Efforts are on to obtain Geographical Indication tag for the fragrant non-Basmati joha rice varieties of Assam
As the aroma of Assam’s joha rice varieties that make the fragrant pulao, delicious Assamese dessert payash and are a must for a number of ethnic delicacies spread far and wide, the State government has begun the technical exercise to obtain Geographical Indication (GI) tag for joha rice to protect these indigenous varieties and their traditional growers.
The Assam Agricultural University has prepared a detailed proposal to move the GI Registry in Chennai for registering joha rice as a class of non-Basmati indigenous varieties of Assam. So far, two commodities of Assam have got the GI tag — the Muga silk and the Assam orthodox tea.
“Once we get the GI tag for joha rice, it will give these indigenous rice varieties distinctiveness and increase its market demand through quality assurance and at the same time protect the interests of traditional growers of joha rice. Presently Assam has 20,000 hectares under joha rice and produces about 30,000 metric tonnes of this aromatic rice every year,” says the State’s Agriculture Minister Nilamoni Sen Deka. In Assam, joha rice fetches premium price and is currently sold in the range of Rs. 40 to Rs. 75 a kg in Guwahati’s retail market.
Professor and Head of the Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics of the Assam Agricultural University, Pranab Talukdar, says undivided Assam was one of the centres of origin of rice in the world and had more than 10,000 rice varieties. More than 6,000 accessions of indigenous rice varieties of Assam were collected and taken to International Rice Research Institute in Philippines in the 1960s and kept preserved there as Assam Rice Collection. Subsequently, the Assam Rice Collection was transferred to the Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI), Cuttack and these accessions are also conserved at the National Gene Bank, National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR) in New Delhi. The Assam Agricultural University is also maintaining around 4,000 rice germplasm, including germplasm of 45 joha varieties, Professor Talukdar says.
In 2007, the first consignment of about 17 metric tonnes of joha rice was exported to three European countries — Germany, U.K. and Switzerland — where it was in high demand. However, the export of this class of indigenous rice varieties had to be stopped after the Centre clamped a ban on export of non-Basmati exports in April 2008 as a measure to curb inflation and the shipment of a second consignment of 33 metric tonnes joha rice had to be cancelled. Although the ban was lifted in September 2011, Mr. Deka says the export of joha rice is yet to resume on an expected scale as it is organic joha, which is more in demand.
Although production of most of the indigenous rice varieties, including joha rice varieties, in Assam has traditionally been organic due to lack of certification by authorised certification agencies, these organic produce is not recognised as organic by international buyers.
The Assam Agriculture Department has started 30 organic farms with each covering a plot of 50 hectares for growing organic joha and other organic crop. Additional 60 organic farms will be set up in the current financial year and the Department has fixed a target of setting up one organic farm in each of the State’s 126 Assembly constituencies over the next three years. A nodal officer has been appointed for this ambitious programme that covers providing agricultural inputs, awareness among the traditional growers and proper organic certification of the produce from these farms. Mr. Deka hopes that the GI tag, coupled with these initiatives, will boost confidence of traditional joha rice growers in Assam to grow more and earn more.