Post Harvest Management of Rice in Uttaranchal, India: Navdanya’s experience

Rice: a major Staple food for half of the world’s population

The rice crop has the distinction of being the most extensively cultivated crop of India as well as of the world. The approximate area under cultivation is more than 100 million acres, of which more than 90 percent is grown in Asia alone (Krishnan & Ghoshal, 1995). It is the major staple food of the half of the population of the world. India is also heavily dependent on rice as a staple food crop.

Rice has been cultivated in India since ancient times. Rice husks and spikelets have also been found in the archeological excavations in Lothal, Gujrat belonging to the Harappa civilization back to 2300 B.C. There is general consensus now that rice was domesticated somewhere in India or Indo-China.

Indian farmers, over the centuries, selected and cultivated thousands of varieties of rice. The varietal diversity of cultivated landraces of paddy in India can be considered to be the richest in the world with the total number of varieties estimated to be around 2,00,000 (Krishnan & Ghoshal, 1995).

Rice in India possesses a wide range of diversity in their phenotypic characters. They range in duration from 60-200 days to attain maturity and are adapted to varied agro-climatic conditions. Varieties differ in their colour from pure white to brown and purple. Grain length varies from 3.5mm to 14mm (Dokra-Doki from Chattisgarh) and upto 3mm broad (Bhimsen of Chattisgarh). Quality also varies from coarse brown rice to thin elongated white rice with or without aroma.

With the diversity of the rice, farmers all over India, time to time also did lot of experiments on better post harvest management of the crop. Navdanya is also promoting the ecological and farmer friendly methods of cultivation, which includes the post harvest management and sustainable and efficient use of the residues of the crops like straw etc.

Post harvest management in Rice:

Due to poor storage structures and conditions, severe losses in quality and quantity of stored food are inflicted annually. Quantitative assessment of losses is difficult because of the high variability in infestation from year to year. However, studies in different parts of world reveal that 100 percent damage may happen to the crops if timely and appropriate measures to control the pest are not taken.

Post-harvest practices vary according to the specific crop; it includes all the operations, which take place after harvesting and which are required to make an agricultural product suitable for immediate consumption or storage. These practices include threshing, winnowing, cleaning, and drying. An important aspect of post-harvest operations is the need to ensure that the produce is kept free from rot, pests, and rodents. It is also important to reduce the losses as well as to keep the produce edible and palatable for longer duration after harvest as to get the higher yields.

Numerous ‘post-harvest  technologies’, including improved equipments have been introduced so far by the universities and research organizations to make the process faster, easier and more profitable, but majority of the farmers returned to or are still using the traditional tools and techniques for many post-harvest operations. Indigenous knowledge is highly valued and effectual, since in many cases the new tools and techniques are either not easily available or are highly expensive so are beyond the reach of small and marginal farmers.

Navdanya: an organisation committed for conserving biodiversity and indigenous knowledge

Navdanya Trust, a research organisation based in Dehradun, Uttaranchal, India, led by Dr. Vandana Shiva, is working on Biodiversity Conservation, promotion of organic farming and documentation of Indigenous knowledge in India for last 17 years. Navdanya has more than 60,000 farmer members in 12 states of India. Till date Navdanya has successfully conserved more than 2000 rice varieties in different parts of country. Other than this Navdanya has also conserved about 700 other crop and multipurpose plant varieties at its Biodiversity Conservation farm, Ramgarh in Doon valley, they include cereals, millets, pulses, oilseeds, medicinal plants, fodder plants and other multipurpose plants (Shiva and Bhatt, 2002). The number of conserved species has now gone above 1000 mark. Till date about 32 seed banks have been established by the organisation across the country, many of these are now running independently. Navdanya has also trained so far more than 200000 people on organic farming and Biodiversity conservation, which includes farmers, students, teachers, activists and representatives of different organisations.

Taking U turn: reintroducing the traditional Post harvesting Techniques

In India agriculture is as old as civilization. Farmers developed lot of techniques of storing rice and using its straw with the time after its cultivation was started. Different types of utensils are used in different parts of country to store the rice after harvesting. Navdanya is also committed to preserve the local cultures and promotion of the farmers techniques used, developed and inherited by them for centuries. The techniques used by them are equally relevant today as they were in the ancient time.

The new generation farmers were shifting to the modern techniques of seed storage. They had started using chemicals for storing the grains and seeds. Navdanya was able to make the complete shift from modern to ecological farming by making them quitting the chemicals and using the techniques tested and documented by Navdanya in its different working areas across the country.

Post harvest management of Rice in Uttaranchal

Navdanya member farmers are using the following post harvest techniques in Uttaranchal. Loss due to storage has gone down significantly in Navdanya working areas. Farmers are still using the very old utensils for storing grains and seeds. Some of the methods used by the farmers are given in following pages.

Threshing and winnowing

Threshing is done in the field. Two methods are popular for threshing of rice; by beating the bulk of paddy on some hard thing like wood or stone after spreading tarpaulin over it, or treading the paddy earheads by feet. Threshing of paddy for seed and food is done separately.

After threshing the grain is separated by winnowing. It is done by throwing grains on the tarpaulin, from about 5-6 feet height with the help of suppu (an implement made of local bamboo variety, used to separate the grains from dust). After cleaning, grains are carried to home where they are stored.

Traditional Storage Practices

Grains or seeds are stored soon after threshing, cleaning and sun drying for at least 2 days. In Uttaranchal seed for next year’s crop are stored separately in smaller storing devices locally called Dhakwali, Kwanda, Sajoli and Tomri. Except Tomri (hollow dried Bottle-gourd), which is used to store seeds only, all others are made-up of a small variety of Bamboo, called Ringal. These storing devices are made by some especially skilled persons locally, and are in use since time immemorial. People are also using wooden and iron boxes called Kothar and Munch; barrel made of tin as well as gunny sacs where these implements and skilled persons are not available. The grain to be used for food is kept separately in the bigger utensils to avoid mixing with seeds. Earthen pots are also used in some places in the plains of Uttaranchal to keep the seeds and grains.

Before storing, grains/ seeds are spread over the canvas for Sun drying. The seed is never spread on the cemented floor. According to the farmers, if it is spread on cemented floor directly the heat of the cement can destroy the viability of the seed. It was also observed that the broken rice percentage increases if paddy is dried in the cement floor. The grains / seeds are allowed to cool down overnight, before packing. Only after proper cooling, grains / seeds are filled in the storing devices and are sealed properly. The sealed utensils are opened only when it is required.

After proper drying crop is stored in freshly repaired / made cleaned and polished utensils. The last year’s crop is taken out and kept in separate bags or Kwanda and the utensil is repaired for the damages (if any) done by the rodents or other animals and pests. Utensils are polished by hand with a mixture of red soil, straw and cow dung; wherever possible the mixture is made by cow urine. After polishing and Sun drying these utensils are kept inside the house. Big utensils are repaired and polished inside the house only, because it is not possible to take them out due to their large size. The lid of the pot after pouring the grains inside is sealed with the help of cow dung and red soil to prevent the dust and moisture. The grain stored through this method remains fresh year after year if kept away from direct moisture and rodents. The new utensils before using are smoked at least for a month to make them durable as well as pest free.

Controlling storage pests

These days several plants and plant parts are extensively used by the farmers to control the storage pests of paddy. Some of the widely used ones are leaves of Vitex, Neem, Camphor, Artemisia and Walnut; seeds and leaves of holy and aromatic Basil, and seeds of Fenugreek. Layers of the dried leaves of above listed plants are spread on the bottom, center as well as on the top of the storing devise.

Use of Neem oil to store the seeds has also become popular in the valleys where it is readily available. The sacks are soaked in the diluted Neem oil, and are allowed to dry before storing the seeds or grains. Tin barrels and boxes are also polished by Neem oil to make it pest free. The boxes or barrels are allowed to dry properly before storing. Seeds of fenugreek and basil are put inside the piece of cotton cloth to avoid the mixing.

Other items include ash and salt. Ash is spread over the paddy whereas; salt is put inside the small cotton bag or in a piece of cotton cloth like seeds of basil. In district Uttarkashi in Uttaranchal people use small clods of red soil from Rajgarhi, near Purola, to store the paddy and other crops. It was also observed by the villagers that the seeds kept in this red soil had less fungal diseases on cultivation when compared to the seeds kept without it.

Using the by-products 

Rice Straw is considered as a poor mans capital. In India most of the rice varieties grown before the green revolution were longer in size. Still in the remote areas as well as the organic farmers also prefer varieties having longer straw. The entire plant is used for one or other purpose. The bigger straw after harvest is either stored on the branches of the trees to be used as fodder for cattle in the dry season or is used to make variety of things like hats, ropes, cushion or mats for sitting as well as for thatching. It is also used to cover the nursery or small plants to keep them away from the frost. It is also used as a filling material for variety of things. Leftovers in the field are burnt and ash is spread all over the field and mixed with soil with plowing.These days straw is also used for covering the vermicompost pits or as a mulch for root vegetables and spices as well as to reduce the water use in vegetable crops. Although in most of the green revolution areas in India like Punjab and Haryana, the straw is either burnt or used to make the compost or remixed to the soil.


Krishnan, Omkar and Anjali Ghoshal, 1995.  Rice, A survey of literature and Navdanya,s field experience in traditional rice cultivation, Navdanya, pp42.

Vandana Shiva, 1992. The Violence of the Green Revolution. Other India Press, Mapusa, Goa, India, pp264.

Vandana Shiva and Vinod Kumar Bhatt, 2002. Nature’s Harvest. Navdanya, Dehradun 125p.

Shiva, V.; Jafri, A.H.; Emani, Ashok and Pande, Manish. 2000. Seeds of Suicide. The Ecological and Human Costs of Globalisation of Agriculture. RFSTE, pp. 144.

Vinod Kumar Bhatt Navdanya Trust, 105 Rajpur Road Dehradun, 248 001, Uttaranchal, INDIA.  Email:;      website:

Vinod Kumar Bhatt

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