The Comeback of a Once-Lost Traditional Bhutanese Rice Variety

Sungsung Bara (scented rice) used to be the most popular traditional rice variety cultivated in Tongthrong village of Metsho Geog under Lhunetse Dzongkhag. Most farmers said that they prefered it for its aroma, taste, straw yield, and  good adaptability under marginal management regime.

However, overtime, farmers lost this variety possibly due to its displacement by other rice varieties. In 2014, when the researchers from the Research and Development Center (RDC), Wengkhar and National Biodiversity Center (NBC), Serbithang visited the village to create awareness on the importance of conserving rice genetic resources and promised them to bring back the Sungsung variety, there were smiles in Tongthrong farmer’s faces. Given that rice is a predominant crop in Metsho Geog, RDC Wengkhar recommended expanding the coverage of the Rice Project to this Geog.

During the awareness meeting, the importance of conserving rice genetic resources was emphasized with the farmers and the members of the Local Government of the Geog.  The importance of conserving traditional crops and varieties was likewise highlighted in light of the different emerging challenges such as climate change, difficulties in obtaining germplasm due to increasing ownership and regulation from other countries, and the rapid loss and extinction of precious traditional varieties.

As a follow-up activity to the awareness meeting, the community was encouraged to do a Participatory Varietal Selection (PVS) trial  with different rice varieties. The objective of the PVS trial was to bring more rice varieties and allow farmers to select better varieties, and at the same time enhance the diversity of rice varieties in the village.  This suggestion was well received with an overwhelming interest and support from the communities to undertake the PVS.

During the rice season, RDC Wengkhar, with the support of Geog Agriculture Extension Officer, immediately initiated the PVS with six varieties, of which three were traditional  while the other three were improved high-yielding varieties. The varieties evaluated in the PVS were Asu Bara, Sungsung Bara, Zangthi 2, Khangma Kaap, Khangma Maap and Wengkhar Kaap. Since these varieties were cultivated for the first time in the village, farmers were advised to cultivate only two to three terraces before planting on a large scale.

At harvest time, farmers were asked to carefully assess all the varieties and select the best varieties of their choices. Most farmers selected Sungsung and Zangthi 2. The seed demand for these two varieties was high and could not be met from the season’s harvest. Interested farmers have been promised seeds in the following season.

Tongthrong farmers are indeed very grateful to the rice project which brought back their Sungsung variety. Farmers have appreciated the initiative and are looking forward to enhance their on-farm rice diversity with more varieties.

Thus far, the rice diversity in the village has been enhanced by the introduction of six new varieties. Despite emerging challenges such as the drying up of irrigation water sources, prolonged period of drought during the early stages of the crops and heavy rainfall at harvest, farmers are still committed to continue rice cultivation.

To address the water shortage, the project has supported the construction of reservoir tanks. Metsho Geog has over 310 acres of Chhuzhing (terraced wetland).

While some activities on the rice genetic resources conservation has been initiated, much more remains to be done.

Published in "Harvest"

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