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Black Rice cultivation? How a local farmer makes it a success story in Assam

According to experts, black rice used to be known as forbidden rice in ancient China

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If you presume that rice comes in shades of white, you are definitely wrong! In the Goalpara district of Assam, black rice farming is not uncommon and over 200 farmers are opting for black rice over the other varieties of rice.

The black rice farming was started by a single farmer about four years ago, later it became fancy and more farmers are turning to it instead of the traditional white rice.

Young farmer Upendra Rabha of Aamguripara village near Dudhnoi in the district started cultivating black rice in 2011 as an experiment with guidance from the local Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK). Although the people of the area, mostly belonging to the Rabha community, did not believe in Upendra, the experiment turned out to be a grand success in the very first year. The number of cultivators now stands at over 200 as black rice fetches more returns for its nutritional value.

“In 2011, a scientist of KVK, Dr. Uttam Kumar Baruah, gave me the seeds of a black rice variety called Oryza Sativa. I planted the sole seedling in a corner of my paddy field, which gave me 15 panicles from which I harvested 150 gram seed in 2011,” Upendra, who harvested about 48 kg of paddy from the 150 gram seeds the next year, told this correspondent.

“The farmers in our area have been cultivating only traditional white rice and they have never heard about black rice. The people of the area did not believe that the black rice could change their fate. However, my efforts brought results in 2012 when I could get 48 kg of black rice.

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Crop. Image source: Wikipedia

“I took my produce to agri-horticulture fairs organized by the government of Assam and other parts of the state and only then could I realize the huge demand for the black rice,” said a happy Upendra. The next year he cultivated black rice in five bighas of land which resulted in nearly 1,500 kg of paddy.
Black rice is known for its high nutritional value and is a source of iron, vitamin E, antioxidants, calcium, magnesium and zinc. According to experts, black rice used to be known as forbidden rice in ancient China. Forbidden not because it looked poisonous because of its black colour, but because of its high nutritional value, which meant it could only be eaten by the emperor and other nobles.

Sticky in nature, black rice is also suitable for making porridge and can also be used in preparing sweet dishes.

“In 2014, 50 farmers of my village came together for community farming of black rice. We have cultivated in about 100 bighas of land and the yields were eight maunds (300 kg) of rice per bigha of land. We sold it at Rs.100 per kg till last year (for a total earning of Rs.300,000),” he said adding that last year about 100 farmers of Dudhnoi area had cultivated black rice in 500 bighas of land and got a good yield.

“What is more important is the price factor. With the traditional white rice, we had a small market; we have a bigger market for black rice. The existing price of Rs.100 per kg is also another factor which is encouraging more farmers to take up black rice cultivation here. Last year an organization came from Mumbai to see our paddy field and they bought 100 quintals (10,000 kg) of black rice from us to be exported to different European countries,” Upendra said.

“We are also getting queries from different organizations in the US, Japan and Korea who want to buy the black rice from us,” he said, adding that he has been urging farmers in Assam and Meghalaya to grow black rice to bring prosperity to them

With the initial success, the Assam government’s agriculture department is now planning to promote the cultivation of organic black rice in larger parts of Assam.

The agriculture officer of the Dudhnoi sub-division, Manoranjan Das, said that what the farmers here are growing is basically the semi-organic variety.

“We are encouraging the farmers to grow organic variety which will further increase the demand. While the non-organic variety of black rice fetches Rs.200 to Rs.250 per kg in foreign countries, the organic variety sells at Rs.500 per kg,” Das said, adding that according to a study by the Louisiana State University, a spoonful of black rice bran contains more health promoting anthocyanin antioxidants, which are capable of fighting cancer and heart disease. (IANS)

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Know About The Psychologists Team Helping To Prevent Farmers’ Suicides in Parts of Telangana

"The farmers are victims of circumstances, economic disparity and farm related issues. With no way to repay their loans, they suffer harassment at the hands of private money lenders and banks and the constant worry of how will I repay debts and manage my family haunts them."

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farmers
"Sometimes, farmers in distress may not approach us as seeking help is considered a stigma. Then we decided to have field teams who would speak to farmers," she said. Pixabay

Not satisfied with her cozy job at a corporate hospital here, a psychologist joined a team that is helping to prevent farmers’ suicides in parts of Telangana.

Shruti Naik wanted to explore the area of rural distress and found the task more challenging.

Her experience in three districts of Telangana that reported the highest cases of farmers’ suicides in the country has helped her understand the problem.

“I realized how severe the problem is and how misconceptions get propagated in the outside world,” Naik told IANS at the office of the ‘Kisan Mitra’ helpline at Tarnaka here.

farmer
The problems of tenant farmers is a huge issue in Telangana. They are not covered under the ‘Rythu Bandhu’ scheme being implemented by the state government to provide investment support of Rs 8,000 per acre per year. Pixabay

“The farmers are victims of circumstances, economic disparity and farm related issues. With no way to repay their loans, they suffer harassment at the hands of private money lenders and banks and the constant worry of how will I repay debts and manage my family haunts them.”

Kisan Mitra, run by Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, an NGO, provides last mile delivery of services to farmers with respect to their entitlements. It serves as a bridge between government and farmers and tries to see that issues faced by farmers are resolved which otherwise would make them to go into distress.

It was started in 2017 in Vikarabad district at the initiative of then District Collector Divya Devarajan, who suggested that the NGO should take up the matter.

However, they realized that it was not just the helpline which was required.

“Sometimes, farmers in distress may not approach us as seeking help is considered a stigma. Then we decided to have field teams who would speak to farmers,” she said.

The helpline expanded its activity to Adilabad, a backward district bordering Maharashtra, after Devarajan was transferred there as the Collector. Subsequently, it also began its activities in Mancherial district.

“We have so far received 8,000 calls relating to problems like land issues, crop related, payments, loans and banker-related issues. We tried to resolve 4,000 cases. Not all were in distress. The idea is to solve problems before they go into distress,” said Naik.

She heads a team of seven members, all women. The counselors who receive the calls take down the details of the farmers and forward them to the respective field-level coordinators for follow-up.

It is also working with the government to rehabilitate the families of farmers who committed suicide. On International Women’s Day last year in Adilabad district, it called a meeting of 120 widows and their families. They were provided alternative livelihood with the government’s support.

farmer
“If they get some handholding they will do well. If they are helped in areas like minimum support price and if there is some awareness created about debt management, they will not resort to suicides.” Pixabay

The problems of tenant farmers is a huge issue in Telangana. They are not covered under the ‘Rythu Bandhu’ scheme being implemented by the state government to provide investment support of Rs 8,000 per acre per year.

Also Read: The Flamboyant Plastic Waste Boat Reminds The Global Policy-Makers The Urgency To Address Impact Of Plastics on The World’s Marine Environment

Studies show that 75 per cent of farmers who commit suicide in Telangana are tenant farmers. Kisan Mitra has helped 5,000 tenant farmers in Adilabad obtain loan eligibility cards. It negotiated with some bankers to form joint liability groups with 4-5 in each group. The groups were provided loans of Rs 1 lakh each.

Naik believes depression among farmers is a consequence of circumstances and farm and finance related issues. “If they get some handholding they will do well. If they are helped in areas like minimum support price and if there is some awareness created about debt management, they will not resort to suicides,” she said. (IANS)