Aroma of Kala Namak rice to waft abroad, now
The Terai belt of Sidhdharthanagar, Maharajganj and Gorakhpur, close to Nepal, was once called the ‘pride of Purvanchal’ due to the cultivation of a very special variety of rice there called Kala Namak.
However, with the passage of time, this rare variety of rice, world famous for its rich aroma and exotic taste, was shunned by farmers because of its low yield and non-profitability.
The crop was all but extinct in the region. However, with the efforts of a local NGO – Participatory Rural Development Foundation (PRDF) led by retired agri-scientist Ram Chet Chaudhary -- the crop is seeing a revival.
At an international seminar at IIM Lucknow in 2013, PRDF presented a research it had conducted, titled ‘Kala Namak from extinction to distinction’.
According to statistics presented during the seminar, the production of Kala Namak rice had dropped from 50,000 hectares to just 2,000 hectares of land and was declining.
However, after efforts were put in to revive it, production again went up to 35,000 hectares in 2018 in 14 districts, including Gorakhpur, Basti, Maharajganj, Deoria, Sidhdharthanagar among others.
Also, three high-yielding varieties of Kala Namak rice have been developed, and its farming promoted in 14 districts of the Gorakhpur-Basti division. The latest variety developed is Bauna Kala Namak 102. And if all goes as per plan, people may have this variety on their table before the year ends.
The development has attracted Lucknow-based company Wet Land Glory Pvt Ltd, which on Friday, entered into an agreement to purchase the crop directly from farmers and market it not only in India but also abroad, especially Dubai and Singapore, under contract-farming.
If the NGO is to be believed, the Kala Namak rice cultivation, based totally on organic farming, has contributed to three times more income to farmers compared to other paddy varieties such as Samba Massorie, Doongara, Koshihikari and as a result, more and more farmers are showing interest in it.
Dr Chaudhary worked with the UN for 10 years, before coming back to the city in 2003. People asked him to do something to revive the dying Kala Namak rice, related with the identity of region, tracing its history back to the period of the Buddha. A meeting was called and the issue discussed threadbare with agriculture scientists from various universities, including Faizabad University. Even the then agriculture minister, Dhanraj Yadav, had attended the meeting.
“I collected over 250 samples from farmers to research the crop. After seven years of extensive research, I succeeded in developing Kala Namak variety KN3, which was released by the UP Government and notified by government of India in 2010. It was rich in aroma and tasted like the original Kala Namak Rice but farmers complained that it had a low yield and that the outer covering with pointed tip (awn) troubled them while separating rice from husk.
“Then I came up with an improvement, ‘Bauna Kala Namak 102’, which was without an awn and high-yielding. It was released and notified by the government of India in 2016. Now, we have come up with latest variety called ‘Kala Namak Kiran’, which will soon be notified by the government.
“Now I wish to boost the marketing of Kala namak so that farmers are encouraged to grow it and can sell it right from their doorstep,” Chaudhary said.
PK Srivastava of Wet Land Glory Pvt Limited, who signed the agreement with farmers, said, “We want to take the Kala Namak Rice to national and international markets again.
“To ensure a fair price to farmers for their produce, we have entered into an agreement with 100% buy-back terms. To take this unique product of UP abroad, we will also start exporting it soon, besides promoting it through stalls at the coming Lucknow Mahotsav and even at Kumbh 2019. By the end of December, we will be able to market it.”
Assistant Development officer Arvind Kumar Yadav said, “Among the three varieties developed by Dr Chaudhary, Bauna Kala Namak 102 has become very popular. It’s very similar to the original crop with a small stem and ripens in a comparatively shorter period of time. Also, compared to the original Kala Namak Rice, its gives a good income to farmers. In one hectare, 50 to 55 quintals of Kala Namak Rice can be grown against 20 to 25 quintals of original Kala Namak Rice per hectare.”
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