After the British lost the American War of Independence they brought Merikin African Warrior Tribes who fought alongside them to establish their new home in Moruga, Trinidad.
And the Merikins brought something special with them; an ancient grain.
When the Merikins arrived they met the Warao people that were already here.
The Indian corn that was being cultivated by the Warao was mixed with the grain brought from West Africa by the Merikins and the Moruga Hill Rice was born.
And that legacy remains on the hills of the Moruga to today.
“I grew up here on my grandfathers estate working cocoa, fig, peewah and my grandmother always planted hill rice, it was a tradition in our family but it was planted by hand,” managing director of Caribbean Sea and Air Marketing Company Ltd (CSAM) Mark Forgenie told Guardian Media an InspireTT interview.
Forgenie knew first hand about the rice but it was only when his father had an unfortunate health scare did the rice play a more pivotal role in his life.
Forgenie qualified as a merchant navy captain in England in 1995.
“When my father had a stroke in 2008 a friend of his from Presentation College told me to ‘get some of that hill rice and get your father to eat the rice it will help put more oxygen into his brain’,” Forgenie said.
“And I started looking, came back to Moruga and found that everybody, my cousins, and uncles, dropped off production because it was so labour intensive and I swore I would find a way to make it simpler and more efficient,” he said.
While Forgenie was in Suriname for work he made a connection that would help him achieve his goal.
“I was on a seismic project in Suriname just happened to meet one of the top five persons in the United Nations researching dry land rice because they know in the future water is going to be very scarce,” Forgenie said.
“So, foods that can be produced with very little water or ambient rainfall alone will become the norm,” he said.
Moruga Hill Rice grows completely on dry land.
“He came back here and saw my early attempts at mechanising and he gave some other ideas and put in contact with another professor from Japan. I flew to Japan and I was able to have deeper conversations with them about the hill rice product and what it could do,” Forgenie said.
“It was these series of events that led me from waking up one morning to say I am going to mechanise hill rice to where we are today and it is still being improved,” he said.
In 2004, CSAM was incorporated and equipment identified and modified to mechanise the farming of Moruga Hill Rice.
This means that large volumes of high quality, all-natural, non-GMO, nutritious Moruga Hill Rice can now be produced.
“We use our state of the art equipment, along with our passion for MHR and our natural surroundings, to care for the integrity of every grain of rice,” Forgenie stated.
“Once we cut and harvest and thresh our rice it never touches the ground so we ensure the quality of the product. All the iron, all the fibre, all the calcium that are the natural benefits of that rice stays in the grain until it comes out here goes into the computer sorter and is bagged for the consumer,” Forgenie said.
In 2011, the nutritional value of Moruga Hill Rice was tested.
“Nutritionally the rice is on par, and sometimes superior to global wild rices. To add to this, Moruga Hill Rice grows on dry land, which makes it climate-smart rice in a time of global warming and its related adverse effects on global food sustainability,” Forgenie stated.
“That means the rice you are eating is more like a carbohydrate like a provision, it doesn’t give you the sugar white rices and brown rices inherently have and the high fibre means you digest slowly so people who are diabetic, persons who are anaemic, this combination of nutritional properties gives you the medicinal value over time and helps your internal organs to heal,” he said.
Forgenie said the process from the field to packaging takes two days.
“With the harvester we can harvest an entire acre in two hours and then we dry those 20 to 22 bags for two to three hours in an electrical drier and it steps down the moisture content at which point we transfer to the silos and then it can store safely for up to two years,” Forgenie said.
“That’s another amazing feature of the grain. The grain can stay properly and naturally with all the health benefits for two years at ambient temperature but because of the demand we normally mill it in a week,” he said.
Forgenie said a fresh batch of rice is sent to supermarkets around the country every fortnight.
So far the rice is found in 52 supermarkets in Trinidad and two in Tobago.
Globally customers can also order online for delivery directly through e-commerce,” Forgenie said.
Vista Dorado Estates Moruga Hill Rice was trademarked in T&T and CSAM was subsequently trademarked Moruga Hill Rice under its Vista Dorado Estates brand.
But can Moruga Hill Rice be grown everywhere?
‘The iron content of the rice is determined by the iron in the soil which is unique to the Moruga clays. The Moruga clays stretch to Guayaguayare in the East all the way to Icacos point in the West and a bit north to Tabaquite,” Forgenie explained.
“I’m pretty certain that within that geographical area the rice will uptake the nutrition and have the same nutrition profile and flavour as it is in Moruga,” he said.
“What I do know too from talking to persons at the Namdevco farmers market is that during World War II the colonial government had this rice planted in Lopinot, Arouca and Diego Martin. It will grow it will bear but it will not have the same nutritional profile as it does in the Moruga clays,” Forgenie said.
Forgenie said 12 other association groups are currently using the mechanised process to produce high quality nutritious affordable food.
In addition to that the University of the West Indies and the University of T&T have produced poultry feed from the waste.
“Now we are actually able to have Hill rice and Warao corn to produce an all local, all natural poultry feed,” he said.