Preserving a rare medicinal rice variety

It was only last week Palakkad-based marketing executive-turned farmer P. Narayanan Unni was invited to present a paper on how he conserved Kerala’s nearly extinct medicinal rice variety, Navara, in an organic way at a global conference on best practices in agri-food innovation.

It was followed by his attendance at the first International Agro-Biodiversity Congress held in New Delhi where delegates from across the world listened to the efforts for many years in protecting and promoting the red rice variety.

Chairman of Chittur-based Navara Foundation and the largest cultivator of Navara rice in the State, Mr. Unni feels it would be vital for any modern society to focus more on protecting and promoting traditional rice varieties to face the challenges of growing food insecurity.

His 12-acre Navara Eco farm is located on the banks of the Shokanashini river here.

“The cultivation of this medicinal rice variety was almost extinct when I took it up as a mission. Non-availability of pure seeds, low yield and high production cost were cited as reasons for the lack of popularity of this rice variety among farmers. It was my determination to keep the farm completely organic,” said Mr. Unni, in an interaction with The Hindu . He has been running the farm successfully for the last 20 years.

Unlike other rice varieties, which are white in colour, Navara is deep red and has been cultivated in the Palakkad region for more than 2,000 years. But it was totally wiped out during the last four decades when several new hybrid rice varieties were introduced.

“In the initial years, I had to struggle hard to collect and segregate enough seeds. Sourcing pure seeds was indeed a challenge.

Many of my friends warned that it may be a sheer wastage of time and energy,” he recalled.

“In most parts of Palakkad, the rice variety was contaminated by hybrid varieties. In addition to the low yield, about 200 kg from an acre made the cultivation commercially unviable,” he said. For pest control, he grew tulsi and marigold on the field bunds.

“Since it is a medicinal rice variety for consumption we decided to adopt only organic methods. We did not want chemical residues in the harvested grains,” explained Mr. Unni.

Taking inspiration from Mr. Unni, many farmers in Chittur taluk are now cultivating Navara organically.

It was only two years ago the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority had conferred the second annual Plant Genome Saviour community recognition award on him.

Because of his intervention, Navara has also received Geographical Indication (GI) status.

Navara is used traditionally to treat rheumatic patients. Navara rice is in high demand during the Malayalam month of Karkidakam for Ayurvedic rejuvenation treatments.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2021 1:13:30 PM |

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