The Vanishing Red Rice Of Kullu-Manali Valley

Manali: On verge of extinction, the Himachal Red Rice has got a new lease of life after it became the first crop variety of Himachal Pradesh to be registered under the Protection of Plant Variety and Farmers Right Act, 2001.

This has raised the hopes of experts and conservationists, who had worked extensively to save the variety that farmers will now return to cultivation of this traditional crop.

It was Grown in abundance in Kullu and Manali valley of Himachal in Manali subdivision of Kullu -Manali valley till mid 90s, the area under Red Rice locally knows as ‘Lal Chewal’ started shrinking with the variety reaching edge of extinction in 21st century due to farmers’ inclination towards cash crops and high-yielding apple and exotic vegetables variety.

Mehar Chand Thakur, resident of the valley ,who has worked extensively to conserve traditional crops, including red rice, says both social and economic factors led to the decline in the cultivated area under the variety.

“Firstly, the cultivation of red rice was not economical while cash crops mainly apple became synonym to prosperity bringing more wealth to the region in the past two decades,” Thakur said, adding that the royal variety of apple that can grow in low altitudes ate into the cultivation area of red rice.

 

Red Rice (Lal Chawal) – representative image

The red rice grows at altitudes between 1,500 and 2,000 m above sea level. He said secondly disintegration in the social structure was also witnessed during this span of time as people from joint family divided into nuclear families.

“This disintegration in society resulted into educed tract of farm land and shortage of manpower that is needed in cultivation of this crop,” Thakur revealed, adding that 40% of the area under red rice cultivation in the valley was converted into apple orchard or cultivation for other cash exotic vegetable. Thakur said people shifted to the apple crop cultivation as apple needs less manpower for cultivation. “The registration has raised hopes that people will return to the red rice cultivation as it would fetch them better price than apple now,” said Thakur.

Thakur, who made farmers aware about the benefit of red rice farming, said the apple economy was not sustainable and could crash any time and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) had added to the risk as now the competition is with the countries having advanced post harvest technology and better variety production.

“The only option is now the red rice that has got legal protection,” said Thakur. Rice and Wheat Research Centre of CSK-Himachal Pradesh Agricultural University (HPAU), Vikramjeet Singh resident of Manali said the price of red rice would go up by double and would hopefully promote its export.

High iron content and low in sugar content are the specifications of red rice, besides many other medicinal values.

, He said “Plummeting yield of indigenous foods and its decreasing profitability in the field have led to people moving to greener pastures. There is no one left to carry on the farming or master the cuisine from that produce; embracing traditional foods and promoting it via tourism is the way forward.”

While Kullu- Manali sees plenty of hikers and tourists, most go back without having tasted the flavours of the region.

Sanjay Dutta, an engineer by qualification but is a journalist by choice. He has worked for the premier new agency Press Trust of India and leading English daily Indian Express. With more than a decade of experience, he has been highlighting issues related to environment, tourism and other aspects affecting mountain ecology. Sanjay Dutta lives in a village close to Manali in Kullu valley of Himachal.

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