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Non-Basmati export ban hits joha farmers

Guwahati, July 3: Farmers engaged in the cultivation of joha rice in Assam face a bleak future with the Centre yet to lift the ban on the export of non-Basmati rice.

Delhi had banned the export of non-Basmati rice in October 2007 to contain inflation. Joha rice has been categorised a non-Basmati variety.

“Farmers are facing a tough time as they were trained to produce organic rice under a proper system. They were also looking to get good returns,” an official in the agriculture department said.

There are 154 farmers under the organic joha project. The export ban has severely affected the prospects of joha rice at a time when its scope had broadened with a number of queries from overseas. “Why cannot they allow export of a small quantity of joha rice when they can do the same for Basmati?” the official asked.

Considering the export potential of joha rice, the Assam government had also hired an agency to certify the rice as organic so that it gets an entry into the organic food market abroad.

The agency, SGS India Pvt Ltd, had provided the organic certificate to joha rice in 2007.

The first consignment of 17.5 metric tonnes of joha rice was exported to Germany, Switzerland and the UK prior to the ban in 2007, evoking a good response from those countries.

In 2007-08, though the exporter was ready to send 33 metric tonnes, it could not be done as the ban came into effect. The exporter had entered into an agreement with the cultivators.

The production of joha rice in 2008-09 was pegged at 100 metric tonnes but with the ban on, nothing could be exported. The agriculture department is now eyeing the domestic market for joha.

“We are now eyeing the domestic market and are making efforts for selling a substantial quantity of joha rice. The milling of joha rice has to be perfect so as to get the requisite size and quality,” the official said. A source said the prospects for joha rice in the domestic market was not enough to get huge orders.

“The government should study the marketing aspects and only then think about the next step. After not being able to export for the last two years and then targeting the domestic market is a tough proposition,” the source said.

The Friends of Assam and Seven Sisters (FASS), an NGO, has also requested the Centre to categorise joha as a Basmati variety as it was superior to the other varieties of premium rice in the world.

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