Having lost the race to high-yielding varieties after the green revolution, a number of indigenous varieties of rice are now making a comeback due to their aroma, taste, low input cost and resilience to climate change.
“More and more consumers are asking for the folk varieties these days as the taste is better. Farmers are also showing lot of interest in these varieties, which they had once forgotten,” M C Dhara, joint director of agriculture, rice research station, Chinsurah, told PTI.
The yield per hectare was lower in traditional varieties, but it was offset by the lower cost of production and the higher price it fetches in the market.
Experts say hundreds of farmers in rice growing areas of Burdwan, South and North 24 Parganas, Midnapore, Nadia, Howrah etc have now left the modern high-yielding varieties, which were popularised during the 1960s and 70s.
Among the folk varieties, premium variety of aromatic rice Gobindobhog is the most popular and is now grown over 30,000 hectares in Burdwan district, the rice bowl of West Bengal.
“The cost of production is lesser than the modern varieties as it requires less fertiliser and pesticide,” said Anupam Paul, Assistant Director of Agriculture.
At the Agriculture Training Centre in Nadia district’s Fulia, he has around 300 such folk varieties of rice in his collection, out of which 51 were aromatic. They have been trying to popularise indigenous varieties since the last few years before the seeds get lost forever.
When it comes to fragrant rice, farmers prefer to go the organic way because any use of chemical fertilisers or pesticides dilutes the natural aroma of the folk product, Paul said. Besides Gobindobhog, other old varieties of scented rice like Radhatilak, Kalonunia, Kalojeera, Tulsimukun etc are also gaining popularity slowly.
Many of the folk varieties are getting attention as they are more resilient to the vagaries of nature. Farmers, particularly in the islands of Sundarbans spread across North and South 24 Parganas, are favouring flood tolerant varieties like Bhasamanik and Bhadoi as they have been hit hard by rising water levels due to global warming.
According to PTI, Nonabokra variety has also been a hit due to its ability to tolerate salinity. In the laterite zones of Bankura, Birbhum and Purulia, drought resistant ones like Bhutmuri and Kalash variants are gaining a foothold among the farming community.
West Bengal Biodiversity Board’s chairman Dr Ashok Sanyal said the biodiversity management committees at the block level are encouraging seed banks to store folk seeds, which were getting lost. “We are trying to conserve such seeds in regions where they are depleting in numbers. We have now two seed banks in Ramnagar and West Midnapore,” he said.
In West Bengal alone, over 5,500 varieties were recorded to have existed until the seventies. “Crop diversity allows a farmer to grow food in a variety of environments characterised by different soil and qualities, temperature and rainfall regimens, topographies, and exposure to diverse pests and pathogens,” says eminent rice conservationist Debal Deb, in a research report.
Some varieties of rice are also known to be high in iron content, which could benefit anaemic women and children.
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