Mushk Budji: Conservation Of Local Biodiversity Brings Prosperity To Kashmir

Mushk Budji: Conservation Of Local Biodiversity Brings Prosperity To Kashmir

Conservation efforts by SKUAST-Kashmir and NABARD lead to the resurgence of a premium rice variety, earning national recognition and boosting farmer incomes

Today, the 22nd of May is celebrated as International Day for Biodiversity. The purpose is to raise awareness about biodiversity, and its importance in our lives, and promote its conservation. In previous articles in Kashmir Reader, we have discussed the importance of biodiversity, its erosion, its impact, and our role in its conservation. Today, we would like to present something about the impact of conserving local biodiversity.
At present, the majority of readers may be familiar with Mushk Budji , a premium short and bold-grained local land-race of rice from the Kashmir Valley. This local land-race of rice was cultivated by farmers in the past and slowly disappeared from the fields, leaving only a few pockets in the valley. Mushk Budji was actually on the verge of extinction. The major reasons were susceptibility to blast disease, non-uniformity of the produce, lack of quality seed, poor yield potential due to mixing of strains, and area expansion under high-yielding paddy varieties.
In this context, an initiative was undertaken by MRCFC, SKUAST-Kashmir for the revival of Mushk Budji. NABARD played an important role in sponsoring the project and collaborated closely with SKUAST-K and the line department. The program focused on the genetic purification of the land-race, followed by the development of a package of practices for maximizing yield and tackling the problem of blast disease, which was a major biotic threat to the variety. The refined technology was popularized in a participatory mode involving all stakeholders like SKUAST-K, NABARD, the Department of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, and the farming community in the niche area.
This revival program started way back in 2007 with the survey of niche areas where these strains could be traced out through different sources. A team of scientists from MRCFC, SKUAST-Kashmir collected 350 samples of two races of local rice, i.e., Mushk Budji and Kamad, and categorized the samples into four classes based on the main trait of aroma: a) no aroma, b) low aroma, c) moderate aroma, and d) strong aroma. Five identified promising lines, three of Mushk Budji and two of Kamad with a strong aroma, were then selected and studied further for traits other than the aroma. Finally, two strains, one each of Mushk Budji (Mushk Budji -11) and Kamad (Kamad-7) with a yield potential of around 5 tonnes per hectare were identified as the best out of the lot. These strains were then put through different studies for the development of a comprehensive package of practices, especially with regard to the IDM module for the management of blast disease.
Under the revival program, Sagam and adjoining villages in district Anantnag were identified for the demonstration of purified Mushk Budji and Kamad rice in the year 2013. In the process of popularizing the variety among farmers in the mid-belts of district Anantnag, an excellent example of coordination between SKUAST-Kashmir, the Department of Agriculture, and the farming community could be seen. This process of refinement and revival in the niche area promoted Mushk Budji farming, and this local land-race once again became a focal point for researchers, policymakers, agri-experts, traders, media, and farmers.
At present, out of the 280 hectares, around 90% of the area under Mushk Budji (252 ha) is concentrated at Sagam and adjoining villages in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district. It is worth mentioning that over the past few years, Mushk Budji farmers have not only earned good returns but also gained national recognition by winning the prestigious ‘Plant Genome Savior Community Award’ from the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers Right Authority, a statutory body under the Ministry of Agriculture in 2016. These achievements signify the worth of collective efforts by agencies like SKUAST-Kashmir, the Department of Agriculture, NABARD, and the farming community.
The Mountain Research Center for Field Crops (MRCFC), SKUAST-Kashmir played an important role in promoting this niche crop through the revival program and facilitated the FPO in gaining national recognition, including the Genome Community Savior Award. Recently, Mushk Budji received a Geographical Indication (GI) tag, which signifies that a product possesses unique traits and belongs to a specific geographical location or territory. MRCFC-SKUAST(K) again played an important role in this regard. This achievement will benefit the farming community and players involved in trade in both national and international markets.
The Sagam Mushk Budji Farmer Producer Company Limited, located at Tangpawa, Sagam in district Anantnag, has emerged as a success story related to the conservation, cultivation, processing, branding, and marketing of this local land-race of rice. GI tagging will also prevent duplication and give prominence to Mushkbudji in both national and international markets, besides encouraging area expansion under similar ecologies in the Kashmir Valley. The GI tag will hopefully help in achieving the area expansion targets for Mushk Budji under the HADP project on the “promotion of niche crops.”
The success of Mushk Budji in Anantnag led to a variety of testing programmes in non-traditional areas under similar ecologies in other districts of the valley, involving Krishi Vigyan Kendras. During the investigation in district Kulgam, 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 due to the high market price for milled rice. Since Mushk Budji is highly susceptible to blast disease, farmers in the lower plains cannot grow it as the microclimate in the plains is conducive to disease outbreaks. Efforts by scientists at MRCFC-SKUAST-Kashmir have made it possible to transfer blast resistance genes into the existing strain, and a resistant version of Mushk Budji has been developed by the center, named Shalimar Rice-6.
Like Mushk Budji, Kamad and Zag (red rice) are also famous local land-races of rice in Kashmir. Zag is known for its nutritional value, especially for its high iron and zinc content. It is also reported to be a rich source of important vitamins, fibre, and antioxidants, and is believed to be quite beneficial for heart problems, bone health, obesity, diabetes, constipation, and so on. Owing to this, there is now a good demand for these varieties. Gomal and adjoining areas of Tangdar in district Kupwara are considered niches for Zag rice cultivation. Like Mushk Budji, the GI tagging of Kamad, which is also an aromatic local land-race of rice, and Zag (red rice) will definitely help in promoting these crops in the valley.
In a nutshell, these local landraces, in their pure form or as potential germplasm for breeding speciality rice, play an important role in shaping agriculture at present and in the future as well. Conservation of these and other local land-races of rice and other crops is, therefore, essential for achieving our future goals of resilience and better quality produce.
Dr Tasneem Mubarak is Chief Scientist, Agronomy (MRCFC)-SKUAST-Kashmir
Dr N R Sofi is Associate Director Research, (MRCFC)-SKUAST-Kashmir
Dr F A Mohiddin is Associate Professor, Plant Pathology (MRCFC)-SKUAST-Kashmir

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