Once Dinajpur was famous for producing different varieties of aromatic rice, but the district's native varieties have lost their fame to hybrids and BR-34.
Because of various difficulties including a lack of modern cultivation methods, shortage of organic fertilisers, scarcity of quality seeds, high production cost and time constraints, the farmers are losing interest in cultivating local varieties of aromatic rice, such as Kataribhog, Jirakatari, Badshabhog, Kalojira, Begunbichi, Chinigura, Kalonenia, and Radhunipagli.
According to the Dinajpur Department of Agricultural Extension, the cultivation of the local variety of aromatic paddy in the district has declined by about 73% in the last six years.
Most of the land used for cultivating local varieties of aromatic paddy is now being used for cultivating BR-34 paddy, and a small portion of it is used for hybrid varieties of paddy.
Local farmers said even 20 years ago, 30-32 maunds of Kataribhog or other fragrant rice could be produced in one acre of land, but, gradually, the production has come down to around 25 maunds as it requires a traditional method of cultivation, which the farmers find very difficult to continue with.
Besides, hybrid and BR-34 varieties of paddy came into the market and due to the high yield of these varieties, farmers have reduced the cultivation of the local varieties of aromatic paddy.
Currently, some people cultivate these paddies only to meet their personal demands.
Local people said aromatic rice was used in rituals and worship of the ancient Hindu gods and goddesses.
As time passed, it got a place in the festivities of the aristocracy.
Kataribhog rice and other types of fragrant rice of Dinajpur have a reputation for entertaining guests as polao, biryani, jarda, payesh, and firni made with these rice are very delicious.
The largest amount of fragrant paddy is cultivated in Chirirbandar upazila of the district.
Dulal Roy, a farmer from Majhina village in the upazila, said, "I used to cultivate local varieties of aromatic paddy, but now I plant coarser varieties. Producing local varieties require organic fertilisers including dung. The production cost is also high while the yield is low. So I have given up cultivating that paddy."
Another farmer Kartik Roy said, "Good quality seeds of local aromatic paddy are not available. As a result, the production of this variety of paddy is decreasing day by day. We would be interested in farming then only if good quality seeds were available."
Pradip Kumar Guha, deputy director at Department of Agriculture Extension, Dinajpur, said, "About 40% of the Ropa Aman planted every year is of fragrant variety BR-34. Farmers mainly cultivate the paddy or crop which enables them to make a higher profit. We also advise them in a way so that they can benefit."
"Cultivating the local variety of fragrant paddy can produce 1.8 tonnes of rice per hectare while cultivating the BR-34 variety produces 2.95 tonnes of rice per hectare.
"The yield of hybrid paddy is even higher, as cultivating it can yield 3.88 tonnes of rice per hectare. But this rice does not have the same aroma as BR-34 rice. And among all the varieties, the local ones are still the most fragrant," he added.
He also mentioned that there is a huge demand for different varieties of aromatic rice including BR-34 in western countries including Europe.
Fragrant rice produced here is exported to different countries, he said, adding due to the Covid-19 pandemic, agricultural products are not being exported of late.
"Last year, about 2.63 lakh tonnes of aromatic paddy was produced here. As this rice was not exported, the supply is more than the demand in the local market. As a result, the price of this variety of rice is decreasing. Consequently, the cultivation of aromatic paddy has decreased unexpectedly in the current season," said Pradip.
Shahidur Rahman Patwari Mohan, vice-president of Bangladesh Major and Auto Major Husking Mill Owners Association, said, "There is a demand for fragrant rice in the international market. We export some of it, but that is not enough. We have been trying to get official permission for wholesale exports. We have also applied to the Export Promotion Bureau. However, the initiative has stalled due to Covid-19."
Last year, 296,627 tonnes of rice or 474,603 tonnes of paddy was produced in the district. According to the estimates of different markets in Dinajpur, varieties of aromatic paddy have been sold at Tk3,200-3,300 per bag (75 kg). That means the district has produced aromatic paddy worth around Tk2,024 crore in the year.