After obtaining the Geographical Indication (GI) tag of the famous Basmati R.S. Pura rice and the Pampore Saffron, the Government of Jammu and Kashmir is assiduously pursuing a patent for ‘Mushkbudji’ — an endemic organic rice variety famed for its taste and aroma and grown only in some areas of the Kashmir valley.
Principal Secretary Agriculture Navin Kumar Choudhary revealed to this journalist that the Union Territory Government has got in touch with the Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks of India with its strong case for GI tag to Mushkbudji. “We are expecting to get GI tag for Mushkbudji in the near future, most likely in the current year”, Choudhary, the IAS officer from Bihar who became the first bureaucrat to get the Domicile Certificate after abrogation of Article 370 and 35-A, asserted.
Before a barrage of China varieties were introduced and popularised for high yield, several indigenous landraces like Mushkbudji were grown on a large scale in the valley. Over a 100 landraces have been documented. Many of them vanished from the farmer's field as the high yielding varieties were officially promoted on a large scale. Consequently, the low-yield but high-price organic varieties have shrunk to only a few pockets.
According to Dr G.A. Parry of Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agriculture Science and Technology, the great genetic erosion occurred in the last five-six decades during which a major proportion of local rice biodiversity was lost. The reasons attributed to loss of heritage rice of Kashmir are their low yielding potential, susceptibility to biotic and abiotic stresses particularly to paddy blast and less share of benefits to the growers because of unscrupulous activities of brokers, while milling and marketing of the product.
In the backdrop of these facts, Mushkbudji revival programme was undertaken in 2007 by Khudwani Centre of SKUAST-Kashmir with the objective to conserve local biodiversity through utilization for socio-economic development of rice growers.
During Kharif 2011, the performance of purified version against the older version was demonstrated in the farmer’s field in Sagam village of Anantnag district, a popular niche belt of local heritage rice. Simultaneously the seed multiplication programme was undertaken in the farmers’ field in the same season in compact blocks by providing them pure seed produced at the Khudwani Centre.
The year 2013 proved to be a success story during which an area of 50 hectares in five adjoining villages of Khudwani was brought under Mushkbudji scheme and about 1,500 quintal of seed was produced. This special rice variety cannot be grown everywhere as it needs specific agro-ecology and peculiar climatic conditions and furthermore needs expertise in production/protection technology and availability of good quality seed from a reliable source. Officials have fixed the initial target of growing Mushkbudji on an area of 5,000 hectares.
Common China varieties of rice sell at an average of Rs 2,500 to Rs 3,000 a quintal. The indigenous Mushkbudji, rich in organoleptic properties and a craze for the valley’s opulent wedding feasts, sells at Rs 50,000 to Rs 70,000 a quintal. Principal Secretary Navin Choudhary believes that the GI tag would take its price to even Rs 80,000 to Rs 100,000 a quintal and get the farmers unimaginable revenues. According to them, export price of Basmati R.S. Pura went up by Rs 2,000 a quintal immediately after getting the GI tag.
“Sky is the limit for organic produce as many people across the world believe that fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides and other chemicals make the agriculture and horticulture produce deleterious. Still not more than five percent people use organic foods due to very low production. Whatever we will produce will sell like hot cakes. But the GI tag is a must as it certifies a product to be free of chemicals”, Choudhary said.
The certification, he said, has to pass rigorous testing through 12 parameters. The GI tag is allotted only after passing all these tests.
Choudhary said that creating vegetable clusters in Kashmir as well as in Jammu was the government’s top priority. He said that the new areas were being brought under vegetable cultivation and the intervention in Kashmir had led to an increase in area under vegetables from 48,000 hectares to 51,000 hectares and increase in production from 1,536 MT to 1,638 MT. He said that Farm Produce Organisations (FPOs) at block level were being created in different areas of specialization for maximizing profits..