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Current Affairs

Cultivating heeng in Indian Himalayas

Date: 21 October 2020 Tags: Agriculture

Issue

Asafoetida, or heeng, is a common ingredient in most Indian kitchens –– so much so that the country imports Rs 600 crore worth of this pungent flavoured herb every year.

 

Background

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 planted in Himachal Pradesh’s Lahaul valley last week.

 

Details

  • 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.

  • Asafoetida is endemic to Iran and Afghanistan, the main global suppliers. It thrives in dry and cold desert conditions. While it is very popular in India, some European countries too use it for its medicinal properties.

  • Heeng is not cultivated in India. Government data states that India imports about 1,200 tonnes of raw heeng worth Rs 600 crore from Iran, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan.

  • The seeds were subjected to a number of tests while being kept under quarantine, to rule out fungal or infectious diseases, possibility of pest attacks, and other adverse effects to an area if these seeds were cultivated in fields.

  • 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 percent.

  • 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.

  • Asafoetida best grows in dry and cold conditions. 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.