing accessibility to quality seeds, ARC can significantly contribute to the prosperity and sustainability of smallholder potato farmers in the country.”

Apical rooted cuttings can be sold after just two seasons of multiplication compared to conventional multiplication, which takes three or four seasons. This speeds up the introduction of new varieties by the Indian government, which could take up to six years. The APC starter cuttings are early generation, which is not always true with those bought from larger companies. Trials have also begun on a quality mark for seeds produced through ARC in Haryana so that farmers have a guarantee of origin and standards supported by developing a digital tracking system.

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Early results from the project are promising in terms of both productivity and acceptance in the communities, including those in marginal areas that are difficult to reach and vulnerable to the effects of climate change on their food and livelihood security.

“The technology is intended as an entry point to achieve sustainable development outcomes in the medium to long term,” said Jagana Rao, Project Manager, CIP India. “It is complementary to other seed production approaches like aeroponics and mini-tuber production. It is not intended to replace them. It gives more options to vulnerable communities, particularly in places with limited options.”

Farmers in Meghalya, a landlocked area in northeast India where potato is indigenous, face the challenges of working in difficult terrain with limited access to basic infrastructure and technologies, including electricity and cold storage, as well as to the national seed supply.

ARC is a low-cost, low-technology innovation. It is estimated that 90% of the farmers in India don’t buy potato seed. They save the seed year after year, which leads to seed degeneration and reduced yields. To improve the situation, CIP has collaborated with IFAD to establish polyhouses and labs, and train young people in tissue production.

“The IFAD-financed Megha LAMP project is working with CIP in developing ARC seed production system in Meghalaya. Among other things, we find that ARC is a woman-friendly technology, and it enables smallholders to take control of their own seed requirement”. Meera Mishra, Country Co-ordinator, IFAD India.

Lakshima Devamma, is one of those success stories. Even though she does not own her own land, Lakshima has established a nursery to produce apical rooted cuttings alongside her existing vegetable production business. The response has been high, providing a new source of income for her family and a new source of quality seeds for both men and women in her community.

“Last year I produced around 300,000 cuttings, and this year, I am looking to produce one million”, she said. “It means I can invest in my daughter’s education so her future is more secure. I am also now providing employment to other women in the community as well.”

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