Battle of the Basmatis ? Pak winning

WHEN TEAM India tucks into biryani in Pakistan, it will be playing an unwitting role in yet another epic confrontation -- the battle of the basmatis.

india Updated: Jan 10, 2006 12:55 IST

WHEN TEAM India tucks into biryani in Pakistan, it will be playing an unwitting role in yet another epic confrontation -- the battle of the basmatis. For over two years, Indian rice exporters have been lobbying the government, without luck, to notify an "evolved" grade (a hybrid with a natural, area-specific basmati as one of the parents) of Indian basmati as "Super".

The reason: Super, Pakistan's premium evolved basmati, has badly hit the sale of Indian hybrid basmatis in export markets, especially in Saudi Arabia and Europe.

Super sells twice as much as the Indian evolved variety (Pusa) and fetches $590-600 a tonne. Pusa sells for $575-580 a tonne. Pakistan exports nearly six lakh tonnes of Super. "If we can notify Super, buyers won't have to go to Pakistan," says a rice exporter.

At stake is the Rs 7,000-crore basmati export market (Pakistan's share: two-thirds; India's: rest). Exporters say the delay in notifying Super is hampering exports.

Super is widely grown in India as 'Shabnam' and both have identical DNA. Lab tests, including ones by the government, have confirmed this. But, the Agriculture Ministry has been reluctant to bite the bullet. The official line is that it is "examining" it. Unofficially, the feedback exporters got: "It's a Pakistani variety. Why should we notify it?"

Exporters say this is silly. If India notifies Super, it will overtake Pakistan as the largest exporter of basmati.

First Published: Jan 10, 2006 12:55 IST