Impact of Quality Seed Potato Production in the Eastern Hills of Nepal
Binod Prasad Luitel (email@example.com) and Biremdra Bahadur Rana, National Horticulture Research Center
Khumaltar and Janardhan Gautam, Agriculture Research Station, Ilam
The potato is an important food crop of Nepal, contributing to food security in mountain regions. The potato was first introduced in Nepal by a British explorer in 1793 but it became popular after the 19th century. Currently, potatoes are cultivated on 200,000 ha with production of 3.3 million tonnes – an average productivity of 16.7 mt/ha.
The eastern hills of Koshi Province are one potential area for improved potato production in Nepal. Lack of quality seed tubers of high yielding varieties, lack of seed potato storage, the traditional farming system and dependence on the informal seed system are major issues limiting the potato crop in the eastern highlands. No formal seed potato system was established prior to 2020.
Public and Private Partners
National Potato Research Program (NPRP) was established in 1991 with a mandate for potato variety development, disease management and pathogen-free early generation seed potato production.
The Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC) of Switzerland funded a national tissue culture laboratory and glasshouse in 1989 at NPRP in Kathmandu to produce clean planting materials for the first step in pathogen-free seed potato production at the national level.
The International Potato Center (CIP) in Lima, Peru introduced the needed germplasm with high yield, resistance to late blight and wart, and the preferred red-skinned tuber color.
Agriculture Research Station (ARS), Ilam is situated at 2,870 masl in the eastern hills of Nepal and distributes the seed produced by NPRP.
In-vitro plantlets of different clones received from CIP Peru were multiplied at NPRP’s tissue culture laboratory. NPRP selected more than 10 varieties from the CIP germplasm. The new variety Janak Dev was released for the high hills, mid-hills and lower foot hills. Janak Dev is high yielding (38-40 mt/ha) red-skinned tubers with moderate resistance to late blight, resistance to wart, a mid-maturing variety and has a tuber dormancy of less than 3 months making it suitable for planting two times a year in the mid-hills. NPRP produced early generation seed of Janak Dev for distribution throughout the country. Soon it became clear that Janak Dev was the preferred variety for farmers (Picture 1).
ARS received early generation, pathogen-free seed from the NPRP and after multiplication the seed potatoes were distributed to potato farmers and community based seed producers (CBSP) groups for certified and improved seed production. Their seed production programs are supervised by technical teams of ARS and the Seed Quality Control Center of Nepal.
Support for the Eastern hills
Farmers and CBSP groups are enthusiastically adopting the improved, early generation seed of the new variety Janak Dev. The on-farm seed production program was initiated in 2021 with 11 ha, increasing to 15 ha in 2022 and 20.0 ha planted in 2023. This includes production at the research station (2.0 ha), Agriculture Knowledge Center (2.0 ha), CBSP program (6.0 ha) and by individual innovative farmers (10.0 ha) in Ilam district. The results of healthy seed that is adapted to the highland conditions, with late blight resistance and wart resistance, has led to rapid early adoption of this variety with high quality seed supplied by ARS (Pictures 2A and 2B). Janak Dev is now able to replace the local varieties Bete and Jhyale which were lower yielding and wart and late blight susceptible.
ARS Ilam has adopted diffused light storage for potatoes, using technology introduced by CIP which farmers are adopting for seed storage in the high hills. CBSP and innovative farmers harvest the improved seed at the end of the summer season and sell to table potato growers at lower elevations for the early winter season crop. The Agriculture Knowledge Center and farmers’ cooperatives are involved in buying the improved seed and distributing them to lower elevation table potato growers. Adopting the formalized seed production system of an improved, high yielding variety has resulted in overall improvements of farmers’ yields and profitability in Ilam district. The cost of Janak Dev seed is around NRs 85/kg whereas local varieties may be sold for NRs 60/kg. Farmers receive ongoing support through training in all the steps of improved seed potato production. This training can also be disseminated at similar agro-climatic regions of high hills districts of Nepal.
Establishment of a tissue culture laboratory at ARS Ilam would allow Ilam to be self-sufficient in the production of early generation seed potatoes. That is the next step in expanding this program. We learned of Apical Rooted Cuttings (ARC) technology from newly developed friendships with Filipina potato experts at the World Potato Congress in Dublin. ARC technology would greatly increase the quantity of Janak Dev seed potato produced at relatively low cost.
The impact of this work is still in the early stages. The many partners who played a role in helping this come to fruition are truly amazing! International partners, a generous donor as well as the national and local partners have made this possible. It took a long time to bring about this result. Yet it is so encouraging to see how a remote, high-altitude region can finally benefit from an improved seed system with an improved variety. The benefits go beyond this community to the lower elevation areas, who get to buy high quality seed for their winter crops of potatoes after the rice harvest.