Niger [Guizotia abyssinica (L.f.) Cass.]: An underutilized and high value oilseed crop
Authors: Smita Shingane, Nilamani Dikshit, Dinesh Chand and Sunil Gomashe

Oilseeds forms one of the important group among the cultivated crops. They are the major source of edible oils to worlds increasing population. They are also used in medicines, pharmacy products and other industrial applications. Oilseeds provides about half of the total calorie intake because of its concentrated energy source. Among the oilseed crops, niger [Guizotia abyssinica (L.f.) Cass.] is one of the minor crops grown in India and Eastern parts of the Africa (Getinet and Sharma, 1996). It is said be originated and domesticated in Africa (Ethiopia to Malawi) and introduced in India probably in 3rd millennium BC (Doggett, 1987). India alone produces ~1.1-2.1 lakh metric tonnes of niger seeds per annum, about 75% of the total production is used for oil extraction and remaining exported to countries like Europe, Japan, USA, Canada, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Cyprus, Japan, Singapore, Sumatra and Australia mostly for birdfeed.

Niger is well adapted to wide range of soil including hardy and less fertile soil, and sloppy land. The crop is also very useful as a green manure crop to increase organic carbon in the soil to improve soil health. In India, niger is mainly cultivated in about 4.3 lakh ha in States like Andra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Maharashtra, Bihar, Karnataka, Nagar Haveli and West Bengal. Madhya Pradesh has the largest area under niger. Considerable area is also available in few cultivated pockets in Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh (Jagtap and Patel, 2015). India and Africa, together produce 3.0-3.5 lakh tonnes of niger seeds per annum (Weiss, 2000).India tops in area, production and total exports for niger in the world (Bisen et al. 2015). The average seed yield in India is somewhere between 177 and 300 kg/ha when grown as intercrop and between 300 and 625 kg/ha if grown in pure stands as against the yield of 600 kg/ha realized in some African countries. Bhardwaj and Gupta (1977) reported seed yields of 1,000 to 1,200 kg/ha on fertile Himalayan soils, 200-400 kg/ha in degraded habitats.

Field view of Niger crop, flowers and seeds

Niger seeds contain very high amount of fibre after oil extraction which is significantly high compared to most of the oilseeds. Niger seed contains about 39-43% oil (ICAR, 1992) with fatty acid composition similar to that of safflower and sunflower oils. The oil has slow drying property similar to that of sunflower, used in foods, paints, soaps, as an illuminant and in folk medicine against rheumatism (Duke, 1983). The extracted oil is free from any toxins and can be used directly which gives taste nearly similar to desi ghee. Its oil fatty acid profile composition mainly consists of 75-80% linoleic acid, 7-8% palmitic and steric acid and 5-8% oleic acid (Dutta et al. 1994). This fatty acid profile makes it very healthy and important edible oil. On the other hand its high amount of unsaturated fatty acids makes it very vulnerable for oxidation and there by producing rancidity. The oil has excellent absorbent properties so it is also used as a base material in perfume industry. After extraction of oil from seeds the bi-product is seed cake which is very nutritious and high value feed for milch animals. This cake contains about 30% protein and 17% crude fibre.

Improvement in yield potential has major hurdle of self-incompatibility which classifies it as a cross pollinated species. Although substantial variability is available in germplasm in Africa and India but variation in the traits is not distinct and makes it difficult for plant breeders to plan breeding programs. There exists variability for oil content and fatty acid profile in Ethiopian and Indian germplasm which could be capitalized through breeding programme as suggested by Getinet and Teklewold (1995). The Indian types contain 25% oleic acid (range: 13.4 to 39.3%) and 55% (range: 45.4 to 65.8%) linoleic acids (Nasirullah et al. 1982; Nagaraj, 1990). In general, 20% higher linoleic and 20% lower oleic acids reported in niger oil from Ethiopian germplasm compared to the Indian niger accessions. However, it is affected by growing environment, location, altitude and genotype (Mathur and Gupta, 1993; Sharma et al., 1994; Getinet and Sharma, 1996).


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About Author / Additional Info:
Completed PhD (Cyto-genetics and Plant Breeding) from Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth (MPKV), Rahuri, Maharashtra, INDIA