Rice is our staple diet and in the south and east of India people eat rice thrice a day in various forms. Since the last two-three decades we have been mainly eating polished white rice from few high yielding varieties of paddy. This is reported to cause numerous health issues. Pesticide use in paddy is also quite high and around 17% of the pesticides used in the country goes into paddy. Residues of these pesticides found in our staple grain is a serious cause for concern. Since most of the paddy is cultivated in wetlands and irrigated areas, this practice also leads to contamination of our water resources and soil.
What is encouraging is that there are hundreds of farmers who have changed their practices to more sustainable ecological methods. But many of them continue to sell their paddy in the conventional market which does not appreciate their effort and consequently they do not benefit economically. There are also numerous consumers who are sensitive to these issues and would love to be able to access safe and nutritious food for their families.
So, one of the major efforts of the Rice Campaign has been to promote organic rice primarily through holding rice melas . Through these melas traditional rice and numerous products made from traditional rice and a lot of information about the properties of these varieties have reached thousands of consumers. Many farmers in the southern states have benefited through these rice melas because it has enabled them to get a good price for their rice variety. They have also been recognized and appreciated by consumers, media, and scientists.
Red rice is one of the primary products that has reached consumers through the melas. Red rice is highly nutritious because all the nutrients in rice stay in the bran. Once we remove the bran all the nutrients are lost.
Through the Campaign we have also been promoting conservation and cultivation of traditional varieties of paddy. India had around one lakh traditional paddy varieties even as late as in the 1960s but the extensive introduction of high yielding varieties led to massive erosion of these varieties.
The Campaign conserves around 1000 varieties of paddy and out of these around 50 varieties are cultivated on a large scale and reaches the market as rice and other products. These varieties are more nutritious, tasty (based on consumer feedback) and they are suited to growing under organic conditions. Some of these varieties have medicinal properties ( Njavara), others are scented ( Gandhakasala), some have religious or social significance ( Mappilai samba) and some varieties are suited for specific preparations.