ISLAMABAD: Pak­istan’s dependence on imported potato seed is now set to substantially reduce with the application of aeroponics technology introduced in the country with the assistance of South Korea, as the second crop of potato seed is now ready to be harvested at the National Agricultural Research Centre (NARC) in Islamabad.

The aeroponic potato seed production system will help achieve higher productivity, reduce post-harvest losses, initiate farm level processing, human resource development and create immense job opportunities, agricultural scientists told reporters in Islamabad.

In Pakistan, potato seed is mostly imported from Holland which is not only costly but also the above fifth generation which negatively affects potato productivity. On an average, the country spends around Rs3 billion on importing 15,000 to 20,000 tonnes of potato seed.

Potato is one of the major cash crop of the country and during 2022 it was cultivated on an area of 313,000 hectares with a total production of 79,37,000 tonnes.

According to Dr Ghulam Muhammad Ali, Chairman of Pakistan Agricultural Research Council, aeroponics offer the potential to improve production and reduce costs compared to conventional methods or to other soilless methods.

He said that over 30 per cent of the seed requirement could be met from tissue culture labs already operating at NARC, and private sector involvement in seed production is crucial due to its potential for business growth.

To cope with the problem of shortage for the good potato seed locally, the aeroponic technology is the ultimate solution to rapidly multiply and disseminate healthy seeds to the country’s resource-poor farmers, according to agricultural scientists working on the project. The project has been jointly launched by PARC and the Korea Programme on International Agriculture (Kopia).

Kopia Project Director Dr Cho Gyoung-Rae, while explaining features of the project, provided an update on the progress of the potato seed production, and said the project aimed to establish additional greenhouses at NARC to produce 400,000 nucleus seed potatoes.

These seeds will then be multiplied in 35 greenhouses, resulting in the production of 4,000,000 first-generation seed potato tubers for large-scale cultivation. The project’s goal is to produce 150,000 tonnes of high-quality fourth-generation seeds of potatoes within five years, he said.

Aeroponics effectively exploits the vertical space of the greenhouse and air humidity balance to optimise the development of roots, tubers, and foliage. The commercial production of the potato seed using aeroponics technology is already progressing in South Korea and China.

During the current year the average harvest per plant is expected 60 tubers which is 10 times higher than conventional methods. This increase is based on uniform and healthy tissue culture plants, better nutrient management in aeroponics green houses, time of plantation and of course lessons learned in the previous year.

Keeping in view the success of first phase of the project, the PARC and Kopia have decided to establish more greenhouses to produce 400,000 nucleus seed potatoes and its further multiplication in 35 greenhouses at NARC. This activity will multiply the seed and produce 4,000,000 tubers of first generation to cultivate potato crop on 160 acres of land. Within five years this project will produce 150,000 tonnes of seed potato of high-quality fourth generation seed potatoes.

According to project officials, during the project life 16m generation-one tubers will be produced with direct income of Rs480mn.

Moreover, these tubers are source of material for 160,000 tonnes of potato certified seed expected worth Rs9.6bn, which will go to the private seed companies. These seed will be sufficient for plantation on 160,000 acres and farmers will be able to get additional production of 0.32 million tonnes from certified potato seed.

Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2023

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