The Financial Express, June 25, 2007

World may still be debating on how effectively to commercialise traditional knowledge for the benefit of all stakeholders, but Basmati rice in India has shown the way.

Appropriate policy support and assured markets for a premium price have helped to preserve and conserve the traditional knowledge of basmati and commercialise it on a large-scale benefiting all stakeholders.

The long grain aromatic basmati rice grown in India and Pakistan has a premium market in the world. Though the annual production of Basmati rice in both the countries is around 2 million tonne, it commands a market size of over $1,167 million. Over the years, scientists have evolved some high yielding varieties of Basmati to ensure higher production, but the consumer preference is particularly for brown traditional basmati varieties. European Union, particularly, is in favour of duty derogation for import of Basmati having pure parental lines.

Some commonly known traditional basmati varieties in India are—Basmati-370, Basmati-386, Type-3, Taraori, Basmati (HPC-19), Basmati-217 and Ranbir Basmati (IET-11348). Evolved Indian Basmati varieties are—Pusa Basmati-1 (IET-1064), Punjab Basmati-1 (Bauni Basmati), Haryana Basmati-1 (HKQ-228/IET-10367), Mahi Sugandhi, Kasturi and Super Basmati.

Among largely traded traditional varieties, Pakistan has Kernal Basmati and Super Basmati as an evolved variety.

“It is a unique partnership where all stakeholders—farmers, industry and exporters—stand to benefit in cultivation of Basmati. It is an example of how traditional knowledge can be effectively be conserved and commercialised,” says RS Seshadri of Tildariceland, a leading exporter of Basmati rice.

Some experts are of the view that Basmati rice was traditionally grown in Dehradun region in the Uttarakhand state and later began to be cultivated in other parts undivided India during the British regime. However, today, Basmati is the common heritage of both India and Pakistan and both these countries are planning to jointly claim rights for geographical indications (GIs) for this aromatic long grain rice.

Traditional Basmati varieties, however, began practically going out of cultivation in Uttarakhand as farmers switched over to growing high yielding varieties of grains with application of chemicals. Rapid urbanisation and loss of farmlands was another factor.

The situation took a U-turn from year 2000, when Uttarakhand government set up its Organic Commodities Board and encouraged cultivation of traditional Basmati rice through organic farming.

The Board arranged for collection of seeds of traditional Basmati varieties and selected two varieties namely Dehraduni and Taraori for largescale cultivation in Dehradun and Udhamsingh Nagar districts of Uttarakhand. The result was that till date more than 1000 farmers in about 170 villages are growing traditional Basmati rice in about 1000 hectare land, according to a recent study conducted by Ghayur Alam of the Dehradun-based Centre for Sustainable Development.

The study says that farmers in Dehradun district cultivating organic traditional Basmati earn Rs 4,243 per acre more than farmers cultivating high yielding varieties of rice through chemical farming. Similarly farmers in Udhamsingh Nagar district earn Rs 1,377 per acre more than those farmers resorting to chemical agriculture and growing high yielding varieties.

The study commissioned by the CUTS Kolkata Resource Centre suggests that conservation and commercialisation of all other traditional knowledge relating to medicinal herbs and rare species, if the growers get lucrative returns from an assured market and the traditional knowledge is protected through GIs and community rights are ensured.

The APEDA chairman, KS Money said that the government through his organisation is promoting the brand image of Indian Basmati abroad. “APEDA is also responsible for promotion and encouraging exports of organic food”, he said.