Amaranth is a “pseudo-cereal” (a non-grass cereal). Amaranths are “pseudo-cereals” because of their flavor and cooking similarities to grains) that has high nutritional and medicinal value. There are more than 60 species and between 4000 – 6000 varieties.
These species are divided into four classes as follows: –
Grain Amaranth is becoming an important crop for the following reasons:-
- It is an inexpensive crop that can be grown by the rural poor
- It is easily harvested
- It is early maturing producing a lot of seed/grain
- Highly tolerant to drought
- Highly nutritive with high quality proteins (lysine and methionine) and high levels of vitamins and dietary fibres.
- The Grain is highly palatable and can be used raw, cooked, popped or milled to flour. White or golden coloured grains are recommended for consumption. Other uses include green leaves as vegetables, Amaranth oil extract and animal feed.
Grain Amaranth has 2 main varieties the short and tall varieties:
- The short varieties are suited for low rainfall regions
- The tall varieties for high rainfall areas.
Amaranth can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions but does best in loam or silty loam soils with good water holding capacity with a soil Ph of 4.5 – 8.00. Water logging should be avoided.
The crop can grow anywhere in Kenya i.e. 0-2400m above sea level
- Optimal growth occurs at 22-300C
- Normally the hotter it is the better it grows
- For seed to germinate temperatures of at least 15- 170C is needed
Rainfall/ Water requirements
It can do well both under rainfed or under irrigation. It is drought tolerant because it has deep roots that can go up to two metres in such of water.
RAINFALL FIGURES – If grown under irrigation, watering should stop, 15-20 days before maturity
Source of Planting Materials
Certified seeds are available from the following: –
KARI – MTWAPA
- Eastern, Central and Nairobi, R/Valley
Farmers – Lugari
African Amarantha Limited
Clear the land of all bushes, burn the bushes as ashes favour amaranths production.
Hence the clods should be pulverized (broken down) to provide a layer of fine soil surface. It requires fine, loose soils which can provide the small seed with good soil contact
Amaranth is planted either by direct seeding or transplanting. The choice of planting method depends on availability of seed and labor and may also vary with the growing season.
Average seed requirement is 2 kg / acre.
Planting seeds can be grouped into two:
- Pure seeds
- Seeds mixed with fine soil, fine wood ash or fine manure.
Direct sowing is appropriate when plenty of seed is available, labor is limited, and during the dry season when frequency of flooding is less. When using direct sowing, plants are grown in rows. Make furrows 0.5-1.0 cm deep. The spacing should be as below: –
- Short varieties – 45cm by 10cm
- Tall varieties – 60cm by 20cm
Planting is done when the soils are soaked or wet. Spread manure along the furrows and mix well with soil to provide full utilization by the plants. Planting methods include:
- Pure seeds dropped or broadcast with two fingers including thumb
- Pure seeds dropped or broadcast with three fingers including thumb
- Pure seeds dropped or broadcast using tins with very small holes at the bottom.
- Soil, wood ash or manure seed mixture using three fingers including thumb.
Hold a few seeds between thumb and the fingers and drop to the furrows. The seeds require very little soil covering because if deep planted, germination is delayed or seeds may rot. Ashes are used to scare away pests that carry the seeds away before the rains. Germination occurs in 3 – 6 days depending on soil moisture and planting method
Transplanting is preferred when there is limited amount of seed, plenty of labor, and during the wet season when heavy rains and flooding are most likely to wash out seeds.
To shorten the crop duration in the field and to secure a better and more uniform stand especially during the wet season, raising seedlings in a nursery followed by transplanting to the field is preferred to direct seeding. There are two steps to transplanting:
- Seedling production
Seedlings grown in a nursery, pulled and bare-root transplanted. They can also be container-grown in divided trays, lifted with the root ball intact and transplanted.
If seedlings are started in a raised nursery bed, the soil should be partially sterilized by burning a 3-5 cm thick layer of rice straw or other dry organic matter on the bed. This also adds minor amounts of P and K to the soil, which helps in the establishment of the seedlings.
Broadcast the seeds lightly in a nursery bed and cover 1 cm deep. Cover the seedbeds with an insect-proof net to protect seedlings from pests.
- Setting plants into the field
Transplant in the late afternoon or on a cloudy day to minimize transplant shock. Dig holes 10 cm deep on the bed using recommended spacings for the chosen variety. Place each transplant in its hole and cover the roots with soil and lightly firm. Irrigate immediately after transplanting to establish good root-to-soil contact.
Although amaranth is a low management crop and can grow in poor soils, applying organic fertilizer increases yield. Amaranth is a heavy feeder and a nitrogen lover. Use 50 kg DAP/acre or use manure at a rate of 6 tons/ acre. For infertile soils use 100kg DAP /acre. Organically grown amaranth is more preferred in the market.
Amaranth grows very slowly during the first two weeks after germination while weeds grow faster and overtake amaranth if not attended to. Hence 1ST weeding should be done within the 2nd week after germination between the rows to reduce weed competition. 2nd weeding is best done as soon as weeds appear after hilling (2 – 3 weeks after the 1st weeding) Herbicides cannot be used since the crop is in the weed family.
This determines yields since Amaranth is a heavy feeder and hence thinning gives isolation distance to give it space to feed from. It’s best done in the 3rd week. Remove plants from the centre and leave only 3 plants to grow, set like a traditional firestone. In the 5th week thin to leave only 1 plant/hill.
This is done after thinning by earthing up the crop. This gives roots enough space to spread and avoid lodging and diseases.
Although amaranth is relatively drought tolerant, yet insufficient water will reduce yield. Water should be applied especially just after sowing or transplanting to ensure a good stand. As a rule, the plants should be irrigated if wilting occurs at noontime.
Another way to estimate soil moisture content is to take a handful of soil from the bottom of a 15-cm deep hole. Squeeze the soil. If it holds together when you release your grip, there is sufficient soil moisture; if the soil crumbles, it is time to irrigate.
Irrigate thoroughly to maintain vigorous plant growth. Avoid over-irrigation, which may enhance disease development and nutrient leaching. Drip irrigation or micro-sprinkler irrigation is recommended in areas with limited water supply.
Generally, it takes 7 to 8 weeks to mature. Maturity occurs in 45 – 60 days for early maturing (short) varieties while late maturing (tall) varieties take 70- 120 days.
- The crop turns brown or pale green or even yellowish.
- The yellow flowers disappear and the seeds appear eligible in the chambers i.e. seeds are visible to the eye.
- Squeeze seeds between thumb and palm, If the seeds are hard and do not produce milk at all, then they are ready for harvesting (even if the plant has some green leaves at this stage).
- If the seeds produce some fluid give it at least one week to dry.
Deheading (actual harvesting)
- Cut the head slightly below the inflorescence or the end of the stem at a slanting angle using a knife or sharp panga.
- Bunch the heads together and carry them to a spread canvass or polythene paper or bags sewn like canvass.
- A delay in harvesting leads to sprouting especially if there are high temperatures and moisture. Dew should be avoided during harvesting as it leads to sprouting.
Beat the bunch heads hard using a stick. Since the seeds hang very loosely on husks when ready for harvesting, they come off easily.
Winnowing & Drying
Winnow the seeds to clean them and spread them out under the sun to dry. Two or three days of good sunshine will completely reduce moisture levels to required standards (13 percent moisture content).
The yield is 50g/plant giving approx. 1900 kg/acre. The average is 800 – 1200 kg / acre.
The seeds can be stored in clean plastic paper bags in a cool room where rodents are completely avoided. Stored grains are usually infested by rats and cockroaches; however, they are not infested by weevils due to their small size.
Grain nutritive composition
Notable nutritional attributes of amaranth grain include-The protein, which is of an unusually high quality (15-18 percent). When amaranth is used in combination with wheat, corn or brown rice it result in a complete protein.
A ¼ cup of amaranth grain supplies 60 percent of the Recommended Dietary Allowance of iron. Amaranth grain is particularly high in lysine and methionine, amino acids that most grains lack.
Amaranth grain is free of gluten, which is important for people with gluten allergies. It contains 6-10 percent oil which is unsaturated and high in linoleic acid. It is easily digested and it promotes cardiovascular health hence reducing blood pressure and lowers cholesterol. Amaranth has been associated with curing, prevention and management of many diseases.
- Cure – Kwashiokor, Marasmus, nausea, dizziness, Migraines, scurvy.
- Prevention – Cancer of the stomach, gullet, breast, lungs and colon, improves the quality of male sperms, prevents aging, weak muscles, paralysis and emotional instabilities
- Management – Gout, reduction of TB and diabetes, helps in secretion of milk, manages HIV /AIDS, bronchitis, assists in wound healing
Several companies are involved in grain amaranth promotion and marketing. The key ones include:
- Amaranth International Ltd offers both local and export market.
- Incas Health International Ltd
- African Amarantha ltd
- Amaranth Grain ltd
- All Grain Company Kenya Ltd in Nairobi
- MAP international
Local market range between 40 – 80/= per kg depending on the buyer for the grain (for consumption) and 200/= per Kg of seed (for planting) Most of these companies process and sell grain amaranth products’
Pests & Diseases
Amaranth is susceptible to damage by foliar insects such as leafminers, leafrollers, cutworms, aphids, flea beetles, and mites.
The most common is the pigweed weevil (Hypolixus haerens). Adult weevils feed on leaves, but the larval stage is more damaging because they bore into roots and stems.
- The adult weevil lays its eggs in branch crotches, and the larvae bore through stems to the root collar, causing hollowing of stems making them more susceptible to wind breakage.
- Plants wither and lodge.
- Rotting of bored stems and roots predisposing the plant to diseases.
- Extensive tissue discoloration, decay and cankers in branches, stems, and root collars
Uproot and destroy attacked plants to reduce number of weevils
Bugs can cause severe damage to flowering head and seeds especial during the critical seed fill stage.
Spray with permethrin, cypermethrin
The disease is favoured by high soil water content and low soil temperatures. Also dense planting without sufficient aeration enhances disease development. Causal agent – Pythium aphanidermatum, Rhizoctonia solani and Aphanomyces sp.
- Seeds may rot in the soil before emergence (pre-emergence damping-off)
- Seedlings may exhibit stem canker above the soil line and/or root necrosis.
- Affected seedlings eventually wilt (post-emergence damping-off).
- Use disease-free seeds.
- Avoid over watering.
- Avoid dense planting.
Infection is predisposed by injuries. The disease is spread by air currents and infected seeds. Warm, moist conditions favour disease development. Causal agent – Choanephora cucurbitarium (a fungus).
- Wet rot of stems and leaves.
- Affected plant parts have hairy appearance (silk-like threads) consisting of fungal spores.
- Heavy defoliation during rainy season.
- Use resistant varieties where available
- Plant certified disease-free seeds
- Avoid dense planting to allow sufficient aeration
- Practice good field sanitation
Key Policy Issues
Key areas of policy concerns are: –
- Increasing agricultural productivity and incomes especially for smallholder farmers
- Emphasis on irrigation to reduce over-reliance on rainfed agriculture in the face of limited high potential agricultural land
- Encouraging diversification into non- traditional agricultural commodities and value addition to reduce vulnerability
- Enhancing the food security and reduction in the no. of those suffering from hunger and hence the achievement of the MDGs
- Encouraging private-sector led development of the sector
- Ensuring environmental sustainability
Other opportunities in the Amaranth Enterprise
- Seed production – contract farmers to produce seed
- Livestock feed – growing of amaranth as forage and also manufacturing livestock feeds
- Industrial use – Squalene is a special component in amaranth oil which is used as an important in skin cosmetic preparation, pharmaceutical industries and as a lubricant in servicing computers
- Production of edible oil for domestic purposes
- MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE (MoA)
The Ministry of Agriculture coordinates the implementation of agricultural, cooperative and rural development policies. The specific functions which will be pursued by the Ministry include: rural development policy; agricultural policy; crop production and marketing; land use policy; pests and disease control; agricultural research; phytosanitary services; information management for agricultural sector; cooperatives; regional development authorities; among others.
- KENYA AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH INSTITUTE (KARI)
A parastatal established under the Science and Technology Act (Cap 250) with the national mandate to carry out research activities covering agricultural and livestock development through its 17 research centers countrywide. KARI seeds units need to stock enough seeds and carry out more adaptive research on Amaranth
- EXPORT PROMOTION COUNCIL (EPC)
It is responsible for the country\’s export development and all export promotional activities. Its major mandate is to identify and remove constraints facing exporters and producers of export goods and services, formulate market strategy and identify export opportunities, and promote public awareness to the need of export development.
- KENYA PLANT HEALTH INSPECTORATE SERVICE (KEPHIS)
KEPHIS was established by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service Order, 1996 under the State Corporations Act (Cap 446). It is mandated to: co-ordinate all matters related to pests and disease control; monitor the quality and levels of toxic residue in plants, their soils and products; administer Plant Breeders Rights; undertake inspection, testing, certification, quarantine control, variety testing and description of seeds and planting materials; establish the machinery for educating public on safe use of agro-chemicals; approve import application for seeds, plants and appropriate phytosanitary requirements and importation of such material; and be responsible for inspection of produce for export and import.
- PEST CONTROL PRODUCTS BOARD (PCPB)
A Parastatal established under the Pest Control Products Act (Cap 346). Its functions are to regulate the importation, exportation, manufacture, distribution and use of products used for the control of pests and of the organic functions of plants and animals and for connected purposes. Some of these activities are being performed by KEPHIS. This calls for harmonization of these activities in order to avoid any conflicts.
- KENYA BUREAU OF STANDARDS (KEBS)
It is a parastatal established under the Standards Act (Cap 496). Its primary function is to promote standardization in commerce and industry through development of standards, quality control, certification and metrology. It has the mandate of establishing and enforcing quality standards of all products on the Kenyan Market, both locally produced and imported. It is evident that the roles of KEPHIS and that of KEBS overlap thereby creating a conflict. Given that KEPHIS specializes in plants, the Standards Act should be amended to exclude seeds, planting materials, horticultural and other agricultural produce.
- KENYA INDUSTRY RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT INSTITUTE (KIRDI)
It is a parastatal established under the Science and Technology Act (Cap 250). It is mandated to undertake research and development in industrial and allied technologies. KIRDI collaborates with Ministry of Agricultural and Rural Development and other stakeholders in technology development and transfer processing of grain amaranth produce.
- UNIVERSITIES AND COLLEGES OF AGRICULTURE
Among the universities and colleges, Nairobi, Jomo Kenyatta, Moi, Egerton, Baraton and Bukura provide courses at degree and diploma levels related to agriculture, environment and are also involved in research.
- MINISTRY OF HEALTH (MOH)
Liaises with stakeholders in agriculture industry to ensure hygiene in market and public places. It also protects Kenyan consumers from the health risks of contaminated food. The Ministry ensures regular inspection of food premises to ensure they conform to health requirements. Also, inspection of food imports at ports of entry is made in order to detect foreign diseases. It participates in promotion of food hygiene curricula in schools. Grain Amaranth should be promoted by the ministry in nutritional management of HIV/AIDS and gout, cure of diseases like Kwashiokor and Marasmus and prevention of cancers & high blood pressure.
- MINISTRY ENVIRONMENT AND NATURAL RESOURCES
The Ministry is responsible for environmental policy, environmental impact assessment, catchment area conservation, water conservation, among others.
- MINISTRY OF WATER AND IRRIGATIONT
The Ministry also supplies clean water for industry and domestic use. Liaise with Ministry of Agriculture and others to initiate programmes to encourage multipurpose use and reuse of water for irrigation purposes.
- MINISTRY OF ROADS AND PUBLIC WORKS (MoR&PW)
The Ministry is responsible for construction, maintenance and rehabilitation of classified roads. The road network accounts for 80 percent of the country’s total passenger and freight traffic.
- MINISTRY OF INFORMATION, TRANSPORT AND COMMUNICATION (MoIT&C)
The Ministry is responsible for postal and telecommunication services as well as transport by railways, road, sea, lake and air in Kenya. It is also in charge of harbors, ports, and metrological services, among others.
- LOCAL AUTHORITIES (CITY, MUNICIPAL, TOWN, URBAN AND COUNTY COUNCILS)
They develop market and market infrastructure for agricultural produce among others. They are also responsible for collection and disposal of garbage, provision of sanitary facilities and land allocation for marketing facilities.
- African Amarantha Limited
- Amaranth International ltd
- Incas Health International Ltd