Joha in race to topple 'aroma queen'

The Assam Agricultural University is fighting for a geographical indications (GI) tag for a local variety of rice - joha - claiming it has better aroma than the famed Basmati.

By Roopak Goswami
  • Published 20.04.15

Guwahati, April 19: The Assam Agricultural University is fighting for a geographical indications (GI) tag for a local variety of rice - joha - claiming it has better aroma than the famed Basmati.

"The joha class of rice is unique in aroma and grain characteristics and distinct from other aromatic rice like Basmati in biochemical and other quality attributes. The uniqueness of this rice is mainly attributed to particular climatic conditions prevalent in the area, together with varietal characters and system of rice cultivation, adding to the best expression of aroma and flavour in the product," the report prepared by the university said. The report mentions that some varieties of joha rice contain a higher level of 2-acetyl, l-pyrroline (2AP) - the principal chemical component responsible for the aroma.

Researches carried out by scientists have found the compound responsible for the unique and pleasant fragrance of the aromatic rice. The universality of this molecule in several aromatic varieties worldwide has been confirmed by subsequent rice aroma analyses.

Joha is a special class of sali rice (winter rice) of Assam. Farmers in the state have been cultivating a large number of traditional joha varieties for a long time. The varieties are mostly short or medium-grained and have very low yield potential. The term joha is confined to aromatic rice being cultivated in the Brahmaputra valley.

In 2007, the first consignment of 17 metric tonnes of joha rice was exported to Germany, UK and Switzerland, where it is in high demand.

"The high demand is because of uniqueness of aroma and grain type which has established joha as brand equity. However, there is a legitimate concern among the farming community, academicians and policy planners that the market potential of joha rice may be jeopardised by some unscrupulous trader/middlemen to sell other small grain aromatic rice developed elsewhere in the name of joha," the report said.

"In other words, unauthorised parties may mislead the public as the true origin of joha rice which is a unique class of rice originating in Assam with given quality, reputation and characteristics attributable to its cultivation in specific agro-ecological situation, with a labour intensive, eco-friendly and organic manner which has traditional and historic significance," the report said.

Geographical indication is a mechanism employed to identify agricultural, natural or manufactured goods, which possess certain special qualities or characteristics based on the climatic or production conditions unique to a geographical location.

The GI office is under the Union ministry of commerce. Assam already has four products with the GI tag - Karbi Anglong ginger, Tezpur litchi, muga silk and Assam orthodox tea.

The university has also provided historical records of joha rice. The report said there is a mention about joha rice varieties like khorika joha in the 4th century Assamese version of Ramayan (Saptokandt Ramayana) attributed to poet Kaviraja Madhava Kandali.

The book is considered to be the first translation from Sanskrit into a modern regional Indo-Aryan language.

According to the Saptokandt Ramayana, Kumbhakarna, the younger brother of Ravana, was known for his deep slumber from which he could only be awakened with great difficulty. Among the many tricks Ravana used to wake him, the book says was a heap of delicious food prepared from khorika joha.