Biological Diversity Geographical Indication Plant Variety Protection Traditional Knowledge

Rice & IP: The ongoing Basmati imbroglio, the ‘Green Rice’ mystery & the IR8 celebrations

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Over the last year with the Monsanto-Nuziveedu dispute, India has witnessed one of its biggest IP disputes in the agricultural sector. The Basmati GI dispute also has huge implication but as I’m reminded, often, by several people, geographical indications (GI) do not qualify as IP. These disputes aside, we’ve also come across two other very interesting cases of green rice and IR8 celebrations.

Basmati rice – When did geography become an issue?

As we’ve written earlier on SpicyIP, there is a long running dispute between APEDA and the State of Madhya Pradesh (MP) on whether the Basmati GI should cover even MP. For its part, APEDA has argued strenuously against including MP on the grounds that basmati is confined to only 7 states located at or near the foothills of the Himalayas. The dispute is currently before the Madras High Court which is expected to answer some crucial questions on points of law. The main question of fact has been remanded to the GI Registry by the IPAB i.e. whether MP can qualify as an area which grows basmati. In a previous piece, I had speculated that it would difficult for MP to qualify as a basmati growing area because basmati is marketed as a rice grown at the foothills of the Himalayas and MP is too far away from the Himalayas to qualify.

However while researching on this basmati case for our forthcoming book, Sumathi and I came across some very interesting information after a LOT of digging around in a library. We’ve written a short piece for the November issue of Caravan based on a chapter in our forthcoming book. The interesting discovery that we made was that between 1979 and 2003 the law regulating the exporting of basmati rice never specified a geographical area within which the rice had to be grown. These regulations that we discovered were drafted initially under the Agricultural Produce (Grading and Marking) Act, 1937 by the Ministry of Agriculture and then replicated by the Ministry of Commerce under the powers delegated to it by the Export (Quality Control and Inspection) Act, 1963. The first set of rules are Export of Basmati Rice (Inspection Rules), 1980 and the second set of rules are Basmati Rice (Quality Control and Inspection) Rules, 1990. Both set of rules defined basmati in terms of length of grains, aroma etc. but never in terms of geographical growing area. The geographical area requirement came into being only with the Export of Basmati Rice (Quality Control and Inspection) Rules, 2003. This happened because of pressure from the EU to ensure better quality control norms while exporting basmati. This is when the Ministry introduced the Indo-Gangetic plains as the geographical region within which basmati was grown.

In conclusion if MP and its rice millers can prove that their basmati exports have been certified by the government of India under any of the export regulatory regimes from 1979, there is no reason to not recognise MP as a basmati growing area.

The Green Rice mystery

In late October this year, the Raipur edition of the Times of India reported the following:

“Scientists of Indira Gandhi Krishi Vishwavidyalaya (IGKV) of Raipur are in the process of officially registering unique Tilkasturi and Korma green varieties of rice, discovered by two farmers — Rohit Sahu and Prahlad Sahu — who are based in Durg and Dhamtari districts, respectively. Since the rice varieties have been discovered by these farmers, the agricultural university will give them royalty after the varieties get notified and registered by New Delhi-based Protection of Plant Varieties And Farmers’ Rights Authority.”

The obvious question that jumps out of the paragraph above is if two farmers discovered the rice, why exactly is a publicly funded university registering the rice variety under the Plant Varieties Act and then promising to give the royalty to the farmers? Why aren’t these rice varieties being registered by the farmers themselves so that they can licence the rights to whomsoever they wanted? On what basis is the university appropriating the rights of the farmers? The report also mentions that the National Innovation Foundation is also going to be involved in the process – I can only hope that the NIF will do its homework before assisting the university in anyway.

Controversies involving public funded universities and farmers are not new. As Mrinalini had written for us in a guest post some years ago there was a major controversy involving Dr. Punjabrao Deshmukh Krishi Vidyapith University, Maharashtra and a strain of rice, called HMT, that was discovered by a farmer called Dadaji Ramji Khobragade.

What makes the mystery even more mysterious is that the Business Standard also carried a report on this green rice discovery with the headline ‘Scientists discover green rice in Chattisgarh’. The names of the farmers are not even mentioned in the report.

The IR8 celebrations – Its Irate!

The BBC published a fabulous story on its website about a 50th birthday party in a swanky Delhi hotel for a famous strain of rice called IR8. It was one of the rice varieties that was responsible for boosting rice yield during the Green Revolution. According to the BBC story:

“It married a tall high-yielding strain from Indonesia (PETA) with a sturdy dwarf variety from China (DGWG) with astounding results.

“There was never any instance in the history of the world where rice yields doubled in one step,” says Dr Khush, clearly still amazed by what his team achieved.

In fact, according to some studies, IR8 yields in optimal conditions could be as much as 10 times that of traditional varieties.”

The rice was developed by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), a research foundation set up in the Philippines jointly by the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations. The IRRI continues to be on the forefront of researching new rice varieties.


Prashant Reddy

Prashant Reddy

T. Prashant Reddy graduated from the National Law School of India University, Bangalore, with a B.A.LLB (Hons.) degree in 2008. He later graduated with a LLM degree (Law, Science & Technology) from the Stanford Law School in 2013. Prashant has worked with law firms in Delhi and in academia in India and Singapore. He is also co-author of the book Create, Copy, Disrupt: India's Intellectual Property Dilemmas (OUP).

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