Bid to boost Pusa-1121 evokes mixed reaction

Bid to boost Pusa-1121 evokes mixed reaction

New Delhi: The Union government’s move to classify Pusa-1121 variety as basmati rice has evoked mixed responses from exporters. While some exporters said it will jeopardize India’s efforts to get a geographical indication, or GI, status for the marquee rice variety, others have welcomed the move.

A geographical indication is a name or sign used on certain products, such as Scotch whisky, Darjeeling tea or champagne, which corresponds to a specific geographical location or origin.

“This (getting a GI status) is going to be very difficult," said R.S. Seshadri, director of Delhi-based Tilda Riceland Pvt. Ltd, which exports the aromatic rice, mainly to Europe.

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The definition of basmati will now have to be amended by India’s ministry of agriculture to include Pusa-1121 within the basmati basket. The government’s intention to expand the definition was reported by Mint on 22 August 2007.

The export market for Pusa-1121 is mostly West Asia, while the market for the traditional varieties of basmati is mainly Europe.

Farmers in Punjab and Haryana have slowly shifted to Pusa-1121 because of better yields compared with traditional varieties. Vijay Setia, president of the All India Rice Exporters Association, endorsed the government action. “This has been long awaited. Some 60% of basmati area under cultivation is for Pusa-1121 and 80% of this is exported to more than 50 countries.

Last year, this variety was being sold at $1,100 (Rs53,460) per metric tonne and even went up to $2,400 per metric tonnes," he said. “If India recognizes this as basmati rice, then why shouldn’t Europe?"

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India has already fought off patent claims for basmati rice in the US. The current list for basmati includes six traditional varieties of basmati and six evolved species, which have at least one parent as a traditional race.

Pusa-1121, however, is neither a traditional nor an evolved variety, as it does not have a traditional parent.

In a related development, Pakistan, which has been considering an application for a joint GI status for basmati with India, has developed cold feet and said it may reconsider the plan.

“We will not allow this new definition (including Pusa-1121 in basmati category) to be an application for a GI," Syed Najaf Hussein, chairman of Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan, said on phone from Islamabad.

“We just don’t understand the reasoning behind this move. This can and will lead to every other country applying for a GI (status) for itself. This will become a worldwide problem," Hussein said.

“India has already diluted the definition enough by including evolved varieties in the list, to which we were opposed to," he said, adding that an Indian delegation is expected to visit Pakistan next week for a discussion. But, with this new measure, a consensus seems bleak, he said.

Pakistan in the past has opposed some of India’s basmati exports, claiming it was illegal, as reported by Mint on 1 August 2007.