Folk rice: Researchers spot dozen Indian paddy varieties that can boost nourishment

These traditional varieties of rice are on the verge of extinction from farm fields

By Susan Chacko
Published: Wednesday 15 September 2021

As many as 12 folk varieties of Indian rice examined by researchers can supplement the nutritional demand of important fatty acids in undernourished mothers, a recent study has claimed.

These can further supplement the arachidonic acid (ARA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in neonates through breast-feeding. DHA and ARA are fatty acids found in breast milk, as well as in some foods, like fish and eggs.

These rice varieties can be more cost-effective and reliable than marketed formula foods, according to the study published in Current Science and titled Rare and neglected rice landraces as a source of fatty acids for undernourished infants.

The study looked at the nutritionally important fatty acids (FA) in 94 indigenous rice landraces / varieties of India, which are at the risk of disappearing. They are cultivated by a few marginal farmers.

Qualitative and quantitative analyses of FAs based on gas chromatography-mass spectrometric analysis revealed they contributed significantly in meeting daily nutrition.

These traditional rice landraces can add essential FAs in the staple diet and provide for FA requirement in the normal brain development in infants.

In India, many folk varieties like Athikaraya, Dudh-sar, Kayame, Neelam samba, Srihati, Maharaji and Bhejri are known in folk medicine to enhance milk production in lactating women. Other traditional varieties like Kelas, DudheBolta and Bhutmoori are rich in iron and can be included in diet of mothers to treat anaemia.

Rice contains various classes of fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, starch and a small amount of protein.

Researchers from India, Canada and the United States, who conducted the study, recommended incorporation of these traditional landraces into India’s food and agriculture policy.

The late RH Richharia, one of the leading experts on rice in India, documented and collected 19,000 rice varieties. According to his estimate, India was home to 200,000 varieties of rice.

High-yield hybrids pushed out indigenous rice varieties and many of these varieties, called landraces are nearing extinction in India.

Tilak Chandan is a thick, small-grained rice famous for its fragrance and cultivated in Uttar Pradesh’s Bijnore and Rampur.

Bindli, a once famous rice variety of Uttar Pradesh is now virtually out of cultivation, with only a few farmers cultivating it in the plains of Pauri district, Uttarakhand. It can be cultivated under rain-fed, irrigated as well as waterlogged conditions.

Kalanamak, a scented rice variety grown in Uttar Pradesh, is fast going out of cultivation.

Samples of 94 landraces of rice or folk varieties were sourced from different geographical regions of India and conserved in the germplasm bank of Basudha Farm, Rayagada district, Odisha. 

Nutrition and economics go hand in hand

The first export consignment of Bao-dhaan (red rice) from Assam was sent to the US in March 2021. The iron-rich red rice is grown in the Brahmaputra valley of Assam, without the use of any chemical fertilizer.

Experts hope that the exports would enhance incomes of farming families of the Brahmaputra flood plains.

Seven rice varieties of North East India — Meghalaya lakang, Chingphourel, Manuikhamei, Kemenyakepeyu, Wainem, Thekrulha, and Koyajang — has the potential to resist leaf and neck blast disease in rice plants.

The Global Hunger Index 2020 — calculated on the basis of total undernourishment of the population, child stunting, wasting and child mortality — placed India at the 94th spot among 107 countries.

In situ conservation of these neglected and vanishing landraces of rice, rich in nutrients, is a cheaper option than high-yielding varieties (HYVs). It helps address the problem of undernutrition in under five children in India.

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