The nursery rhyme goes, “Halodhiya choraiye bao-dhaan khay/Saudor puteke nao meli jay” (the yellow birds feed on bao-dhaan/ the merchant’s son sails off ). Bao-dhaan, a deep-water paddy that produces a particular type of iron-rich red rice, is an integral part of Assam’s food habits.
And red rice grown in certain pockets of upper Assam has recently found a global market, thanks to its being organic by default. This is because a large section of farmers in the state depend more on rich alluvium left behind by the Brahmaputra every year rather than on chemical fertilisers.
While the red rice has been duly certified as organic, apart from having a high content of iron, protein, vitamins and other nutrients, a Sonepat-based exporter has recently established the much-needed forward-linkage to a California-based importer for sending out the rice.
“A team from the California-based company visited Dhemaji district last month and has placed an order of 50 metric tonnes of red rice as the first consignment,” said Mahendra Nath Phukan, district agriculture officer of Dhemaji, the easternmost district of Assam. “With organic rice, like any other organic produce, having great demand in the developed world, bao-dhaan can turn out to be one crop that can benfit a large segment of our farmers.”
Bao-dhaan is generally grown in areas having higher land submergence that are unsuitable for other varieties of paddy. “Dhemaji, being a highly flood-prone area, has a sizeable area of land that remains submerged for seven to eight months a year,” Phukan said. “While no other crop grows in a submerged area, farmers have been traditionally cultivating bao-dhaan in those areas. We have about 10,000 hectares of land that generally remains submerged for seven to eight months, and if the flood-waters do not breach the river embankments and cause large-scale silting, then it becomes most suitable for a bumper bao-dhaan crop.”
Assam has several sub-varieties of bao-dhaan, some of the best-known being kekuwa, amona, negheri and phuti.
In Dhemaji alone, nearly 25,000 farm families spread across 25 panchayat areas are involved in growing bao-dhaan. “Thanks to the fury of nature, these families have no option but to cultivate bao-dhaan. If this export experiment clicks, then our farmers are definitely going to benefit a lot,” Phukan said, pointing at the significantly high price the buyers have promised. The California-based importers have offered Rs 1,600 to Rs 1,700 per quintal against a local price of just about