The future of Indian scented rice?

Published: Thursday 15 September 2005


-- India rules the global scented rice trade through basmati. But in the last 15 years, the area under its cultivation has remained at 0.5-0.6 million hectares. Production has stagnated at one to 1.5 million tonnes. This is because this scented rice variety can't be grown beyond stipulated tracts in Haryana, Punjab and Uttaranchal (it would lose aroma and essential traits). At a time the global scented-rice market is growing at 12 per cent per annum, India seems to have very few aromatic varieties to offer. "The reason is the extra importance given to basmati, which has overshadowed the existence of more than 300 non-basmati scented rices in India," says R K Singh, eminent aromatic rice researcher and former India representative of the Manila-based International Rice Research Institute (irri).

Research by scientists of the Uttaranchal-based Gobind Ballav Pant University of Agriculture and Technology (gbpuat) show the undivided Uttar Pradesh region has already lost the germplasm of 20 non-basmati scented varieties after the onset of the Green Revolution see: Treasure lost. Only eight such varieties are still cultivated and are being protected through scientist-farmer participation. The most prominent one is 'kalanamak'(see: An export opportunity.

Outshining basmati Kalanamak, a non-basmati scented rice variety grown primarily in the tarai region of Uttar Pradesh, is so named because its husk is black. This variety has raised much hope amongst Indian farmers and rice-exporters due to traits superior even to the most preferred basmati [Dehradun Basmati (Type-3)].

According to 'Study on indigenous aromatic rice' led by gbpuat professor U S Singh, kalanamak easily outclasses basmati type-3 for the primary trait of aroma . Its elongation after cooking -- a trait that is the second major determinant of prices in the international market -- is also greater: kalanamak's elongation to pre-elongation ratio is 2.2 to 2.7; in different basmati rice it is 1.8 to 2.0. In addition, great head rice recovery after polishing (unbroken grains that can then be marketed) adds to its profitability. This recovery rate for Basmati is usually 40 to 45 per cent; in kalanamak, it is more than 65 per cent. Regular users consider cooked kalanamak rice more palatable and digestible.

Salt, alkalinity Kalanamak also outclasses basmati in agronomical abilities. It's a successful adapter to usar soils characterised by higher salt concentration and high p h. The name itself -- 'namak', salt -- signifies this quality. Most of the 40 germplasm lines the gbpuat team tested on usar soil showed salt-tolerance at 70 millimolar nacl and good root/shoot growth at high p h of 9 to 9.5.

Kalanamak is also highly resistant to notorious, and in India common, rice diseases such as panicle blast, stem rot and brown spot. Bacterial blight is quite rarely observed. In this respect, this variety is significantly superior to Dehradun basmati: the latter is more susceptible to these diseases.

Drought tolerance Kalanamak is normally grown under rain-fed conditions and in uplands. The water requirement is quite low as compared to basmati. It doesn't need standing water during transplantation; instead, it goes through a unique process of double transplantation. This customary practice is called 'Kalam '.The first transplanting of 30 to 35 day-old seedlings is done in a bunch of five to six seedlings. After 25 to 30 days, these seedlings are uprooted, separated from each other, and again transplanted. The yield due to kalam is much greater than in single transplanting.

In the 2001-2003 drought in the tarai areas, when rice yield decreased up to 50 per cent in almost all varieties, kalanamak was unaffected.

The organic advantage
" Kalanamak is traditionally grown using no fertiliser, herbicide and pesticide, which makes it suitable for organic cultivation," says R K Singh. It may be noted that the global organic rice market is growing at a compound annual rate of 30 per cent: India is yet to make a significant foray here. Kalanamak could be just the right answer, believes Singh. According to Vinayak Chaddha, a Delhi-based rice merchant, India's export of organic rice is a mere Rs 10 crore (us$2 million) in a us$2 billion global market.

The cost factor
Cost-wise, improved cultivars of kalanamak easily out-perform Dehradun basmati. The input and labour cost is meagre, while the yield is almost 40-50 per cent higher. In local markets in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar it fetches a higher price (Rs 30 to Rs 40 per kg) than basmati (Rs 20 to Rs 25 per kg). H N Singh, economics professor at gbpuat, has calculated the net return for kalanamak at Rs 22,447 per hectare (ha), which for Dehradun basmati is Rs 12, 564 per ha (see table: The cost:benefit ratio). This calculation is based on lowest possible price estimates; otherwise, kalanamak's net return can go up to Rs 50, 000 per ha.

The kalanamak belt
Kalanamak is grown in the tarai belt of UttarPradesh bordering Nepal, which comprises districts of Siddharthnagar, Sant Kabir Nagar, Maharajganj, Basti, Gonda and Gorakhpur. The main cultivation centre used to be Siddharthnagar. Once, it covered more than 10 per cent of the district's total area under rice before high yielding varieties were introduced in 1970; today, this area has shrunk to a meagre 0.5 per cent, even though the kalanamak grown here is the best. The total area under its cultivation today is aabout 4,000 ha. "If proper care is not taken at this stage this rice could soon lose its germplasm too," says U S Singh.

The cost:benefit ratio
How kalanamak compares to bas

Descriptions Basmati Improved selections of
Material cost
Seed 1,220 120
Fertilizer 1,861 560
Manure 400 600
Pesticides 350 0
Power for land preparation 1,944 2,040
Irrigation 271 0
Sub-total 6,046 3,320
Labour input 10,790 4,233
Total cost 16,836 7,553
Yield (quintals/hectare) 21 30
Gross return 29,400 30,000
Net return 12,564 22,447
Cost/quintal 801 241
Benefit: Cost (ratio) 1.75 3.98
Source: H N Singh, Professor Economics, Govind Ballabh Pant University of Agriculture & Technology. The price for Kalanamak is pegged at conservative estimates of Rs 1,000/ quintal, while Basmati is priced at Rs 1,400/ quintal

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