With grain amaranth, the rewards start in three weeks
Posted Wednesday, October 9 2013 at 00:00
Different types of amaranth are grown in small spaces mostly for home consumption, but one type--grain amaranth--can be explored for its potential on a larger scale.
Traditionally, amaranth is known as a vegetable, which is a supplement to diet. These amaranth species commonly known as doodo are usually grown on a small scale. Most farmers and consumers in rural areas feed on doodo, which grows naturally.
In 2005, a farmer, Rose Tinka started growing a variety of the multi-purpose grain amaranth, which produces seed, on a larger commercial scale. And she says the crop gives her more than just being a vegetable.
“We started growing this crop on half an acre to address nutrition challenges but it is now more than that. It is paying me well and in a very short time compared to beans or maize,” says Tinka who cultivates the crop on a one and half acre land in Kabaganda Village, Namasagali Parish in Kamuli District.
“I have been growing maize, beans, cassava and others but this doodo crop is easy to grow and matures within a period of 65 to 75 days.”
She describes grain amaranth as a cash crop, medicine and food.
“It is all useful from the roots, the leaves and flowers as well as seeds unlike the traditional variety known for sauce,” says Tinka adding that she harvests over 250kgs of seeds per season.
“I have two seasons in a year and each crop bears at least half a kilogramme of seeds depending on the care. We have two types, that is the Golden type, which yields in 65 days and the Cream type, which matures at 75 days,” explains Tinka, one of over 20,000 farmers benefiting both directly and indirectly from the crop.
According to Tinka, a kilogramme of amaranth grain costs Shs1,200 but harvesting requires more attention to hygiene and proper storage unlike other crops.
Unlike doodo, grain amaranth that starts rewarding farmer at three weeks was developed through a research by the School of Food Technology, Nutrition and Bio-Engineering, Makerere University in partnership with US based McKnight Foundation.
Prof John Muyonga, the school dean, says the crop produces highly nutritious leaves and grain and is adaptive to a wide range of growing conditions making it very good to grow.
“Amaranth is uniquely efficient in utilising sunlight and nutrients at high temperatures and it is more drought tolerant than maize. At three weeks, a farmer is harvesting vegetables, and at six weeks, the seeds are ready,” he says, adding that a two and half acre piece of land can yield over two tonnes of seed depending on the management.
Muyonga explains that the crop is stress resistant growing under dry and wet conditions: “A farmer needs only 200 grammes of seed to plant an acre and the benefits are enormous.”
The consumption of grain amaranth improves health of malnourished children. Those who consume the crop recover easily from nutrition-related sicknesses.
“Research has shown us that grain amaranth improves immunity of people against illnesses because of its high levels of nutrients in protein, iron, sodium, potassium, Vitamins A, E and C, amino acids, folic and fatty acids and fibre and improves production of breast milk for mothers,” says the food technician, while adding that its oil is associated with good skin health which slows aging. The crop also has high calcium content for good bone health.
“The leaves are eaten raw or cooked while the grain can be popped and mixed with sugar solution to make confectionery, milled and roasted to create traditional beer. The flour can also be used to make porridge, breads, noodles, pancakes, cereals, cookies, or other flour-based products,” he says.