It is the urban affluent and upper middle class which is gradually warming up to the concept of branded rice.
"Branding lends a new respectability to the product," says Ravishankar Chalawade, DGM of MSAMB in Nagpur, also heading the 'Maharice' project in Maharashtra.
Around 7 lakh hectares comes under rice production in the Vidarbha region in the districts of Nagpur, Gondia, Gadchiroli, Bhandara and Chandrapur, resulting in a yield of 14 lakh metric tonne. Although the rice varieties from this region are of good quality, they end up losing their identity because of lack of marketing mechanism, he explained.
Usually, farmers growing these varieties are at the mercy of local merchants or rice millers. Branding and direct marketing will ensure a better price for farmers and lead to improvement in productivity since the demand for such varieties will increase, Chalawade added. Around 35-40% of the rice produced in India is sold as branded packaged varieties.
The MSAMB recently conducted a major survey in the five districts of Vidarbha to understand which varieties of rice are grown in larger quantities to ensure assured supplies so that the branding effort is justified.
The state government decided to take this step after a similar effort from the board saw organic hand-pounded rice from Satara find a good market with urban consumers. This variety, which is usually sold at R20 per kg in Satara, was sold at the rate of R80 per kg in other cities.
The marketing board has decided to promote HMT and Shriram varieties of rice since they are grown in bulk in the region. Other non-Basmati varieties such as Ambemohar and Kolam are also popular in Maharashtra. Around 29 lakh tonne of HMT and 11 lakh tonne of Shriram varieties are grown in Vidarbha.
Chalawade said the board will purchase these varieties at a higher price offered by traders and will give 100% payment to farmers on the spot. The rice will then be processed and sold via direct marketing outlets opened by the marketing board in Mumbai and Pune, and later in other states by government-linked outlets.
The rice is being sourced through farmer groups of Agriculture Technology Management Agency in the region. In the first phase, there are plans to sell around 100 tonne and 1,000 tonne will be sold in a year, according to Chalawade. There are plans to tap other states through government machinery so that the rice reaches a wider audience, he said.