On this #farmersday thanking the farmers and farm workers, who toil to bring us our food. Organic farms, farmers and farm workers are not only our annadatas, they are also custodians of our soil, water, air and seed.
Many of our farmers & farm workers are expert seed conservers, who grow, protect and multiply heritage seeds. On the other hand, their responsibility for our food doesn't end with just growing it organically. In the organic space the farmer doesn't sell paddy, he processes the rice and takes responsibility for the milling and final quality of the rice. So the paddy is processed in small batches fresh every one or two months in-farm.
With our enormous love for organically grown and naturally processed paddy rice, there is nothing more appropriate than the process of parboiling rice that we can showcase on this farmers’ day. In many rice growing coastal regions like Kerala, Tamil Nadu delta region, coastal Karnataka , West Bengal parboiled rice is the favoured way of having rice.
Parboiled rice is made by boiling the paddy within the husk and then drying and milling it to get the rice. Raw rice is just dried paddy milled into rice. Parboiling is a labour-intensive process, especially when carried out in-farm, the old fashioned way. It requires considerable skill to get it just right, without rupturing and over-cooking the paddy or allowing it to ferment. The paddy as seen above is boiled in a large pan and then taken out and sun dried for hours till it reaches the right level of dryness. The moisture level has to be brought to below 12%. It is measured by a skilled farmer or team leader by the bite test. They peel the paddy grains and chew the rice to assess if it's dry enough to be stored in sacks ready for milling.
There used to be at least one or two farmers in every farm who could eye a vat of boiling paddy and tell you whether it was ready or scan a yard full of drying paddy and decide if it was dry enough to be sacked. That skill is slowly dying out.
Parboiled rice thus processed can be stored for a couple of months. This is exactly what is done just before the rainy months in paddy growing regions as parboiling is not possible during the rains. It requires ample heat and sunlight.
Skill, patience, expertise all combine to give us that perfect parboiled rice. This exemplifies farming also, an amazing skill set, tempered by the patience to deal with the vagaries of nature and the perseverance to do this hard work in the sun, rain or wind, season after season. And on this farmers day this is a reminder for us to recognise and reward the efforts of the men and women who feed us.
PS: We never thought that we would eagerly wait for the day the farmers could do parboiling again. This December we are celebrating the sun and being able to restart parboiling. The rains that lashed Kerala and Tamilnadu had stopped the parboiling activity completely for 3 months across September, October, November and part of December. The farmers had run out of parboiled paddy stock and we had run out of some of your favourite red rices much to our dismay and horror. This is not a scenario we had envisaged.