Khalid Gul | Jul 13 | 7 min read
Over 2,000 farmers lead an aromatic rice revolution in Anantnag district by cultivating less labour-intensive, high-yielding variety
Sagam, Jammu and Kashmir: Ahead of the Third G20 Tourism Working Group (TWG) meeting in Srinagar in May, the delegates were introduced to the unique flavours of the region, which included saffron, honey and exotic vegetables. Also on display was Mushk Budji, a short grain rice that attracted many with its distinctive aroma.
This traditional variety is in the middle of a revival in South Kashmir’s Sagam village. It was cultivated in the upper reaches of Kashmir in the 1960s, but became unpopular due to the spread of . Sagam natives also grew Kamadh, another aromatic variety, but switched to red rice and other varieties due to its low yield. Farmers were also forced to look at other alternatives, including horticulture, to boost their incomes.
Ghulam Muhammed (70) of Sagam, about 70 km from Srinagar, remembers the blast outbreak of the 1960s quite clearly. “My family relied on labour from outside Jammu and Kashmir for land preparation and harvesting. Though labour charges increased, yield declined due to the disease. Moreover, only limited market opportunities were present. And when the region started depending on rice and grains from other states, the demand waned,” Muhammed tells 101Reporters.
In 2004, Muhammed decided to convert some portions of the 20 kanals (one hectare approximately) he inherited into an apple orchard. He sold three kanals to fund the conversion of 10 kanals. Of the remaining seven, he cultivated traditional paddy (Buji Cheeni and K448 varieties) for personal use on five kanals and left two kanals fallow.
“After spending more than Rs 20 lakh over a decade's time and putting in all the hard work, the apple orchard began to give a profit of Rs 5 to 6 lakh per annum in 2014-15. At that time, Buji Cheeni, K448 and Shalimar hybrid rice used to fetch only Rs 1 lakh per annum,” Muhammed says.
The turning point
Under the aegis of the agriculture department, the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology of Kashmir (SKUAST-Kashmir) launched the Mushk Budji revival programme in 2007 and organised multiple awareness sessions with the farmers of Anantnag district as the variety was previously in cultivation here and due to the favourable climate. They also provided seeds, pesticides, fungicides and insecticides at subsidised rates, besides imparting technical expertise.
The programme caught Muhammed’s attention, but he did not switch over immediately. After 2014, he gradually started cultivating Mushk Budji and sowed it regularly starting 2017. “I decided to switch to Mushk Budji on my five-kanal paddy field. Tractor, power tiller, power sprayer, thresher and combine harvesters reduced labour costs. Now, I make a profit of Rs 6 to 7 lakh from around 30 quintals of aromatic rice that I get from one-time sowing in a year,” he says.
Slowly, a reverse trend began to shape up by 2010. Tariq Ahmed Sheikh (52) of Sagam was among the farmers who latched on to the trend by diverting four kanals for Mushk Budji, while continuing to cultivate Shalimar on another six kanals. “The aromatic variety started fetching me Rs 6 lakh immediately, while the other one never crossed Rs 1.5 lakh,” Sheikh says. He now gets over 25 quintals, with one quintal milled rice fetching at least Rs 20,000.
“Rice is easier to cultivate than apple. It takes five to 10 years for a sapling to turn into an apple-bearing tree. Moreover, the expenditure involved in labour, pesticide spraying, transportation and marketing is high. The expenses towards sustaining an apple orchard in 10 kanals is Rs 10 to 12 lakh per annum,” says Muhammed Shafi (55).
Explaining the reasons why farmers got interested in the programme, Director of Agriculture Chowdhary Mohammad Iqbal tells 101Reporters that better income was the main driving factor. “While other varieties give Rs 4,000 per quintal, Mushk Budji fetches Rs 20,000. It is also high yielding. Moreover, we provide farmers with the required machinery,” he says.
More testimonials have come the way of this flavoured rice. “When I cultivate Mushk Budji on seven kanals, I get 25 quintals of rice compared with the 15 quintals from other varieties,” says Tajamul Bashir (30) from Sagam.
Mushk Budji has a subtle sweetness and smooth texture and is usually preferred during special occasions. “It is served to the groom and baraatis (people from the groom's side) during kashmiri wazwan (a multi-course meal),” Bashir details.
By 2017, 900 farmers were cultivating Mushk Budji in Sagam alone, which has doubled to cover 2,000 by this year. Recognising the transformative potential, the government of Jammu and Kashmir declared Sagam a model village for Mushk Budji cultivation in 2017.
An allocation of Rs 1 crore was made for rice procurement and marketing, with the grain made available at tourist reception centres, airports and hotels. A Farmer Producer Organisation (FPO) with 200 members markets the product with the NABARD assistance. “The FPO recently got an import and export licence. So, the Mushk Budji farmers can now access global markets, which will fetch them a very good price," hopes Rouf Zargar, District Development Manager, NABARD.
Noting that the corporate and bulk buyers are looking to do business with the FPOs instead of individual farmers, he says the organisation recently participated in the Gulf Investment Summit in Srinagar, where various investors from the UAE and other countries evinced interest in the rice variety.
Buoyed by positive response, the agriculture department and SKUAST have extended the programme to Kokernag, Soaf Shalli and Paniz Gam, all in Anantnag district, and some villages in Bhaderwah of Doda district, Budgam and Baramulla districts as they have ideal climate condition. Right now, cultivation is being expanded to Kulgam and Kupwara districts.
In 2020, 244 hectares under Mushk Budji cultivation gave 6,000 quintals of the grain. In 2021, cultivation expanded to 248 hectares, but only 5,400 quintals were produced. Last year, 280 hectares of the crop gave 6,090 quintals, of which Anantnag district alone accounted for 6,000 quintals. The long-term plan is to bring 999 hectares under its cultivation.
Rising above challenges
“Mushk Budji is at risk of blast disease and faces marketing hurdles, which is why farmers are still apprehensive to allot larger tracts of land for it,” SKUAST-Kashmir Chief Scientist (Agronomy) Dr Tasneem Mubarak tells 101Reporters.
The university is looking at ways to safeguard the rice, including collecting and screening strains and raising awareness about preventive measures such as fungicide sprays. “But the disease could not be contained as our farmers are traditionally averse to spraying chemicals. If we compare, the spraying cost is less than what horticulture requires. Less labour and more revenue is the highlight here,” he says.
According to him, a blast-resistant version of Mushk Budji being developed by the university is in its testing stage. “Under the refinement programme started in 2007, strains were collected and the best ones were multiplied to give it a superior form,” he informs.
Storage is an issue for Mushk Budji as the aroma of milled rice diminishes over time, so is marketing as high prices limit its consumption to special occasions. However, experts believe that enhancing quality control measures will naturally increase its market value. “A testing facility is deemed crucial to ensure adherence to quality control parameters. Value addition, processing and effective marketing strategies are also important,” Dr Mubarak says.
“Towards this effect, the department is setting up a modern mill, for which land has been identified at Dan Veth Pora in Kokernag. We will soon introduce a packaging and handling unit,” informs Anantnag Chief Agriculture Officer Ajaz Hussain Dar. According to him, the government has announced a holistic programme for niche crops and Mushk Budji has been included in it.
The agriculture department procured the crop from 2014 to 2017 (Rs 10,000 per quintal for unmilled rice and Rs 20,000 for milled) as farmers were not accustomed with marketing strategies initially. However, some farmers think the procurement should have continued. "Now we are forced to rely on private buyers, which makes us vulnerable to exploitation,” says Abdul Rashid Dar, a Mushk Budji farmer.
Meanwhile, Agriculture Director Iqbal says the Marketing and Planning Department of Agriculture has been actively assisting farmers with key strategies and has sent samples to the UAE. Obviously, things are looking up for Mushk Budji with Jammu and Kashmir government applying for a Geographical Indication five months ago.
Edited by Tanya Shrivastava
Cover Photo - Farmers working in Mushk Budji fields (Photo - Khalid Gul, 101Reporters)
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