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.

When geography did became an issue for basmati rice?

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.

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 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, a plain as the geographical region within which basmati was grown.

The green rice mystery

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 license 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.

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 Chhattisgarh’.

The IR8 celebrations-its Irate

The BBC published a fabulous story, 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.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.