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Rice by Your Side

The rice varieties that can be found in Thailand are diverse. Estimations suggests over 20,000 strains can be found in the country. However, of this now only around a thousand remains. This is even less if we consider those that are easily accessible for consumption. For these strains, the number is reduced to as low as ten.

The ever-changing environmental conditions, paired with an economic direction which focuses on quantity over quality, has limited the diversity of rice in Thailand, with varieties gradually decreasing over time. Rice production has been focused on varieties that can be sold to the mass and easily exported. Many strains of rice have been forgotten or ignored as a result.

Despite the large amount of rice grown throughout the country, less than half a percent of rice produced in Thailand is organic or of native/indigenous variety. Country wide, rice is grown on 80 million rai (1.28 million hectare), of this only 52 thousand rai (8,320 hectares) of rice grown are organic or these indigenous rice varieties.

If the Thai rice market does adopt more sustainable practices and fails to support the diverse nature of rice in Thailand, more strains will continue to be lost along with the diversity in richness, nutrition, and taste and other differences that come with them.

These differences and uniqueness of each indigenous rice strains is derived from the differing environmental conditions found around each specific region they are grown around Thailand. Southern rice might have the fragrance of rain-soaked soil, while Northeastern rice might carry a delicate floral scent and a soft texture that distinguishes it.
Four rice varieties below have been selected to highlight the special and unique characteristics of indigenous rice that may not be present in other kinds of rice.
  1. ข้าวหอมเลื่องลือ (Hom Lueng Lue) from the Nakhorn Sawan Region in the lower northern region of Thailand. This rice variety is a mixture of two different kinds of rice. The cross pollination results in a red and soft rice that has high nutritional value with low sugar content. Rice and many carbohydrates have high sugar content, so this unique variety is a great alternative suited for the elderly and health conscious individuals or those with diseases like diabetes.
  2. ข้าวหอมปทุมเทพ (Hom Patum Tep) from the Suphanburi region has similar aromas to the popular Hom Mali Rice, however It provides bigger yields and is more resistant to diseases. These properties make it a rice variety that can be used to encourage farmers to grow organic indigenous rice.
  3. ข้าวหอมนิล (Hom Nil) from the Suphanburi and Si Sa Ket regions. Developed to increase aroma and softness while maintaining high nutritional values. It is the variety of rice which the famous Rice Berry variety consumed and known widely for its health benefits is developed from. Therefore you can be certain that Hom Nil rice has high nutritional values that are comparable to Rice Berry. It is especially high in iron and vitamin B. These nutritional values mean Hom Nil rice can improve the nervous system and has cancer fighting properties.
  4. ข้าวปะกาอําปีล (Pa Ka Um Pil)- its name derives from a Cambodian word which means tamarind flower. This is because it has a unique characteristic. When the rice is wet it becomes golden yellow and black, much like a tamarind flower.
While the cultivation of more diverse strains of rice like the ones detailed above should be promoted, each indigenous rice variety has its own optimal time for cultivation. To truly enjoy these native rice varieties, one must eat them at the right time and be aware of the seasons. Having the rice at the right time also relates to sustainability in production. Rice grown and cultivated out of their seasons may require more resources and may result in lower quality of product.

These type of knowledge on rice along with higher food literacy in general are vital if a more sustainable consumption and production pattern around rice in Thailand is to be form.

One way to achieve this was to educate participants on these topics. Rice by your side was an event co-organised by WWF Thailand, which focused on improving the sustainability of rice when it comes to consumption and production through increasing food literacy among urban consumers.

We wish to present a map and calendar for indigenous rice varieties, showcasing the diversity of rice strains and their respective cultivation locations and 'prime times,' in order to bridge the understanding and closeness between rice and those who consume it, bringing them even closer together than before.

38 types of rice were also captured and profiled, detailing their uniqueness qualities.

This information was showcased at the Rice by Your Side event and can be found in the report which can be downloaded below.