MADHYA PRADESH: Known as the rice bowl of Madhya Pradesh, the tribal-dominated Balaghat district is now witnessing the advent of the black & red rice revolution. Around 1,000 farmers in 40 villages of the densely forested district are meeting the fresh demands of a Kerala-based rice company. They are also developing the red and black rice variety seeds for farmers in 19 states of western and northern India as well as Nepal. Guiding the revolution is 41-year-old famous political science postgraduate organic farming trainer Tarachand Belji.
He along with his former lecturer wife Mitali started red and black rice farming through organic farming practices at his 8-hectare agricultural farm in 2017.“Though we were already cultivating our very own old black and red rice varieties, during the first Covid lockdown in 2020, we decided to go big in the entire Balaghat district,” says Belji. They started out from their village Kanai. It has now spread to 39 more villages through the efforts of 1,000-plus farmers — all under the banner of Farmers Producers Organisation (FPO), Belji adds. The collective efforts of the farmers, who employed organic farming practices, have led to a yield of around 500 tonnes of Chinnor, Vishnu Bhog aromatic rice and black and red rice varieties in the last season.
Around 100 tonnes was supplied to a premier company in Kerala, while the remaining rice was used for supplying rice seeds to 500 farmers in 19 states and Nepal. “The red and black rice varieties have immense nutritional value, with the low-fat containing black rice being very helpful for diabetic patients and Vitamin B12 and anti-oxidant rich red rice being beneficial to cancer patients. That’s why we’re running a comprehensive seed production programme, which is supplying seeds and organic fertilisers to farmers in these states and Nepal,” said Belji.
He and his team of 1,000 farmers are set to supply around 400 tonnes of black and red rice to the Kerala-based company this season. Balaghat district agriculture officer CS Gaur said: “Though the cultivation of old and timetested aromatic black and brown varieties has been underway in small portions by farmers in the district, it is the organised efforts by Tarachand Belji under his FPO that has made this farming more extensive and viable.” Belji’s success story is incomplete without his wife and excollege lecturer Mitali, who had quit her lecturer’s job in 2005 in Narsinghpur district to accompany her social activist, small-time farmer husband to Rajya Sabha member-cum-social reformer Nanaji Deshmukh’s Deendayal Shodh Sansthan in Chitrakoot.
“We started working under Nanaji Deshmukh (who was conferred with Bharat Ratna in 2019) in three villages of MP’s Satna district and UP’s Chitrakoot district,” says Mitali. “We worked there for three years furthering Nanaji’s guiding mantra of transforming villages by removing human ailments, poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and unnecessary disputes. It was while working as Samaj Shilpi Dampati that we realised that organic farms can help villages immensely,” recalls Mitali. The couple returned to Narsinghpur district (Mitali’s home district) in 2009 and started organic farming with 100 farmers by establishing an organisation — Prakritik Kheti Shodh Sansthan — which worked in Narsinghpur, Seoni, Balaghat and Mandla districts.
The success of the organic farming movement was best exemplified in a single plant rendering 1,000 laukis (bottle gourds) and a single plant yielding 550 plus brinjals. The couple subsequently started releasing an annual calendar of organic farming for farmers across the country. Their well-organised efforts attracted the likes of then MP Agriculture Minister Ramkrishna Kusmaria along with a team of his department’s experts to Belji’s farm in Narsinghpur to study the success of the initiative in 2010. Environmentalist and ex-Union minister Anil Madhav Dave, too, trouped down to Narsinghpur to see Belji’s organic farming success story.
In 2014, Belji became a national- level organic farming trainer and has, so far, organised 200-plus organic farming training workshops across the country. He has also served as an expert for GB Pant University of Agriculture and Technology at Pantnagar (Uttarakhand). He is now an organic farmer registered with the MP government and is ushering in the organic cultivation of black and red rice in his native district Balaghat since the Covid-induced lockdown in 2020.