Exporters fret over entry of new basmati variety in AP

Written by Sandip Das | New Delhi | Updated: Apr 11 2014, 09:50am hrs
New short-duration and high-yielding basmati rice variety PUSA 1509, introduced for the first time in specific areas of Punjab in the 2013 kharif season, has found its way into the fields of Andhra Pradesh.

Rice exporters are, however, worried that large scale multiplication of seeds without prescribed protocol, grown outside basmati growing areas, would eventually impact the quality of grain.

India, the world's biggest basmati rice exporter, ships the long-grained aromatic rice to mainly West Asian countries, including Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as the European Union and US. Basmati is largely grown in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh.

The All India Rice Exporters Association (AIREA) has told the agriculture ministry there is large scale multiplication of Pusa 1509 variety in Karimnagar, Warragal, East and West Godavari and Krishna districts of Andhra Pradesh and the crop is at different stages of growth.

They have stated that the seed for the new variety has not gone through systematic seed production protocol and the seed produced from Andhra Pradesh would go back to basmati growing areas in northern India next season.

KV Prabhu, deputy director of Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), told FE that it is desirable that seed multiplication take place within the confines of the basmati growing area, and that seed corporations in key growing states must ensure systematic production protocol.

PUSA 1509, developed by IARI, takes 110-120 days to mature whereas the widely grown PUSA 1121 (which has more than 70% share in exports) takes 140 days to get ready for harvest. The new variety was sown in about 5,000 hectare in Punjab last kharif season.

Under the seed production protocol, breeder seeds produced by IARI are transferred to certified farmers only for multiplication, after getting approval from the agriculture ministry. In subsequent years, state government-owned seed corporations are entrusted with multiplication of seeds.

Expressing concern over rampant malpractices in seed production, AIREA has noted that "such practices are going to damage the prospects of this promising new variety, resulting in losses to farmers and exporters".

Owing to early maturity, cultivation of 1509 variety can save up to five-six irrigations, which implies 33% saving in irrigation water. As transplanting is carried out in the last week of July, a lot of groundwater is saved as the monsoon rains would have arrived, Prabhu, who led the group of scientists in IARI that developed the new variety, noted.

According to an AIREA estimate, more than 3.9 mt of basmati rice and 6 mt of non-basmati rice was exported in 2013-14.

The last seven years have been watershed years as far as India's basmati rice exports go. Since the introduction of the 1121 variety, also developed by IARI in 2006, the country's basmati exports have risen sharply.

From a modest R2,792 crore in 2006-07, exports have increased manifold to cross the R25,000-crore mark in the last fiscal.