National

A young biotechnologist’s ‘experiments’ with banana

A.J. Vinayak Peruvai (Dakshina Kannada district) | Updated on October 17, 2013 Published on October 17, 2013

‘Hot’ stuff: The 28-year-old P. Anantharamakrishna with the three-month-old banana plants on six acres of land at his farm at Peruvai village in Dakshina Kannada district. — A.J. Vinayak

GLIMPSES OF BHARAT

Normally we see young biotech engineering graduates searching for greener pastures in metros.

Many search for jobs, and a few take up research.

A biotech engineer from a village who wanted to pursue research in plant biotechnology but could not do that due to family compulsions, is now in the process of doing both. Not in a metro, but in his native village.

After completing biotech engineering in 2006, P. Anantharamakrishna from Peruvai village (around 50 km from Mangalore) in Dakshina Kannada district wanted to do research in plant biotechnology.

He had worked in a biotech lab for some months in Bangalore. When family compulsions made him to come back to the native village in 2008, he took it as a challenge.

At 28, Anantharamakrishna has started getting yields for his efforts. The harvest from the nearly 1,000 nendra banana plants grown on an acre of land at his farm were the hottest selling commodity in the nearby market at Uppala town in Kerala during the Ramazan month.

Proper planning, the use of technology and the risk-taking ability were the key factors for this success.

According to him, planning is important. Last year he planted around 1,000 tissue-cultured banana plants with an eye on harvest during the Ramazan month and the festival season after that. His planning was based on the demand for banana in a small town such as Uppala, which is hardly 18 km from his native place. He also noticed that the town was dependent on banana supplies from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh to meet demand.

Being a biotechnologist, he knew that he would get assured quality of yield from banana plants raised from tissue culture saplings. He used sprinkler and drip irrigation systems for plantations.

This June, he went one step ahead and planted around 6,000 saplings of various varieties of tissue-cultured banana on six acres of land available in his farm. However, a majority of them are ‘grand naine’ cultivar of Cavendish. He is expecting a yield of 40 kg per plant from ‘grand naine’.

(Though banana is a major crop in some parts of the country, a majority of farmers in Dakshina Kannada take it up as an intercrop to limited extent in their existing arecanut plantations. Farmers avoid taking it up as a mono crop on a large-scale.) Asked if he is taking risk with such a major expansion of banana as a mono crop, he says banana cultivation itself is a risk. “Had I got the yield in April-May for the ones planted last year, I would not have got the same price that I got during the Ramazan period. So planning is important for this,” he adds.

The Ramazan timing for harvesting has helped him recover the investment he made on 1,000 plants last year. He got around 14 tonnes of nendra banana from an acre.

The guarantee of work for labour throughout the year has helped him retain existing labour at his farm. “The work is seasonal in my arecanut plantation. After I started this project on banana, they are ensured of work throughout the year,” he says.

However, Anantharamakrishna agrees with the fact that a majority of the people working in his farm are above 40 years. Two of them are nearing 70, he adds.

A BT lab in a rural set up

As this reporter’s visit of the farm was coming to an end, he asked Anantharamakrishna if he likes to expand further. His answer was: “Yes.” He has a reason for that also.

Considering the scope for banana in the Gulf countries, he is now exploring the possibilities of growing banana for that market also. Quality makes a difference in exploring the potential of such markets.

Considering that now he is in the process of setting up a biotech laboratory at his home to develop tissue-cultured varieties of the choice. His wife Swathi, who has completed M.Sc, is helping him in his venture.

He says he can ensure the quality of the commodity with tissue culture. The existing setup at his home can help produce around 20,000 tissue culture plants. The establishment of the laboratory is in final stages, and will be operational in two-three months, he says.

“If I get the yield simultaneously, it will be a problem. So there is a need to set up a cold storage unit also,” he says. However, the cold storage unit is in the drawing board stage.

After the commissioning of his lab, he wants to take up tissue culture of other plants such as orchid and pepper.

He has plans to set up a demonstration plant on an acre of land. The intention is to cultivate all varieties, including rare ones, on that plot, he says.

Though he had to give up his dream on doing research in tissue culture due to compulsions, now he is a happy man. “Now I can provide jobs to some, and carry on my research,” he says with a pride.

vinayak.aj@thehindu.co.in

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Published on October 17, 2013
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