Introduction to Makhana
Makhana (in Hindi) Fox nut & Gorgon Nut ( in English) & Euryale ferox ( Biological name), is a high in demand aquatic crop, belonging to the Family of ‘Nymphaeaceae’. This commonly known and widely-used crop is unique, high on nutrition content, and a non-cereal food. Although the crop is cultivated in different parts of the world, but India is home to nearly 70-80% of the global produce. Countries including Japan, Korea, China, Bangladesh and Russia also grow Makhana in wild form.
Climate Suitable for Cultivation
Makhana or Fox nut is a plant that is mostly found and grown in tropical and subtropical climates. It requires a conducive range of temperature between 20 to 35 degree Celsius for proper growth and development, along with a relative humidity of 50%-90% and an annual rainfall of 100-250 cm. Other optimum conditions for a thriving crop include the condition in which the rainfall should organically reach water bodies with less than 50% water transparency.
This commercially important aquatic and prickly water plant has gigantic floating nature leaves of size 1-2 metre, and these leaves are formed on 3-5 feet long petioles, having green colour on the upper side and purple on the lower side. The plant flourishes well in stagnant perennial water bodies (including various ponds, land depressions, oxbow lakes, swampy lands and ditches) with 0.2-2 m depth, with thick rhizomatous stem, deeply rooted in cluster form in sediment.
Also known as ‘ Black Diamond’ due to its multi-purpose use in medicine, healthcare, nutrition, the plant can be consumed in various forms. It is also widely consumed by people across the globe as a popular breakfast, evening snack, curries and sweetmeats. The plant has assumed great commercial importance in the last few years with ever increasing export potential to leading countries across the globe.
Crop Cultivation Investment
Makhana or fox nut or Gorgon nut as it is commonly known, is cultivated either in water bodies/ponds having water depth of 4-6 ft. or in 1-2 ft deep shallow agricultural fields.
Cultivating Makhana incurs minimum expenditure as new plants easily germinate from the left over seeds, which are taken from the previous harvest.
Makhana farmers and growers need investment in thinning out the overgrowths, transplanting them in sparse areas, using minimal insecticides and then finally collecting the dispersed seeds from the bed of the pond during the harvesting
Steps of Cultivation
Cultivating makhana includes clearing the pond or other water body, broadcasting the seeds, thinning and filling gaps, protecting the plant, harvesting them and then then finally collecting the seeds.
Water bodies that are in running cultivation do not require broadcasting because saplings automatically produced from the left over seeds. Experienced growers sweep entire floor of the water body and create heaps of the sunken seeds that are scooped out with the help of necessary equipment. Small and fine nets are used for collecting smaller and lighter makhana seeds.
Once collected, these seeds are thoroughly thrashed to remove the membranous cover. Experienced growers are able to ensure a yield of seeds varying from 2-3 tonnes per hectatre of a water body.
Effect of makhana cropping system and soil fertility
The fox nut plant or makhana as it is commonly known, is known for enhancing and improving the nutrient status of soil over a period of time. This plant contains nearly 0.48% phosphorus (P), 0.40% potassium (K), 0.31% nitrogen (N), 2200 mg/kg iron (Fe), 1000 mg/kg Manganese (Mn), 8.0 mg/Kg Copper and 105 mg/Kg Zinc (Zn).
The seeds of Makhana or Gorgon nut contain 1.67% nitrogen (N), 0.40% phosphorus (P), 0.12% potassium (K), 960 mg/kg iron (Fe), 40 mg/kg manganese (Mn), 12.0 mg/Kg copper and 125 mg/Kg zinc (Zn).
As per the research done on positive effects of Makhana cropping system byt various organizations, it can be easily deduced that Makhana cropping adds nearly 8.0 t/ha/yr (Dry weight basis w/w) biomass to the soil which significantly helps in sustainable management of soil.
On an average, the plant contributes 34.35 kg/ha of Nitrogen, 56.04 kg/ha Phosphorus, 53.07 kg/ha, Potassium, 27.26 kg/ha Iron and 12.31 kg/ha Manganese in the soil system. Makhana cropping system significantly increased the nutrient status of soil.
States in India where Makhana is grown
India is an agrarian country contributing to nearly 18 percent of the total Gross Value Added ( GVA). The Indian states of Bihar, and certain eastern states including Assam, and part of Bengal are the cultivating hub of this immensely popular plant.
Production of fox-nut in Bihar
The Indian state of Bihar is the most popular place in the world to procure Makhana. The state boasts of over 80% of the Makhana production of the country. Districts and cities including Darbhanga, Madhubani, Saharsa, Katihar, Purnea, Supaul, Kishanganj, Araria and Sitamari are major producers of Makhana. These districts alone have an area of 18000 ha plus for makhana cultivation with an average productivity of close to 1.8 t/ha. The State Government has played a major role in helping and scaling up the crop production for growers.
Owing to high commercial demand and a very positive response from both national as well international markets, the Government is targeting at extending the cultivation of makhana to 20,000 ha in the year 2020.
This will include moving from pond-based makhana cultivation method and adopting the field-based makhana cultivation technology. As per recent estimate, nearly five lakh plus families are directly involved in makhana cultivation, its harvesting, popping, and produce selling, etc. Between 8000- 10,000 tons of popped makhana is sold every year in the market costing Rs. 200-500/kg, depending on the quality, availability, season etc.
Government Impetus and Initiatives
State governments in India are providing subsidies to farmers up to 50% on stand cost of makhana cultivation, in order to ramp up the production. More push is being given to farmers who cultivate makhana in the field system. Institutions like NABARD are extending generous subsidies to farmers as they mostly have lack of resources for cultivation. Help is also being provided in terms of loans, equipment, diesel and other resources.
Challenges in Makhana Cultivation
Though suitable production technologies have been developed including makhana based
farming system mode of food production system, huge strides need to be made to overcome some of the below mentioned issues:
Proper weed management in water bodies
Developing varieties of makhana
Refining the whole technology for integrating air-breathing fish in pond systems of cultivation
Upgradation of technologies in harvesting, better equipment including popping machines and seed graders.
Providing better subsidy so that farmers can buy better quality equipment and related accessories, better cold storage facilities.
Technology refinement in integrated farming system mode of makhana cultivation.
Mechanical refinment in harvester, seed greader and popping machines to reduce the Future of Makhana Cultivation.
Future of Makhana Cultivation
Owing to ever-increasing commercial value, multi-use of this nutritious plant, Makhana is now being recognized as a super food. This combined with the rise in global demand in countries including USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand etc has led to ramping up of the production systems and scales. Both central and state governments are providing impetus to farmers to meet the demand and grow & supply high quality makhana in various forms and packaging. Helping the farmers replace the traditional cultivation systems with new methods and also providing commensurate subsidies will lead to a complete overhaul of the cultivation system, increase the per hectare yield and thereby increasing the incomes of millions attached to it.