Chemical Industries (Colombo) Limited (CIC) is conducting experiments at its paddy farms to grow exotic, indigenous varieties of rice with the aim of identifying exportable types that could find buyers in high-end, niche overseas markets.
The company has had a positive response from potential buyers to whom it has show some of the varieties it has cultivated on a trial basis, CIC Group chairman B.R.L. Fernando said.
With the island heading for a local rice surplus and farmers’ market prices affected because supply is higher than demand, alternative marketing avenues are required.
“Various remedies are being looked at - such as encouraging people to eat more rice, higher tariffs on imported rice, using rice for other purposes and products – to use up available supply and increase demand for local rice,” Fernando said in an interview.
“But we’re likely to continue producing a surplus crop. So the question is: what do you do with it?
“Various proposals like improving storage facilities are being studied but ultimately we need to get farmers to grow exportable varieties of rice,” said Fernando.
About 200 indigenous varieties of rice have been identified of which only some have the characteristics that offer export potential.
CIC has not done any test marketing of these varieties of rice yet but has shown some to potential buyers.
“The response was quite good,” said Fernando. “They asked how much we can supply. We will probably test market some varieties this year.”
CIC experiments are aimed at finding out what the export varieties are and to improve yields and bring down the cost of production.
“So, it is in that context that we’re working with some of these exotic varieties of rice and aim to improve yields.
“We’ve been growing traditional rice called ‘raththel’ and ‘vel vee’ and varieties of rice similar to Basmathi,” said Fernando.
Raththel yields a brilliant golden colour paddy grain compared with the brownish colour of normal rice varieties.
CIC experiments are aimed at getting better yields – up to 100 bushels an acre. If yields are not improved, the cost of production would be too high to make it commercially viable.
“We have had some success with our trials,” said Fernando. “With some varieties like ‘raththel’ and ‘al vee’ we have got yields of 85-90 bushels with better management and selection, compared with 65-70 bushels previously.”
These are slightly aromatic varieties of rice which would find acceptance in international markets.
The company has had some of its staff trained in China in growing hybrid rice and continues to grow some acreages of the promising varieties every cultivation season at its farms in Hingurakgoda and Pelwehera.
CIC has also recruited scientists and bought experimental equipment to conduct its trials.
“The problem with local rice production is that our milling capacities are antiquated. So we bought lab scale equipment with which we are now milling rice to see what sort of mill grain quality we can get – we need to get an acceptable look,” explained Fernando.
The company is aiming to get consistent grain size and sufficient volumes before investing more money in its research and development effort.
Most of the 200 varieties of rice indigenous to the island are no longer commercially cultivated by paddy farmers.
The company’s aim is to exploit the characteristics such as high nutrition and more aroma and flavour found in the ‘wild’ or traditional varieties of rice and seek niche overseas markets for surplus rice now that the country has achieved self-sufficiency in the commodity.
The programme is somewhat similar to the effort by the Ceylon tea industry to identify and promote different types of tea grown in different elevations and ago-climatic regions.
Good rains and resumption of cultivation in the north and east have resulted in surplus rice production, raising fears among farmers they might not be able to sell their produce.