India’s Chilli Man

Dr Gaddagimath has dedicated his life to making your life spicy, by that I mean pungent. A plant breeder of international repute he has ushered a revolution in chilli cultivation writes Hiren Kumar Bose


Curiosity, that’s not the right word. Serendipity would be more appropriate to mention my introduction to the world of Capsicum annum L. The botanical name of Chilli Peppers. Or what we all know as Mirchi.

Having read that one Dr S C Kamte was hoping to make around Rs 3.5 lakhs, two years after he had planted Moringa of a hybrid variety on his one acre land at Hattarawat in Chikkodi taluka of Karnataka, I tracked down the man who had advised the principal of Belgaum-based Shaikh Engineering College to adopt the ‘tree of paradise’ as a crop—Dr Nijagunadev Basayya Gaddagimath, Managing Director, Sarpan Hybrid Seeds and was immediately ushered into the ‘fiery and intriguing’ world of chillies.

“Culturally people are not too accepting of planting Moringa. Ask a farmer to plant them and he is likely to consider you to be a fool,” says the fifty-plus Dr Gaddagimath, a renowned plant breeder internationally known for his extensive research on chilli and capsicum while speaking to me on a late night call from Dharwad, where he resides and also has his laboratory-cum-seed company.

Against the expected 150 to 200 pods per tree, Dr Kamte gets about 400 to 450 pods and the number is likely to increase once the trees attain maturity. With the prevailing basic price of Rs. 25 to Rs. 30 for a kg of drumstick, he expects Rs. 3 lakh to Rs. 3.5 lakh in just one year. The fruits of Sarpan SD-2, a Moringa variety developed by Sarpan seeds are 30-45 cm long. Fleshy, they possess soft seeds and have a unique flavour. Its pith is more and very tasty too. A heavy bearer, its fruiting starts 5-6 months after sowing. Its peak blooming / fruiting season is during December-January while May-July is considered its shy bearing season.

A farmer needs at least 8 acres of land to earn the kind of income from other commercial crop such as sugarcane. Dr. Kamte’s total investment was less than Rs. 15,000, which included his share towards drip irrigation and about Rs. 500 for 250g of drumstick seeds.

…   …  …

Founded in 2004 SHS (Sarpan Hybrid Seeds), the Dharwad-based family-owned company had its initial avatar in Sarpan Agri-Horticultural Research Centre and in the last 25 years has evolved over 500 promising hybrids in the field of vegetable crops, pulses, oil seeds and annual flower crops, both of national and international importance.

But chilli continues to be the muse of Dr Gaddagimath, endearingly called Niju, by friends and family.

It was at SHS that the novel hybrid seed production technology of seeds using male sterile lines was established and later stabilised. Today male sterile lines in all 32 global morpho-groups have been established at SHS which is likely to cater to the needs of future markets. More than 800   diverse male sterile lines have so far been developed here.

“We have attained national and international fame in research in this crop. Large germplasm, genetic stocks amounting to over 14000 are being maintained by us,” says the alumnus of University of Agriculture Sciences, Dharwad.

The few promising chilli breeds of SHS which has found favour among horticulturists are Sarpan 45, 90 and 92 and 92-Super 95,102 and 487, especially for colour oleoresins and are at par with internationally known Byadagi chilli of Dharwad. While Sarpan Dandicut, 246, Redbull and 92 Delux are grown not only for high colour but also capsaicin needs—a maiden attempt of  a true matching F1 hybrid in all quality parameters of Byadagi which fulfills the needs of the market and value addition industries. Research work on high colour oleoresins chillies is of immense value.

Many may not be aware that the pungent component of chili peppers, Capsaicin has long been used as a topically applicable cream for the treatment of diverse neuropathic pain disorders.

“There is a waiting period of 10-12 years to develop and commercialise an F1 hybrid while uncertainty dogs research outcome and results. We have developed F1 hybrid chillies, which are considered best in the world with the highest colouring unit of 502 ASTA (measuring unit of colour – American Spice Trading Association unit),” claims Dr Gaddagimath.

Hybrids with high colour low pungency, high colour high pungency are for industrial high value products, namely capsaicin for pharmaceutical needs and natural colour for commercial use in various food, meat, pharma, confectionary, textile and cosmetic and other allied industries. The most significant determinant of the quality of paprika powder is the content of colouring matter. The extractable colour of paprika is usually expressed in ASTA colour value or in Colour Units while the spiciness or hotness, referred to as pungency by scientists is measured according to the Scoville scale. The pigment content increases as the fruit ripens and continues to sink in the fruit after maturity.

Sarpan Chilli 487 holds the topmost rank in the world for its ASTA colour value of 502 and followed by Sarpan 102 with Sarpan 92Super with 300 and 350 ASTA respectively. Mexican chilli Numex Garmet-1 is nowhere close with a colour value of merely 302!

Chilli being the focus of the company, Dr Gaddagimath says, “We are working on 32 chilli segments namely Paprika, Cayenne, Tabasco-Piri Piri-Bird Eye Chilli, Anaheim, Fresno, Jalapeno, Pimento, Bell Peppers, Santaka, Habanero, Colour Chillies and chillies for canning industries etc. In our chilli varieties, rain-fed yield is around 900 to 1300kgs/acre of quality dry fruits, in irrigated conditions it is 1500-2000 kgs/acre of quality material under Cayenne/Paprika segments and 2500 to 3500 kg/acre dry fruits of high quality under Santaka/ Guntur/Sanam chillies. Moreover, our seeds are tolerant to major pests and diseases, have 90% germination, flower and fruit early (55-60days) and are uniform in size at harvest.”

Its latest cutting-edge product, Sarpan Dandicut is a high value product as the fruits can be harvested without the plant stalk unlike other chilli varieties. SHS is in the process of transferring this character into other varieties like Byadagi and Jalapeno chilli.  Presently grown in Bellary in 5.5 acres Dandicut has received highest appreciation from growers and the market.

De-stemming is a labour intensive procedure performed in industrial yards, as well as in APMC sheds in filthy environment exposing the labourers to heart and lung diseases and even allergies. Sarpan Dandicut is likely to be a boon in this regard. The debris arising from de-stemming, amounting to over 50,000 MT can now go as organic matter into the soil and not to municipal garbage dumps, an attribute which Dr Gaddagimath considers as “the biggest value addition made by technology.”

SHS has identified two regions in North Karnataka, namely Kundagole in Dharwad district and Anthoor and Benthoor in Gadag district which is conducive to growing export quality chillies.

States namely Karnataka, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat are the main markets where Sarpan hybrid chillies are widely grown. The districts in Maharashtra, namely Sangli, Kolhapur, Satara and Pune have found favour with Sarpan Chilli hybrids. Farmers in Golapur of Rajgurunagar, Pune district have been growing Chilli SH 60 in 100 acres since last five years and had a yield totalling 20 tonnes green fresh fruits per acre.

Success stories of farmers like Prakash Mali of Shirol in Kolhapur district who grows the Sarpan Hybrid 92, a Byadgi variety, has had a bumper crop of green chilli (4 tonne per acre) fetching him a price between Rs 10 to 25 per kg while red chilli with an output of 400 kgs fetching Rs 300 per kg has led his neighbouring farms to try their hand in chilli growing.

In 1937, Hungarian scientist, Dr Szent-Gyorgi, won the Nobel Prize for discovering that paprika pods were one of the greatest sources of Vitamin C, even richer than the better-known citrus fruits.  Chillies are an excellent source of Vitamin, A, B, C and E with minerals like molybdenum, manganese, folate, potassium, thiamin, and copper. In fact, chilli contains seven times more vitamin C than the orange. Among the rice eating communities in India chillies are a must as it breaks the carbohydrates and accelerates digestion.

Many are wary of chillies, thanks to its pungency and prefer not to bring it anywhere close to their mouth. Only if chillies could be sweet.

A chilli which a child or your 80-year-old grandparent too could relish? A sweet chilli, perhaps. A paradoxical proposition.

That’s what Sarpan Hybrid Seeds has done. Developed sweet chilli varieties like Sarpan Madhu, Sarpan Kesar, Sarpan Haldi, Sarpan Cherry and Sarpan Bullets which come in various colours. “We have successfully removed the spicy flavour and made it sweet so that all age groups can relish it,” concludes Dr Gaddagimath adding “without  affecting in  any way its inherent nutritional properties.”





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