NEW DELHI: Heeng (asafoetida) is being used in Indian cuisine since time immemorial, but one of the most valuable spices of the world could not take its root, literally, in the country till last week when it was taken up for cultivation for the first time by farmers of the remote Lahaul valley in Himachal Pradesh with the help of agro-technology developed by a Palampur-based CSIR institution.
The first seedling of asafoetida was planted in village Kwaring of Lahaul valley on October 15 to mark initiation of its cultivation in India.
Heeng is one of the top condiments and is a high value spice crop in India which last year imported about 1500 tonnes of raw asafoetida from Afghanistan, Iran and Uzbekistan and spent Rs 942 crore.
Since lack of planting material of Ferula asafoetida plants in India was a major bottleneck in cultivation of this crop, the CSIR’s Palamur-based Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology (IHBT) had brought in its seeds and developed its agro-technology.
“The plant prefers cold and dry conditions for its growth. So, it can be cultivated
in cold desert areas of Indian Himalayan region — Ladakh and certain areas of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh. The cultivation of Heeng has potential to change the economic condition of people in these areas,” Sanjay Kumar, director, CSIR-IHBT, told TOI on Monday.
Asked about cost of cultivation and net returns to farmers, Kumar said, “It’ll cost farmers nearly Rs 3 lakh per hectares over next five years and give them a net return of minimum Rs 10 lakh from fifth year onwards. We will in collaboration with state government provide support to farmers with finance and technical know-how. It’ll be a game changer for farmers in cold desert region of the country.”
The IHBT has introduced six accessions of Heeng rom Iran through the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR), New Delhi, and standardized its production protocols under Indian conditions. It’s a perennial plant and it produces oleo-gum resin from the roots after five years of plantation. It can be grown in unutilized sloppy land of cold desert region. Raw asafoetida is extracted from the fleshy roots of Ferula asafoetida as an oleo-gum resin.
Kumar said the IHBT has organized training programmes on asafoetida cultivation and laid out demonstration plots in villages of Madgran, Beeling and Keylong in Lahaul valley of Himachal Pradesh for establishment of seed production chain and its cultivation at commercial scale.
The Institute has initially identified 300 hectares for cultivation of asafoetida. It can be expanded to more areas once farmers would successfully complete a cycle of five year and see its results.
Kumar said,”It will be cultivated in a staggered manner so that farmers in certain areas would start getting its benefit from fifth years onward before its expansion to more and more areas in Himachal Pradesh and subsequently in cold desert areas of other Himalayan states/UT.”
Although, there are about 130 species of Ferula found in the world, but only Ferula asafoetida is the economically important species used for the production of Heeng.
“In India, we do not have Ferula asafoetida. Other species are reported from the western Himalaya (Chamba, HP), and from Kashmir and Ladakh. But, these are not the species that yield asafoetida,” said Kumar.