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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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Laos’ Champasak Province Refuses To Sell Their Land For SEZ

About a dozen active special and specific economic zones have been created throughout the country to attract foreign direct investment to boost development and job opportunities in rural areas since 2002 when the first SEZ was set up.

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Khone Phapheng Falls, a series of cascading waterfalls on the Mekong River in Khong district of southwestern Laos' Champasak province, is one of the sountry's most beautiful natural attractions. RFA

At least 140 families from eight villages in the Khong district of southwestern Laos’ Champasak province are refusing to sell their land or relocate to make way for a special economic zone planned for their area.

Despite this, developers have begun the hasty construction of an access road that would bring construction traffic dangerously close to some of the villages.

The first phase of the Mahanathy Siphandone special economic zone (SEZ) is expected to be built by 2021 and will cover nearly 200 hectares (494 acres) of land throughout the six villages. The project will be expanded to cover nearly 10,000 (24,710 acres) hectares of land in the province.

During the first phase of construction, 35 five-star hotels and casinos will be built at a cost of more than U.S. $9 billion.

The Laos Mahanathy Siphandone (Hong Kong) Investment Co. Ltd., also known as Laos Maha Nathi Sithandone (Hong Kong) Investment Co. Ltd., received a 99-year concession for the land on which the SEZ will sit, is providing 80 percent of the funding, while the Lao government is supplying the rest.

The company and the Lao government signed a memorandum of understanding on June 20, 2017, for the first phase of construction, according to project documents.

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“Developers want to expand to Done Khong island and Done Sadao island, but villagers didn’t agree with the plan. They want the development far away from their community, near Khone Phapheng waterfalls because they don’t want their rights violated.”

But residents of Ban Hinsiu, Ban Phon, Ban Hang Khong, Ban Don Khong, Ban Muang Sen, Ban Phon Kao, Ban Thakhob, and Ban Houakhok villages have officially refused to give up their land.

“The company wants people’s land, but people don’t want to just hand it over,” said the chief of an affected village in an interview with RFA’s Lao Service last month.

“We launched a complaint to the People’s Council insisting that we don’t want to give up our land. We’ve been living here for generations,” the chief said.

People living in the affected area say they understand what is at stake. The SEZ could be beneficial to the region and the country as a whole, providing a needed economic jumpstart.

“We are all for economic growth, but if we give up the land, we will not have place to live,” said the chief.

He explained that the authorities, after hearing their complaints, decided to give another plot of land to the company, closer to Tha Khob village, near an old golf course, but this did not solve the problem, because the company is building a 40-km (25-mile) access road to get there.

“The road is only six meters wide, but the Lao authorities say it needs to be 6.5 meters. Since construction [of the road] has already started, the company is simply filling out what would be the shoulder of the road with soil in an effort to save money,” said the chief.

A Khong district official said that villagers and developers have been unable to compromise on the scope of the project.

“Developers want to expand to Done Khong island and Done Sadao island, but villagers didn’t agree with the plan. They want the development far away from their community, near Khone Phapheng waterfalls because they don’t want their rights violated.”

The district official added that the initial plan of the development will cover 3,000 hectares of land and affect eight villages. Later the development will expand to 6,000 hectares and will affect 11 more villages.

As one of the least developed Southeast Asian nations, Laos has become a target for massive foreign investment, especially from companies in China, Thailand, and Vietnam, which receive attractive investment incentives from the Lao government.

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“We launched a complaint to the People’s Council insisting that we don’t want to give up our land. We’ve been living here for generations,” the chief said. Pixabay

About a dozen active special and specific economic zones have been created throughout the country to attract foreign direct investment to boost development and job opportunities in rural areas since 2002 when the first SEZ was set up.

Also Read: Human Rights in Cambodia Concludes on Note: Peace Without Justice is Unsustainable

The government has said that it plans to build 41 special and specific economic zones, mostly in border areas and remote parts of the country, and that the zones will create about 50,000 jobs and possibly increase local per capita incomes to as much as U.S. $2,400.

Laos’ per capita income in 2017 was U.S. $2,330, according to the World Bank. (RFA)