World Food Day was celebrated on October 16 and it’s time to prepare for the Rabi crop again. If the ‘Nachneachem Fest’ in Mapusa, in March, provided some with the requisite seed to grow some nachni or finger millet, now is the time to experiment with a pseudo millet, call rajgira or ramdhana.
Dr N Devakumar and Dr Niranjan Murthy – two of my batchmates during BSc (Agri) at the University of Agricultural Sciences, GKVK-Bengaluru – have headed the All India Coordinated Research Network (AICRN) on potential crops with rajgira as the major crop among them.
WHAT IS RAJGIRA?
Botanically, rajgira or Amaranthus caudatus is the first cousin of our tambddi bhaji (Amaranthus blitum) and a close relative of kudduki (Celosia argeratum). It can grow in Goa, and would be good to cultivate in the International Year of Millets or IYM-2023.
It is called a pseudo millet because it is a dicot plant, although the grain is small like the grains of millets, which are monocot plants.
The good thing about rajgira is that it is gluten-free and so the growing number of gluten-intolerant persons can eat roti, laddoo and biscuits made from it. No wonder, then, that it is called rajgira or ‘Royal Grain’ or even ramdhana or ‘Gift of God’.
More than one species gives the grain that is called rajgira, but there is no need to worry that one of the species is called Amaranthus hypochondriacus or that the other has a Spanish sounding name, Amaranthus cruentus.
It was the staple food of the Aztecs, constituting 80 percent of their energy requirement. There are more than a thousand accessions in India which have been evaluated and about twenty-five varieties have been released for cultivation.
Seed rate is about one and half kilogram per hectare when sown in lines about half a metre apart. Double the quantity of seed is needed for broadcasting, which is the traditional method in Goa.
The seed is sown dry. When the seed shows signs of germination, the field is irrigated. The critical stages of growth are 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.
It is best grown under irrigated conditions during the Rabi season.
REASONS TO LOVE IT
Rajgira is slow to digest and rich in proteins and has a balanced amino acid profile. It is high in minerals, especially calcium, and is full of antioxidants.
It has anti-microbial properties and is used in herbal medicine by tribals in central India. It helps prevent hair loss and greying.
It lowers cholesterol and the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Rajgira laddoos are normally consumed during winter months to help generate body heat through the metabolic process.
Earlier dubbed as minor or under-utilized crop, rajgira is now considered a potential crop for the future. Not just its grain, but also the tender leaves serve as a vegetable.
The author is a 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