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Move to genetically improve Njavara rice

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For better productivity: A view of the Njavara paddy field where experimental farming was held.
For better productivity: A view of the Njavara paddy field where experimental farming was held.

K.S. Sudhi

Njavara rice is used in ayurveda for therapeutic purpose

The variant has been farmed in Kerala for over 2,500 years

KOCHI: After ensuring genetic purity, researchers are attempting to bring in genetic improvement in Njavara, the medicinal rice variety of the State.

Earlier, researchers at the Rice Research Station, Moncompu, of the Kerala Agricultural University had identified five genetically pure types of the rice variety. They isolated long awned black, short awned black, awnless yellow, long awned brown and awnless brown types from over the 35 types farmed in the State. Of this, awnless yellow was preferred by farmers as it conformed to the Njavara characteristics.

‘Njavara kizhi’

Njavara rice is extensively used in ayurveda for therapeutic purposes, including Njavara Kizhi. It is an important ingredient of Karkidaka Kanji, the medicinal porridge consumed during the Malayalam month of Karkidakam and a natural health drink. The authentic rice is being sold at Rs.400 a kg.

A research project to increase the yield and bring in genetic improvement using conventional breeding techniques will be launched shortly, said S. Leenakumari, professor at the university. The low yield has been discouraging the farmers from taking up its cultivation, she said. Njavara farming is limited to around 50 hectares involving around 30 farmers, said P. Narayanan Unni, president of the Njavara Rice Farmers’ Society, Karukamanikalam, near Chittur.

Earlier, it was farmed in parts of Palakkad, Malappuram and Thrissur districts. Now, it is restricted to certain pockets, he said.

The organisation had obtained Geographical Indication certification for the rice variety in 2007.

The society had been marketing the rice under a brand name. It also had a steady market for the rice, he said.

It is believed that the variety had been farmed in Kerala for over 2,500 years.

While most of the major Ayurveda hospitals farm it on their own to obtain quality rice, those who purchase it over the counter are vulnerable to cheating, rice experts said.

Unlike the experts, consumers may not be able to ensure the authenticity of the rice they buy, Prof. Leenakumari said.

Incidentally, there were reports of Pokkali rice being sold under the label of Njavara. Pokkali rice has long and bold grains whereas the Njavara grains are medium and slender in size. The Njavara plants have thin and lanky stem which lodges easily, she said.

Mr. Unni said the society had been selling organically farmed authentic Njavara. Besides the grains, even the roots of the plant were being used for therapeutic purposes. Hence, the society insisted on organic farming, he said.

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