India being the land of agriculture grows various types of crops. 65% of the land is agricultural land. Kala Namak Rice is one of the by-products for the same. The traditional Buddhist variety of rice is purely an Indian variety. It is organically farmed and outshines basmati rice in all aspects including its length.
Kala Namak Rice is one of the finest quality scented rice in India. It has been cultivated in India since 600 BC. It’s very popular in the Himalayan Tarai of Eastern Uttar Pradesh. It is also known as the scented black pearl of Uttar Pradesh. A Chinese monk wrote “When Gautam Budhha visited Kapilvastu for the first time after attaining enlightenment; he gifted Kala Namak to the local people as “Prasad”. He asked them to sow it in marshy land, it is due to this reason this rice is also called as “Buddha’s Gift”. This rice was also found in the kitchen store of a house in UP in one of the excavation.
With the flow of time, the production of this rice has declined an is nearly to be extinct. The world-famous rice for its aroma and taste was given a cold-shoulder because of its low yield and non-profitability.
The efforts of Ram Chet Chaudhary, a retired agricultural scientist and the founder of the Participatory Rural Development Foundation (PRDF) is the reason the crop started seeing a revival. PRDF had researched in 2013 that showed that the production of Kala Namak Rice fell from 50,000 hectares to 2,000 hectares of land. After all the efforts the production in 2018 went up to 35,000 hectares in 14 districts including Gorakhpur, Basti, Maharajganj, Deoria, Siddharth Nagar and others. High yielding varieties of Kala Namak Rice has been produced, not only 4 but 11 districts of Purvanchal have also got GI (Geographical Indication) tag.
Districts like Siddharthnagar, Maharajganj, Gorakhpur, Sant Kabir Nagar, Barabanki, Gonda, Bahraich, Balrampur, Kushinagar, Basti and Deoria can both produce and sell Kala Namak rice. People from other districts can grow to eat but cannot do business in the name of black salt.
Chaudhary believes that the cultivation of Kala Namak Rice has contributed 3 times more income to farmers compared to other paddy varieties like Samba Massorie, Doongara, Koshihikari and hence more farmers are showing interest in it.
The farmers had pleaded to Chaudhary to revive this dying crop to trace its history to Buddha. “I collected over 250 samples from farmers to research the crop. After seven years of extensive research, I succeeded in developing Kala Namak variety KN3, which was released by the UP Government and notified by the government of India in 2010. It was rich in aroma and tasted like the original Kala Namak Rice but farmers complained that it had a low yield and that the outer covering with a pointed tip (awn) troubled them while separating rice from husk. Then I came up with an improvement, ‘Bauna Kala Namak 102’, which was without an awn and high-yielding. It was released and notified by the government of India in 2016. Now, we have come up with the latest variety called ‘Kala Namak Kiran’, which will soon be notified by the government. Now I wish to boost the marketing of Kala Namak so that farmers are encouraged to grow it and can sell it right from their doorstep.”
Chaudhary had started the research to mainly commercialise this ancient paddy. “We want to take the Kala Namak Rice to national and international markets again,” PK Srivastava of WetLand Glory Pvt Limited, who signed the agreement with farmers, said. “To ensure a fair price to farmers for their produce, we have entered into an agreement with 100% buy-back terms. To take this unique product of UP abroad, we will also start exporting it soon, besides promoting it through stalls at the coming Lucknow Mahotsav and even at Kumbh 2019. By the end of December, we will be able to market it,” he added.
Assistant Development officer Arvind Kumar Yadav said, “Among the three varieties developed by Dr Chaudhary, Bauna Kala Namak 102 has become very popular. It’s very similar to the original crop with a small stem and ripens in a comparatively shorter period of time. Also, compared to the original Kala Namak Rice, it gives a good income to farmers. In one hectare, 50 to 55 quintals of Kala Namak Rice can be grown against 20 to 25 quintals of original Kala Namak rice per hectare.”
However, at a time when the minimum support price (MSP) of ‘A’ grade paddy (Paddy) in the country was running at Rs 1835 per quintal, farmers got Rs 5500 for a quintal of the black salt rice. The fragrance of this rice has now reached to Buddhist countries like Bhutan, Japan, Thailand, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. The Deputy Director of Agriculture, Siddharth Nagar, Lal Bahadur Yadav, told News18 Hindi that this rice is currently being sold at a rate of Rs 12,000 per quintal. It grows only in rainwater. Due to the introduction of new varieties of black salt rice, this time the area has increased to double or about 10 thousand hectare as compared to last year.
Although, if now the hybrid of the Kala Namak Rice will be sold it wouldn’t have the essence, fragrance, taste or significance of the organic Kala Namak rice that was given by Lord Buddha. The organic rice also loses its fragrance and colour if chemical fertilizers are used hence the government must provide the farmers with the right amount of organic fertilizers to keep the Kala Namak rice alive. To preserve this heritage it is essential to provide the farmers with what they need to grow this crop right.
The attempt of exporting this ancient paddy around the global could act as a great means of income to the farmers and also help in letting the world know about this unique grain. It would also mean to inform the world about Gautam Budhha’s great gift but only if it, in fact, is organic.
Image Credits:- Loksatta