29 Dec 2009 PTI
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, A research project to preserve and sustain the fast dwindling cultivation of medicinal 'njavara rice' by improving its genetic qualities has been taken up by the Kerala Agricultural University.
'Njavara' is extensively used in the Indian medicinal system of 'Ayurveda' for a variety of cures including those for rheumatism, respiratory and digestive problems.
Though 'njavara' was earlier cultivated in many parts of the state like Palakkad, Malappuram and Thrissur in view its demand for medicinal use, its cultivation has now come down to a mere 50 hectares involving a total of around 30 farmers, mostly in Chittur in the state's Palakkad district.
The reason for the sharp fall in the cultivation of 'njavara' is that it requires constant attention, high input cost and that the crop is often subject to the vagaries of climate.
A group of researchers at the Kerala Agricultural University (KAU) have prepared a project to bring genetic changes in the basic characteristics of the cereal, which could increase the quality of the variety.
Apart from artificial methods, conventional breeding techniques would be used to advance the basic qualities of the rice variety.
Quoting S.Leenakumari, a professor at KAU, PTI reported that by improving the strain of the traditional variety it could be made stronger to withstand the onslaught of climate and ensure higher output.
The ultimate beneficiary of the project would be farmers who could tap on the increasing demand for the 'njavara' rice considering its variety of medicinal applications, she said.
This medicinal variety of rice is of special significance since medical tourism has been gaining strength in Kerala with Ayurvedic resorts attracting people from abroad, including Europe, the United States and West Asia.
According to Ayurvedic experts, Njavara has been cultivated in Kerala for over 2,500 years. It is an inevitable item in many traditional Ayurveda treatments.
"Njavara Kizhi", a process by which heated 'njavara' is applied on the limbs affected by rheumatism, is an effective treatment. It is also a key ingredient for the therapeutic porridge consumed by people during monsoon season in the state.
Without the help of botanical experts, consumers could not identify the original variety by themselves, said Prof Leenakumari.
She also cited that Pokkali rice, another rice variety cultivated in water-logged areas, is sold widely under the label of Njavara rice. Though consumers can be cheated, experts can identify the original from its physical features itself.
While Pokkali rice has long, bold grains, Njavara has slim, slender and medium size grains, she said.
To ensure the authenticity and quality of the cereal, majority of the Ayurveda hospitals grow it in their own herbal gardens.
As part of the KAU project, five pure genetic varieties of Njavara had been identified.