MFOI 2024 Road Show


An Interview with Head of NBPGR, India’s Largest Plant Gene Bank

The National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR) is a unit of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), a Department of Agricultural Research and Education (DARE), the Ministry of Agriculture of the Government of India. It was founded in 1976 as a full-fledged institute.

Dr Ashok Kumar recently took charge of this prestigious institution from the previous Director Prof Kailash C.Bansal.  He is an M. Phil and Ph. D in Agricultural Botany (Genetics & Plant Breeding), he joined ARS as a Scientist (Plant Breeding) at ICAR-NRRI (the then CRRI)  he also has a long working experience of about 35 years with various aspects of plant genetic resource management. 

In this article, we bring to our readers a short excerpt of our interview with this famed scholar of agricultural studies. 

What is NBPGR? 

According to Dr Ashok, NBPGR was established in 1976 as a full-fledged institute and ever since its establishment, it has played a very vital role in the transformation of the Indian agricultural system. The establishment of this bureau coincided with the advent of the Green Revolution and was the result of the recognition of the perceived impact of the Green Revolution on agro-biodiversity. 

It can be considered as the world’s second-largest gene bank housing 4 .62 lakh plant samples.

What will be the new goals of NBPGR under Dr Ashok’s Leadership? 

“ There are almost 3.74 lakh plant species in the world out of these, Humans only cultivate 30 plant species regularly because of their high yield, however, you will be surprised to know that over 60 percent of the population of the world survives on three crops namely, Wheat, Corn and paddy and all three of them are rich sources of carbohydrates and starch,” said Dr Ashok while showing his interest in bringing back old crop species which were very nutritious but had a low yield leading to farmers not cultivating them.

Dr Ashok is also very adamant about bringing back these old species of plants and is even willing to hand some samples to the breeders and for university research so that they can help in increasing their yield and hence making it more feasible for the farmers to cultivate them and earn their income.

Why go for biofortification?  

Biofortification is the idea of growing plants to increase their nutritional value. This can be done by conventional selective breeding or by genetic engineering. Biofortification is different from ordinary fortification in that it focuses on making plant foods more nutritious as the plants grow, rather than adding nutrients to the food as it is processed.

When asked by our interviewer about his view on biofortified crops or crops that have their nutrition boosted Dr Ashok just straight out said why should we boost the nutrition of certain specific crops when there are species that have the same amount of nutrition in them naturally. 

He also said that it is better to focus on increasing the yields of old species and reintroducing them to the farmers to increase crop variety in the food system than to artificially boost nutrition for only certain species of plants. 

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