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Cloning has turned tea varieties vulnerable
Ajit Patowary

 GUWAHATI, Sept 17 - The growing popularity of cloned tea plants has resulted in the uprooting and replacement of the old seedling teas with such cloned varieties in the major tea estates of the State. This is leading to decrease in the genetic base of tea plantations. It needs to be arrested for the future of the State’s tea industry, said Tocklai Tea Research Institute (TTRI) scientist Dr Pradip Baruah.

 Agricultural intensification, changes in land use planning, pests and pathogens, increased human population, land degradation and changes in the environment, such as climate change, have also contributed to loss in genetic diversity in tea. Loss of genetic diversity of some of the world’s crops has accelerated in recent decades, with many crops becoming increasingly susceptible to diseases, pests and environmental stress. This applies in case of tea, too, says Dr Baruah.

Dr Baruah writes in his article – Tea: An Important Constituent of Biodiversity of Assam, Northeast India – published in the International Journal of Agricultural Sciences (Volume 11, issue 17, 2019) on September 15, 2019, that in order to arrest the loss of the genetic base of tea plantations, interesting bushes in the old, seed growing sections should be preserved, besides planting diverse clones. The opportunity for creating genetic variability in tea through recombination, mutation, polyploidy and tissue culture will be missed if old seed jats (species/varieties) are replaced with high-yielding clones, he warns in his article.

Speaking to this newspaper, Dr Baruah said that the genetically rich varieties of tea plants of Assam may still be available in the forest areas of the Northeast region. And the advantage provided by this stock of wild tea plants should be collected, preserved and utilised for the benefit of the State’s tea industry. Efforts should be made towards this end on the part of both the tea industry and the government. These wild varieties of tea plants are expected to have the potential to provide solutions to the problems faced in matters of disease resistance, quality improvement, etc., of the State’s tea produces.

New approaches to protection of species, habitats and genes are essential if agricultural productivity is to be sustained. Biodiversity conservation goals for the tea estates can be met by protecting and establishing local biodiversity in an integrated pattern within and across the estates. Non-cropping or vacant areas can be utilised to provide patches of certain types of habitat, or to form corridors that link protected areas and enable species to maintain genetic interaction between populations that would otherwise be isolated.

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