Towards More Efficient Paddy Cultivation

Representational Picture

Rice is a seed of a monocotyledon grass species that usually grows four to five feet tall with long and thin leaves that stretch to two to two and a half feet in length and one and a half to two centimetres in width. Mostly, rice is white but some varieties are brown, red and black as well.

Cultivated and consumed in most parts of the world such as China, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh Vietnam, Philippines etc., genetic research has shown that the domestication of rice occurred in the Pearl River valley region of ancient China 8,200-13,500 years ago. It is not a coincidence that China is the world’s largest rice producer and consumer of the world; with nearly 141 million metric tons of annual production.

Rice is one of the few crops that grow in a wide range of environments and any soil with a pH value 4.5-8. However, clayey and loamy soils suit its cultivation better. Typically, it requires more than 100 centimetres of rainfall and 20 ºC temperature. But fog, mist, and low heat harm the crop to a great extent.

As per the 2016-2017 data, about 158 million hectares of land are used for the cultivation of paddy, globally, producing more than 488 million metric tons of milled rice per annum. In the 488 million metric tons, Asian continent produces about 90 per cent of global production, of which China and India contribute more than 50 per cent. Equally, the continent is also the largest consumer of rice with an estimated consumption of 86 per cent of its production. While 75 per cent of the cultivated land is irrigated, the remaining 25 per cent is rain-fed.

Cultivation

The process of cultivation includes seed sowing or Buel wavun, the creation of nursery, thejwan, plantation or thejkaad, harvesting or lonun, threshing or chombun, drying or tapas travun, husking or munun, and winnowing or tsatun.

Seed Sowing and Creation of Nursery

In the valley, Seed sowing season usually begins from the last week of April to the first week of May. Paddy is soaked in water for three to four days, till the shoots sprout of the grain. After that, it is dried until the shoots develop in whole. Only then are the seeds sown in the nursery.

A nursery of about 1/20th of the area to be transplanted is tilled three to four inches deep at least three times on alternate days. It is followed by the addition of decomposed dung and ash to facilitate fast germination.

Then, bigger clods are crushed into fine particles to level the seedbed, and meanwhile, puddles or Baere are made around to administer the water.

After water rises to the depth of four to six inches, weed and straw are removed manually, and puddles are plastered with wet mud. Then, the muddy water is drained off and fresh water supplied and the seedbed ready to be sown. In the meantime, seeds get prepared for sowing.

Before that, 250 grams of Urea and DAP and 100 grams of Potassium are applied to the nursery bed.

Nursery takes almost 35 to 40 days to develop into plants of up to 7-9 inches tall. The first two weeks are critical and need full attention, precaution, and care on the part of the farmer. After sowing, seeds are occasionally exposed to sunlight which develops roots. It also helps in draining off the floating algal weeds.

Apart from the scarecrows, to protect birds mainly sparrows and rock pigeons from eating the seed, nowadays, old magnetic tape reels are tied to the sticks planted on the corners of the nursery.

Direct seed sowing (Broadcasting)

Dry or pre-germinated seeds are broadcasted by hand or by machine after ploughing. This practice is limited to some parts of the world.

Land Preparation

Decomposed farmyard manure and cattle dung are spread over the land few days before ploughing. After that, ploughing is done with tractors while in some parts, mostly hilly areas, ox or buffalo laden ploughs are used.

Photo Credit: Muneeb-Ul-Islam

To ensure the uniformity of water level all over the field, large patches of land are divided into small puddles or relle. Then, the area is filled with water. After that, the exposed manure is buried deep, and soil is levelled with one’s legs or by using a hoe or Kath braed. The process of levelling and making the land fit for plantation is called Latnavun. Besides helping in increasing the produce by reducing the weed growth, it prevents the water from seeping from one puddle into the other.

Plantation or Thaejkaad

Thaejkaad has a unique place, importance, and taste in the valley. It is a part of the culture and is celebrated as a festival which lasts for a week or two. Thaejkaad is not only a working day but also a feast as well. Most of the dishes of wazwan are prepared and served to the working women and men.

Milk Kehwa, Doad Kehve, samovar is boiling all day, but usually, it is served between the lunch and the breakfast. The aroma of Doad kehve mixed with saet drives people from every corner of the fields.

Anyone can come and share a cup.

Photo Credit: Muneeb-Ul-Islam

Women, while planting the seedlings or thall, sing folk songs that echo all around the irrigated fields. While women are planting the seedlings, men root out the seedlings from the nursery and spread the same in the paddies. The plantation is done manually and is considered an art in Kashmir.

A dose of five kilograms of Urea, DAP and one to two kilograms of Potassium per kanal is applied to the field few moments before transplantation. But the dosages could vary with the variation in soil or temperature.

Transplantation process starts from the last week of May and lasts till the end of June in the hilly areas. In the plain areas, however, it is finished before 21st of June.

Although 15 x 15 centimetres of space between the hills –comprising two to three seedlings per hill, which should be planted three to four centimetres deep –is suggested by the agricultural researchers, the guidelines are rarely followed by the farmers.

A day after transplantation, a dose of weedicide, particularly Butachlor, is applied to the field followed by filling of big inter-gaps between the hills.

Apart from plantation and feast, thejkaad is an opportunity to meet different relatives, neighbours, friends, among others. Various topics are discussed on lunch and kehve. It serves as a shared space for the people. Women and men in the neighbourhood share the labour, and when a household finishes thejkaad, then they will proceed to other fields on the same day or the next. Hardly a penny is spent on the labour of thejkaad.

Photo Credit: Muneeb-Ul-Islam

However, for the last five or six years, the essence of thejkaad is diminishing. From the cultural fest, it is being turned into a daily wager’s job. Like most of the jobs -masonry,  carpentry, joinery, weaving mattresses and tailoring -plantation and harvest of farming is almost done in its entirety by the outside labourers –mostly from Bihar, UP, Jharkhand, West Bengal, and Nepal. All of the labourers are called Bihaer, which means people from the Indian state of Bihar. The term is also used as a slang or derogation since we have a prejudice that the fair-skinned race is better than the brown or black-skinned ones.

Harvesting

Harvesting season begins in the first week of September and lasts till mid-October. Paddy is usually harvested when the panicles turn golden.

Harvesting process includes reaping, stacking, threshing, cleaning, drying, husking, and winnowing. Except for the husking which is done with water or electricity driven machines, every activity is done manually.  The task is set off by using sickles (Droet) for reaping, and then the bundles are tied in sheaves, which are stacked in heaps.

After a few days, the sheaves are threshed on a wooden log, and the grains gathered on the tarp spread beneath and around the trunk.  Traditional brooms (Mazan), one barbed and other simple, are used to sweep straw from paddy. Also, in some parts, farmers with vast farmlands use mechanical harvesters.

Varieties

Rice varieties are classified by grain size, colour, nutritive value, maturing time, plant size, tolerance to cold and diseases etc.

There are almost 40,000 varieties of rice. The scientific name for Asian rice is Oryza Sativa. Japonica and Indica, two sub-species of Oryza Sativa, are the most cultivated varieties of the world.

Japonica: it is a rice variety usually cultivated in temperate East Asia and South Asia. It grows short with narrow, dark green leaves. The grains are short-and-round and get sticky when cooked.

Indica: it is a rice variety mostly cultivated in China, India, Bangladesh, Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and in some tropical countries. Its plant grows tall with broad, light green leaves. The grains are short and thick and get non-sticky when cooked.

In Kashmir, during Afgan, Dogra and Sikh rule –that is until the beginning of the second half of the twentieth century —no significant attention was paid toward the agriculture and on the contrary heavy taxes were levied on poor peasants. The farmers were left with a meagre quantity of eatables for themselves. There were toll posts at every entry to the primary market where a farmer had to pay more than the third portion of his produce as a toll.

But with the establishment of Regional Rice & Research Station at Khudwani,  Anantnag,  in 1950, High Altitude Rice Research Sub-Station at Larnoo, Anantnag in 1978 and later Sher-e-Kashmir Agricultural University of Science and Technology in 1982 at Shalimar, Srinagar , new varieties and hybrids with reasonable tolerance to cold and  short maturing time and better yield  such as China 988, Barkat, Chenab, China 1007, China1039, China 63, China 972, Zag 2, Zag 7, Zag 14,Khuch, Giza 14, Jehlum, K 332, K84, Kohsaar, K 39, K332, SKUA 408, SKUA 403, SKUA 402, etc.

In the last few years, some new varieties with striking characteristics such as Shalimar Rice-1 (a high yielding variety with blast resilience), Shalimar Rice-2 (most suitable for waterlogged areas) and Rice-3 were developed.

Mushkbudij

Apart from these varieties, there are some aromatic varieties like Mushkbudij, Nun Buel, Kamad are cultivated in certain parts of the valley. Mushkbudij is cultivated in Soaf Shali, Sagam region of district Anantnag and Beerwah tehsil of district Budgam. It is a scented, medium bold rice but is quite expensive as one quintal costs 18000-20000 rupees which restrict its usage on certain occasions of marriage and festivals. This rice variety is susceptible to the blast disease. Therefore, its cultivation is limited to the regions identified by SKAUST-K.

Weeds and Pests

A large number of diseases, insects and pests can affect the grain quality as well as the quantity of rice. The significant insect-parasites include Brown Plant Hoppers, Chilo suppressalis, Rice Gall Midges, Rice Bugs, Leaf Rollers, Rice Weevil Sands and Grasshoppers. The common diseases that affect the rice include Blast, Sheath Blight, Brown Spot, Sheath Rot, Leaf Scald, Tungro, Grassy Stunt, Ragged Stunt, Orange Leaf and the like.

Apart from the diseases and insects, other factors that contribute to pest outbreaks include climatic factors (fog, drought, prolonged rainfall, hailstorms, etc.) and improper use of insecticides and fertilisers. Also, the chief weeds –unwanted plants –that harm the plant growth include Gramineae, Cyperaceae, Alismataceae, Onagraceae, Polygonaceae, Potamogeton Natan, Ranunculaceae, etc.

Weed Removal

Weeds are uprooted manually, and we call it Nende. After 35 to 40 days of transplantation, the task of nende is carried and spaces between the hills are recreated. Earlier, this practice would be carried out at least thrice in one growing season. However, with the advent of weedicides, nende is done only once in a particular season.

Rice and Religion

Teher distribution watercolour, copyright: Bansi Parimu

There are many beliefs, rituals and traditions associated with rice. In many Asian countries like Indonesia, Nepal, India, Thailand rice is offered to rice goddesses on certain occasions. In some cultures, rice is spread in front of or over the head of the brides. In India, certain festivals are celebrated on ploughing rice fields, rice sowing, plantation, harvesting, etc. In Kashmir, a couple of decades ago, rice cultivation would set off by distributing walnuts kept on the top of seed pot (Fott) –which was brought to the fields for sowing.

Besides, rice is still scattered on graves, offered to shrines, fed to rock pigeons around shrine compounds. The famous Teher, a type of food distributed to children and the needy when some inauspicious situation gets subsided or when people expect something good should happen to them, is also a product of rice. After the seeds are sown in a nursery, people distribute Teher reasoning it will keep the seed safe from any natural calamity.

Rice and Water

In traditional methods, paddy cultivation requires more water than any other crop and consumes more than one-third of the freshwater worldwide, 55% of which is absorbed by evaporation and transpiration while 45% goes running off seepage and percolation. Since paddy fields are kept flooded for months, a good amount of methane is released by the bacteria living in the waterlogged soils. Remember, methane is a greenhouse gas and is more harmful than carbon dioxide.

Nutritive value

The nutritive value of rice may vary from variety to variety, for example, the quality of soil and the way rice is cooked.

Rice contains carbohydrates, proteins, water, calories, starch, iron, manganese, copper, magnesium, selenium, vitamins (Vit. B1, B2, B3, B9, E, K) and traces of fat and fibre.

Rice cultivation in J&K

Our valley is situated in the subtropical and sub-temperate latitudes and characterised by considerable variations in terrain. As a result, annual rainfall, temperature and humidity are mostly irregular.

More than 90% of the geographical area is not suitable for cultivation, and only about 0.5% of the land is cultivable for rice. Though it still contributes 27% to our GSDP, rice cultivation has come down to nearly 259892 hectares in the current epoch from 1.14 million hectares in 1970-71.

Nearly 80% of the valley’s population is directly or indirectly involved with agriculture and is the primary source of income for tens of thousands of families. It is cultivated in 12 districts of the valley which include Anantnag, Srinagar, Pulwama, Bbudgam, Baramulla, Poonch, Jammu, Kupwara, Kathua, Rajouri, Udampor and Doda.

Up to the 1960s, a broadcast system for sowing paddy, Wotur, was in vogue. The then government did not pay any significant attention toward agriculture. Consequently, the peasant section of the society suffered more than any of the other did. Besides mechanised farming, it was in the late sixties and early seventies that high yielding and early-maturing varieties of rice were introduced in the valley.

Green revolution brought tremendous changes in the quality and quantity of agricultural yields. Usage of synthetic insecticides and fungicides, improved seeds, fertilisers at the beginning of the second half of the twentieth century revolutionised the agriculture sector by doubling the produce. But it is a matter of concern that the usage of pesticides grew five folds in the last four decades, from 0.43 million tons in 1970 to 2.16 million tons today.

Traditional Way of Cooking

Before cooking, rice is soaked and washed once or twice, since it reduces the cooking time and fuel consumption. After that, it is put in the boiling water, which is more in volume than the rice. It needs a careful watch until it is prepared. Few movements before it is fully prepared, the extra water is drained out or batte fayrun.

Nowadays, electric rice cookers are used to prepare the rice. All one needs to do after washing the rice is to put it in the rice cooker with some extra water. Usually, two inches above the level of rice in the rice cooker, in it and leave for cooking. The rice cooker does the rest. Batte fayrun is not required at all.

The fate of Rice in Valley Kashmir

Kashmir has been long witnessing deficit in rice and other goods. As per the figures, in 1950-51 the food deficit was just 32 per cent, but it has risen to 50 per cent today making Kashmir dependent on outside supplies.  On top of it, the National Food Security Act (NSFA), implemented from 1st February 2016 in the valley, ensures that rice of only 5 kg per person monthly is provided at ration stores.

And to make things worse, paddy fields are increasingly being transformed into residential places, commercial institutions, apple orchids, railway lines, highways and other local roads. For example, for Qazigund-Srinagar-Baramulla railway line in the 2000s, New Srinagar-Jammu bye pass road in 2011 and recently Ring road from Narbal to Ganderbal, tens of thousands of kanals of agricultural land was taken up by the government which could have well have been prevented.

As per estimates in Kashmir since 1972, the area under paddy cultivation has shrunk by over 20 lakh kanal.

Salt-tolerant Rice

High concentrations of salt were considered unsuitable for the cultivation of paddy since the excess of it would affect paddy plant growth and its physiology.

However, after persistent experimenting and hard work, a Chinese scientist namely Yuan Longping developed few species of salt-tolerant paddy which can withstand temperatures between 30 and 50ºC and humidity below 20 per cent. Longping, in appreciation for his contribution in agriculture, received the World Food Prize in 2004.

These are planted in many countries of the world particularly in the regions with an abundance of seawater availability. India, Egypt, United Arab Emirates being few of them.

Scientists have also developed new varieties of paddy tolerant to flooding-which can stand with the standing stagnant floodwater for many days –and drought.

Rice without Water

In a traditional way of farming, production of per kg of rice requires 4000-5000 litres of fresh water. However, it can grow without submergence, and we can reduce the water consumption by up to 50 per cent of its current intake.

Three decades ago, Jesuit priest Henri de Laulani developed a system called System of Rice Intensification (SRI). But the method was brought into the limelight by Norman Uphoff, a scientist at Cornell Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development, USA while researching in Madagascar.

SRI has four constituents: soil fertility administration, planting technique, weed control, and (water system) administration. A few field-rehearses have been produced around these segments. The main ones are soil nutrient management through satisfactory yard excrement application, transplanting young seedlings (8 to 12 days old), transplanting with soil bunch (alongside seed) and regular weeding and defensive water system to keep the soil wet without flooding.

Rice developed along these lines has a bigger root framework, and yields are twofold that of the regular products. The mystery is that rice plants do best when a young plant is transplanted painstakingly in a zone 25 cm long and 25 cm wide. This zone is more significant than that customarily allotted to rice plants. However, it guarantees rice roots become bigger on soil kept very much circulated air through with bounteous and differing soil smaller scale life forms.

Currently, SRI is practised in more than 50 countries. In India, it was first gone for in Tamil Nadu in 2000-01, following which a few States have shown higher rice production with less water usage. SRI has demonstrated a capacity to raise rice yields to around eight tons for every hectare (the national momentum regular is 3.5 tons a hectare) without replacing the varieties.

While using only less than half of the water than what is required in the conventional method, it all together needs lesser composts and agro-chemicals. Only 4 kg of seed is required per hectare as against the 20 kg per hectare in traditional techniques. With optimum utilisation, SRI yields of around 15-20 tons for every hectare have been accomplished.

Vinod Goud, Coordinator of a Worldwide Wide Fund for Nature-International Crop Research Institute for Semi-Arid Areas project based in Patancheru, Andhra Pradesh, reportedly said, “Standing water only arrests weed growth; it has no other beneficial impact on rice plants. But SRI encourages weeds to grow in the spaces between plants. Meticulous weeding ensures pests do not intrude into the plant area. The rice plant sucks away nutrients from the weeds.”

Masanobu Fukuoka (1913-2008), a Japanese agriculture scientist, farmer and author has gone a step further in his rice-growing technique. He calls his agricultural philosophy shizen noho, translated into English as “Natural Farming”, also referred to as “The Fukuoka Method”, or “Do-Nothing Farming”. Fukuoka is of the view that plants grow very well in the natural environment and nature does not like any human intervention. In forests, trees and plants release seeds that germinate and grow into the ground and turn into new plants and trees and thus require no tillage, irrigation, pesticides nor any fertilisers or manure. Though hundreds of insects and fungus attack these plants, there was never any need for insecticides or fertilisers.

Weeds are not harmful; they have their importance in the ecosystem. Although synthetic sprays cause plants to increase the production of certain defensive chemicals to fight pests, conversely they induce changes in the genes of the plant, making it more susceptible to pest attacks.

(Photo by MSU Extension Service/Lee Atwill)

In his famous book, “The One-Straw Revolution”, Fukuoka sheds light on his method of cultivating rice, “In early or mid-October, I sow clover seeds over the standing heads of rice, and then about two weeks before harvesting it, I sow barley seed. I harvest the rice while treading over the young barley seedlings, and either dry the cut grain on the ground or racks. After threshing and cleaning the dried grain, I immediately scatter the straw uncut over the entire field and apply chicken manure or decomposed organic matter.”

He continues, “If I wish to overwinter my rice, I enclose rice seed in clay pellets (a technique in which seeds are mixed with hummus or compost and then are rolled within clay to form into small balls) and scatter these over the field in mid-November or later. That completes the sowing of rice and barley for the coming year. In the spring, a thick layer of clover grows at the foot of the maturing barley, and beneath the clover, rice seedlings begin to emerge. When I cut the barley in late May, the rice seedlings are perhaps an inch or two high.

The clover is cut together with the barley, but this does not interfere with the harvesting work. After leaving the barley on the ground to dry for three days, I gather it into bundles, then thresh and clean it. I scatter the barley straw uncut over the entire field and spread over this a layer of chicken manure. The trampled rice seedlings emerge through this barley straw, and the clover grows back also.

“In early June, when the abundant growth of clover appears about to choke out the young rice seedlings, I plaster the levees around the field with mud and hold water in the field for four to seven days to weaken the clover. After this, I surface-drain the field to grow as hardy plants as possible. During the first half of the rice-growing season, irrigation is not strictly necessary, but depending on how the plants are growing, water may be passed briefly over the field once every week to ten days. I continue to water intermittently during the heading stage, but make it a point not to hold water for more than five days at a stretch. A soil moisture level of eighty per cent is adequate.

“During the first half of its growing season, the rice does well under conditions similar to those in upland rice cultivation, but in the second half of the season, irrigation should be increased with plant growth. After heading, the rice requires lots of water and without careful attention could become dehydrated. For yields of about one ton per quarter-acre, I do not make use of standing water, but careful water management is a must”.

He adds that his first attempts were failures because the rice grains he had sown were genetically improved for many decades and they could not survive the winter. Therefore, he chose a traditional variety.

Waterlogging in the fields produces methane due to the absence of free air or oxygen to the soil microbes. Currently, eight per cent of global methane emissions come from the world’s rice fields. With the help of continuous draining of fields, midway, and by allowing soil microbes to breathe, not only does methane emissions reduce but it increases the yields as well.

Studies also suggest that the demand for rice in Asia is predicted to increase by 70 per cent over the coming 30 years, and agriculture currently accounts for around 86 per cent of the total water consumption therein. If the measures preventing waterlogging in the field are not applied as soon as possible, the region is bound to face a drastic food and water crisis in the near future.