Asafoetida, better known as Heeng in Hindi, is one of the commonly used condiments in Indian kitchens. It is an important ingredient in various vegetarian dishes, be it a Punjabi cuisine or south Indian or Kashmiri. But despite being so popular, the country depends on foreign imports to meet its domestic needs. In fact, about 1,200 tonnes of raw asafoetida is imported from Iran, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan every year. It costs a whopping Rs 600 crores to the public exchequer.
In a bid to meet the high demand and reduce dependency on imports, the Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology (IHBT), Palampur, has teamed up with farmers of Lahaul valley in Himachal Pradesh for cultivation of heeng locally. Amid the call for making India self-reliant, it is only fitting that Heeng be produced on a mass scale within the country.
Why was Lahaul valley in Himachal Pradesh chosen for the purpose?
The asafoetida plant thrives well in cold and dry conditions. It takes about five years for the production of oleo-gum resin in its roots. The rate of seed germination is also very low. Traditionally, they are cultivated in the deserts of Iran and mountains of Afghanistan in substantial quantities. In India, the cold desert areas of the Himalayan region provide the optimum environment for them to grow. Vast expanses of waste land would now be utilized in heeng cultivation.
On October 15, the first seedling of asafoetida was planted at a farmer’s field in Kwaring village of Lahaul valley. This marked the initiation of asafoetida cultivation in India.
CSIR-IHBT has made relentless efforts to introduce the crop in the country. It procured six varieties of heeng seeds from Iran through ICAR-National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (ICAR-NBPGR) in 2018. All six accessions were germinated under controlled laboratory conditions, where they were subjected to special chemical treatments.
CSIR-IHBT signed an MoU with the Agriculture Department of Himachal Pradesh to raise heeng crops at CeHAB, Ribling, Lahaul and Spiti, with support from NBPGR. If the collaboration is successful, it will be a major boost for farmers in the region and asafoetida being perennial herbs, the import burden will significantly reduce.