Growing demand in both local and international markets with lucrative prices of high-yielding aromatic rice has encouraged farmers to increase their cultivation in recent times.
Thus, indigenous popular varieties are being sidelined with farmers inclining towards the high-yielding ones because of double yields and higher profits.
Nowadays, farmers are more dependent on high-yielding automatic rice varieties, thanks to their high production rates, according to sources at the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) and the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI).
Local varieties can yield 187-299 kilograms of rice per bigha of land, while the high-yielding ones produce 448-821 kilograms.
There are now eight fine and aromatic rice varieties developed by the BRRI.
They are BR5 (Dulabhog), BRRI-dhan 34, BRRI-dhan 37, BRRI-dhan 38, BRRI-dhan 70, BRRI-dhan 75, BRRI-dhan 80 and BRRI-dhan 50.
Farmers cultivate BRRI-dhan 34 the most. It is almost similar to chinigura variety, but its yield is nearly double. Its cultivation has picked up after 2010, although the BRRI released it in 1997.
Azizul Islam, a farmer from Dinajpur's Chehel Gazi area, said, "Once I used to cultivate chinigura rice. But now, I cultivate BRRI-dhan 34 and get almost twice the output. Most farmers in my area also cultivate this variety."
BRRI-dhan 70, another high-yielding variety, is identical to the famous katarivog variety. It can produce 634.4kg per bigha, which is almost double the yield of katarivog. Its grain is bigger too.
BRRI-dhan 80, similar to jasmin, a popular rice variety of Thailand, gives 672kg per bigha.
Dr Md Shahjahan Kabir, director general at the BRRI, told The Business Standard, "The production rate of high-yielding varieties of aromatic rice is more than double the indigenous ones. That is why these varieties are more popular among farmers."
According to the DAE, weather and environment in Bangladesh are appropriate for growing aromatic rice.
The aromatic varieties are cultivated across the country. The relatively colder areas produce rice containing more fragrance.
Dinajpur, Thakurgaon, Panchagarh, Rangpur, Naogaon, Rajshahi, Mymensingh, and Sherpur commercially produce large amounts of aromatic rice.
According to DAE, the cultivation of aromatic rice has significantly increased in the past few years, so has the production due to high-yielding varieties.
The DAE does not have any updated information on the cultivation of aromatic rice. In the fiscal year 2015-16, its production was around 2,90,000 tonnes, of them, about 105,000 tonnes were of BRRI-dhan 34.
Farmers said although the production cost of aromatic rice is a little higher, it brings more profits.
Cultivation of aromatic rice varieties cost around Tk25,000 per acre, while local ones cost Tk22,000 per acre, they added.
Export market of aromatic rice
Rice is not exported from Bangladesh without special approval from the commerce ministry. However, packaged aromatic rice is regularly exported to different countries, but its export market is still very small.
According to the Bangladesh Rice Exporters Association, there is a good demand for aromatic rice in Europe, America and the Middle East.
Some private companies such as Ispahani, Square, Pran are exporting packaged aromatic rice to 136 countries.
The demand for aromatic rice is higher in countries where there are expatriate Bangladeshis.
According to a 2017 report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the amount of aromatic rice exported through various private companies in Bangladesh is about 5,998 tonnes per year.
However, the Bangladesh Rice Exporters Association says the export of fragrant rice has exceeded 10,000 tonnes annually.
Shah Alam, president at the association, told The Business Standard, "The export market of aromatic rice could have expanded further. We have put less focus on this. Some government campaigns and initiatives are needed in this case. Government incentives in this sector will boost export."
According to exporters, India and Pakistan are the main competitors of Bangladesh in the international market.
Meanwhile, according to the Agriculture Information Service, about 10 million expatriate Bangladeshis working in different countries consume around 2,500-5,000 tonnes of aromatic rice every year.