Dadaji Ramaji Khobragade is a 78-year-old rice farmer from Nanded village in the Chandrapur district of Maharashtra.
In the 1980s he developed a mildly fragrant variety of rice that also cooked well. The research in cultivating this variety of rice wasn’t carried out in a lab, but through keen observation, in his own paddy field. Over the years, Khobragade invested his time and efforts into developing this new variety of rice.
He named this variety as HMT rice, after the very popular HMT watches back then, reports the Wire. By the 1990s, Khobragade’s rice variety received a lot of popularity. He has also received a total of 103 recognition and felicitation awards.
In 1994, Sindewahi Rice station, under Punjabrao Krishi Vidyapeeth (PKV), approached Khobragade for a sample of his rice for “experimentation”. They later renamed the HMT variety as PKV-HMT claiming that they had further “purified” his variety.
The NIF (National Innovation Foundation) honoured Khobragade and collected samples of nine varieties of rice that he had developed. This also included the HMT variety. They also took from him an authorisation to register the rice varieties under the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Right Act, 2001 (PPVFR).
It so happened that Khobragade’s rice was registered under the name “Dadaji HMT” while PKV’s “purified” variety was registered under the name “HMT”, the name by which the variety was originally popular.
According to PPVFR, the exclusive rights to “produce, sell, market, distribute, import or export” the HMT variety now lie with PKV while Khobragade has the same rights towards the variety named Dadaji HMT only.
In other words, the farmer who developed the strain now has lost control of the strain thanks to some convoluted legal loopholes.
So what rights do plant breeders have, according to the legislation?
The Central Government has established a committee to look after farmers, organisations, and individual plant breeders with respect to their innovations.
Farmers can register their newly bred variety and reserve complete rights to “save, use, sow, re-sow, exchange, share and sell farm produce of a protected variety except under a commercial marketing arrangement” according to Legal Services, India.
The law has made provisions for situations like Khobragade, when the farmer may be unaware of his rights. Legal Services of India report that the farmers are also provided with ‘the protection of innocent infringement if the farmer is not aware of these breeders’ rights when the infringement occurred.
It is crucial for innocent farmers and breeders to know how the law can protect them concerning their innovations. The efforts that such breeders put into their work are immeasurable. Spreading awareness about the rights of farmers to their cultivation will lead to the better empowerment of our “annadata”.
You can check out the PPVFR Act here.