It was a full house on July 20 evening at the boutique cafe Amethyst in White Roads in Chennai. INTACH (The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, Chennai Chapter) had invited the Chairperson and Managing Trustee of AIM for Seva, Sheela Balaji to give a talk on rice.
Smt. Sheela Balaji’s presentation was on her journey on the heritage rice trail. She began her presentation by saying how rice was interwoven with life itself in India and how the grain held tremendous significance from birth to death for many Indians.
At one point of time, India had over two lakh varieties of rice and this has now halved. “South and south-east Asia account for 92% of the rice production of the world and for 60% of the world’s population, rice is the main food,” Smt. Sheela Balaji said.
Stressing the need to consume indigenous varieties, Smt. Balaji said that 80% of the rice nutrition is in the bran and though wheat has more protein when compared to rice, but the quality of protein is better in rice as it comes packed with eight amino acids and plenty of micro nutrients. “Infant food begins with rice and till date, there is no known rice allergy. Rice be cooked and eaten as it is and in that sense, it is also more affordable than other grains,” Smt. Sheela Balaji said.
Also, the glycemic index in brown rice with one husk coating ranges from 55-62 while this moves up to 72 in the case of the Ponni variety. In fact, damaged cells can be renewed if one consumes black rice.
Botanical and archaeological evidence suggest that rice originated in the Yangzte Valley in China around 8,000 to 9,000 years ago. Around the same time, wheat had its origins in Turkey. While 20th century saw rice breeding and hybridisation occurring in a major way in India, yet regions like Orissa and Chhattisgarh still grow many varieties of heritage rice. In addition, many harvest festivals across India are rice based, added Smt. Sheela Balaji.
Five years back, Smt.Sheela Balaji embarked on the heritage rice drive by collecting seeds and building a community of organic farmers in Manjakkudi in Tamil Nadu. Manjakkudi is the birth place of Pujya Swami Dayananda Saraswati, a small hamlet in the Kauveri delta with a population of 1,500. Today, 130 varieties of heritage rice seeds are saved and preserved and are grown in a 40 acre farm in Manjakkudi. These varieties are also now retailed out of the AIM for Seva central office in Mylapore, Chennai.