New draft definition seeks more dilution

New draft definition seeks more dilution

New Delhi: A much-anticipated new definition of basmati rice, submitted for approval by the agriculture ministry to the commerce ministry, has liberalized the norms much more than anticipated, potentially opening the doors for the inclusion of a lot more varieties of rice.

The commerce ministry recognizes only “pure" lines of basmati as well as the “second generation", which has at least one pure line of basmati as a parent.

Now, the new draft definition says that the offspring of a “second generation" rice, essentially a third generation rice without a pure basmati parentage, will also qualify as basmati.

“We have received the draft definition today (Friday). But our stand remains the same. Any relaxation in the current definition will weaken the great strength and position Indian basmati has attained," said K.S. Money, chairman, Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority.

The authority, which operates within the commerce ministry, has to sign off on the definition before it is notified. It has invited comments from the traders’ body on the draft definition.

Mint had first reported on 22 August that the agriculture ministry was proposing a liberalization of the definition of basmati. At present, notified basmati varieties include six traditional races and six evolved varieties. But all this could alter radically if the proposed changes are accepted by the commerce ministry.

The response from basmati exporters to the new definition was mixed. “This way hundreds of varieties can be notified as basmati. Not just that, but both Pakistan and India can lay hundreds of claims on the name basmati," claimed one trader who did not wish to be identified.

“It is 101% good for farmers, traders and consumers," said Vijay Setia, president, All India Rice Exporters Association. “Sometimes, grandchildren are more intelligent than the previous generations (referring to the change in definition). Great varieties have been developed under the basmati development programme, but what is the point if they are not notified as basmati."

Pusa-1121, a variety which is not currently defined as basmati, is included in the proposed list from the agriculture ministry. “Pusa-1121 is a great rice," insists Setia.

Some others maintain that a broader definition will be detrimental to the basmati brand which has already had to battle international patent claims.

“If our objective is to maintain an exclusivity for basmati and want to have sustained credibility over decades, which Champagne and Scotch have, I am not sure if the proposal will achieves those objectives," said R.S. Seshadri, director, Tilda Riceland Pvt. Ltd, a seller of branded rice.

He adds that including hundreds of varieties with diverse characteristics and economics in the basmati category will also throw pricing strategies haywire.

As for Pusa-1121, Seshadri says it “is an undoubtedly good rice, which delivers good value and has created good demand in certain markets and consumers, who value it in spite of it not being a basmati. So, where is the need (to call it basmati)?"