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Here’s how a Hyderabad farm has been experimenting with rice

This story began during a stopover at Terrassen Café for a quick meal. A board at the café announced a new dish ‘Amar Akbar Antony’ and its proprietor Dhanesh Sharma recommended it. My curiosity was piqued when I learnt that the dish uses heirloom varieties of rice — brown, red and black — grown on the outskirts of Hyderabad. One has been hearing and reading about ‘Save the Rice’ campaign and efforts in several states to reintroduce heirloom rice varieties.

Rice available commercially in Hyderabad broadly fall under Sona Masuri, BPT, and the thicker Hamsa, which is native to Telangana. The lack of diversity in growing more varieties of paddy means lack of variety for wider consumption.

Meanwhile, ‘Amar Akbar Antony’ turned out to be unique, blending in flavours of three rice varieties in a stir fry with vegetables, topped with toasted sesame. The café uses black rice for a pudding as well, in combination with almond milk and dates. The penny dropped when Dhanesh disclosed the rice was from the farm run by Praveen Abhishetty. A microbiology student turned banker turned organic farmer, Praveen is known to regulars at the city’s Sunday markets. His 14-acre farm grows a mix of ragi, tuvar dal, carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, and rice.

Here’s how a Hyderabad farm has been experimenting with rice

Re-connecting with Praveen later, we got to see samples of heirloom HMT, chitti muthyalu, red and aromatic black rice varieties from Philippines. Praveen experimented with 10 to 12 special rice varieties and has been successful with four. He had procured HMT and chitti muthyalu seeds from CSA (Centre for Sustainable Agriculture) and Padma Koppulu of Aranya Agricultural Alternatives (AAA) helped with a few seeds of red and black varieties from Philippines.

Some might have reservations about growing an imported variety of rice in Hyderabad, but Praveen feels it’s important to understand which varieties are conducive to local soil and weather conditions. The red and black varieties, Praveen found, required less water to grow than HMT, while chitti muthyalu is water intensive being a tall-growing, longer duration paddy. Starting with just around 100 seeds of red and black rice, the first crop yielded 50kgs of rice each. The black variety from this farm has a white core.

After two seasons of growing these four rice varieties, Praveen had enough yield to cook special meals for delegates at International Permaculture Convergence (IPC) in November 2017 and also sell at Sunday bazaars. “There were requests for large orders to sell commercially but I was keen to sell directly to consumers and gauge feedback,” he says.

Those who purchased these varieties kept in touch with him, sharing photographs of how they used the rice — laddus made of red rice powder, black rice to make sticky ‘paramannam’ and suggestions — use black rice for risottos or to make pudding with mangoes and coconut milk.

Here’s how a Hyderabad farm has been experimenting with rice

Seed exchange

Soon after the first crop, Praveen shared seeds of each variety with CSA and AAA to help more farmers experiment. The farming community that believes in chemical-free methods thrives on seed exchange and knowledge transfer. This has helped them depend less on commercial seed varieties. Commercially available seeds, Praveen points out, comes with a list of dos and require chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

Praveen’s is an ancestral farm in Domadugu village, near Dundigul. His father managed the family farm which was later, briefly, given away to a brick kiln company. “Brick kiln spoils the soil quality and doesn’t allow water to seep in. It took us three to four years to get the farm back into working condition. Since I knew the design of the farm when my father was managing it, we managed to recreate it,” he says.

The villages around that area, which were traditionally growing ragi, tuvar and corn, now grow paddy. Chemical-free farms like Praveen’s sow paddy during monsoon and harvest before harsh winter sets in. Rain-fed paddy is less water intensive than those relying on borewells. Praveen’s farm that already grows a mix of vegetables, ragi and tuvar, is also making room for an orchard that will have native jamun, guava, and wild mangoes from Eastern ghats. The orchard will imitate nature, with haphazard growth, rather than be a manicured one. Green manuring trees will be grown just to add biomass to the soil. The farm relies on a mix of plant residue and animal manure to boost soil health.

Here’s how a Hyderabad farm has been experimenting with rice

All rice

* Black, red and brown rice are unpolished and hence, have lower glycemic index and, also, a better nutrient profile. The pigmenting agent anthocyanin is responsible for colour the density also depends on soil pH. Native varieties of black rice in India come from Manipur - ‘kala baati’ and ‘chak-hao’.

* Black rice was also called ‘forbidden rice’ in China. Legend has it that its consumption was limited to the royals, given its rich nutrition profile.

* Unlike white and semi-brown, it takes a while to get used to eating brown or red rice. For those who have digestion issues, try using them in dishes like bisi bele bath or khichdi, or for dosas so that the grains are fermented. Black rice, being sticky, is ideal for desserts or risottos.

* Praveen’s farm follows the SRI (System of Rice Intensification), developed in Madagascar and now followed worldwide, “This method requires 50% lesser water water and only 10% of seeds than in the normal method. Where we would have required 20kgs of seeds per acre of HMT, we used only one to two kgs. It’s possible because we follow line sowing method, which enables mechanical weeding and the weeds are returned to the soil as biomass. This mimics the action of urea and you see a spurt of growth in the crop in a few days.”

Here’s how a Hyderabad farm has been experimenting with rice

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Printable version | Jun 13, 2021 4:47:26 PM |

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