Dal Bahadur Buda, 45, owner of an eatery in Gothijyula Bazar in Sinja says he has noticed a sudden spurt in buyers of marsi rice.
“Previously, visitors would buy beans, apples, potatoes, local medicinal herbs and tea. But these days, the demand for marsi rice has picked up,” he says. “In the past, we were tempted by what Kathmandu ate and we always used to wonder what white rice tasted like. But after getting to know the health benefits of marsi, we have gone back to our own red rice.”
Pankali Budha, 49, from nearby Okharpata village also has childhood memories of the smell and taste of red rice. She would tag along with her father to Mugu when she was young to trade the family’s marsi crop.
“Many local shepherds walk to Mugu and to the Chinese border to sell the rice. There used to be interpreters who helped us barter our rice, potatoes, beans and sheep for salt, spices and blankets from China,” she remembers.
Those days are over, and with the Karnali Highway all the publicity surrounding marsi and a more health-conscious population, means red rice has a ready market in Kathmandu and other cities.
Even while red rice has leaped from Twitter to farmers’ markets in Kathmandu to become a nationally recognised food item, there is still no market system or infrastructure in place in Jumla for farmers to sell the rice.
The growing popularity of the marsi has also created the possibility of a new source of income for the people of Jumla. But, as is often the case, the farmers who actually grow the crop still get a small piece of the pie.
Still, the popularity of the marsi rice has lessened somewhat the demand in the Karnali and far-west for white rice, and the red variety is also bought by food-for-work agencies as wages for road-building labour.
Trader Sundar Upadhaya from Sinja says that since the region does not have to worry about pests because of its low temperature, storage of the crop has not been a hassle so far. But putting in a system to trade the local produce would make it easier for local farmers to promote the rice in the market.