A day in the life of an Indian is incomplete without a bowl of rice. But now your rice plate can expand beyond the usual matta, ponni, basmati or sona masuri, as a host of players are resurrecting and bringing heirloom grains online or to stores near you.

An exciting catalogue of 52 indigenous scented rice has just been made available by the Small Farmers’ Agri Business Consortium (SFAC) on the Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC). 

Curated by SFAC

The 52 heirloom varieties, one for each week of the year, have been specially curated by SFAC with a link provided of the Farmer Producer Organisation (FPO) that grows the paddy and processes to rice – so that there is a seamless farm to table connect. There are varieties such as Chin Shakkar from Chhatisgarh, Javaphool rice from Madhya Pradesh, the small slender Kalo Nunia from West Bengal and more.

There was a time when India had 1.1 lakh varieties of rice, which have now dwindled to 6,000 varieties. But the good news is that SFAC is not the only one. Online there are platforms like Bio Basics that are retailing varieties like Mullan Kaima, an aromatic white rice indigenous to Wayanad or the fragrant Ambe Mohur from the foothills of the Western Ghats.

In Chennai, there are stores like the ‘Spirit of the Earth’ in Mylapore and the ‘Namma Nellu’ initiative run by the Centre for Indian Knowledge Systems (CIKS) that are reviving heritage rice varieties. 

‘Spirit of the Earth,’ is an endeavour supported by the Swami Dayananda Educational Trust (SDET), which launched in 2013 during the ‘NelThiruvizha’ (Seed Festival) in Manjakkudi, under the guidance of Sheela Balaji, the chairperson and managing trustee. Initially conserving two rice varieties, the initiative has now amassed 289 heritage rice seeds from farmers nationwide. These include Karuppu Kavuni, Thanjavur black, Kala bhat, among others. The rice varieties are priced between ₹130 and ₹180. Factors such as value, production costs, and yield are considered during pricing.

Organic farming

‘Namma Nellu’, founded in 2016 by AV Balasubramanian and KS Vijayalakshmi, operates with the goal of promoting sustainable and organic farming practices. According to Balasubramanian, Director of CIKS, the initiative emphasises the medicinal values of these rice varieties, such as Pitchavari for treating diarrhoea and Navara and Neelan Samba for supporting pregnant and lactating mothers. 

Balasubramanian acknowledges the challenges of marketing these varieties in an era where the younger generation leans towards consuming junk food. In response, a dedicated marketing initiative, ‘Sempulam Sustainable Solutions,’ was established. This subsidiary focuses on marketing and selling the rice varieties while also providing consultancy, business plans, maintenance, training, and technological support for agricultural farms.

(With inputs from Prabhudatta Mishra)