Balaghat, commonly called as the rice bowl of Madhya Pradesh produces one of the finest indigenous varieties of rice in the country. The Chinnor rice is a native of Balaghat district and finds mention in several literature and historical texts. According to the farmers, Chinnor is derived from chiknaiyukt nokdaar sugangdhit chavur where chi comes from chiknaiyukt, no from nokdaar and va ra from Balaghat and called as chavur in the local language.
The production of Chinnor has been largely confined to Balaghat district which is located in the southern part of Jabalpur division occupying the eastern portion of the Satpura range and the upper valley of the Wainganga River.
The clay loam soil found in Balaghat district is favourable for its cultivation. The farmers are extremely particular about maintaining the originality and purity of Chinnor rice and generally select and pick the panicles (top part of the rice plant) of the crop from the field before harvesting and lay them out for drying. The dried portion is threshed and retained as seed for future use. Chinnor seeds have a unique physical characteristic that makes them easily identifiable. The shape of the apex of the seed and the grain look like the tip of a sword.
Farmers carefully prepare the field using desi plough called locally as chiratha and level the ground using patha after the onset of the monsoon. Farmers believe that only desi plough, datari and patha should be used for field preparation as tractor drawn equipment significantly impacts the soil condition and soil compaction.
Traditional farming advocates high density planting of Chinnor rice as it results in excellent fine grain rice produce. Farmers say that when they are planted close to each other, they support each other against lodging and prevent direct touching of panicles to the ground. High density planting also reduces weed development.
Only organic manure is used for cultivation to maintain the aroma and softness of this rice variety. As Chinnor is an indigenous rice, there is low incidence of diseases and pests. Harvesting is done in the first fortnight of December when the panicles have turned yellow in colour and the plants are still green (har-har suthi). The harvesting is done manually using sickles. Farmers say that harvesting Chinnor crop at the har–har suthi stage results in an exceedingly fragrant shiny grain and greater head rice recovery.
It is undoubtedly the age-old techniques, cropping situation and agro-climatic conditions of Balaghat district that contributes greatly to its heady aroma, softness, physical traits and delicious taste. This aromatic rice is used in feasts, marriage celebrations and religious ceremonies. The cooked rice is sweet to taste, extremely fragrant, a little sticky with a soft texture and retains water even after 8 – 10 hours of cooking.
It is an ancient practice to offer cooked chawal (rice) known as bhaat and Kheer prepared from this as Prasad Bhog in the temples. The Chinnor rice is also used to make dough to prepare puris, roti and anarsa (both sweet and sour).
The Government is actively working with farmers to increase area under cultivation, annual production and average productivity per acre. The Agriculture Department has also provided production technology, seeds as well as other experimental species of rice to more than 5000 farmers. Research reports say that 7000 acres of land are used for Chinnor cultivation and about 70 thousand quintals of paddy is the projected annual production number as on date.
The Government is also pursuing the option to export Chinnor rice as sweet-smelling rice is extremely popular in South-East Asia. The oil content of Chinnor rice variety is the highest (20 – 21 percent) as compared to the oil content of the bran of other varieties (18 – 19 percent) and hence, rice bran oil is another value-added product that can considered to generate more income for the farmers.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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