Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Speciality rice strain losing ground

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: �It is close to extinction, says Narayanan Unny ruefully, surveying the speciality grain �Njavara rice crop cultivated on his farmland along the banks of Chittur River in Palakkad.

It has been over 30 years since Njavara rice began its decline, with farmers choosing to cultivate more lucrative cash crops. �We are trying vigorously to promote it but a lot of work needs to be done,� he says.

Known for its use in Ayurvedic rejuvenation therapies, Njavara continues to struggle in spite of strong conservation efforts. As another sowing season approaches, this unique strain of paddy remains imperilled despite the best laid plans of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) and speciality rice farmers like Mr. Unny.

The Community Agro-biodiversity Centre (CAbC) in Wayanad run by the MSSRF has spent years courting markets and persuading farmers to embrace the medicinal crop. Two molecular studies conducted in the past 20 years have pointed to Njavaras unique qualities, particularly its high amino acid content and the presence of a protein reported to have anti-carcinogenic properties, especially against breast cancer. But clinical trials to validate the rices physiological benefits remain in limbo.

Meanwhile, the foundation has made an attempt to market the speciality rice through value-added products. But �Njavara baby powder and �pappadum have not been big sellers.

�Its an extraordinary rice,� says P. Prajeesh, a research associate at the MSSRF, �but value-added products are more expensive, so most local people wont buy them.�

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