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Can Amaranth help save the world from hunger?

Grain amaranth is highly nutritious.

per 100 grams:
371 kcal
13.56 g of protein
7.02 g of fat
65.25 g of carbs
6.7 g of fiber

159 mg of calcium
248 mg of magnesium
557 mg of phosphorus
508 mg of potassium
7.6 mg of iron
[Source: USDA National Nutrient Database SR 28]

The crop can be planted and harvested with ordinary commercial farm equipment, and amaranth-closeupthe yields are good but variable. The variability in yield appears to be due mainly to the limited knowledge of the crop among farmers and limited development of the varieties available to grow. Yields as high as 3800 to 4900 kg of dried grain per hectare have been reported [doi: 10.5897/AJAR2015.9746], but more typical yields range from 1000 to 3000 kg/ha. If amaranth ever becomes a major commercial staple crop, yields can be expected to increase steadily over time, just as has occurred with corn, wheat, soybeans, and many other crops.

Amaranth can also be planted and harvested by hand, in which case it offers several advantages over other grains:

* High yields from a low seeding rate. A small amount of seed produces a large amount of grain, which can then feed many persons. And a stand of only 6 to 8 plants per square meter gives the highest yields.

* When planted sparsely, each plant stalk yields 100 grams or more of grain, so it takes less work to harvest a large amount of grain.

* No hulls to be removed, as on most other grains. Simply thresh and dry the grain.

* No bitter saponin coating to be removed, as found on quinoa.

* High grow-out ratio.

What is a grow-out ratio? It is the ratio of the amount of harvested crop to the planted seed. For example, if a crop is planted at a seeding rate of 100 kg/ha and the crop yield is 3500 kg/ha, then the grow-out ratio is 35:1. There is a 35 times increase from seed to harvest.

The grow-out ratio for amaranth is about 1000 to 1. A high grow-out ratio allows a fast increase in the amount of seed available to plant. For example, plant one kilogram of seed over one hectare, and even a low yield gives you 1000 kg of grain (grow-out ration of 1000:1). Those 1000 kg of grain amaranth can then plant 1000 hectares. It is possible to plant at a seeding rate of 0.25 kg/ha, and achieve a harvest of 2000 kg/ha, for a grow-out ration of 8000:1.

If each person consumes 0.5 kg (1.1 lbs) of grain per day for 365 days, then each person needs 182.5 kg/year. Start with enough grain for one person, but planted as seed, and the grow-out ratio tells you how many persons can be fed after any number of crop cycles.

Starting with 182.5 kg of amaranth, assuming an increase of 1000 to 1 for each harvest, by the second harvest you will have produced enough grain to give one million persons half a kilogram of grain per day, every day for a year.

182.5 kg * 1000 * 1000 = 182,500,000 kg of grain
divided by one million persons = 182.5 kg per person per year
divided by 365 days = 0.5 kg of grain per day (1.1 lbs)

Or, the grain could be planted for one additional harvest, yielding enough food for one billion persons.

What is the grow-out ratio for wheat? It’s about 30:1 — 100 kg/ha seeding rate for 3000 kg/ha yield. Using the same starting point of 182.5 kg of seed, it takes over 4 crop cycles to feed one million persons (instead of 2 for amaranth), and over 6 crop cycles to feed one billion persons (instead of 3 for amaranth).

World Hunger

Amaranth is an ideal crop for the rural subsistence farmer. A small amount of seed plants a large field, and produces an ample harvest. There is less work to harvest the crop, since each stalk has much grain on it and the grain does not require hulling. Amaranth is more drought and heat tolerant than other grains (especially maize). And grain amaranth is a complete protein, having all essential amino acid. By comparison, most other grains (wheat, rice, corn) are low in lysine, one of the essential amino acids.

When one subsistence farmer has success with a crop of amaranth, he can easily share or sell some of the seed with other farmers in the region. The high grow-out ratio allows the crop to spread more quickly in any region of the world. Only a small portion of each harvest need be saved or shared to grow the next crop.

Amaranth should be promoted as one of the most important crops for ending world hunger.

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