Here is a dooms day prediction by some agricultural scientists in India regarding the catastrophic consequences of global warming on Indian export of its much vaunted Basmati Rice. On the face of it the logical deductions made by them appear to be worth considering seriously. According to their assumptions, one of their failed experiments in the past had to encounter temperatures higher than normal for the season which probably could have resulted in reduced length of the grain and lower levels of the typical aroma.
According to them their experiment indicated a definite influence higher environmental temperature could have on the fragrance of this rice variety besides affecting its length. The crop obtained in their experiments did not grow long enough and was not as fragrant as it should have been when cooked. Temperatures during that year crossed 26 degree Celsius in September when the basmati flowers and, 15 to 20 days later, when the grain begins to fill out, because of which a shriveling of the grain was seen. The extra heat, it was hypothesized, prevented the food stored by the plant from travelling to the grain. Consequently, it failed to grow to the right length. The heat also could have destroyed fatty acids stored in the grain which give the basmati its distinct fragrance when cooked. Though more than 3 years have lapsed since this finding no field studies have yet been done so far by the agriculture scientists in ICAR the premier research agency in the country.
Basmati rice is a priced commodity of India with 80% of the world trade controlled by it. According to the authentic report of APEDA the vested authority that controls food exports from India, the export during 2009-10 was 2.01 mt valued at Rs 100 billion. It is a matter of pride for India that Basmati is the only commodity from the country being exported to more than 110 countries around the world. While rice exports suffer from time to time depending on production and local availability of this staple in any given year, Basmati export has enjoyed a steady growth over the years due to expanding areas of cultivation and steady policy of support and encouragement from the government.
It was in 1997 that India had the shock of facing a crisis in its Basmati monopoly when a private player in the US sought patent rights for the name Basmati claiming that it has developed a better variety through genetic improvement. Fortunately sustained efforts by the government and the agricultural scientists in fighting this threat resulted in not granting any patent rights to that party. The loss to India and Pakistan which enjoy almost 100% monopoly as far s Basmati is concerned would have suffered grievously if the patenting attempt of the American developer were to succeed.
There are more than two dozen varieties.of Basmati being grown in India that include Dehradun, Safidon, Haryana, Kasturi, Pusa, Ranbir, Suganda etc all being long grains with typical flavor due to presence of the volatile fragrance fraction 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline. There are also varieties designated with numbers and some of the popular ones are 198, 217, 370, 385 and 386. Though Basmati rice is more known for its scent, it is also a good cooking variety capable of retaining its texture without getting mushy. Besides it is a medium GI grain with a range of 55-65 that can ensure uniform release of glucose after consumption. The reported effect of global warming if confirmed by field studies under controlled conditions must be taken seriously and appropriate pre-emptive action must be considered to prevent any damage to India's long term strategy of retaining supremacy in this area. If warmer temperatures can affect Basmati varieties, what about its effect on normal rice strains? Will the yield go down or will there be change in the nutritional and eating qualities of normal rice? Answers must be found for these questions as India cannot afford to let any uncertainty affect its staple cereal on which millions of its population depend.