Disease-resistant Jumli Marshi rice being readied for cultivationThe rice variety is grown at the highest elevation in the world of 3,050 metres above sea level in far-western Nepal.
The Agricultural Research Station in Bijayanagar is preparing to release three new disease-resistant varieties of Jumli Marshi, an indigenous rice grown at the highest elevation in the world of 3,050 metres above sea level in far western Nepal.
The research station said that since the existing varieties are susceptible to blast fungus, the new varieties would be a game changer.
Jumli Marshi is a native japonica rice landrace cultivated since ancient times at the highest altitude in the world at Chumchaur, Jumla. Jumli Marshi has a cold-tolerant gene that allows it to thrive in cold temperate conditions.
As yield has decreased due to pest infection, farmers have been shifting to other crops.
The scientists at the research centre have been working to develop new varieties for the last 13 years.
“The three new varieties– Jumli Marshi-18, Jumli Marshi-20 and Jumli Marshi-22—will be a game changer for farmers in the highlands,” said Resham Babu Amagain, chief of the centre.
The new varieties have been developed through the crossing of a local variety. Jumli Marshi was crossed with IR-64, a rice variety first released in the Philippines in 1985, which is known for high yield, early maturity and disease resistance.
According to a research report entitled “Importance of world high altitude Jumli Marshi rice with cultivation practices”, Jumli Marshi is rich in fibre (2.01 percent), proteins (9.86 percent), minerals such as 0.57 mg/100 g iron, 66.70 mg/100 g calcium, and 57.54 mg/100 g phosphorous, and low in carbohydrates (72.74 percent).
It is regarded as a suitable food for diabetes patients. Marshi has nutritional, religious and cultural significance.
In the past, fields on the banks of the Tila River would be covered with Jumli Marshi rice, according to various research papers. “However, its cultivation is currently decreasing due to low productivity and blast susceptibility.”
As Jumli Marshi was prone to disease and many farmers started losing their crops, the Nepal Agricultural Research Council recommended two other rice varieties with cold tolerant genes—Chandanath-1 and Chandanath-3, which are red and white rice respectively—to the farmers. Many farmers, nowadays, grow these varieties.
The Marshi production practice is unique compared to other rice production practices in Nepal.
Research has suggested that the conservation and cultivation of Jumli Marshi preserve local diversity and contribute to sustainable local food production systems and agro eco-tourism.
The scientists have already completed the first trial of the new varieties.
“We will distribute the seeds to the farmers after they are formally released by the Nepal Agricultural Research Council,” said Amagain, who is also the head of the research team. “We are in the process of releasing them soon.”
The centre has been engaged in the collection and study of Jumli Marshi since 2010.
“We needed disease-resistant and high-yielding varieties of Jumli Marshi,” said Amagain. “We have achieved the feat after continuous efforts lasting 13 years.”
According to the data of the centre, Jumli Marshi is cultivated on around 1,400 hectares in Jumla. The yield is 1.8 tonnes per hectare.
Every year, Jumla produces Jumli Marshi rice worth Rs260 million.
The research study has shown that the blast fungus has been damaging around 26 percent of the crops every year, causing a loss of Rs60 million.
Locals of Jumla have been lobbying to preserve the variety due to its historical and cultural significance.
Jumli Marshi is believed to have originated 550 years ago.
Chandannath Baba, a sage, found the rice plant growing wild on the banks of the Tila River in Jumla. Later, he domesticated the rice plant in nearby areas.
“Jumli Marshi is nutritious and tasty as well,” said Raj Bahadur Mahat, a local.
According to Krishna Dev Joshi, representative of the International Rice Research Institute, Nepal office, the yield of these new varieties depends upon the condition of the plant, the strengths of the pathogens and environmental conditions.
Joshi suggests that farmers apply proper nutrients to the plant right from the planting season to get a better yield.
Experts say that the new varieties will have the same height, capacity to withstand cold, maturity period, and size as the existing ones.
Scientists say the attraction of local farmers for the new varieties will grow if the yield increases.
“As part of the first phase, we have started the paperwork regarding these varieties. After that, we will commence the procedure to distribute the seeds to the farmers,” added Joshi.
John Thomas Becket, a rice researcher, says that Jumli Marshi has great potential in the international market.
The District Agriculture Development Office in Jumla is also working to conserve, promote, produce and market Jumli Marshi at the local level.
“The disease-resistant variants of Jumli Marshi will be a booster to the local farmers,” said Ganesh Adhikari, acting chief of the District Agriculture Development Office.
Jumli Marshi rice is considered to be a prestigious food. The popularity of Marshi rose in 2018 when a photo of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and KP Sharma Oli eating Jumli Marshi rice went viral.
Demand for Jumli Marshi rice increased in Kathmandu after that. Domestic tourists visiting Jumla purchase packets of Jumli Marshi as a souvenir.