Context: The scientists at CSIR-Institute of Himalayan Bioresource, Palampur (IHBT), are on a mission to grow heeng in the Indian Himalayas. The first sapling has been recently planted in Himachal Pradesh’s Kwaring village in Lahaul valley.

More on the news:

  • Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR)Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology (IHBT), Palampur brought in seeds of asafoetida and developed its agro-technology.
  • The first seedling of asafoetida was planted by CSIR-IHBT recently at farmer’s field in village Kwaring of Lahaul valley to mark the initiation of cultivation of asafoetida in India.
  • CSIR-IHBT made relentless efforts for the introduction of this important crop in the country. 
    • The institute introduced six accessions of seeds from Iran through ICAR-National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (ICAR-NBPGR).
    • CSIR-IHBT raised the plants of heeng at CeHAB, Ribling, Lahaul & Spiti, H.P. under the vigil of NBPGR.

Prolonged dormant phase and the rate of seed germination

  • The challenge for the scientists here was that heeng seeds remain under a prolonged dormant phase and the rate of seed germination is just one per cent. 
    • However, Each of the six accessions imported showcased varying degrees of germination
  • To tackle this dormancy, which according to scientists is part of the plant’s adaptation technique to survive in desert conditions, they subjected the seeds to some special chemical treatments.

By the end of this year, the target is to cover one hectare with heeng cultivation and take it to 300 hectares during the next five years.

Asafoetida (Heeng)

  • It is one of the top condiments and is a high-value spice crop in India. 
  • Ferula asafoetida is a herbaceous plant of the umbelliferae family. 
    • It is a perennial plant whose oleo gum resin is extracted from its thick roots and rhizome. The plant stores most of its nutrients inside its deep fleshy roots.
  • Ideal Conditions for plant:
    • The plant prefers cold and dry conditions for its growth and takes approximately five years for the production of oleo-gum resin in its roots.
    • The plant can withstand a maximum temperature between 35 and 40 degree, whereas during winters, it can survive in temperatures up to minus 4 degree. During extreme weather, the plant can get dormant.
    • Regions with sandy soil, very little moisture and annual rainfall of not more than 200mm are considered conducive for heeng cultivation in India
    • Therefore cold desert areas of Indian Himalayan region are suitable for the cultivation of asafoetida.
  • Benefits:
    • It has a range of medicinal properties of heeng, including relief for digestive, spasmodic and stomach disorders, asthma and bronchitis. 
    • The herb is commonly used to help with painful or excessive bleeding during menstruation and premature labour. 
    • Being anti-flatulent, the herb is fed to new mothers.
  • Asafoetida is endemic to Iran and Afghanistan, the main global suppliers. India imports about 1200 tonnes of raw asafoetida annually from Afghanistan, Iran and Uzbekistan and spends approximately 100 million USD per year. 
  • Lack of planting material of Ferula assafoetida plants in India was a major bottleneck in the cultivation of this crop.

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