SpicyIP: What ails the Palakkad Rice Growers?

The Indian Grains seem to have a way of making news!!! If the Basmati saga hogged headlines in the last decade, it is the turn now of the Palakkad Matta and Navara rice from Kerala

Two endemic varieties of Palakkad variety, the Matta and the Navara rice that were awarded the G.I tag seem to be drawing media attention, albeit on a note that strikes a different chord.

Presenting a counterfactual to the ongoing G.I trend, this case study plays the devils advocate to the now popular “glory be to the G.I movement” tune that is fast acquiring an almost rhetoric lilt.
As reported in the Livemint a few weeks back, the Palakkad Paddy community admits ruefully to the non-effect of a G.I tag on the produce and quite to the contrary reports on dwindling production lines.

Both the Matta and the Navara are popular varieties with the Keralite expat population and therefore command a significant export potential. The Navara is popularly hailed for it medicinal value in the Ayurvedic system.

Reports in the Livemint state ‘

It’s 15 months since India got its first patent(hic!) for rice—for Kerala’s Palakkadan matta and the medicinal navara. The farmers can’t tell the difference. But M.A. Majeed, a matta farmer for the past 35 years, doesn’t even know that the rice he grows on his 3.5 acres at Vadakkencherry in Palakkad district, a rice hub, now has a premium tag. He barely earns enough and struggles to find labor for sowing and harvesting.
Worse, there is little awareness about the GI status and its benefits.” It wasn’t what the farmers—at least those who had campaigned for the status had hoped for.

Quite disappointing given the fact that the Palakkad Matta Farmers Co-operative ran a 3 year ardent campaign to earn the G.I tag. Posthumously on a weary note they conclude that a mere G.I award does little to improve the commercial worth of the produce.

Welfare dimension notwithstanding, economic benefit and commercial accruals to the producer/manufacturer lies at very the heart of the G.I ideology

Unlike in the case of other genre of IPRs, the holders of G.I more often than not come from economically underprivileged sections of the society with G.I products bearing rural origins.

Given that, it becomes increasingly important that the G.Is are applied in manner that makes commercial sense and accords equity to the G.I owners.

Observers of G.I will agree that we are past the G.I adolescent stage. With the onset of an adult awareness, the reality is that commercial accruals from G.I are not an automatic sequentially occurring outcome.

The path to commercial gains may have been a tad easier for the bestseller G.Is such as the Darjeeling, Pochampalli etc who already have attained a certain degree of visibility in the markets. In sharp contrast, it calls for examination of the number of G.I s that has seen no tangible benefit at all post a G.I registration. My guess is that the odds far outnumber the evens…and that’s just not broad conjecture.

A G.I tag, without adequate follow up and initiatives on the marketing, branding, awareness building direction would possibly render such registrations superfluous. The G.I is an effective marketing tool, one that can be effectively leveraged to bolster the popularity of the product subject to the fact that the ancillary brand building activities are undertaken with equal amount of vigor. Awareness campaigns, advertisement, adherence to supply chain integrity guidelines all account for a successful G.I that is fully realized in spirit and intent. Case studies from popular G.I models such as the Kota Doria and Pochamplli indicate a multi stake holder participation in the promotion of the product.

All of these factors seem to be sadly absent in the case of the Palakkad paddy varieties. The causative factors for the non –take off can quite clearly be attributed to a cumulative bunch of factors, pointing towards non-branding and the associated ones. The government has only been able to step in marginally to bail out the farmers by procuring the grain from the producers at a base rate, quite clearly insufficient to allow the producers to maintain production cost. The existing farmers are in a quandary and all willing to migrate to producing other cash rich crops. The Export ban affected by the government has done little to bail the farmers out of their plight.

Even as I analyze this case study, I am quite unwilling to write this off as a debacle or call it a post mortem on a ‘another one bites the death case’.

Minister Achuthandan may well take pride in the fact that it is yet another effort of the state government to protect farmers from the evils of globalization.Granted that, the deeper sense of purpose would be to tend to the grass root concerns that ails these producers and take it onwards to a path that charts for it a course which will carry it from the G.I tag to beyond.
We at SpicyIP take pride in lending viewpoints that help grow an objective well rounded debate. The Palakkad post is aimed thus, to project both sides of the picture and enhance the effectiveness of the ongoing G.I momentum.

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