Rice of Assam
Dr. Kishor Kumar Sharma
Rice is life of Assam as it provide both food and nutritional security to 3 corer population residing in the state. The crop is grown in a wide diverse situation in Assam. It is grown from hill slopes of Karbi Anglong district to deep water areas of Dhemaji district. Assam is also bestowed with rich diversity of rice cultivars. Among them are joha (aromatic), waxy ( bora), Semiwaxy ( Chokuwa) and red bao ( Deep and floating) rice are unique ‘gift of nature’ These rice classes are grown from time immemorial to cater the household needs of the farmers. Cultivators resort to traditional varieties and cultivation practices. By and large there has been no effort to improve the production and productivity of these classes of rice. These orphan classes of rice, however, can become item of commerce both in domestic and international markets. Research back up and sound linkage with institutions concerned in public, private and rice industry are needed to develop products for such niche markets. Therefore, production of these classes of rice and their processing has to undergo sea change to meet the demands of customers in the domestic and international markets.
More than 40% rice in Assam is grown in fragile environments. Modern technologies based on inputs like HYV and chemical fertilizers have not penetrated to such areas. Hence, farming in these areas is organic in nature from time immemorial. The unattended classes of rice are grown organically by default. Organic products are gaining popularity throughout the globe and fetch premium price. Almost all countries of the world have started to practise and encourage organic farming. Assam can take advantage of the organically produced rice products to fetch high price in the markets elsewhere.
Many cultivars in deepwater (bao) situation ( >100cm water depth ), direct seeded ahu rice ( upland and hillrice) and some Sali ( lowland rice) possess red endosperm. Red colour is conferred by anthocyanin pigments. They are rich in micronutrients like iron and zinc, Vitamin A and antioxidents. Bao, ahu and hill rices are invariably grown organically. In 2012, U.S. based Lotus Food Inc. has ordered for 70 q of red bao rice from Dhemaji district through its partner Nature Biofoods Ltd. of Haryana. The demand for such rice was 3000q in 2012-13. Substantial rice growing areas of Dhemaji, Lakhimpur, Sibsagar districts and Majuli river island are very lowlying where no other rice except bao (deepwater and floating) can be grown. Deepwater rice is grown in about 1lakh ha. In Dhemaji alone it is grown in 10000ha of land. Farmers consume them in their daily diet and the excess produce is traded in the local markets. The present price of bao rice in the local market is around Rs.800-900 /q while the Lotus Food Co. fetched Rs. 1500 for a quintal of rice. The Company is ready to fetch higher price if quality of the rice is maintained. Prominent bao cultivars include Amona, Maguri, Kekoa, Jul etc., whose yield potential is not more than 20q /ha. Similar to bao, many other direct seeded ahu cultivars like Rongadoria, Rongaahu, Banglami, Koimurali, Dumai etc and jhum rice grown in hill slopes ( e.g. Dimororu,Maibee) are also red kernelled which could benefit a large segment of the the farmers of the state.
Joha or Aromatic rice :
Joha is a class of rice grown in Assam for its aroma, delicate and excellent taste. It is invariably grown by the Assamese farmers to make desserts such as kheer, payas, pulao and also the normal form. Joha rice is known for its sweet aroma, superfine kernel, good cooking quality and excellent palatability and taste. Except elongation ratio, joha rice of Assam is comparable to highly priced Basmati and other scented rice in India. It is grown in around 20,000ha producing around 30,000MT every year. Joha is sold @ Rs 40-75 in the retail markets. In 2007, the first consignment of 17MT of joha rice was exported to three European countries viz., Germany, U.K. and Switzerland where it was of high demand. But, due to ban on export of non Basmati in 2008, consignment of 33MT was cancelled. However, now the ban has been lifted.
Kolajoha, Krishnajoha, Kunkunijoha, Ramphaljoha and Gobindbhog are important and widely grown cultivars in the state. Ketekijoha is the first HYV developed by Assam Agricultural University with high yield potential and aroma.
The aroma of joha and Basmati is conferred by a chemical called 2-Acetyl -1-Pyrroline. Aroma of a few joha cultivars are comparable to Basmati but the grain type of joha range from short slender to medium slender unlike Basmati which is long slender. The elongation ratio is 1.8 for Basmati while that of joha is 1.4. There is ample scope for export of this non Basmati organic aromatic rice. There is also possibility of expansion of areas under joha rice if marketing is assured. This class of rice has demand in hotels and restaurants and special occasions inside and outside the state.
Waxy rice of Assam:
Waxy rice is highly valued throughout Asia and has wider acceptability in Europe. Assam is rich in diversity of waxy rice. Among these, glutinous rice known as bora in vernacular is an important class of rice considered to be soft in cooking consistency. It has trace amylose but high amylopectin.. In Chokuwa cultivars, the amylose varies from 15-20%. Important bora cultivars are Jotabora, Malbhogbora, Gandhibora, Khamtibora, Ghewbora, Maubora etc. while Saruchokuwa, Borchokuwa, Bogachokuwa,Parochokuwa are important chokuwa cultivars.
Bora rice is very sticky and is used for traditional preparations like Pitha, Hurum, Chunga Chaol etc. In 1990, Mumbai based Imami Company procured around 10MT of bora rice and prepared some instant food products like snacks, chips etc. But due to lack of constant supply of good quality grains, the company did not continue with the products.
Bora rice is also used for preparation of quality rice beers by many communities of Assam. Standardization of process of brew making from bora rice is required to prepare marketable products. Rice beer prepared out of bora rice can ensure growth of brew industry and can get GI registration.
Rice with amylose content of around 15% is known as chokuwa in vernacular. This class of rice along with bora is used for preparation of ‘soak and eat’ item known as ‘komal chaol’. Preparation of komal chaol needs parboiling and drying before they are stored for future consumption. Such rice can be soaked in water for sometime and can be consumed with milk, curd or curries. Hence, the rice doesn’t need cooking. It can be useful for traveller, military personnel in high altitude, sailors, and even in fast food restaurants. Once the value added products with their recipes are known to the people, both bora and chokuwa will have demand in the markets. In the recent years product of bora and chokuwa rice have entered markets in urban areas of Assam particularly at the time of festivals and occasions.
High yielding bora varieties have been developed by Assam Agricultural University. There is need to standardization of processing and value addition of the products.
Rice Bran Oil:
Rice bran oil is the oil extracted from the germ and inner husk of the rice. It is used in cosmetics, confectionaries, shoe cream and polishing compounds. Rice bran is also used for treating diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, alcoholism, obesity, AIDS, strengthening immune system, improving liver etc. The oil improves cholesterol level by reducing plasma cholesterol and triglycerides.
Rice bran oil has 30% monounsaturated, 37% polyunsaturated and 25% saturated fatty acids. Rice bran oil has an antioxidant called gamma-oryzanol. The oxidative stability of rice bran oil is equivalent or better than Soybean, Corn, Canola and Safflower.
Ensuring Assam Rice for Export:
Agriculture in Assam is primarily characterized as a means of subsistence, small investments, small return and source of livelihood for rural household. For commercialization, emphasis has to be given on consumer preferences, value addition and ensuring supply of quality products to the exporters. By and large the farmers of Assam are unorganized and are unaware of the markets demand of their valuable assets. They are also not aware of marketing channels in their locality .Following approaches would ensure continuous supply of products in the markets.
Contract farming is a system designed to obtain desired quantity of quality products as per mutually agreed and predetermined prices between farmers and the company or in other words it is a system in which cultivators get commitment from buyers for purchase of his commodity while the buyers is also assured with the supply of the product. Typically, the contractor supplies the farmer with the inputs and technical advice while the farmer supplies land and labour. In case of rice farmers growing bao, bora, chokuwa or joha should be provided with cash/ credits. The farmer is then committed for supply of definite quantity of rice. Provision should also be made for capacity building of the farmers to produce the quality products. Monitoring of rice fields during crop growing season and post harvest operations would ensure quality products.
Formation of Self Help Groups:
Different SHGs may involve in production, marketing and post harvest activities. Organizing scattered small and marginal farmers into associations/SHGs would not only ensure quality products but also prevent farmers from being exploited
There is a great demand for high quality products and organically grown foods in the International markets and Assam can capitalize on its potential to go for organic farming in a large scale. Large proportion of our rice cultures are organically produced where farmers do not apply external inputs.The Agricultural and Processed Food products Export Development Agency (APEDA) is encouraging rice sector to produce and export organic rice. Return from organic farming could be maximized by careful manipulation of management practices and judicious use of inputs.
In the light of globalization and liberalization, quality consciousness of the overseas consumers has been increasing. This needs method of processing to produce attractive and good quality products, rice branding patterns to attract the customers. There is a lot of scope to improve the harvest and post harvest techniques, storage methods, processing technologies and value addition if we have to compete the international markets.
Create awareness on the potential products of rice
Effort should be made by the Govt/ SAUs to make aware about the potentiality of various classes of rice through trade fares, technology fares or through print and electronic media to public. This will attract interested parties involved in the export of rice and its products. If organized well, private sector participation in the sustenance agriculture for producing, processing and marketing the commodities can be a win-win proposition. It can increase employment in rural areas among the cultivators who has surplus household labourers. Private sector partners provide needed technologies, inputs, extension services and assured markets that reduce risk of small farmers.
Government agencies of Assam can take initiative to link the growers with appropriate private sectors for contract farming or building confidence amongst the them for the same.
Empowering the farmers
The growers should be made aware of the quality standards of the products because the international trade is very much stringent on quality standards. Growers should know about the removal of off types in nursery and main fields, harvest and post-harvest operations to ensure purity, moisture status of the grains, milling intensity, packaging and storage procedures. For example, in red rice packs, admixture of white kernelled grains is not desirable. Similarly admixture of non waxy grains with waxy grains of non aromatic grains with aromatic grains are not expected in the international trade
Training to growers, millers and transporters for cultivation practices, post harvest management and packaging would ensure quality standards and build up confidence amongst the stakeholders.
Registration under GI or PPV & FR
In the present IPR regime, it is essential to protect the valuable genetic resources which are becoming commodity of trade. Registration under GI or PPV&FR Authority will ensure benefit sharing and prevent illegal infringement. Group of farmers or individual or SHGs or Govt. agencies can take initiative for registration of these classes of rice. Provisions of registration under GI or PPV & FR have provided opportunities to farmers / communities of the region to reap the benefits from the diverse genetic resources being maintained over generations
1 Chief Scientist, Regional Agricultural Research Station, North Lakhimpur- 787 001 Assam, India
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