LAHORE: The Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan (REAP) has expressed concern over a “shocking and very irresponsible” statement by Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Agriculture Jamshed Cheema wherein he said export markets mostly demand coarse varieties of rice, while Pakistani farmers are intoxicated with the basmati variety, which he suggested should only be produced for local consumption.
“This statement is patently false and misleading because we export more than $800 million of basmati rice every year,” REAP Chairman Abdul Qayyum Paracha said on Thursday.
“Mr Cheema seems to be supporting the Indian application with the European Union claiming exclusive ownership of the Geographical Indication for basmati rice that has been challenged by the Pakistan government as well as the basmati rice traders. Such a damaging stance by a senior official of the government negates all our efforts to safeguard our heritage for centuries in basmati rice besides billions invested in rice mills, export market brand equity etc.”
Mr Paracha said that basmati has been sown in Punjab since the 17th century and due to its unique aroma, it acts as Pakistan’s ambassador globally. He said besides earning precious foreign exchange, it provides livelihood to hundreds of thousands of people in the whole supply chain of the variety — from farmers, millers, exporters to work force to international brand owners dependent on its sowing.
He said the REAP had recently announced a reward of Rs10 million for any rice breeder, in the government or private sector, who comes up with a high productivity basmati rice seed.
“Instead of encouraging research and yield increase in basmati crop, which has a potential of more than $3 billion export annually, Mr Cheema is discouraging sowing of this heritage product.”
The REAP has appealed to the prime minister to demand an explanation from Special Assistant Cheema on this “policy statement” and take it back.
Published in Dawn, May 21st, 2021