Updated: Jan 17, 2018
A progressive farmer in Assam’s Goalpara district is leading a mission to grow black rice in the State.
A farmer from Assam‘s Goalpara district has created history of sort by not only successfully cultivating a black rice variety called Oryza Sativa but has also initiated more than 200 othersinto it. This year, the progressive farmer, Upendra Rabha, of the district’s Amguripara area, helped grow black rice in 500 bighasof land along with others.
Rabha says, in 2011, Dr Uttam Kumar Baruah, a scientist in the Krishi Vigyan Kendra of Goalpara, gave him seeds of the variety weighing about a kg.“I wetted the seeds in water but only one of the seeds flowered after two days. I was waiting for the remaining seeds to flower for over a week but nothing happened,” he recalls.Applying cow dung, he, nevertheless, planted the sole seedling at a corner of his paddy field where he grew rice of Ranjit variety that year.
“The seedling produced 15 panicles from which I harvested 150 gram seed in 2011,” says Rabha. His experiment with the seed drew flak from fellow farmers but he remained steadfast.
“In 2012,I harvested 48 kg of paddy from the 150 gram seeds,” he says. In 2013, he produced 1600 kg rice from 0.8 hector area.
The quantity only grew. In 2014,Rabha persuaded 30 farmers of hisvillage to till the variety. Together, they produced over 1200 quintalsof black rice from 160 kg of seeds in 13.2 hector land. Having felt necessary to extend the area of cultivation, Rabha began to motivate more farmers of his village to take it up. Two hundred of them agreed to till the variety in 500 bighas of land under a Central Government scheme, Agriculture Technology Management Agency (ATMA) 2014-15. As many as 50 farmers also came together to constitute Amguripara Black Rice Production Committee to take forward Rabha’s mission in an organised manner.This year, the output is 200 tonne from 25 quintals of seeds. Though the perbigha output is 520 kg, the average production of a bigha is 400 kg.
“My sole aim is to expand the cultivated area to 2000 to 3000 bighas to establish the fact that farming could be a profitable venture,”says a proud Rabha.
Rabha and the fellow farmers are already getting the attention of buyers. He says a group of buyers from New Delhi visited his house early this year to buy 100 quintals of black rice. Meghalaya Chief Minister Mukul Sangma purchased 1.5 quintals in October this year too. “I personally sold 50 kg black rice to the wife of Meghalaya Chief Minster recently,”he adds.
The cultivation of this variety of paddy is optimal in profit. “Earnings from a bigha of black rice is Rs 15,600, compared to Rs 6000 from the sali paddy variety,”points out Manoranjan Das, Agriculture Officer of the Dudhnoi Agriculture Sub-Division. To help the farmers achieve optimal production, the Department provided 99 quintals of vermi-compost to them besides compensating the seed value through the agriculture scheme. Goaded by the achievement, the office of sub-divisional Agricultural officer, Dudhnoi christened the name of the black rice variety as Upendra Rice in 2013.
Besides attracting buyers, Rabha is also being noticed for his ability to lead the mission. Meghalaya’s Umiam-based Indian Council of Agriculture Research Complex for the NEH Region has recognized him as an outstanding innovative farmer for his contribution to innovative technology pertaining to black rice conservation and production. Recognising his contribution to the overall society of Assam, GuwahatiNeurological Research Centre has offered a free executive health check-up to Rabha for a year. To boost the farmers’ effort, some nationalized banks have also come forward with finances.“Both the State Bank of India and Apex Bank offered a loan to 50 farmers in the first stage,” says Rabha.
More help is pouring in. This past December 16, a proposal has been submitted to the state government to allot Rabha a tractor of Rs 7 lakh with 75 percent subsidy under the State Chief Minister’s Scheme. Chief of Rabha Hasong Autonomous Council, Tankeshawr Rabha, tells this correspondent, “We will provide him a power tiller now on the basis of his requirement.”
Buoyed by the initial success, the office of sub-divisional Agricultural officer, Dudhnoi, is now interested in production of an organic variety of the rice because of its demand in the international market. “The present one is a semi-organic variety. We want to convert it to a purely organic variety as only that has a huge demand in the international market,” says Das, adding, “In foreign countries, per kilogram of the organic black paddy rice is sold at over Rs 500 but the non-organic variety gets only between Rs 250 andRs 300.” The Organic Certification Agency will have to accord the organic status of the output before its export begins.
Suitable for porridge, this particular rice variety is sticky in nature and can also be used in preparing sweet dishes. Das says, “Besides high concentration of nutrition, the rice contains amino acid, zinc, copper, iron, carotene including important vitamins.”
In ancient China, it was apparently reserved for the Emperor and nobles and was out of reach of the commoners.It was therefore branded the “forbidden rice.” According to a research report of the Department of Food Science at Louisiana State University, USA, a spoonful of black rice bran contains more health promoting anthocyanin antioxidants. These properties are capable of fighting cancer, heart disease.
The paddy is harvested after 110 days of plantation and a fragrance emerges during its flowering. Black rice is indigenous to West Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand and Manipur. Till now, Manipur is the highest producer of black rice in the North East.
Looks like, it is going to change in coming times. Having seen the success of Rabha and fellow villagers, farmers from many districts of Assam are now making a beeline to his house to purchase the seed variety.
( Kishore Talukdar is an independent journalist based in Guwahati. His areas of interest include Development journalism and Environment journalism. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org )