One of the popular and modern techniques of growing makhana is the Field system method of cultivation. It is increasingly being used by more and more farmers in India as it provides good yield per hectare and is also less time consuming.
Field System experiment by Indian council of agricultural research (ICAR), India Earlier, it was difficult to manage and grow makhana or the Euryale ferox plant, as it grows in natural water bodies of between four to six feet depth. This resulted in negative impact on the crop productivity and yield per hectare. To make matter worse, no other crop could be cultivated by the farmer in such conditions. This made the entire process of cultivate to harvest very laborious, time consuming and a low ratio of cost Vs benefit.
This problem led to a lot of research by agricultural scientists at ICAR’s Darbhanga centre. They were successful in field cropping of the makhana plant. During the research and trial phase, a low-lying field with clay soil was selected and a direct sowing of Makhana seeds was done in a chosen formation (as against transplanting seeds in natural ponds) after raising bunds along the periphery. Findings of the research are listed below:
Use of best practices: Due to best practices used during the sowing and harvesting, the yield per hectare increased to 25 to 30 quintals per hectare as against the normal 11 to 15 quintals per hectare in natural ponds.
Inter-cropping: The filed system of cultivation also allows for inter cropping of the Makhana crop with paddy, Berseem (green fodder) and wheat. The state and the centre governments have experimented with the combinations of Makhana-Berseem, and Makhana-wheat and Makhana-Paddy cropping systems.
Experiment results: The result of these inter-cropping experiment. Making use of the field system have shown that after Makhana cropping and harvest, a good production of paddy gives nearly 30 percent more tiled per hectarewhen compared with a traditional field. This is so, because makhana or fox nut crops provide a lot of nutrients and organic content to the soil, thereby working positively for the next crop sown.
Field System Process
In field system cultivation, the selected piece of land area or field is well prepared in advance by properly nourishing the seedlings by spraying fertilizers. This is done in the ratio of 100:60:40 / ha, respectively, of Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium application.
Thereafter the area to be cultivated undergoes two to three deep ploughing. The field is then filled up with water up to a height of 1.5 ft. and there after the seeds are sown in the month of December, every year.
It is important that seeds to be broadcasted are healthy and of good quality, that they are uniformly spread in the entire land area or nursery plot. Farmers must also ensure that an optimum water level of 1 ft. height is maintained throughout the growing period of seedlings, i.e., from December to March. After a gestation period of 3- 4 months, the grown seedlings are transferred from the nursery plot to the main field in the first two weeks of April and transplanted at a suggested distance of 1.20 x 1.25 m. This ensures proper growth and nourishment of seedlings.
Indian States implementing Field system of cultivation
As per global numbers, the India state of Bihar leads the makhana production with more than 80% of makhana being cultivated, processed, packed and marketed there. Bihar is one of the major success stories of how this commercially successful super food has not only turned around the lives of the farmers there but also increased and contributed to India’s export to the global world.
Other states that are now learning from and trying to implement the same success story of Bihar are Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Assam, West Bengal to name a few.
Benefits of field system of Makhana cultivation
This method of makhana cultivation is widely done in agricultural fields that consist of 1-2 ft. depth of water. Being a very easy to operate cultivation system, it provides host of opportunities for cultivating numerous fodder crops and cereals in the same piece of land in same year.
Another benefit of this system is that it increases the crop intensity by 2- 3 times. The prerequisite for this system is to raise a nursery. In cropping system mode of makhana cultivation, water chestnut, fish, particularly catfishes, sweet flag could be cultivated successfully. Hence diversification in aquatic food system is possible in cropping system mode of Makhana cultivation.
This modern method of makhana or gorgon nut cultivation, gives higher yield per hectare when compared to the traditional method of pond system.
Less cultivation time: The field system takes lesser time to harvest when compared to the traditional methods.
Constraints of Makhana Cultivation
There are a number of constraints that slow down the whole process of makhana production. These include:
Issue of land ownership: A lot of famers do not own the land and hence undertake makhana sowing and harvesting in alliance with others. There are a number of leased and private ponds that are used, which acts as a major drawback for the venture to become profitable for farmers. In addition, lack of skilled workforce with the requisite know how, it may lead to lesser yield and crop intensity.
Lack of scientific knowledge: Most of the farmers are not aware of the technical knowledge required for understanding the makhana production process. This results in loss of production, less control on the cropping productivity. Sometimes the use of hit and trial approach also becomes detrimental to the crop growth and sustainability.
Lack of credit Facility: Most of the farmers have limited financial resources, this cobined with the lack of credit facilities makes it difficult for them to expand their production or even make use of the modern agricultural technology and equipment. It has also been observed that lack of credit also directly impacts the quality of both farming inputs as well as output.
Labour intensive cultivation: Cultivating and growing makhana involves long work hours and also too much effort of the farmers, even though the field system is much faster but there is scope of improvement.
Lack of grading, packaging and storage: Once the wholesalers procure makhana from the farmers, they transport it to major trade locations. The makhana is then graded as per quality. While some traders grade it as lawa, murra and thurri; there is not standardized grading of makhana which leads to a lot fluctuations in quality and hence the pricing. This further impacts the profitability. Having a standardized grading process will also help all the stakeholders involved in the makhana supply chain reap better profits.
The above constraints together add up to the fact that the supply of makhana both in the domestic as well as the international markets lags much behind the supply. The government has started various programs to educate farmers, help them with the latest equipment, trying to provide better financial resource so that they can scale up the production. Of course there have been many improvements in the last few years but we have a long way to go.