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Kabul hope in gene bank

Chennai, April 17: The seeds of Afghanistan’s agrarian revival lie in an India-based institute.

The Andhra Pradesh-based International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, a quasi-UN body near Hyderabad, is waiting for funds from international donors to begin the process of rejuvenation with the help of seeds stored in its R.S. Paroda Genebank.

The gene bank, named after the former director-general of the Indian Council for Agricultural Research, stores 1,14,000 varieties of seeds.

Dyno Keatinge, deputy director-general of the crops research institute, told reporters here after a national workshop that the quasi-UN body was part of the consortium to revive agriculture in the war-torn country.

Seeds of kabuli chana and other crops collected decades ago in Afghanistan, for example, could now be made available to the “fledgling agricultural extension system” in the country, he said after the workshop at the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation here.

If the seed samples had not been carefully stored, many crop varieties developed over years would have been lost forever, Keatinge added.

He said Mohammed Sharif, Afghanistan’s first deputy minister for agriculture, had recently visited the research institute near Hyderabad to find out if seeds suited to “Afghani agriculture” were available.

“One of our scientists is an Afghan and he is the link man for this restoration project,” Keatinge said.

He said the gene bank was one of the largest of its kind in the world and was the nerve centre for the development of new varieties. Keatinge added that the World Bank had recently cleared a grant of $1.30 million for modernisation of the facility.

The deputy director-general explained that it was a very timely intervention by the World Bank to “preserve our equipment” and help re-grow seeds lying dormant for too long.

He said the crop research institute, in partnership with national agricultural research systems of Asia and Africa, had also used its genetic wealth to develop three drought-resistant varieties of pearl millet, 10 varieties of sorghum, one of chickpea, three of groundnut and two of pigeon pea.

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