Rice battle over geographical indication

It is common knowledge that India is the largest producer and exporter of basmati rice in the world. According to an article I was reading, India exported 37 lakh MT of Basmati Rice in 2015 alone, which was worth Rs. 27,597.87 crore! Saudi Arabia, Iran, United Arab Emirates, Iraq and Kuwait are the major importers of Indian basmati rice, which is being cultivated in India with a recorded history of over 200 years (Source).

In this blog post, I attempt to draw attention towards the recent conversations and debate around the need and significance of ?Geographical Indication? (GI) tag for rice in India. In India, only seven states in the Indo-Gangetic plains on the foothills of the Himalayas- Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Uttarakhand, West Uttar Pradesh and two districts of Jammu & Kashmir have been awarded GI certification rights for cultivating basmati (Source). It is estimated that Punjab accounts for around 50% of 4 million tonnes of India?s annual basmati rice exports.

In simple terms, GI tag can be codified as a name/sign granted to certain products having unique geographical origin and according to their nutritional importance that can be recognized on a national level. Community’s intellectual property is attached to the product through which they get the product?s premium price (Source). GI products have to be manufactured at a specific location with a minimum standard associated with the product. Unlike a trademark, GI identifies the place of a product’s origin as the quality of the goods is linked to the production location rather than the company (Source). Since most of these are agricultural products from villages, their export market is created to enhance their international demand. Farmers are the ultimate beneficiaries of this process, but they have to get themselves registered as authorized users to avail the benefits (Source). Also, products get the advantages of being registered GIs as it preserves their unique identity in both national and international markets.

In India, GI registration is governed by the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999 (Source). Did you know that the Darjeeling tea was the first agricultural product in India accorded with the GI tag (Source). GI registration of products confers legal protection, ensures consumers get quality products of desired traits, promotes economic prosperity of producers and enhance product?s demand in the national and international markets (Source).

Last year, the Intellectual Property Appellate Board issued the GI tag for Indian basmati rice after seven years of the application (Source). India has 236 GI products registered so far and over 270 more products have applied; Darjeeling tea, Mysore silk and Mysore Pak (Sweet) being the major GI tag of India (Source).

According to Geographical Indications Registry, various rice varieties, which include Navara, Matta, Pokkali, Wayanad Jeerakasala, Kalanamak, Basmati and Ajara Ghansal rice have been granted the GI tags. Basmati rice and Ajara Ghansal rice are the two most recent registered GIs.

The production of GI goods has proved to be very helpful in rural employment and minimizing migration as it is highly labor-intensive. This can also be associated with the ?Make in India? campaign, which leads to the betterment of agriculture sector as a whole. We now look forward to more such measures to streamline more of such processes!