Rice: Chaffed about it

Newspaper: Sunday Times of India
Date: 1st September 2013
Edition: New Delhi

Cooked up in the lab, Pusa Basmati 1121 has brought farmers prosperity and India a foothold in the global market

Surojit Gupta

Since its quiet birth in an Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) lab in the Capital a decade ago, the ‘Pusa Basmati 1121’ grain has travelled a long way. It has wowed consumers across the globe and brought considerable prosperity to a lot of Indian farmers. And it tells us why we need to persist with cutting-edge research in the sector.

Thirteen years ago, Pritam Singh, a farmer in Uttar Pradesh sold off his farmland and migrated to Panipat in Haryana in search of a better life. He started off there by growing traditional basmati on a small piece of land and invested in it his life’s savings of Rs 49,000. His fortunes changed in 2004 when Pusa 1121 was introduced.

“My production and income shot up. Today, I own 30 acres of land and three tractors and expensive machinery. I would not be a farmer but for Pusa Basmati 1121,” Singh said.
The success of this variety of basmati underlines the need to focus on research and innovation in the farm sector as well as the need to establish deeper links between industry and agriculture. It also highlights the potential of farm exports at a time when the economy needs vital foreign exchange.

When scientists at the IARI released the first variety of Pusa Basmati-1 in 1989, the response was muted as the traditional basmati strains held sway. V P Singh, a former scientist at IARI, who led the research team recalls the opposition to the Pusa Basmati-1. But the improved 1121 variety released in 2003 with better yield and aroma became a hit as the ‘world’s longest cooked’ rice.

Traditional basmati had a yield of 1 ton per acre while this yields 2 tons per acre. Grain length is 8.45 mm, higher than the 7.6 mm seen in the traditional variety. Once cooked, the grain’s length is 20 mm, 6mm more than that of traditional basmati. The kitchen yield (one cup of rice after cooking) gives 25% more than traditional basmati rice.

Basmati exports which totalled less than than one million tons in 2006-07, have shot up to nearly 3.5 million tons in 2012-13 and earned more than Rs 19,000 crore in precious foreign exchange. Pusa 1121 accounting for up to 80% of shipments.

In addition, the growing popularity of this variety has also helped Indian exporters snatch a huge chunk of the global market for basmati from Pakistan which dominated the trade for a while.

“It was a team effort. Farmers, industry and science came together. It was done with minimum funds,” Singh pointed out. He also credited much of the success to a private sector company, KRBL Ltd, for experiment ing with the seeds and investing in the technology required to reap the benefits. KRBL Ltd has emerged as one of the largest rice millers and basmati exporters in the world, and owes much of its success to this new variety.

Experts cite this as one of the best examples of a public private partnership in the agricultural sector. “The lesson from this experience is that there is a need for farm scientists to tie-up with the agri-business so that science can be taken from labs to factories and then ports for exports,” said Ashok Gulati, chairman, Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices.
Other industry officials also attest to the immense success of Pusa 1121 and add that the area under cultivation of this crop is rising in the main basmati growing states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttarakhand.

Rajan Sundaresan, executive director at the All India Rice Exporter’s Association says Indian basmati is exported to 100 countries but the Gulf nations account for a major chunk of sales.

“About 20 countries, which include Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, are major importers and the price in the international market ranges between $1100 per ton and $ 1600 per ton”, he said.

So what’s next on the basmati front? A K Singh, who now leads the rice research programme at IARI, said the institute has developed another variety, Pusa 1509. He says he’s pretty sure it’ll be a hit too. “It has already been adopted by a large number of farmers in the current kharif season. I am more than 100% sure about the success of this grain too,” he says.

Rice: Chaffed about it