Pumpkins with a history

Four generations of pumpkin producers in Myanmar hold the diversity needed to improve this valuable crop now and into the future.

Farmers and the DAR team discuss traditional knowledge about local pumpkin landraces in Shan state, Myanmar.

The World Vegetable Center’s Global Pumpkin Breeding Program uses germplasm stored in the WorldVeg genebank to develop genetically diversified breeding lines with improved disease resistance, fruit quality, yield, and nutritional quality.

Sustainability of the pumpkin breeding program relies on the availability of landraces (local varieties that are the source of important genes and traits), which need to be collected and evaluated. In Myanmar, the states of Shan, Kayah, and Chin are important regions of unique pumpkin diversity. Commercial pumpkin F1 hybrids are typically not available and the farmers grow pumpkin landraces for their own consumption.

Our pumpkin survey team led by researchers from Department of Agricultural Research (DAR) Myanmar traveled to 25 villages in Shan state to speak with 35 farmers belonging to six ethnic groups: Shan, Pa Do, Taunggyi, Palaung, Da Nu and Innthar. In many of the families surveyed, more than four generations have been growing pumpkin landraces for the last 70 years, using seed inherited from their ancestors.

It’s likely this germplasm was introduced into Myanmar by traders from British India more than two centuries ago through sea routes (Myanmar was part of British India until 1937). Farmers developed the landraces by selecting the best plants and growing the next crop from the seed saved from the previous best selections. Tremendous variability was observed among the landraces for fruit load, fruit shape, fruit skin color, flesh color and thickness, virus and powdery mildew resistance.

With the consent of the farmers, we collected pumpkin fruit of 59 landraces; the DAR researchers will harvest and process the seed. We also took notes on their traditional cultivation practices and farming knowledge. These heterogeneous landraces will be introduced into the WorldVeg East and Southeast Asia pumpkin breeding program in Thailand for evaluation through the WorldVeg Germplasm Acquisition Agreement with DAR and import permits from the Department of Agriculture, Thailand.

DAR will assist WorldVeg in the upcoming pumpkin surveys for Kayah state and Chin state next year. These activities are part of DAR’s work plan in the project, “Selection of tropically adapted lines of vegetables to improve productivity of the vegetable value chain in Myanmar and Vietnam” funded by the Japan Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF).

DAR is a valuable research collaborator, and this joint survey was a rewarding experience—one that will immensely strengthen WorldVeg’s global pumpkin breeding program for farmers worldwide. Lines incorporating the landrace germplasm will be showcased to the global seed industry during the upcoming WorldVeg Global Pumpkin Open Field Day, 22 January 2020 in Kamphaeng Saen, Thailand.

Story and photos: Narinder Dhillon

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Fruit variability among pumpkin landraces in Shan state, Myanmar.