Return of the native: This group is bringing back lost rice varieties to the plate

India used to grow, and consume, thousands of varieties of rice. Some were thin and long-grained, others came in shades of red, black and brown.

In West Bengal, where a meal is still incomplete without rice — as in many states in India — there are still specific varieties associated with certain occasions. “For celebrations and religious offerings, we use aromatic varieties like Gobindobhog, Radhatilak or Kaminibhog. Thinner varieties like Chamarmani, Dudheshwar and Sitashal are meant for guests. And red varieties like Hetumari, high in anthocyanin, were the daily staple,” says Anupam Paul, assistant director with the Government Agricultural Training Centre in Phulia.

The Green Revolution of the 1970s and ’80s, with its focus on high yields, changed things. The types of rice you can name are the ones that were promoted, many of them hardy, high output hybrids.

Now, a group that call themselves FIAM (Forum for Indigenous Agricultural Movement) — made up of school teachers, professors and doctors mostly in their 30s and 40s — is trying to revive the grains we nearly lost on the path to self-dependence.