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Alternative edible oil from mahua seeds


Seed yield ranges from 20-200 kg per tree, depending on its growth

RURAL INCOME: The tree is well adapted to varied weather conditions. Inset: The oil content in the seeds is equivalent to that of groundnut oil. — Photo: FC&RI

SCIENTISTS AT the Forest College and Research Institute (FC&RI) of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU), Mettupalayam have been conducting research on Mahua (Bassia latifolia), an oil-bearing tree.

Mahua is known as Illupai maram in Tamil and Hippi in Kannada, which can be successfully grown in the wastelands and drylands.

The seeds of the tree, popularly known as `Indian butter tree,' have been found to yield good quality edible oil, which is equivalent to that of groundnut oil, said Prof. K.S. Neelakantan, Dean of FC&RI.

Edible oil

The seeds contain 30-40 per cent fatty oil called mahua oil, which is edible and is also used in the manufacture of various products such as soap and glycerine.

The oil cake is used as bio fertilizer, organic manure and as feed for fish and cattle. The leaves are used as fodder and as green manure. The flowers are used for extracting ethanol, which is used in making country liquor.

Potential income

The tree is found in abundance in Thanjavur, Tiruchi and Perambalur regions of Tamil Nadu and along the Cauvery River basin.

About 30-40 percent of the tribal economy in north India such as in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa is dependent on the mahua seeds and flowers. The tree has a potential of enhancing rural income.

Being an evergreen variety, it reaches a height of 45-60 feet, and is well adapted to varied weather conditions. With its wide spreading branches and circular crown the tree present a visually appealing structure.

Though the tree starts bearing seeds from the seventh year of planting, commercial harvesting of seeds can be done only from the tenth year, according to Prof. Neelakantan.

Seed yield ranges from 20-200 kg per tree every year, depending on its growth and development. Being hardy and pest resistant, the tree requires little attention once it has taken root.

Propagation technique

Elaborating on the technique for propagating the trees, he said the variety can be propagated through seeds and transplanted seedlings.

Seeds are sown at a depth of 1.5-2.5 cm on raised beds. The seeds germinate in about ten days.

One-month-old seedlings are transplanted in plastic containers of 15 x 25 cm. Six to twelve-month old-seedlings are used for planting in the main field.

Potential genotypes

The FC&RI has identified about 30 potential genotypes distributed across the country. These genotypes have been assessed for oil content, which ranges from 26-51 per cent, according to Prof. Neelakantan. "The institute has standardised the vegetative propagation technique for mass multiplication of high yielding oil varieties."

"By this technique, cuttings (scions) have been collected from identified high yielders and successful seedlings (ramets) have been produced that are currently being studied," said Dr. K.T. Parthiban, Associate Professor of the Institute.

For more information readers may contact the Dean, FC&RI, Mettupalayam, phone: 04254-225064, email: deanfor@tnau.

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