Annona reticulate

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Botanical name: Annona reticulata L.
Family: Annonaceae
Common names. English: bullock's heart, custard apple, sugar apple; Spanish anona, anona colorada, anona rosada, corazón; Portuguese: coraçao de boi; other: cahuex, pox, qualtzapotl, tzumuy

Although it is said that A. reticulata is a native of the Antilles, the presence in Guatemala and Belize of a wild variety, A. reticulata var. primigenia, and also of a very wide variability of cultivars suggests that this zone is the species' area of origin. It has been introduced in other regions of the American tropics and Southeast Asia, without achieving a level of importance comparable to that of A. cherimola or A. squamosa.

Of the causes of A. reticulata current marginalization, two seem to be the most notable: reproduction by seed, which results in many trees producing much smaller fruit; and the attack of the seed weevil which lays its eggs in the young fruit. When the adult insect develops, it bores tunnels through the flesh, causing mycotic infections and a consequent deterioration of the fruit.

The most attractive aspects of this species are: its pleasant-tasting fruit, which is generally sweet and creamy; the relatively small volume taken up by the skin and seed; and the plant's modest soil requirements.

Botanical description

A. reticulata is a low tree with an open, irregular crown and slender, glabrous leaves which in some varieties are long and narrow, 10 to 20 x 2 to 7 cm, straight and pointed at the apex; and in other varieties wrinkled and up to 10 cm wide. The flowers are generally in groups of three or tour, with three long outer petals and three very small inner ones. The fruit is heart-shaped or spherical and 8 to 15 cm in diameter; according to the cultivar, the flesh varies from juicy and very aromatic to hard with a repulsive taste. There is a wide variability in the presence of groups of hard cells that are similar to grains of sand. Both the outside and inside colour varies according to the cultivar.

Ecology and phytogeography

A. reticulata grows between 0 and 1 500 m in the areas of Central America that have alternating seasons, and has spread to South America. How ever, it is in the former region that the varieties previously classified as species are to be found: primigenia, already mentioned; and lutescens, the yellow custard apple which grows from Mexico to Costa Rica.

Genetic diversity

In Florida (United Stales) superior cultivars have been selected, especially from Belize and Guatemala. They differ in the characteristics of their fruit and even in their compatibility with stocks.

· Tikal is of excellent quality and medium yield; its flesh is bright-red, except in the white areas surrounding the seeds.
· Canul has a medium fruit with a waxy, shiny dark-red surface and purplish red flesh; it is very aromatic and deliciously sweet with few concretions of hard cells.
· Sartenaya has a medium fruit with a waxy, shiny red surface and pink flesh with a magnificent taste and texture. Although the fruit is not as attractive in appearance as that of the previous two cultivars, the tree is sturdier.
· San Pablo has a long, large fruit with an opaque, light-red surface. The flesh is dark-pink with a good aroma and taste. It is a vigorous, productive cultivar.
· Benque has a big conical fruit with a dark red surface and very tasty dark-pink flesh.
· Caledonia has a small fruit with a dark surface; it is very attractive to cochineal insects (Philophaedra sp.), which are not very common in other varieties. The flesh is pink and has an excellent taste.
· Chonox has a medium fruit with a red skin and juicy, very tasty pink flesh; it is very productive and. for this reason, often has low-quality fruit. It produces abundant flowers in groups of up to 16.

No selections have been made from yellow custard apple and there are apparently no great risks of genetic erosion. It is possible that more intensive exploration in Belize, Guatemala and El Salvador might allow new cultivars to be found.

Cultivation practices

A. reticulata is generally propagated by seed, the germination rate of which ranges from low to medium. Grafting is usually done on stock of the same species. The fruit is harvested after its colour changes patterns although in some cultivars this does not occur and ripeness is determined by feel. The skin is very thin and the fruit must therefore be handled carefully. Most fruit is produced for family consumption and it is not commonly found on the markets outside Guatemala. The commercial future of this species depends on two factors: the establishment of grafted trees of high-yielding cultivars with fruit of a high quality and good appearance; and the adoption of control practices such as using protective bags or eradicating seed-boring insects.

Annona scleroderma

Botanical name: Annona scleroderma Saff.
Family: Annonaceae
Common names. English: poshte; Spanish: chirimoya. anona del monte; other: cawesh, cahuex, poshté

A scleroderma is one of the least-known fruit-trees of the genus; it is grown mainly in southwestern Guatemala and is notable for the structure of its fruit which, unlike the other cultivated species, has a very tough skin, allowing it to be handled much more easily and making it resistant to insect attack. The fruit may be cut and the flesh removed with a spoon. Its potential value is in its high-quality flesh, hard skin and high yield. It could become an export item and a product for wide local consumption.

However, the height of the tree (which does not facilitate fruit harvesting), the fact that the fruit is attacked by birds and the defoliation caused by wind are an obstacle to exploitation of this species.

Botanical description

A. scleroderma is a tall tree which reaches 15 to 20 m and has tough, lanceolate leaves measuring 10 to 25 x 5 to 8 cm. They are shiny on the upper side, slightly pubescent on the underside and have fragile. 3 cm long petioles. The flowers are greenish yellow, the outer petals have a longitudinal prominence which arises in the small branches or in groups in the old part of the thick branches. The fruit occurs in compact spherical groups is 5 to 10 cm in diameter and generally falls off when ripe, without a noticeable colour change. The cream-coloured flesh has a bittersweet flavour and a soft texture.

Ecology and phytogeography

This species apparently grows wild on the Atlantic slope from Campeche to Honduras but is only grown in southwestern Guatemala between 300 and 1000 m on the Pacific slope. In this area, which is called the Bocacosta and has very fertile volcanic soils, there is a short dry season and an annual rainfall of around 4 000 mm. The plant fruits between late December and April, with a maximum yield around the beginning of February.

Genetic diversity

The most visible characteristic of variability is in the fruit's surface. The areoles are generally marked by raised edges which from a hexagon. In some varieties, the edges are reduced to a crisscross of brown lines on a smooth, green surface: in other varieties, there is a central prominence on each areole: in some varieties there are well developed edges and prominences while still others have an irregular, corrugated surface. The fruit also seems to vary in the thickness of its skin, which is on average 3 mm, but slightly thicker and tougher in the smooth-skinned varieties. The Pacific varieties are green or green with brown spots, while those from the Atlantic side have a thicker, reddish green skin.

No cultivars are known to be established by vegetative propagation. Genetic erosion is evident. since it is a crop with a restricted area in a highly populated region where land is required for building or cultivating coffee. Trees which were sown on coffee plantations have been destroyed or deformed because they produce too much shade or because they were damaged by children picking their fruit.

Genetic erosion is very pronounced in A. scleroderma there are no gene banks and a few plants have been introduced into Australia and the United States (Florida). For this reason, material urgently needs to be collected in southwestern Guatemala (from San Felipe, San Andrés Villa Seca, San Sebastian, Colomba, El Tumbador. etc.).

Cultivation practices

Fresh seeds take about a month to germinate, whether they are collected and dried on the same day or stored in bags for a week or two. They do not need to be soaked or treated in any other way. Seeds that have been stored for two to three months need about six months to germinate. In Australia, A. scleroderma grows well when grafted on to stocks of A. muricata and Rollinia mucosa. When grafted material is planted. it must be borne in mind that the trees should be pruned so that a wide crown remains to facilitate fruit harvesting. This also reduces exposure to wind and bird damage.

The shade requirements of young plants shade seems to promote growth - need to be studied. However, trees located in sunny positions would have a lower, more compact habit. Trees grown from seed begin to produce at around four years when they reach a height of 4 to 6 m.

Prospects for improvement

The advantages of A. scleroderma as a fruit for local consumption and export are its high productivity and the fact that the flavour and aroma of its flesh are not as strong as in other Annona species, but are different and pleasant. The abundant, cream-coloured or creamy grey flesh separates easily from the seeds and it does not have sandy grains or fibres that adhere to the seed membrane. The thick, leathery skin does not split and is very resistant to insect attack and ordinary packaging and transport.

Activities that merit close attention regarding A. scleroderma are:

· the collection and evaluation of genetic material;
· propagation through grafting on to stock of the same species or related species to obtain low trees with an open crown, which facilitate fruit harvesting;
· running small market gardens or interplanted crops;
· marketing, since it is a "new" fruit even for Guatemalan markets;
· packaging and transport technology to prolong the good condition of the fruit and its acceptance on the market.

Bibliography

Ahmed, M.S.1936. Pollination and selection in Annona squamosa and Annona cherimola. Ministry of Agric. Egypt Bull., 157.

Campbell, C.W. & Popenoe, J.1968. Effect of gibberellic acid on seed dormancy of Annona diversifolia Saff. Proc. Trop. Reg. Am. Soc. Hort. Sci., 11: 31-36.

Cañizares, J. 1966. Las frutas anonáceas. Havana.

Fairchild Tropical Garden. 1990. Annona issue. Trop. Fruit World, 1(4): 93-131.

Leal, F. 1990. Sugar apple. In S. Nagy, P.E. Shaw & W.F. Wardowsky, eds. Fruits of tropical and subtropical origin. Lake Alfred, Fla., USA, FSS.

Lizama, L.A. & Reginato, G. 1990. Cherimoya. In S. Nagy, P.E. Shaw & W.F. Wardowsky, eds. Fruits of tropical and subtropical origin. Lake Alfred, Fla., USA, FSS.

Morton, J. 1987. Fruits of warm climates. Greensboro, N.C., USA, Media.

Popenoe, W.1920. Manual of tropical and subtropical fruits. New York, Macmillan.

Safford, W.E. 1912. Annona diversifolia, a custard-apple of the Aztecas. J. Wash. Agric. Sci.,2: 118-125.

Safford, W.E.1914. Classification of the genus Annona with descriptions of new and imperfectly known species. Contr. US Natl. Herb., 18(1): 1-68.

Sanewski, G.M.1988. Growing custard apples. Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Energy, Australia.

Schwarzenberg, C.1946. Polinización artificial del chirimoyo. Agric. Tec. (Chile), 4: 156172.

Grain amaranths (Amaranthus spp.)

Amaranthus cruentus, Amaranthus hypochondriacus

Amaranthus cruentus, Amaranthus hypochondriacus

Botanical names: Amaranthus cruentus L., Amaranthus hypochondriacus L.
Family: Amaranthaceae
Common names. English: prince's feather; Spanish: huautli, alegría (Mexico), bledos (Mexico, Guatemala), amaranto

Within the great genetic diversity existing in Mesoamerica, which is the centre of origin and dispersion of numerous species, amaranths occupy a leading position. They constituted one of the five essential plants in the basic diet of the pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican civilizations and were an essential part of Aztec tributes.

It is difficult to classify the amaranth into just one of the three main groups of plant foods normally recognized by nutrition specialists: i) cereals and tubers rich in carbohydrates; ii) legumes and other sources of plant protein; iii) fruit and vegetables rich in iron and vitamins, especially A and C. In fact, amaranths belong to all three since, in addition to their leaves being used as a vegetable, the chief interest in their cultivation and use lies in their seeds which, as well as carbohydrates, contain between 12 and 16 percent proteins, with a high lysine content.

Archaeological findings in Tehuacán in Puebla, Mexico, show that they were already cultivated over 6 000 years ago. They reached their maximum use when grown by the Aztecs in the valley of Anáhuac; their cultivation began to fall off in the colonial period, and Huautli was so firmly established in the food, religion and agricultural practices of pre-Cortés Mexico that even a bird which sought its seeds at harvest time was named uoahtotl, which comes from "huautli" and the word for bird, tototl. A drink (atole) which was prepared with water and huautli or prince's feather flour was called uauhatolli and the flour dough filled with its leaf was called huauquillamalmaliztli (a dish of bledos [prince's feather] tamales). Its cultivation practices also had a special nomenclature: uauhteca was the sowing of its seeds, uauhpuztequemi was the name of its harvest and the unshelled seed was called uauhtlipolocayo. In the Aztec religion, months were designated in which a dough called tzoalli was prepared with the flour of prince's feather seeds and the honey of maguey. Depending on the monthly festivity involved, the dough was used to mould different figures ranging from small pyramids to images of mountain deities. These idols were handed around in pieces among those present and were thus eaten. In the eyes of the colonizers, ceremonies of this type seemed similar to the Christian Eucharist, hence its cultivation was persecuted and its consumption prohibited.

There were actually several factors which acted synergistically to reduce the cultivation of prince's feather; mainly its replacement by other species of grain, introduced from the Old World, a lack of appreciation or distaste on account of its flavour, and religious reasons.

The first two reasons were easily substantiated, but demonstration of the third was not so evident because of the tenuousness of its origin. However, sufficient evidence of this cause can be found in the work of chroniclers, especially the religious ones. There are constant references to the diabolical nature of amaranth. The two direct allusions to the prohibition of its cultivation were made by Fray Bernardino de Sahagun in 1570 and by Ruiz de Alarcón in 1626.

Sahagun writes in the Historia general de las cosas de la Nueva España, at the end of the First Book which deals with the gods worshipped by the Aztecs: " ...if you know of anything among these natives relating to this subject of idolatry, immediately inform the temporal or spiritual authorities so that it may be quickly remedied.... Anyone who does not persecute this sin and its perpetrators by legitimate and meritorious means shall not be considered a good Christian.... The text of the Holy Scripture gives sufficient proof of the deeply malign nature of idolatry and idolaters.... Another folly greater than the demons [their gods] which they worshipped was that they considered the "cloudy mountains" as gods, made images, called Tapictoton, from tzoalli They gave them a human form, painted them various colours, and. when the celebration was over, they shared the images out among themselves and ate them...''.

A little further on, Sahagun describes the feast of the god of fire, Xiuhtecutli, on whose image they placed all the vestments of the chief lord and, placing a throne on his altar and beheading many quails in his presence, "poured their blood before him and also offered a cup [incense] up to him as if to a god and offered him small pastries, known as quimaltemalli and made from bledos (prince's feather) which were eaten in his honour. In all quarters and in every house before they ate them they offered them fire, before which point they did not eat them...". Also at the end of the ceremony in worship of the god of war Huitzilopochtli, as an act of collective purification, the people of the great Tenochtitlan (today Mexico City) shared out and ate tiny portions of tzoalli dough which represented his body. This cult was called tecuelo (god eaten).

As can be seen, some rites of the polytheist religion of the ancient Mexicans had a great similarity with the Christian Eucharist.

In 1626, Ruiz de Alarcón mentions the rebellion which was still going on at that time among some indigenous groups against the acceptance of Christianity, and the continuance of idolatrous ceremonies, including the construction of gods with tzoalli, Religious persecution of the consumption and, therefore, of the cultivation of this species also prevailed, as shown by the following excerpt from Chapter III of the Tratado de las supersticiones y costumbres gentilicas que troy vive entre los indios naturales desta Nueva Espagña by Alarcón:

"It is idolatry when as a gesture of thanks that it has ripened, from the first [fruit] they pick, well ground and kneaded, they make idols of a human figure about a quarter of a yard in size; they have much of their wine prepared ready for the day when they make the idols and, having made and baked them, they place them in their oratories as if they were placing an image, and also set a candle and incense there. Among their select groups some of the wine is offered for the dedication... and, seated in a circle before these idols, with much applause begin honouring and praising them... and, as a token of sacrifice, pour the wine..., some or all of it, before the small idols of prince's feather, an action they call Tlatotoyahua.... However, the owners of the small idols guard them carefully for the next day when those who attended the feast and at the oratory divide the idols into pieces as if for votive offerings and consume them all together.... This fact is ample proof of the very great yearning and efforts of the devil in continuation of his first sin, which was the origin of his arrogance in wanting to be similar to our Lord God... since, in what I have just related, one sees coveted and imitated so realistically the very singular mystery of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, in which Our Lord, summing together the benefits of our redemption, ordered that we should actually eat him, while the devil, who is the enemy of everything good, enjoins that these unfortunates should eat him or allow themselves to take possession of him by eating him in those small idols."

FIGURE 8 Grain amaranths: A) Amaranthus cruentus;A1) fruit and bracts; B) A. hypochondriacus; B1) fruit and bracts

At the famous ceremonial centre of Monte Albán in Oaxaca, when tomb seven was uncovered a single relic was found: a human skull covered with a mosaic of turquoises. Initially, it was thought that the base used for its inlay was a resin, but later it was found that the amalgam was tzoalli which, in addition to its sculptural function, was used to perform another religious and purifying function.

As well as the Nahua culture, many others made prince's feather their ritual food in offerings or in confirmation of their gods, such as the Tepehuans, Mayas, Tarahumaras and Yaquis. The Coras call it bé-be and the Huicholes wa-ve. The Huicholes and the Purepechas manufactured biscuits in the form of animals which the latter called tuycen.

The method of preparing tzoalli or tzoale, that is the mixture of prince's feather flour with maguey honey, is the origin of the present-day manner of preparing alegria, a delicacy that has been sold at fairs, in sweatshops and in the streets of Mexico for about the last two centuries. The change that was introduced so as to discourage the use of tzoalli was the replacement of the huautli or prince's feather flour with burst seed, which also formed a paste with honey. The method of preparing the delicacy is simple: the seed is burst by heating it and adding to it sugar-cane syrup; the mixture is put into moulds measuring 80 x 50 x 4 cm, pressed down and cut into blocks. Cylindrical biscuits are also made. Sometimes the sweet is packed into plastic bags which allows it to be stored hygienically and kept in good condition for several months.

Although preparation of the alegria sweetmeat is the main use of amaranth, in some regions it is used to a lesser extent to make atole, pinole or toasted meal, tamales, chuales, dessert and icecreams and sorbets. It is also added to a mixture of flour to make pastries and pancakes, while the young leaves are used in soups. There are certain foods in which amaranth could be incorporated; for instance atole, milk or bread which are normally served with school meals. This would be a quick way of extending its use. It could also be incorporated in maize tortillas, which are widely consumed in Mesoamerica, or mixed with other flours to enrich their protein content. The possibilities for agro-industrial development with this crop are very promising, since amaranth is very versatile in its use, whether it be in the form of flour, noodles for soup or confectionery, for the extraction of lysine and tryptophan or as a cereal. To this end, agronomic research and machinery are required to achieve industrial development and utilization of huautli or prince's feather which are comparable to those of maize.

The seeds of prince's feather are used for flour (to make tortillas, pinole or toasted meal, confectionery, pastries, biscuits, atoles, "agua fresca", small savoury pancakes, desserts, bread, acalgamas and breadcrumbs), toasted and burst (in the sweet alegría, cereals and preserves) and to extract squalene oil (to manufacture cosmetics).

The leaves are eaten in soups, broths and as a vegetable, and are used in protein extracts, colourings and laxatives. The inflorescences are used for decoration and the stems as animal feed and fuel.

At present, the main areas of cultivation in Mexico are in the states of Guerrero, Mexico, Michoacán, Morelos, Tlaxcala, Puebla and Oaxaca. It is predominantly A. hypochondriac us which is sown under heavy rainfall conditions in small areas, with mixed seed of different varieties, as is done with maize, in order to ensure a harvest. In Guatemala, A. cruentus is mainly sown, under similar cultivation conditions, in the Departments of Guatemala, Chimaltenango and Alta Verapaz. In recent years, great progress has been made in Mexico in the industrialization of amaranth grain, which is packaged in various forms for human consumption. It is also used as starch in the pharmaceutical industry. In Guatemala, INCAP publishes the journal El Amaranto which deals with the agricultural and nutritional aspects of this plant.

As a result of the growing world interest in this crop, the First World Amaranth Congress was held in Oaxtepec in the state of Morelos, Mexico, in September 1991. It was attended by specialists from Argentina, Bolivia, China, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, India, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Peru, the United States and Venezuela. At the congress, the latest advances in cultivation and use were explained and an international network of amaranth specialists was created.

Botanical description

Amaranths are annuals which grow up to 3.5 m in height and have elliptical to ovate-oblong and lanceolate leaves with an acute to acuminate apex. In A. hypochondriacus, the inflorescences are very big and branching, uniform in colour, green or red, and have many flowers with acute bracts, which are rough to the touch. In A. cruentus, the plants are smaller, up to 180 cm, with green or red inflorescences which are sometimes spotted and smooth as the bracts are not pointed. The seeds vary greatly in colour. The inflorescences vary in colour and development, with more of a tendency to be erect in A. hypochondriacus and somewhat more pendulous in A. cruentus.

Germination is epigeal: the seedlings emerge three to four days after sowing and, at 2.5 months, the panicle begins to appear and later flowering occurs. The seeds do not have dormancy problems and maintain their viability at ambient temperature for more than five years, provided their humidity is less than 5 percent.

If there are dormancy mechanisms in the seed, they occur mainly in the wild species. Amaranth has defence mechanisms against diseases: its spiny panicles and seeds, which have a thick, pruinous testa, allow germination in later years.

Ecology and phytogeography

The species of Amaranthus cultivated in Mesoamerica are located mainly between 1000 and 1 500 m. The amaranth develops best in soils with a loamy or loamy-sandy texture and generally does not tolerate clayey soils, since they absorb too much humidity. In areas with a subtropical climate, it is possible to obtain two harvests per year, particularly in irrigated fields.

In temperate zones with an average annual precipitation of 500 to 800 mm, the cultivated areas are for the most part flooded when the rainstorms begin in May and June. Grain yields range from 800 to 1 200 kg per hectare, although it is possible to boost them by increasing population densities and using fertilizers. In experiments in Durango, Mexico, averages of 1 500 to 3 000 kg per hectare of grain have been obtained, using auxiliary irrigation when sowing begins.

Genetic diversity

A. hypochondriac us varies widely, as indigenous cultivars can be found which have red, green or pink ears: the seed may be cream, white, golden or black. The leaf colouring matches that of the ears; however, there are different tones on the stem. Crossings between cultivars of A. hypochondriacus are viable, although they are self: fertile: the same is the case with A. cruentus. In this species, different ear colours are found: red, green, orange, pink and two-colour (red and green). The colouring of the leaves and petioles matches that of the ear and in some cases the stem has a similar colour; the seed may be white, translucent cream or golden. Interspecific crossings have proved viable, which suggests that coincidence in flowering may produce hybrids.

Until now there have been only a few improved varieties of amaranth in Mesoamerica. In Mexico, INIFAP-CIFAP obtained the variety Revancha, which is grown in the high valleys. The CIIDIR-IPN, Unidad de Durango, has obtained five selections of A. cruentus and three of A. hypochondriacus with different characteristics and cultivation cycles.

The use of new cultivation areas and the introduction of more profitable crops, as well as areas devoted to stockfarming, are causing genetic erosion. Germplasm therefore needs to be collected in the main production areas, particularly from native cultivars which might no longer be cultivated. The establishment of gene banks is a task requiring swift action, and INIFAP and the UACH are applying themselves to this. More institutions urgently need to act together with this end in view.

In 1984, under the programme of the CIIDIR-IPN, Unidad de Durango, a series of agronomic germplasm evaluation and genetic improvement trials of indigenous cultivars for the semi-arid regions began: in the future, it is proposed that a gene bank should be set up. The search areas will have to cover the Mexican high plateau: Chihuahua, Sonora, Durango, Sinaloa, which are regions still little explored, and the states of the centre and south which have not yet been completely explored.

Cultivation practices

The amaranth is grown in two ways: in seed beds in the chinampas area (central Mexico) and by direct sowing.

Seed bed. In the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries. huautli or prince's feather was grown in the valley of Mexico in chinampas, which are "floating gardens" of earth piled on floating mats of twigs in canals and lagoons. The agricultural practices which were used in those times still continue in some localities close to Lake Xochimilco (Tulyehualco, Tláhuac, Mixquic). They consist of preparing seed beds which are later planted out. The following steps are involved:

Building ridges. The ridges may measure from 11 to 20 m in length by 1.5 m wide, depending on the number of plants, the difference in level in relation to the chinampa is 10 cm.

Furrow or seed bed.. The ridge is covered with mud taken from the bottom of the water surrounding the chinampa, until it reaches the level of the soil, i.e. a thickness of 10 cm. This mud, which is the agricultural element of the chinampa, is very rich in organic matter, since all the micro- and macro-organic residues of the lake and its surroundings are deposited there.

Once the mud has been removed and placed on the ridges, the excess water is allowed to evaporate ("drain out") through exposure to the sun. When a suitable consistency is reached, it is cut lengthways and breadthways, forming small 4 x 4cm squares (chapines), or occasionally tepehuales in other words larger 20 x 20 cm squares which may include up to five chapines.

Sowing.Using a corncob or a finger, a hole is made 1 cm deep in the chapines. In each hole six to eight seeds are placed. The chapin or seed bed is covered with dried horse manure which is preferred because it is the lightest.

Uncovering the seed bed. On the third day of seed germination, when the seedling reaches 3 to 9 mm, the seed bed is uncovered so that the plantlet may grow without restraints. creation of acomanas. When the seed bed has been uncovered, the plantlets are left there for a month to grow approximately 5 to 10 cm. During this time, they begin to be separated from the soil and from one another. Acomanas are formed so that the plants do not take root in the ridge and their growth is temporarily arrested, giving time for the rainstorms to arrive (June-September).

Packing. Depending on when the rains begin, the chapines are placed in a wooden carrying crate made from pieces of light wood to prevent the plantlets being knocked about or broken during transportation to the cultivation plot.

Transplanting. This a task requiring at least four people. One ploughs the ground so that the damp soil is turned face down while another loosens the seedlings to leave two or three per chapin The chapines are laid out on a maguey leaf one end of which is tied at the belt and the other is held in one hand, or else a portable crate is hung from the shoulder, while a third person, dropping a plant every 60 or 80 cm lowers a chapin into the bottom of the furrow; a fourth person arranges the chapin in such a way that the plant stays erect pressing the soil down around it by hand or foot, thus completing the transplanting operation.

Threshing. The plants are cut 10 or 20 cm from the soil surface, forming sheaves of ten to 15 plants which are left to dry for a couple of weeks.

Threshing starts with armfuls of the dried plant being strewn on to sackcloth stretched over the ground so as to perform the traditional "dance", which consists of trampling the ears over and over again until the seeds work loose. Those that are not separated undergo a further process: the ears are beaten more forcefully with a rope.

Seed cleaning A sieve is made with a cord sack which is tied by its corners to four tree trunks. One person pours bowls of seed on to it while another moves them around with one hand so that they fall through the openings of the sack. At the same time, the first person fans them with a hat so that the air finishes off cleaning them.

Nowadays. these ancestral practices are accompanied by others, such as fertilizing and threshing, which are no longer done manually.

Storage.. The oldest known way of keeping prince's feather is by storage in underground deposits. Large earthenware pots (cuexcomates) were also used (2.5 x 2.5 m, with sides 10 to 12 cm thick). Other means used were barns, granaries or crates. These means of storage are still used nowadays but, more frequently, bags of around 50 kg are ensiled or concrete rooms with mud floors which prevent humidity from passing through are built. However, prince's feather seeds can be stored for more than ten years in dry, well-ventilated places.

Direct sowing In Tlaxcala, Puebla, Oaxaca, Morelos and Guerrero, it is more common to sow an abundant quantity of seed directly into the ridge of the furrow at the start of the rains. Later, the plants are thinned out, which is easier to do when they are 10 to 15cm high. In general, cultivation practices are similar to those used to grow maize: earthing up, fertilization in two stages and weeding.

Harvesting in these cultivation areas is similar to that in the Mexico valley. During September and October, the ears are cut and, when dried, all the leaves of the stem are piled up so that they can be beaten to remove the seeds, which are then sieved and cleaned. The yields obtained generally range between 800 and 1 500 kg per hectare.

Prospects for improvement

In Mesoamerica, research needs to be done on both the basic aspects of this cultivation and the development of farming technologies for the areas currently in production as well as the areas of future expansion (semi-arid zones of northern Mexico). Local consumption and exports will also need to be promoted. Also essential is a complete programme of basic research, the development of techniques and improved materials as well as advertising campaigns recommending the product and its value as a food. Peru, where a programme of this kind has enabled yields to be increased from 1 800 to 3 000 kg per hectare, and even 6 000 kg per hectare on trial plots, should serve as an example. Complementary extension work has been devoted to the different ways in which the product can be consumed and packaged for export.

Among the projects that could be developed for improving amaranth production in Mesoamerica, the following may be considered:

· the formation of gene banks in the present areas of cultivation (central and northern Mexico, the highlands of Guatemala) to characterize and evaluate native cultivars as well as to make a preliminary selection;
· studies on the adaptation of cultivars to new conditions, especially to mechanized sowing and harvesting;
· the development of new cultivation practices: sowing distance, fertilization, weed control, pest and disease management;
· the development of machinery for rainstorm and irrigation conditions;
· genetic improvement of native material and material introduced from other areas in which the two native species are grown, and of A. caudatus;
· an information campaign drawing attention to the nutritional value of amaranth and new forms of use;
· studies on handling the harvested product, its packaging, processing and marketing.

There will have to be an economic and social element in applied research so that experimental results can be evaluated. From the social point of view, a contribution towards improving the peas ant diet must be sought in the intensive cultivation of the amaranth, as was attempted some years ago in Guatemala.

Bibliography

Alejandre Itúrbide, G. & Gómez, F. 1986. Cultivo de amaranto en México. Chapingo, Mexico, Dpto de zones áridas, UACH.

Alejandre Itúrbide, G. 1990. Cruzas interespecificas en amaranto. Memorias del Congreso Nacional de Fitogenética. Cd. Juárez, Chih., Mexico.

Alejandre Itúrbide, G. 1990. Evaluación de germoplasma de amaranto. Informe técnico. CIIDIR-IPN, Unidad de Durango, Mexico.

Bressani, R. 1991. Aspectos nutricionales del amaranto. Memorias del Primer Congreso Internacional del Amaranto. Oaxtepec, Morelos, Mexico.

Castille Chacón, F. 1980. El amaranto. Chapingo, Mexico, Laboratorio de Farinología, CIAMEC, INIA.

Espitia, E. 1991. Recursos genéticos de amaranto (Amaranthus spp). In R. Ortega Paczka et al., eds. Avances en el estudio de los recursos fitogenéticos de México, p. 197-216. Chapingo, Mexico, SOMEFI.

Feine, L. 1980. An ethnobotanical observation and collection of grain amaranths in Mexico. Proc. 2nd Amaranth Conf., p. 111-116.

Feine, L. et al. 1979. Amaranth: gentle giant of the past and future. In G.A. Ritchie, ed. New agricultural crops. Boulder, Colo., USA, AAAS Selected Symposium 38.

Jain, S. & Kulakow, P.1991. Genetic improvement of amaranth. Memorias del Primer Congreso Internacional de Amaranto. Oaxtepec, Morelos, Mexico.

National Research Council. 1984. Amaranth: modern prospects for an ancient crop. Washington, DC, National Academy Press.

Pal, M. Development and use of aramanths in Asia. Memorias del Primer Congreso Internacional de Amaranto. Oaxtepec, Morelos, Mexico.

Sanchez, M.A. 1980. Potencialidad agroindustrial del amaranto. Mexico City, CEESTEM.

Sauer, J. D.1950. The grain amaranths: a survey of their history and classification. Ann. Miss. Bot. Gard., 37: 561-632.

Sauer, J. D.1967. The grain amaranths and their relatives: a revised taxonomic and geographic survey. Ann. Miss. Bot. Gard., 54: 103-137.

Saunders, R. & Becker, R. 1984. Amaranthus: a potential food and feed resource. In Advances in cereal science and technology, Vol. VI, p. 357-396.


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