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FARMER'S NOTEBOOK

Innovative makhana marketing network paying dividends in Bihar

M.J. PRABU

Farmers are still cultivating the crop with traditional seeds and methods

—Photo: M.J. PRABU

Room for exploitation: Makhana farmer Kedar Nath Jha in his pond inspecting the crop.

Gorgon nut or makhana is an aquatic weed which grows in shallow water bodies of north Bihar.

The seeds (which are small in size and white in colour) are used for making different food items.

North-eastern Bihar accounts for nearly 90 per cent of the global makhana production.

A pioneer in its cultivation, Kedar Nath Jha of Ujjan village of Manigachhi (Madhubani district) raises this crop in about 70 ponds taken on lease from others.

He grows and markets the crop himself. “Cultivation was uneconomical earlier due to the low price paid by traders in this remote rural area with poor communication and market information facilities.

Harvesting yield

“I started makhana cultivation in the mid-nineties and started marketing it in the Varanasi markets and have not looked back since then”.

“I harvest about 1,000 to 1,500 kgs of makhana from a hectare of pond and earn about Rs. 17 lakhs in a year,” he says.

“Sowing is generally done during December-January and the seeds are sown at a distance of 1 to 1.5 metres on the water surface. About 80 kg of seeds are required for an hectare of pond.

“Prior to sowing I keep the seeds inside a wet jute bag for a week to ensure better germination,” says Mr. Jha.

The crop flowers during April and the flower comes above the water surface and again dips into the water within 3-4 days for fruit formation.

The fruits burst during June-July and float on the water surface for 24 to 48 hrs and sink to the bottom and are later collected (during September-October).

Mr. Jha has his own processing units and employs a dozen skilled labourers for processing the seeds.

This is still done by the traditional methods such as drying under sun, size based grading, storage, boiling of the seeds, frying and popping.

“I spend Rs. 20,000 to 25,000 for growing this crop and earn an average net income of Rs 40,000-50,000 per hectare.”

Private traders

According to Dr. R.K. P. Singh, Advisor, State Farmers Commission, Patna: “For long, makhana trade has been the domain of private traders. They have their networks in rural areas which collect makhana from poor farmers at low prices.”

But an innovation in marketing has already been introduced in Bihar by Mr. Satyajeet Kumar Singh who has established a modern makhana processing plant at Patna by investing of Rs.70 crore and has also established linkages with farmers spread over in eight districts.

His initiative has resulted in ensuring a fair and predictable price for makhana growers.

His network currently covers more than four thousand farmers and his Sudha Shakti Industry and Centres of khet se bazaar tak (from field to the market) network for increasing production and organizing marketing is paying dividends to a large number of farmers.

“Despite the significant economic importance of makhana production farmers are still cultivating the crop with traditional seeds and methods.

Rajendra Agricultural University, Pusa, Bihar, which is located in a makhana growing area is yet to come out with any improved package of practices or a new variety for increasing production in the State,” says Mr. Ramadhar, Chairman, State Farmers Commission, Patna.

No new technologies

Though the Indian Council of Agricultural Research had established the National Research Centre for Makhana in Darbhanga in 2002, it is still in its infancy and yet to reach the farming community with any new technology.

If farmers in Bihar properly exploit this crop, they will have the potential to produce makhana worth more than Rs. 400-500 crores.

Readers can contact Mr. Kedar Nath Jha, Vill- Ujjan, Po- Lohana road, Via- Manigachhi, Dist- Madhubani, Bihar, mobile: 09939037453 and 09934911553 and Dr. R.K.P. Singh, Pant Bhawan, Bailey Road, Patna, Bihar: 800001, email: rkpsingh2k3@rediffmail.com and kisanayog@gmail.com, mobile: 09431245480, phone: 0612- 2206169.

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