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Alcira, the new onion created by INTA: itches less and the particular reason for its name


It was developed by an agronomist engineer in San Pedro. He explains why it's less itchy but warns that 'it still makes you cry'.

“An old INTA researcher once told me, '

look, when you register a variety, give it a name that reminds you of something nice because with this you're not going to earn money or be a millionaire


So, I named the first one Victoria, after my youngest daughter at that time.

Paula is my wife's name.

The last one was Alcira,

in memory of my mother


The speaker is Ignacio Paunero, an agronomist in his sixties.

Victoria, Paula and Alcira are women from his life.

Also, varieties of onion that he gestated.

He is in San Pedro, Buenos Aires province, where he lives and works and where he will retire sooner rather than later.


contacted him about the presentation by the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) of a new type of onion that is less spicy, developed at the San Pedro Agricultural Experimental Station: “It has less sulfur compounds and therefore it is less spicy.

But it still makes you cry." 

Her name is Alzira.

Taking Alcira's story, Paunero appeared, with his seriousness of few words, softened at the end of the interview: “Why is Alcira an elongated onion?

We thought it was

a nice shape

and so that there is a greater offer of different colors and shapes.

Don't you think she's cute?"

One paragraph for your particular jargon: the “materials” are the genes.

The “cultivars”, the varieties, in this case, of onion.

Onions, in their uniqueness, are "individuals."

When viewed as a group, they are a "population."

Ignacio Paunero, agronomist expert in vegetables, at INTA's San Pedro Agricultural Experimental Station.

As will be explained below, Alcira, Victoria and Paula are daughters of interbreeding, a

daily procedure in the agricultural world

, but much less known in the tedious metropolitan sphere.

From onion to mustard

Paunero deceives with his country tilde: “I am from the Belgrano neighborhood of Buenos Aires, but I never liked the city.

I hated riding the subway, the bus... I always liked the outdoors.

I looked up this career for that.

In particular, the part of Biology”.

“I went through Santiago del Estero, through La Rioja, I spent ten years in Catamarca -in fact my children were born there- and finally I settled in San Pedro.

I joined INTA in 1989. A few years later I was able to do a master's degree in Agriculture at the National University of Cuyo.

From there I worked on different vegetables, ”he recalled. 

It implies that it is a struggling world.

The search with claims of success must be patient.

He describes everything with a low profile and modesty: “I mainly worked with onions and aromatic plants.

Particularly, coriander and mustard, of which I have some varieties that I have been able to obtain”.

"Victoria", one of the three types of onion developed by Ignacio Paunero at INTA.

naturally vs.


In certain niches, concern for healthy eating, stripped of

artificial processes and additives,

has been gaining ground for some time .

How is this imprint carried with the genetic alteration of food?

Paunero discusses the concepts and clarifies.

“We do traditional genetic improvement.

Genetically modified organisms are those to which a piece of DNA is introduced, even from another species, through genetic engineering techniques.

It is totally different from what we do here: we only help to ensure that the varieties are close to each other”, he stressed.

And even more, he said, "having materials (

N. de la R.: genetic varieties

) developed naturally in a certain area means that we can practically grow them without applying fungicides or insecticides or anything."

Ignacio Paunero, INTA agronomist, controlling onion crops.

Thus, "by having adaptation to the place, they are more resistant. They could enter into an organic or agroecological management scheme."

How do onions intertwine?

“We crossbreed in the field, in the open air.

In this case they are allogamous plants.

In other words, the plant must be fertilized with the pollen of another plant, something that we basically do through the action of insects”, he explained.

And opening (inadvertently) a dense chapter, he detailed: "What we did was place the plants we wanted to cross and when they flowered, we placed bee hives to exchange pollen. It takes a long time to explain."

The "Paula" onion, purple and more elongated, was also generated by crossbreeding, at INTA.

Paunero alluded to the "legal question", another issue to take into account (and that would lead to a parallel chapter): "The plants that you use in a crossbreeding can be used only once, according to the seed law. If you use


more once, you have to pay royalties”.

The crossbreeding they did was followed by a key moment, which is the selection: "This is how the characters that interest one are established."

In other words, the

characteristics of each onion

, such as that Alcira "cuts less", for example, an aspect related to the climatic conditions of San Pedro, "which, being in the humid pampas -compared to arid zones-, has a lower concentration of different sulfur compounds, which are what give it itch”.

The charm of Paula and Victoria

“This process began in 2002 and up to now

three cultivars

have been obtained .

We achieved a population that is highly adapted to this area”, the Engineer clarified, and explained that the other varieties also have their own.

“We have selected three onion bulb shapes: one that is red, flattened and is called Victoria.

Another, elongated, also red or purple, called Paula.

And the latter, yellow-brown in color and elongated: Alcira, ”he listed.

In halves, specimens of the "Victoria" onion, from INTA.

Perhaps out of ignorance, perhaps out of greater familiarity with animal progeny, one wonders how this selection comes about.


what for


Is variety added for purely commercial reasons? 

“In the case of Alcira, we were looking for some characteristics in the bulb shapes.

Over the years we have seen individuals with an elongated shape and a yellow-brown color.

At first we took them out so that the population in the dwellings would not contaminate us, ”he admitted. 

The "Alcira" onion was recently presented by INTA: it is elongated and softer than normal.

However, they persisted: "So we decided to multiply in isolation, in cages, with fine cloth so that no insect could penetrate."

The result is triumph in the world of Paunero: "We obtained

a seed

. A 100% yellow population seed as the dominant characteristic."

food sovereignty

The Engineer explained that "in order for this purity to be maintained, the varieties have to be

no less than 1,000 meters from each other


And if they are of a different color, at least 2,000 meters away”.

You must have a certain "prophylaxis" (if it is possible to say so), in order to "respect the characteristics of each variety".

Ignacio Paunero, INTA agronomist, checking some of the crops he works with.

The reason is in the so-called

food sovereignty

: "The idea is that countries do not depend on importing genetic material from other places, which on occasion may not be available."

And to close, he shared his personal perspective: "It is always good for countries to have their own genetic materials adapted to their agroclimatic characteristics."

Especially in the context of drought and great fluctuations in temperature, since "crops gain strength in terms of adapting to changes that may occur in the climate."


Source: clarin

All life articles on 2023-03-23

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