The legal battle for winning the geographical indication (GI) tag for Basmati rice has taken a new turn. On Thursday, Nepal sent its evidence to the European Union (EU), stating that it has been locally producing the slender-grained aromatic rice for centuries. Last December Nepal had filed a letter at the EU, countering the GI claims of India and Pakistan on it. The EU had asked all three countries to submit their evidence within the first week of February 2021. According to a news report of this daily, Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC) has presented 80 evidences expressed in 13 points to justify that Basmati is Nepal’s local variety of rice. Mythological documents, videos, photos and songs have been also submitted to the EU to this end.
Patent fight for the aromatic rice is being keenly watched owing to the claims by three South Asian nations. Earlier an American company, Rice Tec, was granted the US Patent on ‘Basmati rice lines and grains’ but the Rice Tec faced allegations of bio-piracy. It later withdrew most of the claims of the patent after India threatened to take the issue to the WTO. Ironically, Nepal, where Basmati rice is being farmed for a long time, has not been consulted when there is international dispute on its GI tag. So, Nepal has stepped up to the plate to make sure that its right to GI tag of Basmati rice is not snatched by another country. The government had constituted a team under Dr. Bal Krishna Joshi, senior scientist of National Gene Bank at NRAC, to collect sufficient evidences for the rice. Joshi-led committee visited Lumbini in Rupandehi district and held interactions with farmers and senior citizens while studying Basmati rice from cultural, economic and social and aspects.
Scientifically, Nepal has upper hand to claim its GI label on Basmati. Nepal Gazette has published information about four varieties of Basmati. While the International Gene Bank has 64 varieties of Basmati rice from Nepal. There are 26 different varieties of Basmati rice in Nepal's gene bank as well. Basmati and its varieties have been described in various books, magazines, journals, and booklets which are in circulation at national and international level. Community Seed Bank has also promoted Basmati rice in different parts of Nepal. Various companies have been selling and distributing Basmati rice brands across the country for a long time. More importantly, India has itself mentioned in its report that Basmati rice is produced from the Terai of Nepal, boosting Nepal’s position over its claim.
The news report says that the EU will complete its investigation on the claims of Basmati by three countries and make decision in two months after collecting all evidences from them. It is expected to deliver a fair verdict based on concrete facts and proofs. It is also believed that its decision will not be influenced by diplomatic and political clout of the countries vying for the GI tag. It is true that Basmati rice is expensive, and not all Nepalis can afford to cook this fragrant rice in their kitchens but its demand has been growing, with people’s growing purchasing power. As Nepal is not producing it in large amounts, it is currently not an exportable item. Nonetheless, its low production volume must not be used as a pretext to forfeit its natural claim to the indigenous rice.