Poona United Round Table 144 HRD Trip to Kalash Seeds, Jalna (9 – 10th Jan, 2016)
The first HRD of 2106 on 9-10th Jan was a visit to Kalash Seeds, a company that produces hybrid seeds for fruits & vegetables. We went there to see their facilities and learn about the process of making hybrid seeds. The visit was organized Table by Sq. Leg. Vijay Agarwal and his wife Sheetal Agarwal. It was exceptionally well planned and executed, giving us a wealth of knowledge and exposure to the vast field of biotechnology and hybrid seed production.
Kalash Seeds, based in Jalna, is one of the leading producers of seeds for Cotton, Fruits and Vegetables in the country. They has been in this field since over 3 decades and have been pioneers in several areas. They develop hybrid varieties of fruits and vegetables through their R&D and market the seeds across India and also export to several countries. Some of their popular products are Tomato, Potato, Onion, Chilly, Capsicum, Brinjal, Watermelon, various gourds, Leafy vegetables etc.
We started for Jalna late on Saturday night. The bus picked up Tablers and Sq. Legs on the way and we finally left Pune around 11:00pm. The group was already brimming with excitement. As expected, Vijay’s sense of humor kept us in splits and no one felt sleepy. We all gathered around and had a ball of a time sharing chat-pata snacks and even spicier stories during the journey. Sangita started off a fierce debate between ‘J’ and ‘Z’ in her unique Lucknowi andaaz (andaaz with a ‘Z’) which was finally settled by taking bets and Googling the answer. Of course, there was the mandatory chai break on the way to make sure no one slept early.
We arrived at our hotel in Jalna early morning and were delighted to be greeted by Sheetal and her brother. They made sure we were comfortably settled in our rooms. We finally slept for a couple of hours and woke up refreshed and ready for a busy day ahead. Breakfast was fun with everybody remembering the bus ride and clicking selfies to keep our Table’s WhatsApp group buzzing. After breakfast we left for the company’s head office to start our visit.
At the head office we were warmly welcomed and shown around the facility which houses their labs and research center. We were given a presentation on the activities of the company and what we will be seeing during the trip. We got to know some amazing facts about the advances made in the field of biotechnology. E.g. It is possible to identify which set of genes in an organism are responsible for a particular characteristic such as colour, shape etc. and then transplant those characteristics in a different species. We had several queries on the science, ethical and regulatory issues surrounding the use of genes from one organism in another (e.g. BT Cotton, BT Brinjal), which were patiently answered by them.
Thereafter we were shown around the fields that had been grown for demonstration at the company’s ‘Open Days’ exhibition. During this bi-annual event they invite their dealers and end customers to see the variety of products and understand their capabilties. This year they had 14,000 visitors. We went around the fields where they showed us hundreds of varieties of vegetables including many which we don’t often see in the supermarket such as Red Cabbage, Knol Khol, Chinese Cabbage, Fennel, Parsley etc. It was a sheer delight to see and taste such a variety of fresh vegetables plucked right in front of us. Then we went through their processing plant and saw how the seeds are cleaned, graded and treated before being packed and placed in cold storage.
Post a sumptuous lunch, we took a much needed break for a couple of hours to recharge our batteries. Our next stop was the lab where cloning is performed for various plants such as banana, marigold etc. We saw the process of sterlization and then how the plant grows in a bottle filled with a special medium. It was amazing to see thousands of plants growing in bottles on shelves under banks of tubelights. We got learn how from a single sapling, they produce thousands of identical clones within a span of a few weeks.
We then went to their farm where most of the R&D on hybrid plants is conducted. We walked through the greenhouses which were packed with thousands of plants and got an explanation of the steps involved in developing a particular variety of fruit. We got to see and taste some amazing vegetables which we couldn’t have ever imagined. E.g. a purple capsicum and sweet tasting chilly.
It was already dark by the time we finished the visit to the farm and the perfect time to visit a unique farm which comes alive at night. The ‘True potato seed’ (TPS) farm is a unique experiment by the company which has yielded enormous benefit to potato farmers. At the TPS farm we saw potato plants which are supported so that they flower. The flowers are carefully pollinated and then the fruits are grown to full maturity and harvested for the seeds. What is amazing about the potato plant is that it requires 20 hours of sunlight daily. After sunset, everday throughout the year, the shortfall in light is made up by shining halogen light on the plants. The entire farm is covered with high powered flood lights which makes for an amazing sight.
We wrapped up our visit with a lavish dinner hosted by Sheetal and special ‘paan’ by Vijay before heading back to Pune. It was a super trip with lots of fellowship and learning at the same time. The most memorable part of the trip was the warmth and welcome given to us by Sheetal and her family throughout our stay in Jalna. At the same time it was an eye opener for all of us to see a glimpse of this industry. We all returned home with renewed respect for all the people involved in providing us our basic necessities, which we often take for granted when we go out shopping for groceries.
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