Grafting, fusing the parts of two plants to grow one plant that boasts beneficial traits from both original plants, might sound like a difficult process that would only make sense for a tree living many years. But it works for annual vegetables too, and one researcher who applied for a Grow Further grant thinks it’s just what smallholder farmers in India need.
Pramodkumar Takawale is the Agriculture Research Program Director at BAIF, an Indian non-profit that works in various sectors, including job creation, rural clean water projects, child nutrition, literacy advocacy, gender equality, and more. The organization is also heavily involved in food security, putting BAIF in close contact with farmers struggling to earn a decent living in India’s farm economy.
Takawale’s proposal is one of the finalists for the first round of research grants at Grow Further, which are currently undergoing peer review. In their application, Takawale and his team propose an innovation designed to grow higher-yielding and more drought-resistant vegetables, and then popularize their cultivation among India’s small-scale farms.
They explain that traditional varieties of vegetables grown by India’s smallholder farms tend to be low yielding and vulnerable to both biotic and abiotic stress, including heat, drought, and parasites. In an interview with Grow Further, Takawale expressed confidence that his team’s grafting techniques can increase yields even in adverse weather, and largely without expensive and polluting chemical inputs.
In his own words: our talk with Pramodkumar Takawale
Q: How does vegetable grafting work?
A: Vegetable grafting is a technique of combining two plants, with one being the “scion”—a cultivar of economic interest but susceptible to stresses—providing the shoots, and the other the roots or “rootstock”, a locally adapted cultivar tolerant to biotic and abiotic stresses. It is eco-friendly, rapid, and efficient, and currently the best alternative approach to climate change-resilient plant production.
Q: What’s the key to making vegetable grafting work?
A: The selection of rootstock is the most crucial factor contributing to the success of vegetable graft cultivation. Resultant grafts benefit by gaining higher yields and biotic and abiotic stress tolerance, longevity, etc.
Q: Is it easy to standardize vegetable grafting techniques to make them low-cost? What’s your plan for doing so?
A: Normally, the fresh grafts are placed under sophisticated conditions of humidity and temperatures in greenhouses for healing and a higher rate of survival. These are highly expensive.
Low-cost techniques for the standardization of vegetable grafting are quite possible by constructing high-humidity polytunnels and shed nets using locally available materials such as bamboo poles, HDPE [high-density polyethylene] pipes, iron edges, and HDPE sheets.
The mass production of grafts is possible.
A short learning curve to follow
Q: How long might it take for a smallholder farmer unfamiliar with vegetable grafting techniques to learn how to do it?
A: In a commercial training course, the awareness and skill of making vegetable grafts by unfamiliar farmers can be acquired in eight to ten days. Regular practice will sharpen the skill and scale of production.
“Low cost techniques for standardization of vegetable grafting are quite possible”
Q: What are the main crops you are targeting in this research?
A: Initially, we are targeting the fruit vegetables like chili, tomato, and brinjal [eggplant] as the main crops in the current research.
Q: Why do you feel this particular innovation is needed?
A: Climate change is one of the key factors which affects the production and productivity of vegetable crops. Breeding new varieties for high production and tolerance to biotic and abiotic stresses is time-consuming, expensive, and requires more effort. Through vegetable grafting, this can be achieved by utilizing available resources, and it’s cost-effective.
Q: Do you envision grafting becoming more commonplace over time? Might vegetable grafting services and businesses emerge to help farmers?
A: By adopting low-cost techniques of vegetable grafting the farmers/groups can make commercial businesses, thereby introducing an entrepreneurship development program.
— Grow Further
Photo credit: Eggplants for sale in Allahabad, India. Adam Cohn/Flickr.