India: red rice prevented from dying out

Kai Kreuzer

For over 2000 years red rice, that is said to have medicinal properties, has been cultivated in India. However, in the last 40 – 50 years it has been planted less and less frequently because the yields are low and it is inferior to the modern high-performance hybrid varieties.

15 years ago, the former marketing specialist Narayanan Unni took over a farm in the Palghat District in the state of Kerala. Unni was interested in rice varieties that are threatened with extinction and he searched everywhere for places where red rice was still being used. After a great deal of effort, he had enough red rice for propagation. In 2006, he converted to organic cultivation. In the meantime, he has received several awards from the regional government and the agricultural authorities for his endeavour to conserve this ancient cultural plant. In its online edition, the Indian daily The Hindu reports Narayanan Unni as saying how difficult it was to obtain pure seed that has not been contaminated by hybrids. This organic farmer now cultivates the red rice called Navara on around 5 ha. However, he only harvests about 500 – 625 kg per hectare. In the meantime, Unni has motivated more farmers to grow the rare variety, and has applied for Navara to become a protected geographical name. Today, scientists, students and agricultural experts visit Narayana Unni on the Navara Eco Farm to learn about cropping red rice.