Peanut Science January 23, 2018
Small-scale groundnut farmers, especially concentrated in the southern states of India, have all the reasons to rejoice. In a major breakthrough, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) scientists have developed the first-ever oleic acid-rich peanut adapted to Indian conditions and it is ready for release in the fields. This has been possible due to the use of biotechnology, especially molecular breeding.
Some of ICRISAT recent works on molecular breeding had earlier led to the development of chickpea varieties with enhanced drought tolerance and with up to 24 per cent higher yield under rain-fed conditions.
Farmers in southern states cultivate groundnuts, but they have not benefited from the fast-growing confectionery industry till now. Reason: the groundnuts grown are not rich in oleic acid content. Only certain groundnut varieties grown abroad, especially in USA and China, are rich in oleic acid. Indian-grown nuts are mostly rich in linoleic acid, which is not good for human health. About 20-30 per cent of linoleic acid is not good for health, but it is found in Indian groundnut varieties. As a result of this, Mars chocolates imports groundnut from outside India. Also, in the case of groundnuts, Indian farmers mostly grow 30-year-old varieties. This means low yields and poor quality.
The oleic-rich groundnut varieties are expected to improve the income of smallholder groundnut farmers. P Janilla, a researcher from ICRSAT, says molecular marker technology is used to select good traits. In normal circumstances, normal oleic acid content is 45 per cent, but it has gone up to 80 per cent with these new varieties. Rajeev Varshney, research programme director at ICRISAT, says molecular breeding, an important non-GM biotech approach can save time and costs to develop nutritious varieties such as high oleic acid content peanut varieties.