GI Scuffle Over Basmati Rice

Added on July 13, 2016 under Facts & Resources

Rice BowlThe word ‘Basmati’ stands for ‘queen of fragrance’ and therefore, is the name given to the aromatic rice grown in India. This variety of rice is perfumy and has nut-like flavour. Basmati rice is the costliest rice in the world that has been the choice of the emperors and the subject of poems of many poets. This variety is long-grained with fine-texture. But, Basmati rice could not get shielded from its share of controversies and scuffles.
It all began in 1997, when a Texas based company named RiceTec claimed to have interbred basmati rice with another variety that resulted in an aromatic rice variety that they planned to called ‘texmati’ or ‘American Basmati’. This was done in an attempt to become a part of the international basmati market. RiceTec got this variety patented by approaching the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).
Immediately after learning that RiceTec has been issued this patent, two Indian non-governmental organisations named The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) and The Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology (RFSTE) objected to this and stated that ‘Basmati’ is the term that can be used for the rice grown only in India and Pakistan. This followed by The Indian Government challenging the patent officially by presenting evidence that this variety already exists and thus, can not be patented. India won the challenge and the patent was withdrawn from RiceTec.
But, this was not all. When the GI registry, Chennai granted the Geographical Indication (GI) tag for Basmati to Agricultural and Processed Foods Export Development Authority (APEDA), APEDA applied for the GI tag in seven states of India. The Basmati that grows on the Indo-Gangetic plain includes the Punjab province of Pakistan. This made the Basmati Growers Association (BGA) of Lahore object to the application of APEDA. BGA argued that the Basmati tag belonged to them since it is the only area belonging to the territory of Pakistan that qualified to get the Basmati GI. BGA also claimed to have been growing ‘ exceptional rice’ over a long period. BGA’s opposition also cancelled India and Pakistan’s attempt to register this tag under a joint heritage.
Since BGA failed to present any evidence to it’s claim and this followed by a few more failed attemps, this resulted in Indian Basmati finally getting the coveted GI tag. This was a great news for India since this greatly benefitted the farmers of India. Not only farmers, but traders and exports also get benefitted since Basmati is an important part of their market.