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Revival of Mushk Budij & Aromatic Rice Cultivation Brings Profits to Kashmiri Farmers

Mushk Budij, an indigenous traditional and short, bold, scented-rice variety in Kashmir, has made a remarkable comeback after several decades, proving to be a lucrative crop for farmers in the Kashmir Valley. This aromatic rice, once popular in the region during the 1960s, is now experiencing a surge in demand both domestically and in foreign markets.

Shivam Dwivedi
Revival of Mushk Budij & Aromatic Rice Cultivation Brings Profits to Kashmiri Farmers (Photo Source: Pixabay)
Revival of Mushk Budij & Aromatic Rice Cultivation Brings Profits to Kashmiri Farmers (Photo Source: Pixabay)

Rice is a staple food in Kashmir and serves as the primary source of calories in the local diet, surpassing wheat and maize. However, due to its high price, aromatic rice varieties like Mushk Budij are typically reserved for special occasions only. Recently, during the G20 summit held in Kashmir, Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha commended the farmers for reviving the heritage crop, Mushk Budij.

The Lieutenant Governor stated during his monthly 'Awaam Ki Awaaz' Radio program that the cultivation of Mushk Budij in Kashmir's Sagam village would provide a renewed boost to one of J&K's most cherished and valued agricultural products. Farmers of all ages in Kashmir have started growing this expensive rice variety in their fields, as they are reaping high returns from the market. For instance, while one quintal of common milled rice is sold at Rs 3,000 in Kashmir, Mushk Budij fetches a price of Rs 20,000 per quintal.

According to officials from the agriculture department, the price of Mushk Budij has reached an all-time high, with a quintal now selling for Rs 20,000 compared to Rs 6,000 in 2006. This surge in prices has motivated more farmers to cultivate this crop, although it can only be grown in certain areas of the valley.

Abdul Rashid Dar, a farmer from Sagam, shared his experience, stating that they had ceased growing Mushk Budij on their land after 1984 due to the blast disease, resulting in crop failure. However, in 2014, they decided to resume cultivation, and the returns have been quite rewarding for them. He mentioned that the returns from Mushk Budij surpass those from common rice varieties.

Dar explained that despite the favorable prices, farmers encountered challenges in selling their produce immediately after the harvest season due to limited market demand. He further elaborated that the problem lay in finding enough consumers, as the prices of aromatic rice were seven times higher than common varieties, which resulted in fewer people being interested in purchasing them.

Sagam village, a small hamlet in the Kokernag locality of south Kashmir's Anantnag district, is home to over a thousand farmers who grow this rare crop in their fields. The majority of Kashmir's Mushk Budij, a japonica aromatic local land race, is cultivated in Sagam, Tengpawa, and neighboring areas, covering an estimated area of over 5,000 kanals annually and producing around 6,000 quintals of aromatic rice.

Farmers assert that the Kokernag belt is an ideal location for cultivating Mushk Budij due to its suitable climate, land quality, altitude, and availability of spring water. However, cultivating this aromatic crop carries risks. It is susceptible to blast disease, and the milled rice of Mushk Budij cannot be stored for an extended period without losing its aroma, as explained by 28-year-old farmer Javaid Ahmad Khanday from Tengpawa village.

Tajamul Bashir, a young farmer, expressed his urging to the government to procure the entire produce from farmers in order to ensure timely returns and benefits. The 23-year-old Bashir, who owns six kanals of Mushk Budij land in Tengpawa village, highlighted that the prices of Mushk Budij are quite favorable compared to other varieties. He also mentioned that the government should prioritize marketing efforts to facilitate the sale of the crop in one go.

Marketing has been a major hurdle in the successful production of the crop, as custodian farmers suspect they are being exploited by middlemen or brokers. Chowdhary Muhammad Iqbal, the director of Agriculture Kashmir, confirmed that there is a growing demand for Mushk Budij in the international market. He mentioned that several samples have been sent to the UAE, and in the near future, the aromatic crop will be exported to other countries. Additionally, he stated that the specialty rice will be granted a GI tagging. This tagging identifies a product as originating from a specific territory, where its quality, reputation, or characteristics are primarily attributed to its geographic origin.

In 2020, approximately 244 hectares of land were dedicated to cultivating Mushk Budij, which increased to 248 hectares in 2021 and further to 280 hectares in 2022. The proposed expansion plan for Mushk Budij rice in Kashmir aims to cover 999 hectares of land over the next five years.

Likewise, the production of Mushk Budij rice in Kashmir amounted to 6,000 quintals in 2020-21, slightly decreasing to 5,400 quintals in 2021-22, and rebounding to 6,090 quintals during the year 2022-23. Ajaz Hussain Dar, the chief Agriculture officer of Anantnag, explained that the decline in Mushk Budij production during 2021-22 was attributed to blast disease. He mentioned that farmers employ fungicides to safeguard the crop from blast disease; however, on occasions, the disease mercilessly attacks the crop.

Regarding the low demand for the crop, Dar emphasized the need for quality produce and proper packaging to facilitate easier purchases by consumers. The unique rice variety vanished from agricultural fields in the 1960s due to an uncontrolled blast disease. It took scientists at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKUAST Kashmir) more than four decades to revive the ailing crop.

In 2007-08, SKUAST's Mountain Research Centre for Field Crops in Khudwani, south Kashmir, initiated the Mushk Budij revival program with the goal of conserving local biodiversity and utilizing it for the socio-economic development of rice growers. Dr. Amjad M Husaini, a senior scientist at SKUAST, described the genetic purification process that was carried out a decade ago. According to Husaini, between 2008 and 2012, a revival and purification program was conducted at SKUAST to validate Mushk Budij. Utilizing a participatory approach, the aroma of the crop was assessed for each farmer's produce. The purification process concluded in 2013, and in 2014, the government officially launched the tested Mushk Budij. Husaini, who is an associate professor at the Division of Plant Biotechnology, SKUAST Kashmir, provided this information.

In 2017, Sagam village produced 6,029 quintals of Mushk Budij, leading to its declaration as a model village for the rice variety by the then agriculture minister, Ghulam Nabi Hanjura.

Dar attributed the lack of increased production over the past five years to adverse weather conditions, and highlighted that climate change has affected every crop, including Mushk Budij. Untimely rains and intense heat have caused a 20-40 percent decline in crop production.

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