On the boil: Pakistan, India tussle over basmati rice origin

On the boil: Pakistan, India tussle over basmati rice origin
India’s application for GI at the EU for its basmati rice and grain faces rough sailing after Pakistan said it would challenge the move.
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Updated 07 October 2020

On the boil: Pakistan, India tussle over basmati rice origin

On the boil: Pakistan, India tussle over basmati rice origin
  • Pakistan produces a wide range of basmati rice and believes it has a right to a GI tag

KARACHI: Pakistan on Monday said it would give a “befitting reply” to, and oppose, India’s move to geographically label basmati rice and grain as its own in the EU.

Developing countries are increasingly using geographic labeling to boost the value of products ranging from carpets to rice, raising rural incomes and protecting farmland. 

A geographical indication (GI) is a sign used on products that have a specific geographic origin, which gives them certain qualities or a reputation, such as Champagne and Darjeeling tea.

India applied for a GI for basmati rice last month. In a meeting chaired by commerce adviser Abdul Razak Dawood on Monday, Pakistan announced it would oppose India’s application.

“Abdul Razak Dawood categorically stated that Pakistan will vehemently oppose India’s application in the EU and restrain India from obtaining exclusive GI tag of basmati rice,” a statement issued by the ministry said.

Pakistan produces a wide range of basmati rice and believes it has a right to a GI tag. 

It now has under three months to respond to the Indian application and file a counter application with the EU. The country’s rice exporters face the risk of losing a substantial European market if India succeeds in the geographical labeling, exporters said.

“The GI tag going to India means Pakistan will be losing the European market, and that will not be limited to EU alone; we will not be able to export basmati rice to other countries as well,” Rafique Suleman, convener of the Central Committee of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and industry on Rice, told Arab News.

“Basmati rice is our heritage. The GI tag is an exclusive right to sell goods in the registered markets.”

Pakistan exported $2.17 billion worth of rice during the last fiscal year, of which the share of basmati rice was $790.8 million, 25 percent higher than the previous year, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics.

According to the Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan (REAP), “Pakistan is recognized around the world for producing and exporting high quality and aromatic basmati rice.”

“REAP is the second largest export trade body of Pakistan after the textile sector, and contributes more than $2 billion per annum,” REAP said.

According to the Indian application published in the EU’s official journal on Sept. 11, 2020, basmati is a special long grain aromatic rice grown and produced in a particular geographical region of the Indian sub-continent, below the foothills of the Himalayas.

India’s move is a significant one, especially after the EU revised its rules for fungicides in crops, including rice, in 2018.

According to media reports, it caused New Delhi to lose a significant share in the EU market after tests showed that the basmati produced in India had higher levels of tricylazole, a pesticide that is sprayed on the crop to overcome fungal pests, than those permitted by the EU. 

Pakistan, however, had a lot to gain and nearly doubled its exports of the product from 2017 to 2018.

The name basmati is derived from two Sanskrit word roots, “vas” meaning “aroma” and “mati” meaning “ingrained from the origin,” the Indian application says, adding that the first recorded reference to basmati rice is found in the Punjabi poem “Heer Ranjha” by the poet Varis Shah in 1766.

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British-Muslim entrepreneur brings Ramadan to a close performing adhan over London’s Tower Bridge

British-Muslim entrepreneur brings Ramadan to a close performing adhan over London’s Tower Bridge
Updated 08 May 2021

British-Muslim entrepreneur brings Ramadan to a close performing adhan over London’s Tower Bridge

British-Muslim entrepreneur brings Ramadan to a close performing adhan over London’s Tower Bridge
  • “I am just an ordinary individual and for me to be blessed with such an opportunity is humbling,” Rahman said
  • Last year, he performed the adhan in Canary Wharf, the heart of London’s financial district

LONDON: A British-Muslim entrepreneur serenaded London’s Tower Bridge with the adhan as the sun set over the British landmark on the last Friday of Ramadan 2021. 
Kazi Shafiqur Rahman, 35, delivered the adhan in the style of the Grand Mosque’s head muezzin, Sheikh Ali Ahmad Mulla, wearing a white thobe and Saudi ghutra on Friday as part of an interfaith virtual iftar.
It is a style that he has perfected since childhood and has fueled the British-Bangladeshi’s passion for performing the adhan in public. 
Mulla has been a muezzin at the Grand Mosque since 1975 and his voice is recognized by Muslims worldwide regardless of whether they have visited Makkah.
The adhan at Tower Bridge marked the end of an iftar hosted by Tower Hamlets Homes, the East London Mosque & London Muslim Center and Tower Hamlets Interfaith Forum.
Rahman spoke of the huge satisfaction he gets from delivering the adhan in public and how grateful he felt for being given the opportunity to deliver one from Tower Bridge.


“I am just an ordinary individual and for me to be blessed with such an opportunity is humbling,” he said.
Although Rahman has been performing the adhan in mosques and at events for more than two decades, this is the second time he had delivered it at an iconic London location.
Last year, he performed the adhan in the heart of London’s financial district, Canary Wharf, and the video of his performance was watched millions of times.
Rahman added he hopes to deliver the adhan at “other global iconic locations such as the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.
“After delivering the adhan in Canary Wharf last year, I realized that the call to prayer is such a strong message and that I was sending it out across the world via social media,” Rahman said.  
“It had such a huge reach even on LinkedIn, and many non-Muslims said how mesmerizing they found the adhan, and were asking about what it actually was,” he added.
Rahman said he was initially shocked at the amount of traction the video of last year’s adhan received. “But then I realized that this is the word of God and the call to prayer and therefore it’s bound to reach that many people,” he said. 
“The impact of last year’s adhan was just unbelievable. The video reached millions of viewers.”
Ahead of performing the adhan at Tower Bridge, Rahman told Arab News he was nervous as he wanted to live up to last year’s performance. 
“I don’t want it to go wrong and I want to live up to expectations. However, I am also reminding myself to do this for the sake of God only. With social media, it’s easy to get sidetracked and think about the traction that this delivery of the adhan will get. But that shouldn’t be my intention. I keep reminding myself that I am doing it for the sake of God and for Him alone.”
London-based Rahman said he thanks God for giving him this opportunity and a melodious voice.  
“I am just an ordinary person but I feel like God has favored me with such a voice and such an opportunity, both of which I am grateful for. It gives me a sense of satisfaction that the adhan I am delivering is being appreciated all around the world. It makes me praise God even more.”


Libyan coastguard vessel that shot Italian fisherman was gift from Rome

The Libyan patrol boat Ubari approaches an Italian trawler. (Photo: Italian Navy)
The Libyan patrol boat Ubari approaches an Italian trawler. (Photo: Italian Navy)
Updated 08 May 2021

Libyan coastguard vessel that shot Italian fisherman was gift from Rome

The Libyan patrol boat Ubari approaches an Italian trawler. (Photo: Italian Navy)
  • Italy and Libya signed cooperation deal in 2017 to stem flow of migrants from North Africa
  • Italian navy intervened to escort fishing vessels, which were searching for red prawns, to safety

LONDON: A Libyan coastguard vessel involved in the shooting of a Sicilian fisherman on May 6 was given to Tripoli by Italy to stop the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean, it has emerged.

Col. Massoud Abdalsamad of the Libyan coastguard told Italian media that the ship “fired warning shots into the air against vessels which had allegedly trespassed into Libyan waters.” Three Italian fishing boats had entered its territorial waters without permission in search of red prawns.

Giuseppe Giacalone, captain of one of the fishing boats, told Italian news agency ANSA: “It is a miracle we are alive. We were shot at. The cabin of our boat is full of holes.

“It was 2 p.m. on Thursday when it happened. While we were sailing towards the northeast, a Libyan patrol boat caught up with us and started shooting. The shots hit us and the dashboard glass shattered.”

An Italian navy vessel intervened in the skirmish, escorting the fishermen to safety and rescuing one who had been shot in the arm. The Italian navy later confirmed that the ship involved in the shooting, formerly known as the Ubari, was given to Libya in 2018.

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The Libyan coast guard on Thursday fired on three Italian fishing boats, injuring the captain of one of the vessels, Italian authorities said. Click here for more.

In 2017 former Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti and the head of Libya’s UN-backed government, Fayez Al-Sarraj had signed a deal in which Italy agreed to train and equip Libyan authorities in an effort to prevent migrants and refugees traveling from North Africa to Europe.

But several agencies have warned many people who attempt to flee Libya face human-rights abuses — and have accused officials of complicity.

In April the Guardian revealed Abdalsamad had been wiretapped by Italian prosecutors investigating people-smuggling operations. In June 2017, he reportedly told Italian coastguard officials who called to ask for his help to rescue a group of migrants in distress: “It’s a day off. It’s a holiday here. But I can try to help. Perhaps, we can be there tomorrow.”

The International Organization for Migration said 126 people died in the waters of the Mediterranean that weekend.

And on April 22 this year, the Ubari allegedly ignored a distress call from a vessel before 130 asylum seekers died.

Skirmishes between Libyan authorities and Italian fishermen searching for prized red prawns have been common since the 1990s. They intensified after former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi unilaterally extended the boundary of his country’s territorial waters from 12 to 74 miles offshore in 2005.

According to the Distretto della Pesca fishing cooperative, more than 60 Italian boats have been seized or confiscated by Libya in the past 25 years, with at least 40 people detained and several injured.

In September 2020, two Sicilian fishing boats, the Antartide and the Medinea, were intercepted and escorted to Benghazi. The 18 crew members, including eight Italians, six Tunisians, two Indonesians and two Senegalese, were held for more 100 days, causing a major diplomatic incident.


Manila allows emergency entry to Filipino seafarers on virus-hit ship

Manila allows emergency entry to Filipino seafarers on virus-hit ship
This file photo taken on April 27, 2021 shows Philippine coastguard personnel aboard their ship BRP Cabra monitoring Chinese vessels (R) at Sabina Shoal west of the Philippine island of Palawan. (AFP)
Updated 07 May 2021

Manila allows emergency entry to Filipino seafarers on virus-hit ship

Manila allows emergency entry to Filipino seafarers on virus-hit ship
  • Half of Philippine crew on board Panamanian-flagged ship test COVID-19 positive after 2-day stop in India
  • Philippine authorities allow transfer of 2 critically ill crew members to hospital despite country’s travel ban

MANILA: Philippine authorities are providing emergency assistance to 12 members of an all-Filipino-crewed container ship who tested positive for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) after making a two-day port stop in India.

According to a report by the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA), the Panamanian-flagged MV Athens Bridge departed from India on April 22 and arrived in Haiphong, Vietnam on May 1 where the ship’s crew took a reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction test.

The results showed that of the 21 crewmen, 12 were positive for the virus prompting Vietnamese authorities to refuse them entry.

The ship then sailed to Manila to seek refuge despite an existing travel ban being in place in the Philippines. After arriving in the capital on Thursday, two of the seafarers were evacuated to a hospital, both in a critical condition.

The rest of the crew have remained onboard the vessel off Sangley Point in Cavite but will be moved to a quarantine facility.

The exception was granted to the MV Athens Bridge by the country’s Department of Health after an emergency meeting with the Bureau of Quarantine, the Philippine Coast Guard, and the Department of Transportation.

Filipino Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said: “Considering the growing concern of this recent variant first detected in India, we were made aware that the vessel had travel history to the country.

“But in deciding our action steps, our guiding principle was that those were our hardworking countrymen aboard and we would never leave any Filipino behind.”

He pointed out that the rescue operation had been carried out in accordance with strict health protocols on handling COVID-19 cases.

“We recognize the risk that this act of compassion brings, but we assure Filipinos that we complied with the protocols in handling COVID-19 patients and have coordinated with other government agencies to deliver urgent assistance to our countrymen. We also thank everyone who assisted the crew of MV Athens Bridge,” Duque added.


In Pakistan’s largest date producing region, Middle Eastern varieties bear fruit

In Pakistan’s largest date producing region, Middle Eastern varieties bear fruit
Updated 07 May 2021

In Pakistan’s largest date producing region, Middle Eastern varieties bear fruit

In Pakistan’s largest date producing region, Middle Eastern varieties bear fruit
  • Experiment conducted by a 70-year-old date grower in Khairpur shows Arabian varieties of dates offer better yield
  • Growing Arabian dates could help farmers harvest their crops before seasonal monsoon rains destroy them

KHAIRPUR: Five years ago, 70-year-old Ghulam Qasim Jiskani, a farmer in Khairpur, Pakistan’s largest date-producing region, experimented with Middle Eastern varieties of the fruit to see if he could increase his yield.

Today, he is spearheading a successful campaign to produce Arabian dates at home.

Pakistan is one of the top date producers and exporters in the world, with annual date production of more than 535,000 tons, according to data from the Trade Development Authority.

The main region for date cultivation is Khairpur district in southern Sindh province, Jiskani’s hometown.

On his farmland in Kot Diji village, Jiskani has planted date palm varieties that are grown in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Morocco.

“It can be a game-changer for the area’s date production and export,” Jiskani told Arab News last week, saying by planting foreign varieties of the fruit, Pakistani farmers could earn up to 15 times more from their harvest.

“I brought 400 tissues of 15 date palm varieties from Dubai five years ago,” he said.

“These trees are now laden with fruit and I plan to market the yield in July when they are ready for harvest. My experiment has been successful.”

Jiskani’s plantation covers two acres of land, but as his Arabian varieties of dates have grown so well on the land, he now plans to dedicate three more acres to the fruit and hopes other growers will follow suit.

Jiskani believes that with the Arabian varieties, local growers would be able not only to tap into domestic demand but also boost Pakistan’s date exports.

“Pakistani date farmers also have a good chance to penetrate the international market with their yield,” he said.

“With that in mind, we are striving to replace local varieties with foreign ones.”

Local farmers have already developed interest in growing the foreign varieties.

“After Jiskani’s experiment, a significant number of Khairpur’s date farmers want the government to facilitate the procurement of foreign palm tissues at feasible rates,” Mushtaq Soomro, a senior official at the Sindh Agriculture Extension Department, told Arab News.

“If they start cultivating today, 40 percent of the region’s date cultivation will transform, and we will see the exotic varieties of the fruit covering much of this land.”

One of the reasons for the growing interest was climate.

“Monsoon in Pakistan arrives in June and persists for a few months,” Soomro said.

“This is also the harvesting season for locally produced dates. Rainfall on the ready-to-rip crops is destructive, however. To get away from possible losses, growers opt for dried dates, though they are comparatively less lucrative for them. By growing the Middle Eastern varieties, though, date famers are hoping for a more exotic early monsoon crop.”

One problem with dried dates from Kahirpur is that their main export destination is India.

“For the past four years or so, however, direct trade of dried dates between India and Pakistan is on a halt, which has resulted in significant losses for local farmers,” Jiskani said. He added that another advantage of the Arabian dates was their longer shelf life and the fact that with higher fiber component they were also healthier.

Rustam Phulpoto, a representative of Khairpur’s KHajjoor Market, said by sticking to its native date types, Pakistan was not focusing on the value addition that the foreign varieties bring.

“This lack of value addition not only makes us import more but also limits our exports as well,” he told Arab News.

Under the Sindh administration’s Agriculture Growth Project 2015-2020, the government was required to import 3,000 exotic date tissues and provide them to local farmers at 70 percent subsidized rates. But that did not happen.

Jiskani, who was the focal person for the project from the growers’ side, thinks the failure was due to internal departmental rifts.

“The government should establish a laboratory for plant tissue culture or facilitate the initiative through public-private partnership,” he said.

“The growers are interested in this, but they lack the required investment.”


Myanmar shadow government’s militia gains popular support to fight military junta

Myanmar shadow government’s militia gains popular support to fight military junta
This handout photo taken on May 7, 2021 shows protesters holding up signs supporting the "People's Defence Force" during a demonstration against the military coup in Dawei. (AFP)
Updated 08 May 2021

Myanmar shadow government’s militia gains popular support to fight military junta

Myanmar shadow government’s militia gains popular support to fight military junta
  • People’s Defense Force is precursor to planned Federal Union Army aimed at bringing together armed anti-junta groups
  • Self-defense groups set up across country in wake of attacks, arrests, night raids by military

YANGON: A newly formed armed militia under Myanmar’s shadow government is gaining the support of community self-defense groups and ethnic armies against the military junta that seized control of the country more than three months ago.

Since the coup on Feb. 1, the junta has killed at least 772 civilians during nationwide protests against the army takeover and violence.

The National Unity Government (NUG), the shadow government of former lawmakers of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) who were ousted by the junta, announced on Wednesday the formation of the People’s Defense Force (PDF), a precursor to the planned Federal Union Army that would bring together all groups involved in armed resistance.

The move has already been welcomed by community self-defense groups which have emerged throughout the country in the wake of constant attacks, arrests, and night raids by the military.

Zayar Win, from one of the self-defense groups in Yangon, told Arab News that in Myanmar’s largest city alone, there would be many hundreds or even thousands of people ready to take up arms.

“They are linked with each other but require leadership. With PDF leadership, I think a strong force would quickly emerge. As long as the regime is in power, there will be endless suffering of people. So, taking the military dictatorship to an end is the first priority,” he said.

Working as a construction engineer in Yangon, he used to operate a philanthropic organization that helped vulnerable groups when the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic hit the country. In April, the organization stopped its charity work and focused on supporting and fundraising for the anti-junta resistance, including those that produced explosives to attack the military.

“Sadly, we have postponed helping poor people, and shifted our focus to supporting those who are fighting the military,” he added.

Many of the civilians engaged in self-defense groups have been trained by militants from the country’s ethnic groups which also oppose the junta regime.

Sadly, we have postponed helping poor people, and shifted our focus to supporting those who are fighting the military.

Zayar Win

The Karen National Union (KNU), the oldest insurgent group fighting for the greater autonomy of the eastern Karen State that borders Thailand, and the Kachin Independence Army in the northern Kachin State and northeastern Shan State that border China, have been active supporters of anti-junta resistance.

The KNU provides military training and shelter to hundreds of dissidents and protesters who have fled army persecution.

“There are many hundreds of people receiving combat training here,” a spokesperson for the KNU’s Brigade 5 told Arab News on Thursday. “There were also many people who finished training here and returned to their places of origin waiting for this moment. The PDF would be growing very fast.”

While ethnic groups support the formation of the PDF, it is not yet clear if all of them would be willing to fight under one banner, as although opposed to the current regime, ethnic minorities do not entirely trust the shadow government whose members had alienated them when they were in power.

The KNU, however, might be willing to join the fight against the common enemy, the Tatmadaw — the armed forces of Myanmar. Since late March, the group has killed more than 200 government troops in a series of clashes.

The spokesperson said: “I personally view the PDF as the armed group representing the country’s majority Bamar ethnic people. And I personally see no hurdle in unifying the armed groups of different ethnic people to fight against our common enemy, the Tatmadaw.”

But KNU secretary-general, Saw Kwe Htoo Win, on Friday told Arab News: “There are still many issues we have to make clear before making the decision.”

In one ethnic state the decision has already been taken.

Members of the Chinland Defense Force (CDF), who with home-made rifles recently killed dozens of military personnel in the mountainous Chin State bordering India, said they would join the PDF.

“We welcome the formation of the PDF, and we would cooperate with them in fighting against the regime’s forces,” a CDF spokesman told Arab News.

He said that they would also engage with the Federal Union Army when it was formed.

“We, Chin people, just want a peaceful life. Once the revolution is over, we will return to our farmland,” he added.