I chop onions almost every day and never bother about its internal layers, the number of nodes it has to shoot sprouts from or even its outer covering. Yet, in an attempt to find the root cause of an onion crop spoilage problem, a farmer in Maharashtra developed his own variety of onions and named it after himself — Sandip Pyaaz.
“I always wanted to do things differently in life. It was ingrained in me during my childhood, and I practice it in all aspects of my life like sports, studies or any social activity,” says Sandip Ghole, adding, “When I took on the responsibility of the family farm in 2008, I decided to experiment with sugarcane and onion farming.”
An Arts graduate from Daund, which is about 90 km from Pune, Sandip started consulting experts in agriculture in an attempt to understand better farming practices. From uncontrolled use of manure, chemical fertilisers and water, he learned about sustainable farming practices and implemented them on his 12-acre farm.
“I benefited from the knowledge of other farmers. And connecting with farmers in my city and other parts of the state, I learned that the short shelf life and diseases like purple blotches on the onion caused losses. This problem aggravated further in 2012 when farmers complained about onion spoilage on a large scale,” says 35-year-old Sandip.
The making of Sandip Pyaaz
Facing the same problem, Sandip, who grew the Nashik-based Fursungi variety of onion, decided to understand the type of onions that spoiled and its characteristics. “I observed that broken, split onions with more than one bulb or onions having more than a single node spoiled quicker and were more prone to the disease. The more round, single node onions had a longer shelf life and showed resistance towards the disease,” he says.
The farmer then started separating the healthier onions from the rest. “I grew these onions and extracted seeds from the plants and would repeat the process,” says Sandip, who continued this process for four years.
The result was a new onion variety, which had peculiar characteristics. The new variety was light red in colour and had a double shell covering, a single node, along with being much more tolerant to the disease. The onion variety also had a longer shelf life by months and gave a higher yield.
Experts take note
Sandip’s experiments started yielding good results. He became popular for his experiments among farmers. The Directorate of Onion and Garlic Research (DOGR) at Rajgurunagar also took cognisance of his efforts and granted him a progressive farmer award in 2014.
Soon, his efforts also caught the attention of the National Innovation Foundation (NIF), Gujarat. “We became curious to know about the new type of onion that had evolved from this technique of segregation. A team of officers visited the farm and collected samples. The NIF requires farmers to see innovation from the traditional farming methods before certification,” says Noushad Parvez, who researched the onion variety at NIF.
Noushad says that he visited the farm in 2017 and the samples of onions were taken to two premier agriculture universities in Konkan and Palghar districts of Maharashtra. After evaluation and validation, the results concluded that the onion variety was superior to others.
The new onion variety came to test across the farms in India. “Apart from farmers in Maharashtra, we shared the onion seeds with farmers in Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar, among others. The farmers shared positive feedback and claimed they were of superior quality,” he adds.
Noushad says 25 per cent of the onions spoil in early months after harvest due to splitting and attack by the purple blotch disease. “The spoilage reduced significantly to only 10 per cent of the total farm produce in Maharashtra and 14 per cent in Gujarat. The yield reported by farmers in Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu was significant. The qualities fit the criteria to allow Sandip to use his name for the new variety developed by him,” he tells The Better India.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)