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Marco Wopereis: “Our work is now more important than ever”

WorldVeg Director General’s remarks during the official opening of the new addition to the World Vegetable Center South Asia building, Hyderabad, India

Mr. Richard Chiu, from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Center in India;
Dr. David Bergvinson, Director General of ICRISAT and senior ICRISAT management and staff;
Dr. Warwick Easdown, Regional Director of the World Vegetable Center and WorldVeg staff from across India and Bangladesh;
Ladies and Gentlemen;

It is a great honor for me to participate in this opening ceremony alongside Mr. Richard Chiu, representing the Republic of China.

The World Vegetable Center opened its South Asia regional office here in Hyderabad in 2006, but has worked with Indian scientists and partners since the late 1970s. Our work in collaboration with partners from the public and private sector has had very significant impact, particularly on the Indian pepper, tomato and mungbean industries, in improving pest management and on expanding the use of home gardens to overcome malnutrition.

The Center has been India’s major source of anthracnose resistant pepper lines and heat tolerant and bacterial wilt resistant tomato lines over all those years. A major impact study conducted in 2015 found that one in seven commercial hybrid tomato and pepper seeds sold in India contains our germplasm. The tremendous interest in our recent field day on virus management in tomato from over 110 seed company representatives clearly shows that our work is highly valued by the private sector.

The Center has also worked with Indian partners on the introduction of high yielding, fast maturing and disease resistant mungbean varieties. This has revolutionized the industry, and created a new cropping option of summer mungbean, replacing the rice-wheat fallow in the Indo-Gangetic plain. Our new varieties with robust resistance to mungbean yellow mosaic virus and resistance to bruchids will further strengthen the industry. In recognition of the importance of mungbean to India our global legume breeding program was moved here in 2010.

Our work on IPM practices for brassicas and brinjal is dramatically reducing pesticide use in India and elsewhere in the South Asia region, and our research has also shown the enormous potential of home gardens for improving family nutrition.

However, these successes should not give us reason to be complacent. There is so much to do still.

Vegetables can be grown on small areas and can in principle lead to high productivity and profitability margins per m2, but the risks are higher than growing cereals. We need to reduce that production risk for farmers by developing new varieties that resist against devastating pests and diseases and that can tolerate abiotic stress such as drought, flooding, salinity and heat. Such stresses are exacerbated and become more unpredictable with climatic change. ICRISAT facilities were used in some of the early drought screening work on tomatoes, and we will be doing more such work with our headquarters genebank, which contains more than 65,000 accessions of about 450 vegetable species from 150 countries. We have so far only scratched the surface of this gene treasure box.

Our partners may opt to release our open pollinated lines directly. Over the last decade 98 WorldVeg vegetable accessions of 15 different vegetables have been officially released by governments in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Here in India we work very closely with the public and private seed sectors to provide specific disease resistance traits for the development of hybrid tomatoes and chilies. Through such partnerships, each year over half a million farmers in India alone benefit from our improved germplasm. Other technologies, like vegetable grafting can reduce the risk due to soil-borne diseases and flooding. Pest and disease resistant varieties combined with integrated pest management options can drastically reduce production risks and reliance on pesticides. The installation of protected cropping structures permitting year-round safe vegetable production near urban centers can create new and exciting job opportunities for young people.

There are plenty of technological options available to reduce risk for farmers and to help them invest in vegetable production systems. However, to really make a difference there is a need to analyze the entire value chain and address postharvest losses, processing and marketing, and pay particular attention to food safety. Rapid urbanization across Asia presents enormous opportunities for vegetable growers. Linking farmers to urban markets will demand much greater attention to good and safe agricultural practices, but this will definitely pay-off.

Given the large diversity of vegetable crops and complexity of production situations there is a great need for better knowledge sharing and networking among research institutions working on horticulture in Asia. In the past the World Vegetable Center successfully led a network of national agricultural research services in South Asia to increase the sharing of germplasm across national boundaries and to promote common approaches to insect and disease management. Such networks need to be given a new life and include the private sector – with research sites to benefit both public and private investors to ensure rapid scaling of improved varieties and practices.

We also need to create awareness among consumers about the importance of vegetable consumption for a balanced diet and a healthy life. WHO estimates that approximately 2 billion people are micro-nutrient deficient, mainly related to iron, zinc and vitamin A deficiency, with iron deficiency by far the biggest problem. Iron deficiency literally drains life and energy out of someone and combined with infectious diseases it is life threatening. It affects especially women and children in South Asia. Vegetables can make a huge contribution to overcoming malnutrition, but production and consumption across the region are well below the minimum requirements for good health. The World Vegetable Center has tremendous experience in combining vegetable production with health and nutrition training. We have promoted household home gardening by women in the poorest tribal communities in India, as well as in the richer states of Punjab and Karnataka. This involved a lot of training, but showed that home gardens make a major contribution to increasing vegetable consumption and reducing expenditures. Consuming more quality vegetables will also help address the growing problem of poor diets and obesity, particularly in urban areas.

Ladies and gentlemen, the construction of this new floor symbolizes the importance the World Vegetable Center attaches to its work in India and in the South Asian region as a whole and its ambition to do more—because our work is now more important than ever.

I would like to thank all of you who have contributed to designing and constructing this beautiful facility. You did a truly wonderful job.

I also would like to thank ICRISAT for their partnership and friendship and for hosting us here on their campus.

Last but not least I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Council of Agriculture, and the People of the Republic of China for their generous support, so critical for achieving our Center’s noble mission.

Thank you.

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Opening the door to new research activities: WorldVeg Director General Marco Wopereis (left) and Mr. Richard Chiu (center) from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Center, India.

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Senior Admin Officer Rehana Shaik, Warwick Easdown and Plant Physiologist Hanumantha Rao Bindumadhava soak up the rays from the solar panels on the new addition.