Mr Vijay Setia – the newly elected, third time, President of All India Rice Exporters Association (AIREA) spoke exclusively to Gulshan Rewari, Feature Editor of Riceoutlook Magazine.
Riceoutlook: First of all many congratulations on becoming the third time President of AIREA from Riceoutlook and Food- Show. Let me begin by asking you what are the new issues facing AIREA and its members?
Mr. Setia: Thanks a lot to Riceoutlook Magazine and Food –Show that is rice industry friendly organisation, always taking up important issues related to rice and thinking and working for the betterment of the rice industry as a whole. About the issues facing AIREA, – they are a plenty as always. Who so ever is the President he gets a bucket full of new issues. But I must admit that I have seen my industry improving a lot in recent times when it comes to selling rice. This year the ban on DA to Iran for basmati has promoted transactions through Cash against Documents and Letter of Credit. It has led to better price realization to exporters and higher remunerations to farmers. Better price better mechanism. The policy amendment on DA by government has given confidence to Basmati exporters who were exploited by buyers once consignments have been delivered. The practise of DA allowed buyers to manipulate all companies who were forced to compromise on margins. We have sent a request to the government to ban DA for non-basmati exports as well. Our neighbour country Pakistan doesn’t allow selling against DA and we should do the same too. Our government has realised and working on this.
Riceoutlook: In the light of the new initiatives of the government towards increasing farm production and farmer’s income, how do see the increase of rice production?
Mr. Setia: Production is one part where the farmers produce the paddy. Here our farmers have stood the test of time while bringing in green revolution, new technology and have invested time and energy in growing paddy and other crops a plenty. But where we lack is the marketing side of agri commodity because of which a farmer gets less for more he produces. When payments for our seller and exporters come fast, we can make quick payments and better price realisation to out farmers. It is a collective responsibility the Industry and the people in food trade who should make amends with their marketing system that is not correct. The farmers are paying the price of the failure of our poor marketing. We must make brands out of our products. I am glad to see something good is happening now. The Saudi Government has made it mandatory to put supplier’s complete details on its products to identify between the good quality rice and the inferior one. This would deter those who supply poor quality rice and are compromising on the quality. This is good move from one country and this would spread to other importing countries as well.
Riceoutlook: What do you suggest to improve the image and dispel rumors doing rounds in international media, especially in the Middle East about the Indian rice?
Mr. Setia: India is blessed as it produces world’s best rice, not only basmati but all long grain rice produced in this country are type 3 which is high in aminos and are fluffy with good cooking properties. Its starch slowly breaks into sugar after consumption and doesn’t create stress on pancreas to produce insulin, a unique quality not found elsewhere. Our competitors producing long grain or aromatic rice from some countries feel jealous of our long aromatic rice quality that fetches twice as much as their rice internationally. This sometimes upsets them and they create false propaganda in the foreign media about lack of hygiene and following of proper processing procedures by our producers. There is cut throat competition among Indian exporters that sometimes adds to this campaign. It is poor marketing and cut throat competition within our country that is to be blamed. But all doubts are cleared as far as safety of Indian rice is concerned. Our exports are very healthy. I feel we can still fetch better price for our rice.
Riceoutlook: What is the readiness of Indian Rice Industry for GST roll out from next month?
Mr. Setia: This is one step where the entire rice industry was very clear that there should be one uniform tax in our country and a level playing field. On one hand I congratulate our Central Government on bringing in the ‘reform of the century’ called GST but at the same time criticize local government which after making an agreement with the Center, who has said they would compensate if there is any shortfall in the tax collection, is still putting additional 4 % tax (which is 2% market fee and 2% HRDF). I fail to understand the logic of state beaucrates, are they living in another country. When Delhi has 1% marketing fees and states like MP and Rajasthan have 0% fees, Punjab is giving refund to the exporters, how can we compete with them for the same product. When the Indian government wants uniform tax then why are they failing in their state obligations and duties unless there are some personal benefits in that? This situation will create unrest. These fees are charged on farmers which we have to collect from our customers on their behalf. When branded rice is going to face 5% GST and 4% additional taxes are to be collected over it, it means the state government is trying to defeat the policy of Government of India and GST. I feel a strong protest is going to erupt over this and government would be taken for a surprise.
Riceoutlook: What are industry specific careers in rice processing that can be taken up by the students?
Mr. Setia: There are currently no specific courses or training in India for the students in this field. Right now we take students and train them in our own set up but rice mills don’t have the necessary required facilities to do so. But the government of India, in their massive efforts of skill development programmes, can incorporate new courses specific to rice industry in the institutions like ITIs. These short courses can give some basic knowledge in the boiler management, color sorter management etc. Moreover quality of rice is a big issue where students can be trained in. Once armed with these courses the students can easily be absorbed in the rice Industry. It is a well-known fact that food science is more difficult than the medical science. Humans can tell their ailments like headaches and fever but grains cannot do the same. For that we have to rely on our judgment, experiences and training that we often lack and therefore education in food science becomes imperative to better jobs in the rice industry.
Riceoutlook: It is somewhat believed that Indian rice industry lacks in R&D facilities in different organisations and business houses. Please tell us something about R&D your company is doing in study of rice with respect to Diabetics.
Mr. Setia: R&D facilities are quite weak in our rice industry. Rice processing machinery manufacturers companies like Satake, Buhler, Milltec etc., hold training and interactive sessions while bringing in new technologies. Apart from that some magazines like Riceoutlook and Rice India bring out informative material and impart knowledge concerning rice. We also try to impart training through our nursery by training and teaching how damaged roots invite various diseases leading to lower yield and use of more pesticide which is a big area of concern. If R&D is taken care of than we are sure how rice is going to behave at various stages of drying, parboiling, milling etc and then we can make better material. For example if we get more broken from some variety of rice than we can make parboil out of it but we must remember that overdoing it and not getting to the root of the problem can be a money losing proposition. We must make the segregation judiciously. It would come in handy if we have robust R&D facility.
As regards to rice being suitable for diabetics, I conceived this idea way back in 2003, when I studied many Indian rice varieties and areas they were grown in. I analyzed about their compacting and processing conditions and how the starch in them could be altered and be made digestible slowly. I got this product validated in a college in comboitire in 2003 where Dr. Suchitra did a remarkable job on the first rice I gave her. We got our rice tested in UK, Canada, Australia France and other countries. UAE has approved our product this year. I myself being diabetic and lover of rice is the background as to why this study started. Hopefully we would be offering Dry Heat Powered rice by next year useful for everybody, especially for senior citizens and children. Indian rice industry must set aside 5- 10 % of funds for R&D and education.
Riceoutlook: What would you suggest for making rice production more profitable?
Mr. Setia: People making good quality rice have to compete with people who are making poor quality rice for the same price. But new developments like the one in Saudi Arabia who has made mandatory for the suppliers information to be on the packet would definitely benefit our Industry. This is the way forward to increase sale of basmati and phase out inferior quality rice.
Riceoutlook: Please share your views on reports doing rounds on ‘Plastic Rice.’
Mr. Setia: Those who believe in ‘Plastic Rice’ are living in fool’s paradise. With my 50 years of experience in rice business I can safely say that nobody would make plastic rice. You see that 100 Gms of plastic rice will remain 100 Gms no matter how much you boil it as it will not absorb any water and if you want to give any shape like a ball, you would have to have a mould and also melt the whole plastic. In the video that is circulating in Norway you would notice that rice is fluffy and spongy and being rolled into a ball. It is bouncing too like a ball. That is because it is good quality rice, probably Indian which has amino acids and aminopacting that have binding properties. Some government agencies down South created panic among traders and restaurant owners when they started taking samples. Rather they should have just consulted the local scientists. Moreover commercially too plastic rice is not viable. Therefore all is good with the Indian rice.