Expanded production of Hanchotte (Coccinia abyssinica), a tropical root crop under the Mid-West climatic conditions

Progress report for FNC19-1153

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2019: $8,930.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2021
Grant Recipient: BioProducts & BioSystems Eng
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information

Description of operation:

During the 2019 farming year, the farmer worked on 1.6 acres of land. He produced the following crops:
1. Hanchotte (Coccinia abyssinica) a tropical root crop
2. 2 beds (240 feet) of Kale
3. 2 beds (240 feet) of Chard
4. 1 bed (240 feet) pepper

Summary:

Hanchotte (Coccinia abbyssica) is a tropical root crop that is indigenous to Ethiopia. Its edible parts are the tuberous roots and buds. Research literatures indicate that Hanchotte has a high nutritional content and medicinal value. (It is also "reputed" for healing different ailments such as broken bones/dislocated joints as well as for the treatment of certain sexually transmitted diseases.)

The farmer was able to successfully produce Hanchotte and harvest locally grown organic seeds from 2013-2018 at the Big River Farms (BRF) of the Minnesota Food Association (MFA). He  sold the produce to the large Ethiopian communities living in Minnesota and to those residing in other states. He also introduced it to American consumers through the CSA of MFA. This indicates there is a promising business opportunity for this rare crop.

The farmer observed Hanchotte has a vigorous growth characteristic. It adapted itself to the Mid-West climatic conditions and was not attacked by pests or diseases as well as suppressed weeds growth through overshadowing them by its extensive leaves.

 

Even so, the farmer is facing financial constraints to realize the existing business opportunities. Hence, if granted financial assistance the sustainable production of Hanchotte will have important economic, educational, social, nutritional and environmental benefits.  

Project Objectives:

The farmer intends to scale up Hanchotte production by leasing a 2-acre plot of land from MFA.  This will enable the farmer to grow enough quantities of Hanchotte to meet the big demand for this produce.  

Second,  the farmer plans to process the roots into meshed Hanchotte, like meshed potato, and thus make it a value-added product to enhance its shelf life and ease its shipment to distance places.

Research

Materials and methods:

2 (two) acres of farming land will be leased from MFA in early April 2019.

  • 1 acre will be planted with Hanchotte.
  • Cover crop will be grown on the remaining 1.00 acre, to use this portion of the land for rotation during 2020.
  • Starting during the third week of May 2019, a total of about 110 raised field beds, each 240 feet long and 170 ft. wide will be prepared.
  • Plastic mulch with drip irrigation per bed will be installed.
  • During the third week of June 2019, Hanchotte seedlings will be planted in two rows at 12 inches (1ft.) apart between adjacent plants along the length of each bed.
  • Seedlings will be transplanted into the raised beds using water wheel transplanted with liquid organic fertilizer.
  • Rigorous and consistent weed and pest control will be conducted every time the farmer is in the field.
  • In addition, harvesting will start around mid-September 2019 using a sweet potato digger. Weights will be taken, and observations of root growth, deformation and branching will be conducted. All farm activates will be recorded meticulously and kept in a file.

Regarding marketing Hanchotte, the farmer will clean, pack in batches of 5 pounds and start selling them to:

  • The Ethiopian communities of the Twin Cities (individuals and restaurants, etc.).
  • To the CSA through Big River Farms to be consumed by Americans, and thus introduce Hanchotte to American consumers,
  • Ship Hanchotte to Ethiopian communities living in other states of the US,
  • Advertise the produce through word of mouth, telephone calls, brochures and logo.
Research results and discussion:

Hanchotte is a new crop that has been introduced to the State of Minnesota. It is reputed to possess medicinal values. Up to now, I tried to lobby professors at the University of  Minnesota, St. Paul campus to let their students/ a student carry out research to:

  •  Describe the morphology of the plant. i.e. average length of a mature stem, the shape of the stem, the leaves, the fruits (shape, color, seeds, number of seeds per fruit, etc.)
  • Describe the form of the roots, depth into the soil, their secondary roots, etc.
  • Lab analysis of the nutritional content of the roots, any medicinal traits
  • Can one produce fiber from the roots, etc?

Despite all my efforts, I am unable up to now to convince anyone to carry out research on this untouched field of an interesting crop.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

1 Consultations

Participation Summary:

2 Farmers
1 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

The availability of Hanchotte was made known to consumers through word of mouth because the people who buy this crop are immigrants who reside in the state of Minnesota as well as those in other states.

Learning Outcomes

2 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation
Lessons Learned:

Over the past seven years of farming, including the year 2019, I learned that Hanchotte (Coccinia abyssinica), a tropical root crop native to Ethiopia, can be successfully produced under the Midwest climatic conditions. It adapted itself well to the soil as well as withstood diseases in that I (farmer) encountered no diseases attacking the crop.  

The advantage of producing such an exotic crop is that the farmer was able to meet the big demand for this vegetable by the large population of immigrants who live in the state of Minnesota and originate from the same country Hanchotte came from. 

The farmer grew seedlings in the greenhouse, transplanted them to the field using his bare hands and also weeded in the same manner.  Harvesting was carried out by digging individual roots using a shovel. This was a backbreaking undertaking as well as required a long period of time to complete harvesting the crop. Moreover, the farmer had to trim the many secondary roots and root hairs using scissors.

The lessons learned are:

  1. Hanchotte grows very well in Minnesota
  2. There is a large demand for the crop
  3. Up to now, it required manual labor to produce it.

Therefore, I would be grateful indeed if someone can give me a piece of advice on how to mechanize (even partially) the farming business.

Moreover, the site of the farm is fairly far from the Twin Cities. It became difficult to bring labor/hired people to the farm. If at all, it was at a high hourly rate.

Project Outcomes

2 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
1 Grant received that built upon this project
Success stories:

Hanchotte was produced on 0.8 acre of land. The farmer was able to ship the products to many states and make Hanchotte known. If all constraints could be overcome, then the production of this crop could be a viable farming enterprise.

At the beginning of the 2019 farming year, the farmer got a confirmation verbally that MFA  would purchase the Kale, Chard, and pepper products. 

However, MFA bought not a single pound of the produce. So, the whole produce perished in the field and the farmer lost money and wasted his energy plus the cost for seeds purchase.

Recommendations:

A couple of individuals from my country have tried to grow Hanchotte in their backyards. I believe they have been motivated by my efforts.

Even so, the demand both locally as well across many other states became high enough that the farmer was not able to met the demands. More than other times, Hanchotte was shipped to many states.

This is an encouragement for future endeavors.

Even so, the farmer needs to rent land closer to where he lives to:

  • Cut down the rather excessive cost the farmer used to pay to the Minnesota Food Association
  • Perform frequent and daily jobs at the farm

Would SARE be able to help the farmer rent land, as he is not well versed with the social system of this country?

 

Information Products

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.