HA NOI — One of the oldest and best strains of rice in Viet Nam, bao thai, is being pushed to the edge of extinction by modern, genetically-modified varieties that do not produce fertile seed and have to be regularly imported from China and other places.
|Bao thai rice is grown on a farm with the application of a technique called System Rice Intensification. The technique, which helps plants root deeply and better resist drought, water logging and wind, is expected to preserve the good rice variety of northern Bac Can Province. — VNS Photo To Nhu
Le Thi Hai Yen, a rice farmer from Kim Ngu Commune in Na Ri district in the northern province of Bac Can, said her family had been growing bao thai rice for 40 years because it gave a high yield.
In addition, it was also drought resistant and suited conditions in the mountainous province. However, in the last five years, her family had reduced the acreage under bao thai rice for one simple reason: it takes 160 days to reach maturity while hybrid varieties take only 110-120 days.
According to Yen, bao thai rice grown in Bac Can was of high quality and flavour so its wholesale price was VND 6,000-8,000 per kg ($50-55 cents) higher than the price for other rice varieties.
Defending her choice to grow bao thai, Yen said that they did not need much fertiliser. Far fewer seeds were needed – about 50 per cent less – because each produces a highly productive, multi-stemmed plant.
"To fertilise 1,000 square metres of bao thai rice, it costs about VND 600,000 ($28), about VND 100,000 less than compared with hybrid varieties," she says.
That's not all. Yen said that with the old variety, farmers could use seed from their own paddy crop, while the seeds for hybrid varieties had to be imported each year form China.
Yen said another benefit of the bao thai variety was that each 100kg of paddy rice produced between 70-80kg against 60-65kg for other varieties.
Based on the benefits of bao thai rice, the Centre for Sustainable Rural Development (SRD) and the Bac Can Provincial Plant Protection Department have conducted a pilot project on growing bao thai rice on Yen's farm.
According to Truong Quoc Can, deputy director of the Centre for Sustainable Rural Development (SRD), the land in Bac Can is highly suitable for growing bao thai rice variety.
"This variety is very popular with people living in the northern region because of its flavour," Can said. He added that a survey showed that the rice grown in Bac Can was renowned both inside and outside the province.
"This is one of reasons that the provincial People's Committee has supported the conservation and invigoration of the growing of the pure variety," said Can.
However, according to experts from SRD, to further develop the bao thai rice trademark, the province should invest in defining, conserving and maintaining the high quality of the variety. This is to ensure a steady supply of seeds so that locals do not have to switch to inferior outside varieties.
Nguyen Ba Quan, director of the Bac Can Plant Protection Department, said rice cultivation supplied up to 70 per cent of household income in the province. Total land under rice was 21,752ha, of which 10,000ha were dedicated to bao thai.
"For the last 40 years, the variety has been a main contributor to the province's food security. That's why we want to register it under the name "bao thai cho Don" (Don market bao thai). We'll develop a project to protect the name," Quan said. — VNS