While most children were sitting idle at home or playing mobile games during the COVID-19 induced lockdown last year, thirteen-year-old Banupriya M S from Alappuzha, Kerala was waiting for a bountiful harvest in her paddy field.
Banupriya, a Class 8 student of Govt. DVHSS Charamangalam, has grown and harvested 300 kg of Rakthashali rice, a rare red rice variety with medicinal benefits, with her father on their 70 cents of land at Muhamma panchayat in Alappuzha.
“I was bored at home during the lockdown. There were online classes and after that, I had a lot of free time but I couldn’t go out and play. So, I started going to the fields with my father,” Banupriya tells The Better India
Banupriya’s father Dayatmaji, who runs a coir business and is a successful farmer himself, always encouraged his two daughters to be involved in the profession. During the lockdown, he put great emphasis on them doing something fruitful, and not sitting idle at home.
“The lockdown period was really challenging for me, both as a small businessman as well as a parent. Children were spending most of their time in front of the computer or mobile screens, and they didn’t know what to do during their free time. I was also worried about their health,” says Dayatmaji.
Meanwhile, unlike many children of her age, Banupriya loved farming and was ready to toil hard on the field. She would finish off her online classes and accompany her father to their land where they cultivated different varieties of crops.
“We used to grow green gram, then vegetables like ladies finger, tomato, cucumber and fruits like watermelon. After growing vegetables, we sowed paddy. It was my father’s idea to sow Rakthashali rice this time,” she says.
Dayatmaji, who wanted to grow something different this time, was looking for a rare variety of rice. He explains, “I came to know about the rice variety, ‘Rakthashali’, which has high medicinal value and is not usually grown in this area. So I sourced the seeds from another farmer in Mararikulam.”
Meanwhile, Rakhi Alex, former agricultural officer of Muhamma says, “Rakthashali is a rare variety of rice which is nearly extinct, but has many health benefits. This paddy with red husk and grain was said to be used during the Vedic period and it is rich in antioxidants, iron, zinc, calcium and other minerals.”
A winning effort
“Banupriya and Dayatmaji were the first to take up Rakthashali cultivation in Muhamma panchayat,” Rakhi says.
“In May, we sowed the rice seeds on our field, but it was all wiped out by heavy rains in June. Our field was inundated and all our hard work turned out to be for nothing. I was disappointed. But my father sourced the seeds again and we sowed them again after the rains,” says Banupriya.
The father and daughter say they cultivated the Rakthashali rice in a fully organic manner, using only bio-fertilisers. Dayatmaji says it was his daughter who did most of the work on the field, from sowing to manuring.
“I sowed the seeds, dewatered, and also applied the manure all by myself. My father was there to guide me throughout. We did everything ourselves, except the preparation of the field, for which we used a tractor,” she says.
After four months, the paddy field was harvested in September, and Dayatmaji says it was bountiful. “Around 300 kg of Rakthashali rice were harvested from our 70 cents land,” he adds.
The field was harvested in the presence of Kerala Agriculture Minister P Prasad. The father-daughter duo’s efforts were appreciated by the panchayat officials and the agricultural department. Banupriya’s involvement in the initiative was especially lauded widely, and she was given the Best Child Farmer Award in Muhamma grama panchayat by the Agriculture Department.
“We gave out the rice to our friends and relatives for free, and sold the remaining locally through WhatsApp groups. We still use the Rakthakali rice at home and it’s very healthy. We mostly use it to make steam cake, porridge etc,” says Dayatmaji.
“Now we are growing vegetables, but are looking forward to sowing Basmati rice next season,” concludes Banupriya, who aspires to become a doctor and plans to take up farming as a hobby.
(Edited by Divya Sethu)