AP rice claws back into Kerala

Written by M Sarita Varma | Thiruvananthapuram | Updated: Mar 14 2009, 04:01am hrs
The two most popular Andhra rice varieties, Jaya and Surekha, are slowly clawing their way back into Kerala after a break of two months because of dispute between the Andhra Pradesh government and millers in west Godavari district.

Stocks of these popular Andhra rice varieties may land in Kozhikode, Thrissur, Kochi and Kollam soon, P Mohanan, a spokesman of grain merchants association in Kochi told FE. About 2,500 tonne of Andhra rice is expected to arrive in 250 loads in next ten days. Flow of more stocks from millers in Nellore, Rayalseema and Tenaili is expected to bring down Jaya rice price to Rs 1,500 per quintal.

Prices of Jaya rice had shot up to Rs 2,000 to 2,200 per quintal in Kerala market because of the dispute. The variety, known for its low cooking time and distinctive taste to those attuned to it, still commands brand-loyalty in South.

Food Corporation of India (FCI) usually sources rice from Andhra Pradesh millers for its Central pool. Once the yearly procurement target is achieved, millers were issued permits to move rice to other States.

But in the last three years, the Andhra Pradesh government, which does not procure rice from millers, restricted supplies to other states.

Andhra Pradesh government has eased its stranglehold on the rice market, allowing millers to recapture their price opportunities in southern grocery shelves.

"During the vacuum left by Jaya and Surekha varieties, rice varieties from Tamil Nadu like Kuruva and Bodhana have made big forays into North Kerala, while rose chamba rice varieties of Tamil Nadu gained popularity in South Kerala," said R Vairamuthu Pillai, rice merchant in Chalai market, Thiruvananthapuram.

Consumerfed and Supplyco, Kerala government's grocery arms had been vying among themselves to flush the retail market with West Bengal's IRRI-1001 and Swarna rice at Rs 16 per kilo and Rs 14 per kilo, respectively. But the high transportation cost between West Bengal and Kerala derailed the supply chain.

Out of Kerala's average rice off take of 30 lakh tonne per year, only six lakh tonne is locally produced.

Area under paddy has shrunk to one-third in the years between 1980 and 2000. "With the legislation preventing use of wetland for purposes other than paddy-farming becoming effective, the state will double its rice production in the next two years," said, K Jayakumar, agriculture production commissioner, Kerala.

In an election year, the CPI (M)-led LDF Government has not completely forgotten its rice-consuming voters. For BPL (below poverty line) population, the Kerala Budget (2009-2010) offers rice at Rs 2 per kilo. That leaves the field open for vendors of Andhra rice to take a hearty bite of the Rs 600-crore above poverty line-rice market in Kerala.