Environmental research organisation, Thanal, has been striving to bring back the glory of traditional varieties of rice grain, whose position has been usurped by white rice that has infiltrated Kerala’s market. This unfortunate trend needs to reverted and a tie-up with Kudumbasree is being envisaged to create seed banks in every district and to facilitate a support system that would look into value addition of rice and focus on opening up the markets, said Director of Thanal S. Usha to The Hindu during an Organic Rice Mela at the YMCA Hall in Thiruvananthapuram on Friday.

This is the second such exhibition and sale organised by Thanal in the city, as part of the ‘Save our Rice’ campaign. The first was held in July last year, when over two tonnes was sold. While this exhibition is of a smaller scale, more varieties are on display – including 14 varieties of rice grain and over 150 paddy seeds, brought from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and West Bengal. The success of the first Mela was apparent soon after, for several customers continued to visit Thanal’s office at Jawahar Nagar to purchase organic grains.

Sustaining environment

Executive director of Kudumbasree K.B. Valsalakumari inaugurated the Mela on Friday morning. Ms. Usha said Ms. Valasalakumari had expressed her interest in coordinating with Thanal in the creation of a framework that promises to be an excellent model for the State. “Rather than labelling them as ‘Kudumbasree workers’ groups’, their role could be updated to that sustaining the environment. They have such an extensive system throughout the State and they hold the potential of reaching the markets and this need not be public markets, but at least schools and hospitals. Moreover, this is a means of improving their livelihood,” said Ms. Usha.

This year, owing to the more severe drought situation in States such as Tamil Nadu, the demand for such grains had risen in Kerala. Thanal has conducted field research in other States where the evidence is clear that traditional varieties thrive even in drought affected regions. A type of red rice called, Kaatuyanam, which is being cultivated in Thanjavur, is deemed as flood and drought resistant, and could be introduced in Kerala as well, said Ms. Usha.

What is lacking in Kerala is a traditional seed growers’ society.

While the government offers impetus mostly for the production of vegetables and spices, such food grains are not given the required attention, said C. Jayakumar of Thanal.

“Moreover, farmers here have to cultivate in much smaller tracts of land and there are plenty of cases where development projects have got in the way of farming,” he added.

Ms. Usha suggests that the government needs to help highlight the significance of traditional seeds and this in turn, must be recognised by consumers.