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New hybrid scores over traditional basmati

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But norms prevent it getting technically notified as basmati

Harish Damodaran

Fact file

Pusa-1121

has similarities with an earlier IARI hybrid, Pusa Basmati-1 (PB-1), which was approved for commercial cultivation in 1989.

Their grains

also display the traits associated with basmati: Distinct aroma, non-stickiness and elongation upon cooking.

New Delhi, June 18

There is fresh controversy brewing over the definition of basmati, the subcontinent's unique aromatic rice creation. This follows the development and widespread cultivation of Pusa-1121, an evolved (hybrid) variety developed by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI).

Pusa-1121 has similarities with an earlier IARI hybrid, Pusa Basmati-1 (PB-1), which was approved for commercial cultivation in 1989.

Both are semi-dwarf, not prone to lodging and, hence, yield twice the paddy compared to the indigenous tall basmati cultivars, such as Taraori, Basmati-370 and Type-3 (Dehraduni).

Their grains also display the traits associated with basmati: Distinct aroma, non-stickiness and elongation upon cooking.

But the difference lies in the magnitude of basmati expression. PB-1 grains possess only a mild aroma and also tend to have a dull, chalk-like appearance.

A typical milled produce would yield around 30 per cent chalky grains.

Therefore, despite its high yields, PB-1 has always sold at a discount relative to Taraori or Dehraduni.

Pusa-1121's entry has, however, completely changed the picture. With aroma comparable to the traditional varieties and even lower chalkiness content, the new hybrid has seemingly addressed PB-1's basic shortcomings.

What is more striking is its grain length of 22 mm upon cooking, which is 50 per cent more than normal basmati. It also scores in terms of higher head rice recovery during milling.

The result is that 1121 is today fetching $900 per tonne free-on-board in the world market, which is higher than not just $650 for PB-1, but even the $700-750 per tonne for traditional basmati! Since its commercial release in kharif 2003, production in paddy terms has surged from 1,900 tonnes to over 2.2 lakh tonnes (lt) in 2005, against 13.5 lt for PB-1 and 4 lt for all traditional varieties. In the coming 2006 season, the output is expected to cross five lakh tonnes.

Moreover, till 2004, the entire 1121 crop was procured by KRBL Ltd. Last year, too, it bought up over 1 lakh tonnes or roughly 50 per cent.

But now others including Satnam Overseas, LT Overseas, Best Food International, Sunstar Overseas, Chaman Lal Setia Exports and Amir Chand Jagdish Kumar have also joined the bandwagon.

"Farmers this time will get at least Rs 13,500 per tonne for 1121, compared to Rs 12,500 for traditional basmati. This is in addition to higher yield benefits," sources said.

Irony remains

The irony though is that 1121 is not technically notified as a basmati. The reason: The official definition of `basmati' requires at least one of the two parents to be a traditional basmati land race. In this case, only the grandparents happen to be `pure' basmati lines. "We need to adopt a trait-cum-geographical indication based definition instead of a narrow parentage-based definition.

"As long as a particular variety exhibits all basmati traits and is grown within the subcontinent, does it matter whether these are inherited through parents or grand-parents," an exporter quipped.

Related Stories:
Certification woes dog organic basmati growers
Apeda's basmati DNA testing facility by Nov CDFD, Hyderabad to manage the service for exporters

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated June 19, 2006)
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