As need grows, farmers revive 187 traditional paddy varieties in Delta region

The Cauvery delta districts, called the rice bowl of Tamil Nadu, have a long history of rice production and now, having identified a trend to embrace traditional food habits, farmers have begun producing traditional rice varieties that are believed help prevent and treat chronic diseases.
As need grows, farmers revive 187 traditional paddy varieties in Delta region
Seeraga samba crop raised in Sirkazhi, Nagapattinam


As many as 187 traditional paddy varieties have been revived so far and they are cultivated in vast areas particularly in the Delta region as those who are involved in such cultivation apparently get good returns, compared to conventional paddy growers.
Rice that was consumed by Gautama Buddha and the royal families of Mysore and Travancore have been retrieved and cultivated by organic farmers in the Delta region over the past couple of years through the trial and error method. The initiative has proved to be successful.
As rain played truant and farmers were forced to rely upon neighbouring states for water, the organic farmers involved in retrieving traditional paddy breeds said their forefathers had exclusive strains to sustain farming during times of drought, flood and even cyclone with no loss of money or labour.
Leveraging the available network across the State, farmers belonging to “Save Our Rice” campaign have managed to locate endangered traditional paddy seeds, which were on the verge of perishing, and tested them in the available land. Subsequently, the traditional breeds that emerged successful in the practical experiments have been sent to the farmers’ network across the country. The 187 traditional paddy breeds retrieved in recent years include Poonkar, Pullankadu, Thooyamalli, Kavuli, Thengapoo samba, Garudan samba, Kaattuyanam, Varappu kudainjan, Matta kaar, Kalan namakku, Kaala namak, Kottara samba and Sivappu Pudavazhai.
Speaking to DT Next, R Nel Jayaraman, state coordinator of Save Our Rice campaign, said, “Our ancestors had exclusive paddy breeds to cultivate during specific periods. For drought, they had Poonkar and Varappu kudainjan, which can survive without water for days. Similarly, during floods, they had Matta kaar, which can survive even when inundated by water.”
Among the retrieved traditional varieties, farmers highlight Varappu kudainjan, a native breed of Ramanathapuram district which requires only 25 per cent of water, compared to conventional varieties. The drought-resistant strain was said to be centuries-old and was widely used by farmers earlier to maintain productivity even during adverse natural conditions such as drought and floods.
Some of the top varieties cultivated across the State are Mappillai samba (controls sugar levels), Kavuni (rich in anti-oxidants), Poongar (ideal for pregnant women), Palkudavalai (good for heart patients) and Elupaipu samba (its gruel apparently rejuvenates even bed-ridden patients). 
Jayaraman said there was another variety called ‘Seeraga samba’, used for making ‘biryani’ due to its natural fragrance. “The advantage of most of these traditional varieties is that they are resistant to drought and floods. They grow 6-7-ft tall and require less water. Another variety, ‘Panang kattu kudavazhai’ is suitable for areas that had witnessed salt and seawater intrusion, said Jayaraman.
“Records show that Buddha has consumed the Kaala namak breed which was almost extinct in the State. We have revived the paddy breeds and almost 700 acres across the Delta districts have been cultivated with the retrieved varieties to make them flourish again. We have no option but to adapt to changes by modifying our crops,” Nel Jayaraman said.
Due to the medicinal value of the traditional paddy varieties, farmers said multi-specialty hospitals in Chennai and Coimbatore have become routine customers of the such strains cultivated in the Delta districts. As the cultivation cost of traditional paddy varieties was only Rs 4,000 to Rs 6,000 per acre, which is 40 per cent less compared to conventional paddy cultivation, the average return for cultivating such breeds was reportedly at least Rs 75,000 per acre.
Though the traditional variety yields up to 20 bags (each 60 kg) less than the conventional strain, the farmers stand to gain as the rice sells for a higher price compared to the conventional variety, according to Jayaraman.
Rice consumed by Mysore and Travancore royal families
A traditional paddy variety identified as Rajamudi was said to be exclusively cultivated for the royal family of Mysore. The strain, on the verge of extinction, has been now revived by the Delta farmers and made available for all consumers (price per kilogramme varies from Rs 100 to 150). Similarly, the Kottaram samba, consumed by the Travancore royal family, has been cultivated in Kanniyakumari district. It apparently has the ability to fight Type-2 diabetes.
Details of paddy’s growth and time required along with its medicinal benefits
  • Traditional paddy acreage in TN: 1.86 lakh acres
  • Traditional paddy acreage in Delta: 42,000 acres
  • Season: Cultivation from Tamil month of Aadi (July-August) and harvest in the month of Thai (January)
  • Districts where traditional paddy is grown: Tiruchy, Thanjavur, Tiruvarur, Nagapattinam, Tiruvannamalai, Kancheepuram, Villupuram, Erode, Dindigul and Kanniyakumari
  • Top consumers: Tiruchy, Madurai, Erode, Vellore and Chennai
  • Yield per acre: 20 bags
  • Cost: Rs 800 to 2,000 per bag of 60 kg (40% less than conventional variety)
  • Inputs: Organic manure
Poonkar80 days
Pullankadu90 days
Karunkuruvai90 days
Kudiverichai110 days
Kudavali120 days
Seeraga samba130 days
Thooyamalli130 days
Salem channai120 days
Jaruhan samba140 days
Kaattuyanam150 days
Ottadayaan200 days
Kaala namak140 days
  • Kaala namak: Apparently alleviates many diseases related to the kidney, skin, blood, brain, etc. Even cancer is controlled after consuming Kaala namak rice
  • Thooyamalli: Increases nerves strength
  • Kullakkar: Revitalises and energises the body, lowers bad cholesterol, controls blood sugar; red rice varieties have antioxidant properties and higher zinc and iron content than white rice
  • Pullangadu: Good for diabetes and for those who suffered paralytic attacks
  • Mappillai samba: Improves digestion, cures mouth ulcers; those with diabetes can consume this
  • Karunkuruvai: Used to treat people suffering from Elephantiasis; helps dilute bad cholesterol
  • Poonkar: Gives strength
  • Kattuyaanam: Helps control diabetes. People used to consume extract made from this rice bran
  • Kavuni rice: Has been in existence from the Chola period. Gives strength. Pregnant women used to consume this for normal delivery. Black kavuni rice is used to treat dog bites
  • Kitchadi samba: Good for some skin diseases

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