An almost forgotten landrace is now in the formal system: The case of Kalonuniya rice in Nepal

The Government of Nepal (GoN) has approved the registration of an aromatic rice landrace Kalonuniya for the eastern terai region of Nepal. Collaborative efforts between farmers and breeders have enhanced this almost lost rice variety into a variety with many advantages, that will contribute to fulfilling the demand for quality rice in Nepal. The notice of the approval has been published on the Gazette of Nepal on 10 of August 2020 (26th Shrawan 2077 BS).

South and Southeast Asia are considered the primary center of origin of rice (Oryza). Four species of wild rice and more than 2,000 landraces have been reported in Nepal. However, nowadays only a few landraces can be found in the farmers’ field, as most of them have been replaced by the improved and hybrid varieties. This is a result of both formal and informal sectors giving priority to promote improved varieties, mainly imported genes, to increase rice production and productivity in order to feed the nation’s ever-growing population. The GoN has been investing a huge amount of its revenue to develop irrigation infrastructure and importing chemical fertilizer in line with these priorities, but the outcome is not satisfactory. Farmers in Nepal still struggle with low productivity and have trouble making ends meet. 

Farmers and plant breeders evaluating the Kalonuniya rice lines. 
Photo: Pitambar Shrestha, LI-BIRD

At the same time, no systematic initiatives have been taken to identify, document, and promote Nepal’s rich landraces diversity. The importance of maintaining and promoting crop diversity for food security, nutrition, healthy diets, ecology and fight against climate change has not been realized by policymakers and planners in Nepal. But by joining forces with the farmers themselves, the Community-based Biodiversity Management (CBM) Nepal Programme has been able to re-introduce an almost forgotten rice landrace, with better productivity and other favorable traits, into farmers’ fields.  

It was back in 2008 that Kalonuniya, a rice landrace near to extinction from the farmers’ fields was identified by the programme, and even though collecting the necessary seed samples from 36 farmers in Jhapa, Morang and Sunsari districts was a very difficult task, the work done with this landrace has proved groundbreaking. As the project carried out awareness-raising, training, and capacity building activities, the community at the then Shivaguj Village Development Committee (VDC) in Jhapa became conscious about the importance of conservation of landraces such as Kalonuniya.  Discussions were held with the community before starting the collection of seed samples, and after, the collected samples of Kalonuniya were assessed in the farmers’ field at Shivagunj for disease resistance, lodging tolerant, high yielding and aroma traits. After five years of joint research of community and plant breeders from LI-BIRD, two lines were identified superior compared to others and proposed for registration. The selected lines which have now been registered as improved Kalonuniya in the Seed Quality Control Center (SQCC) has farmer preferred traits such as aroma, tolerate blast disease, and yields 3.2 tons per hectare.

Variety Release and Registration Sub-committee (VRRC) members assessing the Kalonuniya lines for recommendation for registration. Photo: Kheem Pun, LI-BIRD

As soon as the research team identified superior lines, the Shivagunj Community Seed Banks started seed production and disseminating it in the locality. They produce and sell 3 to 5 tone seeds of improved Kalonuniya every year which covers 60 to 100 hectares of land. The farmers who were involved in the research process are now involved in seed production and earning a good sum every year. This has contributed to improve their livelihoods. Kalonuniya has also become a regular source of income for the farmers’ Organization – Kanchan Biodiversity Conservation and Development Committee who is managing Shivagunj Community Seed Bank. Many farmers who buy seeds once, save for the subsequent year from their harvest and also share to neighbors, friends, and relatives. The Kalonuniya rice landrace has become a common variety again in the area. This is yet another successful example of promoting conservation and sustainable use of crop landrace that many people and organization can learn from.

The CBM Nepal Programme was implemented in ten districts by Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development (LI-BIRD) from 2008 to 2016 in collaboration with Department of Agriculture with funding support from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) through the Development Fund, Oslo, Norway.