Farmers encouraged to grow basmati rice commerciallyThe indigenous aromatic rice is not grown on a large scale, and Nepal has been importing it from India.
The government has been persuading farmers in far western Nepal to grow Hansaraj basmati rice commercially because of its export potential. The indigenous aromatic rice is not grown on a large scale despite swelling demand, and Nepal has been importing it from India to satisfy the palates of urban consumers with growing incomes.
The Agriculture Knowledge Centre, formerly known as the District Agriculture Office, has launched a special project to encourage paddy farmers to grow the fragrant grain commercially from this fiscal year which began mid-July.
Demand for aromatic rice has jumped manifold among Nepalis who have become more discerning along with higher earnings, particularly in large cities like Kathmandu and Pokhara.
Long grain basmati rice holds a unique charm in global markets including Nepal, and this has resulted in a growth in rice imports although the country produces surplus grain which is of improved variety, agro experts said.
According to Nepal Rastra Bank, the country imported rice worth Rs50.48 billion in the last fiscal year, up a whopping 51.4 percent year on year. Basmati rice accounted for most of the shipments, insiders said.
“As per the project, the Agriculture Knowledge Centre will help farmers in packaging, bagging, labelling and marketing the rice,” said Tek Bahadur Bista, chief of the centre. “It is unfortunate that Nepal has for a long time failed to market such rich rice.”
He added that achieving success in marketing the rice variety would consequentially lead to huge demand. “In the first year, the Agriculture Knowledge Centre will support farmers to market their products by launching various schemes,” said Bista.
The centre plans to package the rice harvested in November and sell it in urban areas like Mahendranagar, Dhangadhi and Kathmandu in the first phase.
The government has started to realise the potential of indigenous and exportable rice after India applied for a geographical indication (GI) tag to basmati rice in the European Union (EU) in July 2018. Nepal submitted an opposition letter along with proof of origin, diversity, cultivation and use values of basmati rice on December 9, 2020.
GI is intellectual property rights that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin.
Basmati is long grain aromatic rice grown for many centuries in a specific geographical area, mostly in the Himalayan foothills of the Indian subcontinent.
This rice has extra-long slender grains with a soft and fluffy texture upon cooking, delicious taste, superior aroma and distinct flavour.
According to a journal entitled Intellectual Property Right on Basmati Rice: Current Scenario and Evidence of Origin, Diversity, Cultivation and Use Values of Basmati Rice in Nepal, authored by nine researchers and published in July, many countries have been attempting to get intellectual property rights, mainly geographical indication tag, on basmati rice because of its high market value at the global level.
The journal said that a total of 133 basmati type rice landraces are grown in 60 districts of Nepal. Basmati rice has been traditionally grown and sold and consumed in geographically localised areas of Nepal since ancient times.
International and national scientists have defined the lower altitudes of Nepal as one of the centres of origin of basmati rice.
Many Nepali basmati rice landraces have been characterised and evaluated using morphological traits, isozymes and DNA markers. Four basmati types of rice landraces have been registered at the National Seed Board. They are Pokhreli Jetho Budho rice registered in 2006, Lalka basmati registered in 2010, and Suddhodhan Kalanamak and Kalonuniya, both registered in 2020.
The journal said that many community seed banks maintained different types of basmati rice landraces. The National Agriculture Genetic Resources Centre and international genebanks have collected more than 80 basmati landraces and conserved 68. Basmati rice landraces have geo-linked traits.
The historical culture of production, consumption and marketing of native basmati rice in Nepal should always be favoured by both national and international rules and regulations, according to the journal.
Nepal has ample and valid evidence to get geographical indication right on basmati rice, the journal said.
As a pilot project, the government has started to grow the rice commercially to stem imports and reduce the trade deficit, according to experts.
Hansaraj is grown in Bajhang, Baitadi, Darchula, Dadeldhura, Jhapa, Kanchanpur, Morang, Palpa, Pyuthan, Salyan, Sunsari, Surkhet and Syangja. The aromatic rice is grown at altitudes ranging from 60 to 1,100 metres.
Farmers in Bajhang have expanded their paddy acreage this year after receiving assurances from the centre. They have transplanted Hansaraj basmati on 2,000 hectares out of the 7,500 hectares under paddy cultivation this year.
“Following the centre's assurance, farmers who had almost abandoned cultivating Hansaraj basmati have transplanted this variety,” said Paru Rokaya, a farmer in Thalara, Pikhet. Thalara is the key Hansaraj basmati producing area in the district.
“If we get markets and good prices this year, we have decided to transplant this variety on all the available land next year,” she said. The district produces 22,000 tonnes of paddy annually.
“Most indigenous paddy varieties like Hansaraj basmati are heading towards extinction as farmers have been using improved varieties of seeds to get higher productivity,” said Ram Prasad Joshi, president of the Federation of District Farmers Group. “Due to high pest infection and low productivity, farmers give indigenous varieties the lowest priority.”