A lot can happen over Assam’s Magic Rice- Boka Chaul
GUWAHATI: In what can be termed as a proud moment for the small farmers of Assam, the Boka Chaul (mud rice) has received a Geographical Indication (GI) tag by the government of India’s Intellectual Property India (IPI) body. This is the only product after Muga silk, Joha rice and Tezpur litchi to have earned the GI tag.
Boka chaul is a native rice of the state of Assam which is well-known for its unique property of preparation by just soaking it in water at room temperature. It is a variety of rice grown in many parts of lower Assam, including Nalbari, Barpeta, Goalpara, Kamrup, Darrang, Dhubri, Chirang, Bongaiagoan, Kokrajhar and Baksa.
Grown mostly for personal consumption by farmers, the Boka Chaul is sold in farming areas for Rs 60-80 per kg, as opposed to Rs 100-150 per kg across towns and cities. In Guwahati, it’s generally available during festive and winter seasons across all major departmental stores, including GNRC, SICEDM and NEDFi House. This variety of rice is mostly used as part of the traditional cuisine.
Traditionally in Assamese culture, at the eleventh hour of arrival of guests or during the need of savouring homemade light dishes at any undecided moments or at the time of guerrilla warfare in want of hurriedly consumable dishes during the bygone days of swords and arches or at the time of field work in agricultural lands at distant places, Boka Chaul has always been the first preference that can be easily prepared without requiring any fuel.
Lotus Progressive Centre, an NGO based out of Nalbari, along with the Centre for Environment Education (CEE), Guwahati had been conducting research and running scientific tests on the rice since 2014 in order to acquire a GI tag for the same.
“Our years of hard work have finally paid off. The main aim with which we applied for the GI tag was to ensure the well being of farmers that are dependent on this particular variety of rice. Farmers, who up till now were just growing it for themselves, will now be able to grow it for a wider audience. The Boka rice, we hope, will become a commercially-viable crop,” Hemanta Baishya, founder-member of Lotus Progressive Centre (LPC) told G Plus.
The GI tag ensures that none other than those registered as authorised users (or at least those residing inside the geographic territory) are allowed to use the popular product name. Boka Chaul belongs only to Assam.
Boka Chaul is and has been known for its 'zero-cooking' identity. It does not require boiling in water or pressurised cooking at the time of preparation as the other kinds of rice require. It is mostly used in the preparation of traditional Assamese food items or cuisines called Lalpaan where Boka Chaul is generally eaten with curd/milk and jaggery/sugar along with other ingredients.
Boka Chaul has ever been the first preference that can be easily prepared without requiring any fuel. As cold water i.e. water at ambient temperature, would suffice in soaking the kernels and making them ready for consumption, Boka Chaul has a wide acceptability to be used anytime, anywhere. By virtue of this nature, Boka Chaul has metaphorically assumed another nomenclature - 'Magic Rice'.
Due to this peculiar and exclusive property of the rice, which is seemingly absent in any similar class of rice, it is widely recognized as 'Instant rice' or 'Soft rice' in the community.
However, getting the GI tag wasn’t easy. Hemanta Baishya along with Simanta Kalita of CEE had been continually performing tests, doing field research and collecting historical evidences of the existence of Boka Chaul for over two years before finally applying for the GI tag in 2016. After submission of the application, the duo and the rice fields were visited by many correspondents for verification purposes. After a while, in September 2017, they were invited to Kolkata to give a presentation to the national committee of IPI, furnishing scientific details pertaining to the rice's unique quality and the geo-climatic factors responsible for its characteristics.
Later, after submitting more details to the committee in February 2018, the Boka Chaul got featured in the GI Journal published by the GI Registry on 28 March this year. It was considered as a milestone on its own.
Finally, on July 30, Assam's indigenous Boka Chaul’s status in the GI registry changed from ‘pending’ to ‘registered’, valid up to July 24, 2026. “Even though we haven’t received the physical copy of our certificate yet, we have been told that it’s coming soon,” said Baishya.
Over the last four years, the scientific tests and analysis for Boka Chaul was done in consultation with Assam Agricultural University, Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Assam Science Technology and Environment Council, and Gauhati University’s Biotechnology Department.