It’s time to prepare for the kharif crop again. The ‘Nachneachem Fest’, which was held in Mapusa in March 2023, provided some people with the requisite seed to grow some nachni – or ragi, as finger millet in known in Goa.
Finger millet, Eleusine coracana, originated in Africa and its cultivation spread across the semi-arid tropics.
It was a familiar millet in Goa. It is now coming back to the hillslopes in the hinterland talukas. It has a high drought tolerance and its grains have a long shelf life. It has the ability to withstand cultivation from sea level to altitudes over 2,000 m above MSL. So, it can be grown just about anywhere in Goa.
THE RAGI STORY
Most nachni varieties are rainfed, and of about three and half months (110 to 120 days) duration. The local nachni variety survives in a few pockets due to traditional cultivation. The Indaf series varieties were popular in Karnataka at the turn of the millennium.
Not only was Dr Lakshmanaiah given an honorary doctorate by our common alma mater, the University of Agricultural Sciences, GKVK-Bengaluru, in recognition of his work in breeding the Indaf series of ragi, but a statue of him has also been erected at the university campus.
The GPU 28 introduced in Goa for cultivation last year is an improvement over the Indaf-5 of Dr Lakshmaniah, the ‘Father of ragi breeding’. It yields about fifteen percent more grain when grown under the same conditions of rainfall and management.
The GPU 28 variety is of 110 days duration and very suitable for growing in Goa. It has farmer acceptability as a profitable crop, and consumer acceptability as a good grain for bhakri, chappati as well as for making ambil and tizan.
In case of a delay in the monsoons, the ML-365 of 105 days duration performs better. This variety has also been introduced in Goa for use if the rainfall pattern demands such a shift.
Thanks to the initiative of Rena Menezes during the short stint she was in charge of the crops section, Goa is future-ready in the International Year of Millets 2023. The seed from last year is available in Goa.
Seed rate is about fifteen kg per hectare (6 kg/acre) when sown in lines, but double the quantity of seed is needed for broadcasting, which is the traditional method in Goa. The nachni seed is soaked in water at the rate of one litre water per kilogram of seed for about eighteen hours.
When the seed shows signs of germination, spread the seed on a mat, or cloth, and dry in the shade for a day (24 hours) before sowing. This helps the crop to withstand water stress during dry spells which are not uncommon during the monsoon season.
The critical stages of growth are boot-leaf, ie when the stem swells before the ear-head emerges out; the flowering stage; the grain filling stage and the grain maturing stage. There should not be water stress during these stages, but there should not be heavy rain at flowering and ripening stages.
Those who have fields in elevated areas like morod or molloi (plateau) can grow nachni again this monsoon season. Only a few varieties of nachni can be grown under irrigated conditions.
The author is the former Chairman of the GCCI Agriculture Committee, CEO of Planter's Choice Pvt Ltd, Additional Director of OFAI and Garden Superintendent of Goa University, and has edited 18 books for Goa & Konkan