Heritage Rice Cultivation
The loss of valuable rice varieties in Sri Lanka
Just fifty years ago, Sri Lanka had more than 280 varieties of rice and it is said that once three to four hundred varieties of rice were once cultivated. There used to be 123 varieties of red rice alone, now only three or four remain. In total only 10 to 15 varieties of rice are commonly cultivated in Sri Lanka.
Much of this rice was grown for its specific nutritional/medicinal properties. For example, heenati rice was grown for lactating mothers. Kanni murunga, was grown for men going out to work in the fields, it gave them energy as it contained a lot of carbohydrates. Suvandel was cultivated for its extraordinary fragrance. Monks who did not eat after noon were given mawee, which possesses a high protein content. The different strains of rice were needed not only for their varying nutritional value but also according to their suitability to the different growing seasons, water variations, climatic variations, resistance to different types of pest.
In many cases this method of farming was far more efficient than contemporary methods, less irrigation was needed, the rice could be stored for longer and natural fertilizer coupled with carefully chosen strains of rice suited to particular climates ensured successful yields.
The disenfranchisement of traditional rice farmers
Along with many highly valuable strains of rice, many of the traditional rice farmers have lost their employment. A traditional Sri Lankan rice farmer’s ancestry is indicated in his full name which gives details of his lineage and land. Knowledge of complex rice growing techniques is being lost. As mass production of white rice took hold forests traditional small holders became mere labourers or were disenfranchised completely.
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