Give me red: Indigenous red rice is fast making a comeback in the fields of Himachal Pradesh

The government hopes to increase the area under cultivation of rice red varieties to 4,000 hectares in Himachal Pradesh. After a gap when they experimented with newer varieties, farmers are also taking a shine to red rice, which is rich in medicinal properties and fetches them good earning.

Divendra Singh
| Updated: December 18th, 2020

Red rice. Photo: Pixabay

After a gap of some years, when they were charmed by newer rice varieties, farmers in Himachal Pradesh have resumed cultivating indigenous red rice varieties in more than 1,100 hectares. Red rice, known for its medicinal properties, used to be cultivated widely in Mandi, Kullu and Kangra districts. The government hopes to increase the acreage under red rice to about 4,000 hectares in the coming five years.

The state’s department of agriculture has encouraged farmers to raise red rice. This rice also fetches farmers a good price, ranging between Rs 60 and Rs 70 a kilogramme, and goes up to Rs 100 or Rs 200 a kilo in the retail market.

Naresh Kumar Badhan, director, department of agriculture, Himachal Pradesh, told Gaon Connection, “Red rice is mostly cultivated in the mountains, but the area under it saw a decline. We sensitised farmers towards saving this variety. Our efforts have paid off, and acreage for this has increased.”

Paddy cultivation in Majhwar village, Mandi district, Himachal Pradesh. Photo: Sudhir Kumar, department of agriculture.

Rice is one of the major crops in Himachal Pradesh. The total annual production of red rice in the state is 9,926 quintals, with an average production of between 8 and 10 quintals a hectare. The total area under rice in Himachal Pradesh is about 80,000 hectares, spread across 10 districts. 

Red rice varieties are sown in June-July each year and ready for harvest in October-November. Red rice is cultivated in Suru Koot, Kuthuru, Ganvi, Jangal, Nadala, Kaloti and Devidhar areas of Shimla district. In Chamba district, it is grown in Maani, Pukhari, Saho, Keedi, Lag, Saluni and Teesa areas. Kangra district grows red rice in Baijnath, Dharamshala and Bandla. In Mandi district, red rice farming is done at Janjehli, Churag and Thunag. 

RP Kaushik, a senior scientist who has done research on red rice, explained that red rice varieties are cultivated in the high-altitude areas of Himachal Pradesh. “Varieties such as Jatu, Matali, Dewal, Karad, Chhohratu and Bhirgu have been cultivated here for generations,” said Kaushik, former head of the Rice and Wheat Research Centre at CSK Himachal Pradesh Agricultural University in Kangra. 

Red rice is also said to be nutritionally superior. Kaushik has researched on the nutritive quality of 16 red rice varieties produced across different areas of Himachal Pradesh. “We found that red rice contains more nutrients than other varieties of rice. Red rice abounds in iron and zinc and contains 25.9 ppm of zinc whereas other rice varieties contain 12 to 15 ppm zinc,” he told Gaon Connection.

Red rice is typically not polished to retain its nutritive value. Traditional varieties of red rice yield less than other varieties — red rice yields about 20-22 quintals a hectare as compared to the 40 quintals regular rice yields. 

The Rice and Wheat Research Centre has also developed two new varieties of red rice with improved yield. “We have developed HPR 2720 and HPR 2795, and cultivation has been begun in Kangra, Mandi and Shimla districts,” DP Pandey, principal scientist at the research facility, told Gaon Connection.  

These varieties are said to be abundant in iron, zinc and magnesium, and are said to be safe for consumption by those with diabetes. Badhan said that Himachal Pradesh is also home to paddy varieties such as Chhohratu, Sukara Tian, Lal Jhinni, Jatu and Matali.

Read the story in Hindi.