BY VISHAL GULATI
Shimla, Dec 13 (IANS) Himachal Pradesh is trying to protect the traditional variety of red rice that is on the verge of extinction in the hill state by bringing at least 3,000 additional hectares under its cultivation in five years, state Agriculture Minister Virender Kanwar said on Sunday.
The red rice is more disease-resistant and hardier than strains cultivated commercially over most of India and can lend that through cross-breeding.
“With growing health consciousness, environmental concerns and the pressing need for updating our food systems to survive climate change, the red rice probably the earliest of cereal grains that humans started domesticating are making a comeback in the state,” Kanwar told IANS.
He said the thrust of the government is to promote its cultivation, giving hope to farm scientists and conservationists who worked extensively in recent years to save the variety from certain extinction.
At present, most of the red rice is grown in around 1,100 hectares by 4,122 families largely on the banks of the Pabbar, a tributary of the Yamuna river, in Chhohara Valley in upper Shimla. It is also cultivated in some stretches of Kullu and Kangra districts.
The annual production of red rice in the state is around 10,000 quintals, registering an average eight-10 quintal per hectare production.
Red rice can be grown in flooded fields where many varieties would rot. Apart from that, agriculture experts are keen to conserve all traditional crop strains that can be used in case the more widely cultivated varieties develop a disease they cannot cope with.
However, red rice production is declining in recent years as most farmers in the state have turned to lucrative cash crops.
Kanwar said a target has been fixed to bring around 4,000 hectares of land under cultivation in five years that will produce 40,000 quintals of red rice.
To provide legal protection to the rice variety that would also protect the rights of the farmers and enable them and others to market the product around the world, the minister said the state has been trying to get it registered under the Geographical Indications (GI) of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act of 1999.
The unique geographical origin tag would boost its marketing and exports to foreign countries, he said.
In 2013, the red rice became the first crop variety of the state to be registered under the Protection of Plant Variety and Farmers Right Act of 2001.
According to experts, the red rice under various local names is gifted. Like ‘Poli’ is gifted on occasion of happiness like marriages, religious ceremonies and childbirth, etc., and ‘Path’ is gifted to a sick person and ‘Sattu’ on the occasion of sorrow.
The red rice is served during community kitchens and religious occasions. Its starch is considered very useful for pregnant women and children.
Experts say the red rice, which normally grows it for self-consumption, fetches four-five times (Rs 200-250 per kg average) higher prices than the normal white rice.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
BY VISHAL GULATI