A team effort between India and Oz is solving the problem of infestations in Indian grain
The development of a new project by Indian and Australian scientists will hopefully save harvested grains from pest infestations, and improve the infrastructure of grain production in India.
Mr Rajagopal Aikkara, general manager of Food Corporation India, stated that India was the biggest exporter of rice and the third largest exporter of wheat in the world in 2013.
“In India, every year about 60 million tonnes of these grains go into bag storage,” said Aikkara. “Maintaining these stocks poses a big challenge”.
In India and Australia grains are harvested before summer and are stored in bags during the warm weather. This invites pests and eventually leads to spoilage of these valuable resources.
The issue motivated the development of a strategic research alliance between Australian and Indian scientists, aimed at solving this problem.
In 2012, they successfully bid for a competitive grant from the Australia-India Strategic Research Fund and received $3 million. The grant will fund a project led by Associate Professor Gimme Walter of The University of Queensland and Professor Chandrasekaran Subramaniam of Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU).
A team from India who are working on the project recently visited the University of Queensland’s Brisbane campus, where Indian Link spoke to them and their Australian colleagues about the project and their partnership.
“This project primarily focuses on the post harvest protection of grains by efficient handling and managing of phosphine, a fumigant chemical used to treat pest infestations in grain,” said Associate Professor Walter.
According to Professor Subbarayalu Mohankumar of TNAU, in recent years insects have become resistant to phosphine, which is a fumigant that is too valuable to lose, as it leaves no residue, has no adverse effects on the environment, and is cheap.
“We are trying to understand the best method to deploy this fumigant, which is accepted by markets worldwide, to maintain its efficacy,” remarked Mohankumar. “Specifically, what methods should we use to destroy the insects without increasing their resistance levels”.
“Grain handling in India also requires a boost in improving infrastructure from bag to bulk,” added Mr IC Chadda, general manager at the Central Warehousing Corporation. “All measures are being taken to ensure that the grains retain their quality as per global standards”.
As to the progress of the project so far, Dr Pat Collins, deputy project manager, Australia, told Indian Link, “We have been looking at the insects’ biology and ecology, studying their resistance to phosphine and conducted practical trials at regular intervals. We have also been setting up relationships between industry and science, which explains the presence of Mr Chadda and Mr Rajagopal at our meeting in Brisbane. One major output from the project is the first meeting this year of an Indian National Grain Protection Alliance”.
The Indian team is hopeful that collaboration between India and Australia will help improve the infrastructure of India’s grain production.
In turn, Australia receives the benefit of India’s experience in the area of phosphine resistance, as India has used phosphine as a fumigant for much longer than Australia.
“The alliance between all our institutions and the corporations also means that we have a larger team with broader experience who are able to work together to combat grain storage pests,” said Associate Professor Walter.
The project is jointly funded by the Indian Department of Science and Technology and the Australian Department of Industry. It also brings together researchers from the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, the Indian Institute of Crop Processing Technology and the Central Food Technological Research Institute.