TODAY -

Chak-hao (black rice) - black gold of Manipur

Oinam Nabakishore Singh *

 Chak-Hao (black scented rice)
Chak-Hao (black scented rice) :: Pix - SFAC



Upfront, I confess that I am not an agricultural scientist or farmer or a doctor. But many statements being made herein below will sound to be coming from people with knowledge and authority. Not really so. But internet has, to some extent, made a lot of information accessible to anybody on any subject.

My knowledge and understanding about Chak-hao is based on my personal exposure to this wonderful grain as well as blogs and videos on youtube. I admit that there could be inaccuracies in the claims being made as they are based on blogs and statements made by others. However, some of the statements have scientific proof.

The outer covering of Chak-hao rice, black or purple bran, contains antioxidants and fibers. In the test report number : CSIR NEIST-Jorhat/QSP/MR/TR/ChE-estd/01/04-2018 of CSIR-North East Institute of Science & Technology, Jorhat, Assam, total anthocyanin in 100 gm of Chak-hao Poireiton is 1.62 gm, whereas 100 gm of Chak-hao amubi contains 1.57 gm.

Anthocyanin is the source of antioxidants, which have a lot of health benefits - lowering risk of heart disease, cancer and improving immune system. The above mentioned report indicates 17.7 gm and 14.98 gm of dietary fiber in 100 gm of Chak-hao Amubi and Chak-hao Poireiton respectively.

Fiber in rice bran of Chak-hao too has several health benefits. It improves digestive health. Chak-hao is said to help in preventing diabetes meliutus-2, which is becoming a major health problem in all countries. It is also found to be helpful in losing weight. There are many other health benefits of Chak-hao, which can be seen on the blogs on the internet.

One source is the website, http://www.stylecraze.com/articles/health-benefits-of-black-rice/#gref, where findings of research are also given as reference. In brief, the health benefits of black rice(Chak-hao) is known across the world and it is sold both online and at supermarkets. Some people go to the extent of calling Chak-hao a superfood.

Popular varieties of Chak-hao in Manipur are Poireiton, Chak-hao Amubi, Chak-hao Angouba.

Besides having great health benefits, Chak-hao has a pleasant aroma. Manipuris say that they feel the aroma of cooked Chak-hao rice when scooping from hot pot from a distance . Personally, I have tasted black rice of Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Myanmar and Manipur.

I find Manipur Chak-hao to be tastiest and most aromatic. The Philippino and Malaysian black rice takes a lot of time to cook, while Thai black rice is quite sticky like Manipur Chak-hao. I believe that Manipur Chak-hao is superior to other black rice varieties.

Why should we take interest in Chak-hao? Why should we make people, especially farmers, aware of the value of Chak-hao?

As of now, in Manipur, its economic value is quite less as it is not consumed by the people as a staple grain. Small amounts of cooked black rice is served as desserts in festivals (large food serving for a group of people). It is also used to make Chengpaks (flattened rice or poha) and Kaboks (puffed rice).

Some people in Manipur have started making cake, noodles, flour from Chak-hao. Because of the limited use of Chak-hao as a food item and lack of awareness of health benefits, demand for Chak-hao remains very much limited. The market of Chak-hao is very small. There are only three or four Imas selling Chak-hao in Khwairamband market.

Chak-hao is yet to find a place in departmental stores in the state. Considering the little market for this unknown superfood, its cultivation is very much limited. Normally, a few farmers cultivate Chak-hao over a small Pheidom(patch of agricultural field). Nevertheless, it is quite heartening to note that the mass cultivation of high yielding varieties of rice has not wiped out Chak-hao, while other sticky, aromatic and tasty varieties of rice like Phouren, Moirangphou, Changlei, Kumbiphou, etc. disappeared.

Now, there is a disconnect between the growers and market for Chak-hao. It is possible to increase the demand for Chak-hao within the state by including it different food preparations. In some recipes of salads, Chak-hao is added in small quantities. It also can be consumed like any other rice with fish, meat or other vegetables. It all depends on imagination as to how we ensure some amount of Chak-hao in every food item. It is learnt that an entrepreneur in Manipur has made Chak-hao tea.

The most important question with regard to Chak-hao is how to channelize our Chak-hao to the markets, where there is great demand. We have to compete with other states or countries producing black rice. It is reported that black rice is produced in Assam, West Bengal, Odissa, Tamil Nadu and Punjab. Of late, the farmers in Punjab are taking to cultivation of black rice due to its high value as compared to basmati rice.

In Manipur, one kilogram of black rice cost about Rs.50.00 in the villages whereas in Khwairamband market it costs about Rs.90.00. On e-commerce marketplace, amazon.in, black rice is sold at prices ranging from Rs. 300 to 500 per kilogram, while Indiamart indicates price of around Rs. 240.00 per kilogram. It is obvious that farmers of Manipur can earn more by cultivating Chak-hao if there is reliable tie-up.

We need proper arrangement of contract farming, appropriate storage, processing, packaging, transportation, and agreement between buyers and sellers. Manipur Organic Mission Agency(MOMA) under the State Government and funding from Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Government of India has been promoting cultivation of organic Chak-hao among farmers . Recently, they have started e-auction of black rice to sell the produces of Chak-hao.

Still the finalized price of Chak-hao at the e-auction is learnt to be less than Rs.60.00 per kilogram. In case the farmers get about Rs.150-200 per kilo, their earnings will multiply. At present, farmers are getting about Rs.30.00 per kilogram of hybrid/high yielding rice, which they normally grow for higher yield.

The question is how to switch over to Chak-hao cultivation. Unless there is committed buyers of black rice at the predetermined price and quantity, it will be difficult to switch over to large-scale cultivation of black rice. MOMA has a plan to cover 7500 hectares under Chak-hao cultivation in Khariff, 2018. It hasalso invited proposals for financial assistance for setting up of black rice processing and packaging plants. Interested entrepreneurs should use the facility being extended by the Government.

Black rice has become popular in developed countries like USA, Europe and Australia. While I attended a programme at Harvard University last year, black rice was served during lunch one day. The grains were bigger. Taste and texture was not like our own Chak-hao. It was not sticky either. Nevertheless, black rice has reached USA from Thailand.

I also learnt that some one who came from Australia during last year’s Sangai Festival made enquiries about Chak-hao. He wants it to be shipped to Australia. There may be many other buyers belonging to other parts of India and abroad. There is a need to develop a reliable supply chain with necessary technology for processing, storage and understanding of formalities for export.

India is now the largest exporter of rice. There is good demand forbasmati rice from countries in the Middle East. The entrepreneurs of Manipur need to learn the whole process from millers and exporters in Delhi, Haryana and Punjab. Linking our supply to the demand elsewhere will lead to giving confidence to farmers to grow Chak-hao. Since the farmers, being poor, cannot take any risk.

Either Government or entrepreneurs have to mitigate the risks of the farmers as much as possible. As we go along, there will be reliability and trust. Farmers, when they are sure of good returns from growing Chak-hao, more and more areas in Manipur including in hill districts will be covered by Chak-hao cultivation.

Higher income from Chak-hao will lead to reduction of poverty and better socio-economic condition of Manipur farmers. Maximum number of farmers in Manipur should work with MOMA in Horticulture Department of Manipur Government to produce more Chak-hao and reaping the benefits of higher returns from agriculture and bringing about prosperity among them. Initial difficulties have to be overcome in view of the brighter future in store. When we work in unison, challenges can be overcome.


[ Views expressed here are personal ]


* Oinam Nabakishore Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is a former Chief Secretary of the State. He can be contacted at oinamsingh(AT)gmail(DOT)com for any queries/comments
This article was posted on 22 June, 2018 .


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