The Famed Nilgiri Potato

(Potato is said to be in high demand in these times of lock down. No wonder !! We all know that it was Collector Sullivan who introduced, among other things, potato to the Nilgiris with the assistance of an English soldier-farmer, Johnstone, and an African assistant, Jones. The first harvest fetched mammoth tubers weighing five lbs !!  What is the rest of the story or history? )

The experiments  were subsequently extended to Wellington where it was found that three and even four crops could be raised in a year. In 1847 Major Ouchterlony, a British plan­ter, in whose memory the Ouchter­lony Valley in Gudalur Taluk still exists, found that Ceylon (Srilanka)  offered a very good market for Nilgiri potatoes. Though the total area under potatoes was only 186 acres, the yield was phenomenal owing to the virgin soil.

The establishment of the Gov­ernment Botanical Gardens in Ootacamund in 1848 gave an impetus to potato cultivation, which began to attract the attention of the ryots, especially Badagas. They were pro­vided with facilities including the supply of seeds from the Botanical Gardens and, as a result, the area under potatoes expanded to 754 acres in 1876. The European settlers also started cultivating pota­toes on the lands around their houses. Thus the cultivation of po­tatoes established itself as a paying proposition among the inhabitants of the Nilgiris and grew into a re­gular industry among them  towards the be­ginning of the last  century. The possibilities of exporting the com­modity to Ceylon, Burma and Straits Settlements were explor­ed by the authorities and new va­rieties were imported and experi­mented upon at the Botanical Gar­dens from 1910 to 1914.

Mr. Fran­cis, (author of The Nilgiris Gazetteer), a very enthusiastic British Col­lector, who evinced a keen inter­est in the development of potato cultivation as a means of better­ing the economic lot of the people here, obtained permission from Government to import two tons of good seed potatoes from Australia for distribution among the native growers.

The question of expanding seed production in 1915-16 led to the es­tablishment of the Government Agricultural Research Station in 1917 at Nanjanad.  Work was origi­nally confined to the task of evolv­ing suitable varieties of potato for the Nilgiris from the seeds  im­ported from the UK and Australia. In the va­rietal sphere, 47 varieties are now under study at the station. After  35 years of trial, a variety called “Great Scot” has been found eminently suitable for the Nilgiris due its “early ma­turity, cosmopolitan habit, round medium tubers, smooth white skin, fleet eyes and hard flesh”.  Next came Royal  Kidney, which belonged to the species of Great Scot except for its shape. Bencruachan, Kerr’s Pink Edward, Golden Wonder and Bressie were other notables.  

In addition to research valuable work has been done on the manurial side also with the result that a brand of manure called the Nanjanad Mixture was evolved. This served as a standard for all manufactures of potato fertilisers.

After 1957, the responsibility of keeping the potato commercially viable rested with the Central Potato Re­search Institute at Muthorai.  It is this institute which is facing the threat of closure due to short sighted bureaucratic reasons.

Nilgiri Documentation Centre

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