PEP’s tissue culture laboratory has been established in a rented building in Dhaka 1997 with a couple of small outreach nurseries established in Netrokona and Kachua. The Belgian Government funded the initial establishment costs. PEP has been the first organization to actually arrange for cultivation of tissue culture plants at the field level.
The objectives of the tissue culture program are:
- To produce high yielding, disease-free potato, sweet potato and other plants.
- To make the high yielding tissue culture plants available for small cultivators.
- To develop a profitable tissue culture industry that will be under the ownership of large numbers of poor families, providing them with regular supplementary income.
PEP first established a laboratory in Dhaka and a couple of small outreach nurseries at NIDP and KIDP and has been providing plants to farmers in rural areas there. Under the funding of European Commission (EC), PEP has established the building for a much larger tissue culture laboratory directly at one of its field projects, namely at SIDP in 2002. This laboratory includes a nursery, space to store buffer stocks, and staff quarters as well as the main laboratory itself. Under this project, PEP has begun the production of tissue culture bananas and potatoes as well as to add a greenhouse to the laboratory. The laboratory had been producing red sweet potatoes besides white potatoes. There were 50,000 banana plants distributed among PEP target families with very low price as well some general families with costing price. The tissue culture lab at SIDP has been producing germ-free white potato plants from its inception. For last 6/7 years, PEP has been distributing these high-yielding plants among the poor families with subsidized price and general families with marginal profit. These plants become popular in the region and gradually outside the region.
Nutrition is an ongoing problem for so many ultra poor people. For most families being able to provide daily food is the most important job of each day. Finding ways to implement the meager diets of the rural poor is of necessity a problem that needs a local solution.
In 2005, PEP opened a state-of-the-art Tissue Culture Laboratory dedicated to finding ways to grow larger, disease free, nutritious and more productive plants. Through the work of dedicated scientists in Bangladesh and the generosity of Tuskegee University’s Dr. Marceline Egnin and Dr. Jacquelyn Jackson, who had previously developed a sweet potato protocol for NASA, PEP was able to successfully produce the first healthy plants into the field. The purpose of this endeavor is two-fold. First, sweet potatoes are rich in nutrition and fiber. This low-calorie food is low in Sodium, and very low in Saturated Fat and Cholesterol. It is also a good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin B6 and Potassium, and an excellent source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Manganese. Rural poor children suffer from malnutrition that keeps them at risk of disease, slow to learn and stunted in growth. The introduction of sweet potatoes into their diet could nourish them in a natural and pleasing way. The production of a healthy and sturdy seed stock for distribution to the poor could also give them another source of income and nutrition. However, this initiative has been stopped for last few years due to neglect by the project management from 2011-2013. PEP wishes to re-introduce sweet potato through this tissue culture lab when the funding would be available. The organization also intends to produce different types of colorful flowers through this lab that has huge demand in country and abroad and will make the project more sustainable.
In 2013-2014 FY, tissue culture laboratory has produced 262 kilograms of mini tuber, 150 kilograms of pre-foundation and 225 kilograms of foundation seed-potatoes which would cost Tk. 521,800 in total. This tissue culture laboratory has produced a total of 787,500 kilograms of seed-potatoes since its establishment; 60% of these productions were sold to the farmers with marginal profit and 40% were sold to the PEP target families with subsidized price. The varieties of these seeds were mostly cardinal and diamond. So far, 150 acres of lands were used by the organization for producing potatoes and 500 day laborers were involved (3,000 work-days) for cultivating these potatoes. Therefore, the project has further significant contribution on poverty reduction.