Over 70% of the rice produced in Andhras West Godavari districts is now sold in Kerala, while out of Keralas average rice offtake of 30 lakh tonne per year, only six lakh tonne is produced locally. Rice varieties from Tamil Nadu had made headway in Kerala kitchens in January and February this year, when rice from Andhra was unavailable in the market due to the dispute between the Andhra Civil Supplies Corporation and millers in West Godavari district. Kerala has been known to have a staunch loyalty to the Jaya rice variety, even at a whopping retail price of Rs 24 per kilo, at one point. While the dispute hotted up, rice varieties from Tamil Nadu, like Kuruva and Bodhana, had made big forays into North Kerala, while in South Kerala, it was rose chamba rice varieties that stole Andhra Jayas thunder, says R Vairamuthu, rice trader in Chalai market, Thiruvananthapuram.
YSRs liberal stand to the Andhra rice mills had hedged Andhra Civil Supplies Corps stiff caveat that each rice load to Kerala should be accompanied by a special permit. According to a rough estimate, the millers had been jeopardising a Rs 500-crore rice market in Kerala. Even the state governments grocery arm, Supplyco, had sourced three-fourth of its Onam /Ramzan requirements from Andhra mills.
Trade sources told FE that but for YSRs insistence that millers should be allowed choice of their buyers, export or domestic, the Jaya variety might not have been able to recapture its dominance in Kerala kitchens. Taste-preferences that go into brand loyalty in rice, once built, are hard to displace. Traders fear that the absence of a powerful hedging force, championing open market for agro-industries, could surface in the rice supply dynamics in the coming months. Because of the permit issue, there is still a skirmish or two during the movement of rice, according to P Mohanan, an official of Grain Merchants Association in Kochi. Last week, 24 lorries to Kerala had been blocked at Nellore, owing to the lack of a permit.
In a symbolic gesture of future trade directions, the supply has stopped temporarily. Major stockists in Kerala have been informed that rice mills have stopped movement of rice-laden lorries for the next three days in mourning for YSRs death and that this would resume only on Monday.
The Left-run Kerala government, meanwhile, may not waste time in mending the Jaya rice supply chain with the Andhra government. As in a previous instance, state-run Supplyco is likely to source the IRRI-1001 and the Swarna rice variety from Left-run West Bengal at Rs 14-16 per kilo, despite high transportation costs.