Rice farmers in India have been making global news headlines over the past few weeks for taking part in one of India’s biggest ever protests. The rice farmers are in protest against changes to the law made by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that will significantly change the way they do business.
The proposed changes to the law currently stand to affect the country;s 146 million farms. The current state run system is said by the Prime Minister to be having an effect of too much constraint on the selling of rice and agricultural industry. As an alternative, Mr. Modi is advocating for market-orientated reforms he believes would improve the rice farmer’s ability to do business in the free market.
Many of the local rice farmers however feel differently. It is not unusual in India for a farm to be less than three acres in size, and local farmers fear that larger corporations will come in and buy up their smaller plots of land. Their biggest fear is that allowing intervention by these larger companies in this way, the overall price of rice will be lowered and severely affect their business earnings.
In defiance and protest of the current regulations being overhauled, many rice farmers have chosen to burn their crops. This move comes as a reaction to the pollution response fine and prison time set up by the government, to punish farmers who burn their crops. The fine is up to 10 million rupees, which is roughly $176,000 Australian dollars.
Protests so far have taken place all over the country, with marches in the capital of Mumbai, and other areas like New Delhi and Punjab. More tension is caused by the protest due to the ongoing coronavirus worldwide pandemic that is currently worsening in India, exacerbated by the gathering of crowds to protest, as well as air pollution caused by crop burning.
Tension the rise between India and Pakistan over the geographical identification of Basmati rice. The two countries are currently in dispute over the European Union’s identification of the type of rice’s Geographical Indication (GI). In a recent lobby to the EU on September 11th, 2020, India has claimed the rice as being grown at the foothills of the Himalayas on Indian terrain – despite the EU’s assertion that Basmati rice is a joint export of India and Pakistan, in 2006.
India claims a cultural legacy the basmati name: first recorded reference to basmati rice appears in ‘Heer Ranjha’, a Punjabi poem by Varis Shah in 1766. The Indian application of the name derives from two Sanskrit word roots. The first word ‘vas’ refers to the aroma of the rice, whilst ‘mati’ alludes to the ancient tradition of the rice in Indian culture, meaning ‘ingrained from the origin’.
The opposition to India’s claim over the rice comes from the Adviser to the Prime Minister on Commerce Razak Dawood. Following a meeting with the Secretary of Commerce, Chairman, Intellectual Property Organisation (IPO-Pakistan), and representatives of Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan (REAP), Dawood declared Pakistan would oppose the designation sought by India with the Geographical Indications (Registration and Protection) Act. This would prevent India from claiming exclusive rights to Basmati rice labelling for products exported to the EU. Such an act would exclude Pakistan from being able to label their exported rice as Basmati, and could significantly damage rice sales that rely on customer’s brand recognition of the rice-growing region. In data from the Pakistani Commerce Ministry, out of the 500,000 – 700,000 tons of rice exported by Pakistan, roughly 200,000 – 250,000 is currently exported to the EU. Pakistan is known around the globe for its quality exports of the famous rice. Rice exports contribute over $2 billion to the Pakistan economy each year and are the second highest-grossing export after textiles.