The Organic bazaar run by Thanal in Trivandrum partners with the Save Our Rice Campaign in Kerala to market traditional rice varieties. Since the last few years the Campaign has been working on reviving traditional rice varieties and in the last three years the focus has also encompassed marketing and popularizing traditional rice among consumers. The Campaign conserves 208 varieties in its trial farm in Wayanad of which 140 varieties belong to Kerala and 68 varieties are from other regions. On the rice marketing end, 10 farmers regularly supply around 12 varieties of traditional rices to the Bazaar. These include Mullankazhama, Gandhakasala, Thondi, Thavalakannan, Kuruva, Urunikazhama, Karutha navara, Palthondi, Mappilaisamba, Chenellu, Virippu and Kalladiyaryan.
In this context to understand the challenges of marketing traditional organic rice PADDY spoke with Sangeetha and Usha. Below are excerpts from the conversation: Kerala has the comparative advantage that the tradition of eating red rice has continued despite the huge influx of polished white rice (which has been adopted in the last decade or two due to the ease of cooking and before that purchased by a large number of people through the public distribution system due to the very low prices ). Therefore, the problem of reintroducing red rice is not as severe as in the neighbouring states. Yet, many of the younger people have moved away to white rice and the efforts of the Save Our Rice campaign and the organic bazaar have been directed at introducing red rice to the younger population.
In a way it seems strange that we have to market rice in Kerala , where the staple food is rice. However, the reality is that today people pick up a single variety of rice for regular use and a Basmati for special occasions. Most people have forgotten the numerous varieties they have eaten as children or were grown by their grandparents or even parents. Another problem with red rice is that it takes longer to cook. Having said that, increasingly, people are aware of the health consequences of white rice and many would like to move to the healthier option of red rice. However, busy lives and schedules keep them shackled to the habit of white rice.
We found that most people do not have the patience or time to research the variety and figure out what to do. So they may buy it if we give them information on how to use the variety. The other serious problem we discovered is the erosion of the “cooking culture” in many of the younger households and the resultant preference for ready to eat foods.
Initially when the Bazaar began stocking rice, we found that the tendency of the regular customers was to try one or more of the traditional varieties in small quantities. We realized that this was a slow process and we needed to attract more customers , more quickly to these varieties. That was the time we began to organize Melas in the city ( thiruvananthapuram) . We found that the Melas, which also received media coverage, brought in many new people who checked out the traditional varieties and a few were willing to buy them. We have also introduced different kinds of rice flour that are widely used by keralites for preparing dishes like Puttu, Appam, Idiyappam and Ada. The media stories about the speciality of the rice, their unique properties have helped bring in people , also rice preparations have generated interest in the varieties.
The ideas which are under consideration are: a speciality rice mela featuring delicacies made with the different kinds of traditional rices, a recipe book in Malayalam and cooking demos. The team believes that getting hotels in Kerala to introduce these rice varieties will also be rewarding as many people will be willing to try foods they have tasted outside home.