THE HINDU / August 21, 1998 / Pg. 10, Col. D. / By Chennai
"Historic evidence shows that Basmati is a distinctive cultivar developed by the farmers of India and Pakistan at least 250 years ago, and grown in many parts in these two countries ever since," says Dr. Y. L. Nene, Chairman, Asian Agri-History Foundation, Secunderabad, Andhra Pradesh.
A former Deputy Director-General of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) near Hyderabad, Dr. Nene did an in-depth historical study to bring the facts before public.
This independent study should also help the efforts of the Government of India's high-power committee which was collecting data to challenge the U.S. patent for Basmati rice awarded to an American company last September.
Leading agricultural scientists contend that the Government should contest the U.S. patent on the basis of geographical indication/identity. Dr. Nene studied the issue of Basmati as cultivar (cultivated variety) in the historical context and traced the origin of scented rices in the region.
He traced the first record of Basmati rice to "Heer Ranjha", a Punjabi poem written by Waris Shah in 1766. "To get names of rice cultivars in a poem, the varieties should have been well-known over an extended period. It is therefore safe to assume that the Basmati mentioned by Waris Shah must have been in vogue for 50 to 60 years. It means that the variety should have been developed around 1700 AD and grown year after year since then," Dr. Nene said.
Basmati has been frequently referred to under the genus "Oryza" in "A Dictionary of the Economic Products of India" compiled by George Watt and published in 1891. The information in this document easily covered at least a century because a good deal of it was obtained from farmers, Dr. Nene said.
Basmati and Dehradun have been associated for a long time. George Watt had mentioned that Basmati grows best in warm valleys and along the great rivers.
"From the study it is clearly established that the scented rice under the name Basmati has been developed and grown by the farmers of India and Pakistan for more than 250 years. Rice varieties with pleasant fragrance, white color and excellent cooking quality have been grown in India for over 2500 years since the time of Susruta, the great Indian pioneer in medicine and surgery," says Dr. Nene.