By Dr. G.A. Parray
Short to medium bold scented rices are traditionally grown by farmers and constitute about 4% of total rice cultivars grown by farmers across the globe. Of these temperate regions grow 2.2% and the expression of aroma is believed to be richer as compared to the cultivars grown in tropics.
Global scented market is growing at 12% per annum and there is a dearth of scented rices other than Basmati what the country has to offer. Jammu and Kashmir has wealth of landraces available among which few like Mushk Budji and Kamad are known for unique aroma and their requisite quality. Unfortunately, the area under these valuable heritage rices is dwindling day by day due to numerous factors.
SKUAST-Kashmir has been successful in revival of Mushk Budji and Kamad in niche areas of their cultivation. With the efforts of University authorities and Scientists at large, the heritage rice cultivars were genetically purified, enhanced for the aroma and other quality traits and the seed (of improved version) was re-supplied to farmers. Besides, University facilitated on-farm sale and lifting of farmers produce through private rice traders, so that farmers receive timely remuneration.
Now since, so far the revival and successful cultivation of purified Mushk Budji and Kamad has been a success story in the field of Agriculture in the State, there are some key questions from our side those need thorough attention:
- How long will present price levels for the farmers produce be sustained when there is an open market competition from premium quality Basmati rices and other non-Basmati rice types?
- What should be the measures taken to ensure maintenance of aroma and quality for which these landraces are known and the traits that are key to premium prices when it comes to consumer preference at the end?
- How could we ensure marketability of the produce and little intervention of middle men?
- How can we regulate demand and supply vis-à-vis its net production on yearly basis?
- Could some more traditional areas be brought under cultivation of aromatic rices which earlier use to cultivate and now have abandoned?
- Shall there be a wilful intervention for not extending and expanding the area under aromatic landraces indiscriminately across valley without studying pros- and cons of doing so?
- How do we address susceptibility to rice blast which forms a major production and rice quality constraint?
Interventions suggested by SKUAST-Kashmir with the view of sustainable production and marketing of Heritage rices of Kashmir:
Basmati rice in Jammu and Kashmir is cultivated on an area of 40000 ha with the production of 88000 tonnes. While, major part of this produce is exported, the rest enters indigenous markets.
Besides, series of other prominent Basmati rices like Pusa Basmati 1121, Pusa Basmati 1, Dehraduni Basmti, etc are sold under different trade names across the State. This also includes some short grained to semi-fine grained non-Basmati scented rices. Usually the price range goes from Rs. 60 for non-Basmati scented grade to 200 a kg for premium quality Basmati.
There comes a policy intervention that given a scenario the supply increases drastically with the same price level, the product is going to face a stiff competition. The Govt. has fixed the procurement price of paddy of Mushkbudji @ Rs. 8500/q during 2016-17 amounting to Rs. 17000-20000/q for milled rice which is not economically feasible to aspirants of Mushkbudji. SKUAST-K is suggesting while taking into consideration the interests of all stake holders that the rates need to be revisited and rethought and propose the procurement rates at Rs. 4500/q that tantamounts to Rs. 9000-10000/q. This will make the production and marketing of Mushkbudji competitive as compared to premium basmati rices in the market.
The conservation of Mushkbudji has been appreciated at state and central level and the Mushkbudji custodians have been awarded cash prize of Rs. 10.00 lakh as “Genome Saviour Community Award” on 21st December,2016. Till date there are no feed backs from the govt. side for the utilization of the award money.
University is suggesting the govt. for further financial assistance to the community for creating the village based facilities for processing, milling, branding and marketing of their produce to make the venture commercially viable and economically sustainable.
Quality seed Production:
To maintain the quality of Mushkbudji, the pure seed production chain should be put intact with the programme. The nucleus/stock seed production is the procedure to maintain the purity of all classes of seeds which is the mandate of SAU. Therefore the initial/ nucleus seed production always needs to be obtained from SKUAST-K in order to maintain purity and quality standards of the produce.
Genetically improved Mushkbudji:
Mushk Budji is inherently susceptible to rice blast. SKUAST-K with the support from Department of Biotechnology, MoS, Govt. of India has developed blast resistant version of Mushk Budji. The genetic stock available with us needs large scale demonstration and testing in farmers fields and thereby, subsequent introduction. The Deptt.of Agri. Govt. of J&K, may cooperate in the program.
Potential Niche Areas for Mushkbudji Cultivation:
The scented cultivar thrives and performs well both quality and quantity wise in some specific niche areas already identified by SKUAST-Kashmir. The variety has failed to perform as per the expectations beyond its area of adaptation. Here it is strongly recommended by the university that the variety should not be cultivated beyond niche areas, because it will lose it quality as well as hinder its successful production.
The answer lies in regulated expansion of area under these landraces to only those niche areas which are suited for expression of scent. There should be no indiscriminate expansion to the areas within valley which are not suited to grow MushkBudji and Kamad.
Marketing has remained a hindrance in successful production of the variety because custodian farmers have always been exploited by middle men/brokers. This is one of the main issues that farmers have abandoned its cultivation for getting lesser share of the benefit and the is also one of the causes for the admixture of the variety. University is suggesting the establishment and empowerment of a cooperative society /self-help groups who will take care of procurement, processing and marketing of the variety just on the pattern of Amul Diary Limited in Gujrat.
Alternatively, the Govt needs to establish a strong public private market linkages. Here they need to identify the private entrepreneurs who will make the payment to the farmers at his threshing floor and will take the assignment of processing, milling, branding and marketing.
(The author is Associate Director Research at SKUAST Kashmir and can be contacted at email@example.com)