Because of the potential for export, the government has been attempting to persuade farmers in far western Nepal to grow Hansaraj basmati rice on a commercial scale. Despite expanding demand, Nepal’s fragrant rice is not produced on a wide scale, and the country has relied on imports from India to suit the palates of urban consumers with rising incomes.
During the current fiscal year, which began in mid-July and ends in June, the Agriculture Knowledge Centre, formerly known as the District Agriculture Office, has launched a unique programme to encourage rice farmers to grow the fragrant grain for commercial purposes.
In recent years, the demand for fragrant rice has increased dramatically among Nepalis, who have become more discerning as a result of increased incomes, particularly in large towns such as Kathmandu and Pokhara.
Agro experts say that long grain basmati rice has a distinct allure in worldwide markets, including Nepal, and that this has resulted in an increase in rice imports despite the fact that the country produces excess grain of an enhanced variety.
Following a 51.4 percent year-on-year increase in rice imports, the Nepal Rastra Bank estimates that the country imported Rs50.48 billion worth of rice in the past fiscal year. According to industry insiders, basmati rice accounted for the majority of the shipments.
Farmer Tek Bahadur Bista claimed that the Agriculture Knowledge Center would assist farmers with the packaging of their rice, as well as the labelling and marketing of their product. “It is regrettable that Nepal has been unable to market such high-quality rice for a long period.”
He went on to say that if they were successful in promoting the rice variety, it would result in a large increase in demand. “In the first year, the Agriculture Knowledge Centre will assist farmers in marketing their products through the implementation of a number of initiatives,” Bista explained.
Initial plans call for packaging and distribution of rice harvested in November in urban areas such as Mahendranagar, Dhangadhi and Kathmandu during the initial phase of the project’s implementation.
As a result of India’s application for a geographical indication (GI) tag for basmati rice in the European Union (EU), which was submitted in July 2018, the government has begun to recognise the potential of indigenous and exportable rice. On December 9, 2020, Nepal submitted an opposition letter containing evidence of the origin, diversity, cultivation, and usage values of basmati rice, as well as other supporting documentation.
In intellectual property law, geographical indications (GI) are intellectual property rights that have a specific geographical origin and possess attributes or a reputation that are attributable to that origin.
Basmati rice is a long grain aromatic rice that has been farmed for many generations in a specific geographical area, primarily in the Himalayan foothills of the Indian subcontinent, and has a distinctive aroma.
After cooking, the grains become soft and fluffy, and the flavour is delectable. It also has an intense aroma and distinct flavour that makes it stand out from the crowd.
As reported in the July issue of the journal Intellectual Property Right on Basmati Rice: Current Scenario and Evidence of Origin, Diversity, Cultivation, and Use Values of Basmati Rice in Nepal, which was written by nine researchers and published in July, many countries have been attempting to obtain intellectual property rights (most notably the geographical indication tag) on basmati rice because of the high market value of the grain on a global scale.
According to the journal, a total of 133 basmati type rice landraces are farmed in 60 different districts throughout Nepal. Basmati rice has been farmed, sold, and consumed in geographically isolated areas of Nepal since ancient times, and the practise has continued now.
International and national scientists have identified Nepal’s lower altitudes as one of the basmati rice’s origination centres, according to international and national experts.
The physical features, isozymes, and DNA markers of many Nepali basmati rice landraces have been used to characterise and evaluate these varieties. Landraces of basmati rice of four different varieties have been registered with the National Seed Board. They are Pokhreli Jetho Budho rice, which was first registered in 2006, Lalka basmati rice, which was first registered in 2010, and Suddhodhan Kalanamak and Kalonuniya, which were both first registered in 2020, respectively.
According to the publication, several community seed banks have numerous varieties of basmati rice landraces in their collections. It is estimated that more than 80 basmati landraces have been gathered and 68 have been protected by the National Agriculture Genetic Resources Centre and foreign genebanks. Basmati rice landraces have characteristics that are tied to their geographical location.
According to the journal, both national and international rules and regulations should always be favourable to Nepal’s historical tradition of production, consumption, and marketing of native basmati rice, which has been around for centuries.
According to the publication, Nepal has a substantial amount of reliable information to support the use of geographical indicator on basmati rice.
According to experts, the government has begun growing rice commercially as a trial project in order to reduce imports and narrow the trade gap.
It is grown in the following areas: Bajhang, Baitadi, Darchula, Dadeldhura, Jhapa, Kanchanpur, Morang, Palpa, Pyuthan, Salyan, Dadeldhura, Surkhet, and Syangja. Aromatic rice is planted at elevations ranging from 60 to 1,100 metres above sea level.
In Bajhang, farmers have increased the size of their paddy fields this year after receiving assurances from the government. They have planted Hansaraj basmati on 2,000 hectares of the 7,500 hectares of land under paddy cultivation this year, representing a 5% increase over last year.
Farmer Paru Rokaya from Thalara in Pikhet claimed that after receiving assurance from the centre, farmers who had virtually given up on growing Hansaraj basmati have now reintroduced the type into their fields. Thalara is the most important Hansaraj basmati producing area in the district, according to the district administration.
In the event that we have favourable markets and pricing this year, we have chosen to plant this type on all of our accessible acreage the next year, she explained. Approximately 22,000 tonnes of paddy are produced in the region each year.
Most indigenous paddy types, like Hansaraj basmati, are on the verge of extinction, according to Ram Prasad Joshi, president of the Federation of District Farmers Group. “Farmers are increasingly turning to better seed kinds in order to increase output,” Joshi added. According to the USDA, “because of high pest infestation and low output, indigenous cultivars are given the lowest priority.”