India: Syngenta aims for horticultural project rollout

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India: Syngenta aims for horticultural project rollout

While India already has year-round watermelon production across 450,000 acres, strong demand has prompted Swiss company Syngenta AG (NYSE: SYT) to conduct pilot projects in the country to promote the cultivation of seedless varieties, along with different agronomic practices for other crops such as grapes and potatoes. After successful signs from an initiative in the state of Maharashtra, tests have expanded to other areas like Hyderabad and Bangalore. At, we catch up with Syngenta South Asia's head of crop marketing-veg, Prashant Belgamwar, who hopes to replicate the model in new regions.

The executive labels Maharashtra growers as "very progressive" for their use of high-end technologies like drip irrigation and mulching, which in addition to growing with ideal climatic and soil conditions, made them good candidates for testing seedless watermelons.

Pre-launch surveys showed consumers in the state's two largest cities, Mumbai and Pune, accepted the novel concept and were willing to pay a premium price for this variety.

Prashant_Belgamwar - panorama

Prashant Belgamwar

"Our target consumers were found to frequently visit malls to do their purchasing, so organized retail chains were used for selling the variety," Belgamwar says.

"The seedless watermelon is under pilot stage in Maharashtra, where we are offering growers on-farm and after-farm solutions by way of novel products linked to buy back at an assured price through dedicated vendors," Belgamwar says.

"The high price attained by this fruit results in a good return on investment (ROI) for the grower."

He says the pilot offers programs with the potential to grow both seedless and ice box-type watermelons, in order to fulfill consumer preferences.

"Both types of fruit have the same duration and the ice-box type watermelon is used to pollinate the seedless watermelon which makes it convenient for the two to be grown together.

"The concept will be rolled out in other regions in India depending on the consumer acceptance of the product and their willingness to pay a higher price for it."

The company does not have a patent on seedless watermelons in India, but it does hold patented cultivation and production methods for them. As an example of the fruit's potential, Belgamwar mentions that seedless varieties were introduced in the U.S. in the 1980s, and now they constitute 85% of the North American country's watermelon production.

"Syngenta’s seedless watermelons are very popular in North America where the market has quickly shifted from Seeded to Seedless, driven by consumer convenience and technological innovations," he says.

"In other regions like China and Vietnam, the popularity of seedless watermelon is growing."

Despite selling opportunities further afield, the marketing representative emphasizes that India does not export many watermelons. However, long distance transportation is possible within the country thanks to better fruit quality, meaning the watermelons can be stored for longer time periods.

Watermelons 1 - Syngenta"We have been providing agronomic support to the growers to increase marketable yields and retail linkages to sell the produce.

"This year we extended the project to Hyderabad and Bangalore with new hybrids."

He says one acre of land in India can be used to produce almost 5,000 watermelons, but to do so growers need to overcome a series of issues.

"The challenges include the fact that watermelons are a high management crop which require good cultivation techniques and agronomic knowledge.

"Watermelons can be affected by diseases such as downy mildew, powdery mildew, fusarium wilt and viruses such as Tospo.

"In addition, climatic and price fluctuations, poor infrastructure downstream and fruit cracking are other challenges faced by watermelon growers."

Other projects in India

Belgamwar highlights the company also provides what it calls a "Maxveg" solution, which is an integrated solution from nursery to final harvest to raise comercial yields.

"Syngenta has just unveiled its MaxVeg solution for cauliflower, hot pepper and tomato in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka, and we will soon extend this to watermelon in Maharashtra," he says.

In addition to its watermelon and MaxVeg efforts, another strong focus has been on table grapes, which are one of India's top horticultural export crops.

"Syngenta India Limited, in association with National Research Centre (NRCG) in Pune, conducted a two-year research project to establish and demonstrate effective pest and disease management in grape cultivation.grapes-1-lowres - Syngenta

"This was done using different crop protection brands of Syngenta India Limited, to ensure the production of quality grapes with a lower maximum residue level (MRL) that can meet the stringent requirements of the European market.

"This is crucial at a time when grapes from Maharashtra are increasingly present across the EU."

Belgwar clarifies that NRCG is a nodal institute of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, and is responsible for research and development in grapes, with scientists that are well known for their technical expertise and knowledge of the crop.

As the second-largest potato grower in the world, India has extensive opportunities for development of the prolific tuber, which prompted Syngenta to collaborate with the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), which Belgamwar claims has "in increased productivity, positive impact on growers, and established right agronomic practices during vegetative, reproductive and harvesting stages".

In percentage terms, the Punjab project conducted in the Jalandhar and Hoshiarpur led to increase yields of 25%, which Belgamwar emphasizes is a "solid proof point" for public-private partnerships.

"The adoption of the protocol by 173 farmers from the two districts, resulted in a much improved ROI of 1:7.1 for potato growers.

"We are continuing our collaborative program with the PAU in the current potato season and the crop is expected to be harvested by February."

When it comes to protecting intellectual property, Belgamwar says that while India is not a signatory to the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV), it signed on to the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) after joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995.

"Under TRIPS the Sui generis system was adopted in harmonization with UPOV system of Novelty, Distinctness, Uniformity, Stability and Farmers' Rights were envisaged," he says.

"The Act covers all the categories of plants, except micro-organisms. So, in India we do protection of plant varieties through these methods."




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