It can also be inter-cropped with rice, wheat and green fodder

In a significant breakthrough, Indian Council of Agriculture Research scientists have succeeded in developing a technique for field cultivation of Makhana or gorgon nut, a kind of dry fruit produced from an aquatic plant (Euryle ferox).

Normally grown in lowland ponds in parts of Bihar, Orissa, Assam and West Bengal, it will now be possible to grow the nutritional plant in low farmland and inter-crop it with rice, wheat and green fodder.

“Cultivation of Makhana at shallow water depth in cropping system mode would help to increase its area from the present 20,000 hectare [reduced from the 96,000 hectare in 1990-91] and production to a great extent,” V.K. Gupta, head of the Darbhanga Regional Centre for Makhana told The Hindu.

Great medicinal value

The plant, also cultivated in China and Japan, produces starchy, white seeds, which are edible. The seeds are collected in the late summer and early autumn, and may be eaten raw or cooked. In Punjab and western parts of the country, its seeds are often roasted and fried which causes them to pop up like popcorn. Makhana kheer is popular in Bihar and several parts of the country.

With an annual average production of 50,000 tonnes and an estimated market of Rs. 500 crore per annum, India exports Makhana to West Asia, the United States and some European countries. It is an excellent organic food with great medicinal value. It's seed is analgesic with aphrodisiac properties. In the northeast , unripe Makhana fruit is used as a vegetable.

Scientists say the agronomic management of Euryale ferox plant is difficult as it grows in natural water bodies of four to six feet depth, as a result of which the crop productivity is impacted. Besides, no other crop can be cultivated by the farmer in such conditions.

To address the problem, farm scientists at ICAR's Darbhanga centre successfully experimented with field cropping of the plant. They chose low-lying field with clay soil in which direct sowing of Makhana seeds was done in a chosen formation (as against transplantation in natural ponds) after raising bunds along the periphery. Good agronomic practices that were observed, resulting in a yield of 22 to 30 quintals per hectare as against the 12 to 15 quintals per hectare in natural ponds.

Significantly, the Makhana crop thus grown can be inter-cropped with paddy, Berseem (green fodder) and wheat. The centre has experimented with Makhana-Berseem, Makhana-Paddy and Makhana-wheat cropping systems.

“The result of our experiment indicated that after Makhana, a good production of paddy [especially basmati rice- PRH-10] can be taken easily with 35 per cent more yield than traditional field. Basmati rice or Non-Basmati rice can be cultivated without any fertilizer because Makhana crop leaves lots of organic content [Biomass],'' said Dr. Gupta.

With the help of new research, Makhana can be harvested in five to six months. Makhana plantation done in March-April can be harvested in July-August. Then the farmers can grow rice in this field, after which they can take rabi crop from the same piece of land.

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