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Black rice, the ‘forbidden’ grain that earned UP’s Chandauli big UNDP praise and good profit

Chanduali produces the ‘healthier’ black rice. The produce is in high demand and is being exported to Australia and New Zealand.

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New Delhi: Chandauli in Uttar Pradesh is one of India’s four most progressed districts since the beginning of the Narendra Modi government’s Aspirational Districts Programme, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s latest appraisal report.

Among the best practices that pushed Chandauli’s progress was the black rice experiment in the district.

Chanduali started producing the ‘healthier’ black rice since 2018. This commodity is now being exported to Australia and New Zealand, with options of other countries also being explored.

The project is being seen as a huge success due to high demand and good profit margin on black rice in global markets.

The move came amid a government push. The cultivation of black rice in areas around Chandauli, which is called the as ‘rice bowl of eastern UP’, received a major boost after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath branded and marketed the product in the neighboring district of Mirzapur as ‘Vindhya black rice’.  

Moreover, its cultivation has been promoted under various schemes of the Yogi government, such as ‘One District-One Product’ and ‘Export Policy 2020-25’. These schemes aim at doubling farmers’ income and increasing exports from various sectors including agriculture.

Simdega (Jharkhand), Sonbhadra (Uttar Pradesh) and Rajgarh (Madhya Pradesh) are the other districts to have made the most progress under the programme.

Here’s a look at what black rice is, and what its market scenario is.

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Benefits of black rice

Black rice is said to have roots in ancient China, where it is called ‘forbidden rice’ and was believed to be exclusive for royal consumption.

In India, however, black rice or chak-hao (delicious rice) has been indigenous to Manipur for centuries. Until some years ago, the crop was mostly consumed locally with little export.

But better price realisation and growing international demand on account of numerous health benefits has attracted farmers across the country to cultivate black rice.

Black rice reportedly contains a compound called ‘anthocyanins’, responsible for its black colour and grants its powerful anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-cancer properties. It also contains important carotenoids known for improving eye health.

Moreover, it is also naturally gluten-free and rich in protein, iron, vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, natural fibre, hence promoting weight loss. It is known to be a natural detoxifier and its consumption helps in prevention of ailments such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, hypertension, among others.

The market situation

With superfood tag and numerous health benefits, black rice has replaced the demand for white and even brown rice among health-conscious customers across the globe, especially in countries like the US, New Zealand, Australia, and the UK.

Additionally, black rice provides an exponential increase in returns to farmers against conventional rice cultivation. The price of black rice paddy is around Rs 80-85/kg, which is over four times the Grade A paddy MSP of Rs 19.6/kg.

Moreover, the price of processed black rice is at Rs 160, which is further sold for around Rs 200-500/kg. This makes black rice cultivation a lucrative proposition despite complications like being completely organic and labour-intensive.

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What the farmers say

Ajay Singh, a farmer in Chandauli producing and exporting black rice, said, “Due to immense profit in producing black rice against usual rice, the number of farmers cultivating it has increased from 15-20 in 2018 to 750-800. We started its cultivation after bringing the seed in 2017 from Manipur after which we multiplied it and started producing it from next year onwards.”

He said the acreage has also increased from 1,500 hectares in 2018 to over 6,500 hectares now, “which will increase further as farmers from neighboring districts have also taken seeds from us”.

“There are also some difficulties in growing black rice as it’s completely organic requiring lots of manual labour. Even some farmers initially faced losses as they applied chemical inputs out of habit. However, now returns provided on its cultivation is extraordinary as productivity of black rice is 25 quintals/hectare since it grows up to five feet,” he said.

Singh added that this year the Farmer Producer Organisation (FPO), a local collective, has sold 850 tonnes of black rice paddy at Rs 83/kg, from which rice was sold at Rs 200/kg.

However, despite high returns, farmers in Chandauli are facing the problem of marketing black rice due to non-availability of its GI (geographical indication) tag to the region. Manipur was awarded the GI tag for black rice last year.

Satish Kumar, a farmer from Akauni in Chandauli, who was among the first few to cultivate black rice, said, “There is not a challenge of cultivation but marketing for us as normal rice can be sold and milled anywhere. There’s only one mill in our area in Ghazipur which has Japanese rice polisher, which keeps vital upper black layer of our rice intact.

He added, “Manipur having GI tag has created problems for us to market our black rice despite having an FPO. Henceforth, we are also doing a GI registration of our native ‘Adam chini’ rice.”

Due to marketing issues, black rice paddy from the 2020 harvest is still lying with farmers, amounting to 8,000-10,000 quintals, Singh said.

Black rice is now cultivated across various neighbouring districts of Chandauli, like Sonebhadra and Mirzapur, in blocks such as Narayanpur, Jamalpur, Rajgarh, Pahari, Lalganj, and Halia.

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