Can Traditional Rice varieties Make a Comeback?

Dr. Tasneem Mubarak

In view of changing climatic conditions and demand for high value agriculture products research priorities also metamorphose to cater the needs of the time. In agriculture, vast genetic resources have allowed scientists to develop wonderful region and location specific varieties with desired characters in many crops. Local land races are of enormous importance because of high adaptability and some special traits. Plant breeders as well as the farmers in many parts of India have been and shall be harnessing the traits of these races for the benefit of farmers, traders and consumers. Conservation and cultivation of indigenous crop varieties especially those at the verge of extinction is thus in the nature of an imperative; that is why Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Act 2001 is considered a timely intervention.
People all over the globe are now realizing the importance of such traditional and local land races and efforts have been intensified over the past few years to check genetic erosion and to conserve precious germplasms. When we talk about Kashmir valley more than 100 local land races of paddy suited to different agro-ecological situations have been reported and most of these are being conserved at the Mountain Research Center for Field Crops, MRCFC-SKUAST-Kashmir. Three among them are Mushkebudji, Kamad and Zag(red rice). Mushkebudgi and Kamad are very famous for their aroma and flavor in the state and beyond while Zag is known for its nutritional value especially in terms of iron and zinc content. Red rice is also reported to be rich source of important vitamins, fiber and anti-oxidants and believed to be quite beneficial for heart problems, bone health, obesity, diabetes, constipation and so on.
Owing to this there is now good demand for these varieties of rice. Since these land races are well suited to the certain ecologies (mid altitude belts of the valley ranging between 1850- 1950 meter amsl) their potential can be harnessed by implementing the set of technology components developed by SKUAST-Kashmir, especially with respect to the management of blast disease, which is considered to be one of the major reason for farmers to discontinue the cultivation of these varieties. Experts involved in the survey and purification programme from MRCFC-SKUAST, consider non-uniformity of the produce, lack of quality seed, poor yield potential owing to mixing of strains and area expansion under high yielding paddy varieties as other reasons in addition to blast, for the disinterest of farmers and pushing of these land races to few pockets in the valley.
Against this backdrop, an initiative was undertaken by SKUAST-Kashmir for the revival of these land races through MRCFC including genetic purification together with the development of package of practices especially Integrated Disease Management module to tackle the problem of blast disease plus popularization through participatory mode involving all stakeholders. Under the revival programme village Sangam and adjoining villages were identified in district Anantnag for demonstration on purified MushkBudji and Kamad rice and Gomal and adjoining areas of Tangdar in district Kupwara were identified for Zag. In the process of popularizing these varieties among farmers in these belts, synergy between the Agricultural University, the department of agriculture and the farming community could be seen. As a result of these efforts farmers not only earn good returns but this won the community prestigious ‘genome community savior award’ .Taking into consideration the impact in Anantnag, a crop testing programme was initiated in nontraditional area of similar ecologies in other districts of valley including Kulgam. The Krishi Vigyan Kendra (Agriculture Science Center) Kulgam, SKUAST-Kashmir in collaboration with MRCFC in year 2016-17 tested these two strains in the mid belts of district. During investigations, it was observed that the productivity of these varieties was almost at par with the existing varieties grown in the mid belt, but returns were reasonably high owing to high market price for milled rice.
KVK-Kulgam situated in the mid altitudes of district also successfully tested and demonstrated the technology related to the cultivation of Mushkebudji and Kamad during 2017 and 2018 at its instructional farm. The Kendra has received good demand especially for Mushkebudji and , on account of this, demonstrations are being carried out this year as well. A project proposal for the horizontal spread of Mukebudg iin the mid belt is under way to cater transfer of technology and to facilitate formation of a viable farmers’ interest group/farmer producer company or a self-help group in future. Besides Mushkebudji, Kendra is also testing the performance of Zag (Red rice) this year. Observing the demonstration at KVK Kulgam, many farmers also desired to grow it in lower plains as well. Since Mushkebudji is highly susceptible to blast disease, farmers in the lower plains, despite great interest cannot grow it as the microclimate in plains is congenial for the outbreak of the disease. Efforts are however being made at Mountain Research Center for Field Crops (MRCFC)-SKUAST-Kashmir to transfer blast resistant genes into the existing strain and some success has already been achieved. MRCFC shall be coordinating with KVKs of Valley in the near future for area expansion under new version of Mushkebudji after multi-location testing for blast resistance/tolerance and yield and quality parameters in the target area.

—The author is a Senior Scientist & Head KVK-Kulgam,SKUAST-Kashmir. He can be reached at: drtasneem.mubarak@gmail.com