The Broom Grass– a profitable Cash Crop for North East India

Some of the non-timber forest produce species have good potential for generating local employment an

Some of the non-timber forest produce species have good potential for generating local employment and can be used for enhancing rural income. Their cultivation is site specific; therefore, selection of a suitable species is very important from ecological and economic point of view. The broom grass is one of such species that can be grown as a cash crop in North East India for its inflorescences that are used for making brooms. It is a multipurpose crop, the inflorescence is used as Brooms, and stems are used as wall building materials. The fibrous root system of the plant is useful in checking soil erosion on steep slopes. The woody stem (culms) can be used for fuel, fencing, pulp and paper or other purposes.

The Broom Grass commonly known as Jharu grass in Hindi, Tiger grass in English and, Phool Jharu in Assamese, is a perennial grass. Scientific name is Thysanolaena maxima and family is Poaceae. It has the comparative advantage of tolerance to harsh environmental conditions such as steep rocky mountain slopes, shallow soil, drought and high rainfall conditions. It is suitable to grow on waste lands, jhum fallow land, as well as in homesteads. It is a multipurpose crop, the inflorescence is used as Brooms and stems are used as wall building materials. The fibrous root system of the plant is useful in checking soil erosion on steep slopes.

NATURAL REGENERATION

It generally grows wild and regenerates through seeds under natural condition. The seeds mature during February to March and disseminate by wind to long distances due to their lightweight. Seed dispersal is also affected by water in some areas. The seed germinates in the beginning of the rainy season. The seedling establishment and the growth is good on loose and exposed areas such as landslides and freshly disturbed soil specially near road construction sites where light availability is good.

ARTIFICIAL REGENERATION:

Cultivation of broom grass is easy and requires less financial inputs. It can be propagated both from seeds and rhizomes. The seeds are generally available in March from senescing panicles. Nursery beds of size 2m x 1m are prepared and 8 g seeds sown in each bed. Seeds are covered with thin layer of soil and are covered with thatch grass kept moist. The grass cover is removed after germination of seeds. After 4 to 6 weeks Seedlings are either transplanted to other beds at spacing of 10 cm x 10 cm or in polythene bags. Polythene bags are filled with mixture of soil, sand and FYM in a ratio of 1: 2: 1.The seedlings are ready for planting in field during rainy season (May-June).

While planting from rhizomes, rhizome cuttings along with two to three culms of 15-20cm long are generally planted either in poly bags or pits. This is done after harvesting of brooms .Watering is done to keep the soil moist for better establishment. After three months the sprouted rhizomes will be ready for transplanting in the main field.

FIELD PREPARATION AND PLANTING:

The planting site must be clean and free from weeds. Thorough jungle cutting should be done before or during March and debris should be removed from the field. Pits of 30 cm3 are dug out one month before planting. For plains, spacing of 2.5 m x 2.5 m is maintained and 1600 seedlings are needed per ha. For hilly areas, a spacing of 1.5 m x 2.0 m is maintained with 3200 nos. of seedlings per ha.

The FYM and 10% Malathion dust @ 10 gm per pit applied before planting. It is generally planted during May – June, when soil has sufficient moisture. It does not require much care after planting. However, 3 to 4 weeding and earthing up operations are needed in the first year and three similar operations in subsequent years are necessary for obtaining a good harvest. FYM may be applied in soil during weeding operations. Fencing is essential to protect the crop from grazing cattle.

HARVESTING AND RATOONING

Brooms (inflorescences) are harvested on maturity during winter season from January to March. The panicles become tough and its colour changes to light green or red. The harvesting should be done carefully when the brooms have matured properly. The culms are harvested by cutting above the ground, panicles and stem are disjoined. The panicles can also be hand pulled and dried in fields. Brooms are made by bundling about 30-35 dried inflorescences and marketed. The leaves are harvested for fodder once in August from the second year onwards. The leaves are harvested for fodder once in the middle of monsoon (August) from second year onwards.

After the main crop 4 ratoons can be harvested. The highest yield is obtained in the third year. The plantation has a rotation of 6 years in which 5 crops are harvested. After harvest of fifth crop the fields are burnt and again new planting is required.

ECONOMICS OF CULTIVATION

Broom grass cultivation can be a profitable venture. Total cost of cultivation is estimated at Rs10000.00/ha for the first year and maintenance cost in the subsequent years is Rs 3500.00 /ha. It can generate a profit of approximately Rs 20,000 to 30,000 /ha per year depending upon farming situation.

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