Rajagira, a magic crop

Agriculture

Rajagira, a magic crop


The centre of attraction at the recently concluded Krishi mela in Bangalore was a bunch of grains swaying in the wind giving visiting farmers a warm welcome. We are talking about a plot where Rajagira grains were grown as part of a demonstration.

The farmers who gathered at the mela listened intently to the details given about the wonder cereal by Project Assistant Manjunath. “It is purely a dry land crop. It neither needs heavy manuring, nor spraying of pesticides,” explains G N Dhanpal, the head of the project. The cereal is suitable for all types of soil. More importantly, it can withstand drought. The standing crop was a silent witness to their words.

Though belonging to the monocot - dicot family of small millets, it is also called ‘pseudo’ millets. Rajagira is like a minor millet like saave (little millet), baragu (Proso millet), navane (foxtail millet) etc. The common name for Rajagira is ‘Grain Amaranth’. The seeds are pale white and resemble poppy seeds.

Though Rajagira has its origins in Mexico, it is widely grown in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh in the country. It records a 40 per cent of the total food production in Gujarat itself.

In Karnataka, Rajagira with black seeds is popular. It is grown as a mixed crop with ragi in Tumkur, Hassan and parts of Bangalore rural district. The white seeded Rajagira was grown only for the stems and stalks. The Suvarna variety introduced by the Agricultural University in 1985 neither reached the dry land farmer, nor were efforts made to popularise it.

Drought-resistant

Even in places with 300 to 500 mm of rainfall, Rajagira can be grown. “It can even be grown in conditions where there is less fertile soil,” says Dhanpal. Limited inputs and low labour requirement are the advantages of cultivating Rajagira. As much as 400 to 500 gms of seeds are sufficient for an acre. The crop is ready for harvest in about 90-95 days. The monsoon months of June-July and post-monsoon months of September –October months are suitable for sowing. Sown in September, it is ready for harvest in January. In irrigated fields, it can be sown in Feb-March. As it is a seed variety, the farmer gets plenty of seeds for further sowing and no extra expenditure is incurred, says Manjunath.   

“Collection of seeds should be conducted during the summer months. The seeds turn black in the rainy season, and are not of good quality,” explains A R S Sharma, who has been growing Rajagira organically in his farm at Aralu Mallige near Doddaballapura. It is grown in terrace gardens of Bangalore also.

Prior to the monsoon, about 10 tons of farmyard manure should be spread evenly on one acre of land and cultivated. Seeds should be mixed with sand (1:4 ratio) and sown for even distribution. Moisture should be maintained to combat ants. “The seeds should be collected before the plant dries up completely,” warns Dhanpal.

Inter-cropping

Rajagira can be grown as a mono crop. If space does not permit, it can be grown as an inter crop along with ragi, maize and jowar at 1:3 ratio. There is no need for extra manure and water. Even if the main crop fails, the inter crop will not let the farmer down. Rajagira is not only a food crop but used as fodder also. Thirty days after sowing, the leaves can be used as green vegetable. After 45 days, the plant can be used as fodder. The seeds can be harvested after 85-90 days. As many as 12-15 quintals of seeds can be obtained from one hectare. The flour of Rajagira can be mixed with the flour of ragi, maize, and rice in a 1:5 ratio. Some people are allergic to wheat, because of its ‘gluten’ content. Such people can consume Rajagira as an alternative.

Opportunity for value-addition

Nutritious malts, delicious chikkis, rotis, papads and biscuits, can be prepared out of Rajagira. The Pune district of Maharashtra is famous for chikki  and laddus made out of  Rajagira. “The same has been made and tested for nutrition in the Home science department of the agricultural university of Bangalore. But no effort was made to deliver it to the common man,” says Sharma.

Marketing strategy

Rajagira has ample opportunities for value addition, can be easily grown, with no post-harvest hassles, yet it has not found favour with farmers. The central government is all set  to bring the ‘Food Security Act’ very shortly, under the ‘Food for all’ policy. If only nutritious and environment friendly under-utilised crops like Rajagira are included as part of the public distribution system (PDS), farmers will find a market.

For seeds of Rajagira, contact G N Dhanpal, GKVK, Bangalore. Ph: 9480315492.

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