Explained: Why Basmati export has come to a standstill in Punjab

Anju Agnihotri Chaba
Explained: Why Basmati export has come to a standstill in Punjab?

Major Basmati growers and exporters — Punjab and Haryana, which account for 80 to 90 per cent of total Basmati export — have failed to pass mandatory certification despite restrictions on pesticides. (Express archive)

After restricting the usage of nine pesticides for Basmati crop (fine-quality aromatic rice) this year, Punjab Agriculture Department was hoping to harvest EU and US complaint pesticide-residue Basmati crop. But post-harvest, the export of the crop has come to a halt as most samples from Punjab, and even Haryana, have failed “mandatory testing and certification of inspection” due to the presence of “residue of unregistered pesticides” in the import-bound countries.

The Indian Express explains why both major Basmati growers and exporters — Punjab and Haryana, which account for 80 to 90 per cent of total Basmati export including 50 per cent export from Punjab alone — have failed to pass mandatory certification despite restrictions on these pesticides.

What is mandatory testing and certification?

For the first time this year, Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT), under the Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry, issued a notification on November 4, while the Basmati crop was being harvested in Punjab and Haryana, making it mandatory for Basmati exporters to get their Basmati tested and certified prior to its export to the European Union (EU). The crop will now require a certificate of inspection from the Export Inspection Council (EIC)/Export Inspection Agency (EIA) with immediate effect. EIC is the official export certification body of India that ensures quality and safety of the products exported from here. There are total five EIA labs including in Delhi, Kochi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata.

Why this certification was made compulsory?

The EU, which has 28 countries in the union, had brought down Maximum Residue Limit (MRL) for Tricyclazole, a fungicide used for Basmati crop, from 0.03 mg to 0.01 mg per kg a couple of years back. EU has started rejecting Basmati having MRL beyond this level as a result of which India’s four lakh tonnes Basmati export to the EU earlier had come down to 1.85 lakh tonnes this year due to the MRL limit. To avoid rejection from there, the Centre made this test compulsory here before export.

Which are countries our Basmati crop is exported to?

India exports Basmati to 80-90 countries including EU, USA, Middle East, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries. Iran was a major importer, but not any more.

Why has Basmati export come to a halt when certification is mandatory only for EU?

Punjab alone grows over 20 lakh tonnes of Basmati every year. But for the past one month not more than 200 to 300 tonnes of Basmati could be exported. All India Rice Exporters Association president Nathi Ram Gupta said that following the notification, majority of samples from Punjab and Haryana states failed in EIA labs. But Gupta added that all these “failed samples” got passed in other government’s certified labs. “Who should we believe? Also, why tests should be conducted by EIA labs, which are charging 5-6 times more than the government certified labs?” he questioned.

“It is surprising that Centre has included 40 more countries along with EU in this list including Russia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and other Commonwealth of Independent State (CIS) countries while they are not part of EU,” said Arvinder Pal Singh, president of PRMEA (Punjab Rice Millers Exporters Association), adding that every country has its own parameters for MRL of different pesticides but now every country is expecting the same.

“My 70 containers to non-EU countries, which should not be included in EU by our government, are stuck awaiting certification and export to other countries has also come to standstill,” said Ashok Sethi, Director PRMEA.

How the certification test is conducted?

Around one kg of rice is taken from a container, which carries 18-20 tonnes, and then tests related to various pesticides are conducted. If the quantity of banned pesticides is found more than the MRL, then such shipments are rejected and penalty can be imposed on such exporters prohibiting them from exporting their other containers for 15 days. Also, due to only five EIA labs the test process is quite slow, said exporters.

Which pesticide residue is showing in the tests?

Exporters said that there are around 15 pesticides including Methamidophos, Profenofos, Prothioconazole, Tebufenozide, Thiophanate-m and Triazophos that have been noticed in the samples. Also, apart from these, there are 9 pesticides, the residue of which was also seen during the tests which included Acephate, Carbendazim, Thiamethoxam, Triazofos, Tricyclazole, Buprofezin, Carbofuron, Propiconazole and Thiophanate Methyl. The usage of these nine pesticides was also restricted by the Punjab government this time and it is being done in Haryana for the past two years by exporters by organising camps to educate farmers against the use of these.

Despite the restriction on the usage of objectionable pesticides, why EU/US compliant Basmati could not be grown?

PREMA president says that they have submitted a letter to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, recently in which it has been mentioned that they found that there are around six pesticides that are not registered in EU/USA and also in India, but still they are being sold by the EU and US based big pesticides companies in India and their residue is coming in the crop during testing. “How these pesticides are being sold in India when they are not registered here,” he questioned, adding that even a small trace of these pesticides not registered in EU can lead to rejection of shipment without any effect on human health being mentioned. The letter adds that farmers end up buying and using these pesticides under pressure from big companies that have a huge network across the state.

“Why exporters are being punished for no fault of theirs when they are purchasing all the crop from farmers,” asked Sethi.

He said that government should either ban these pesticides here or to get them registered in US and EU, as in the absence of these rules the certification isn’t fair.

Is the EIC test final?

No. EU has to conduct its own test after the consignment reaches there and it may lead to a shipment being rejected there if the test is not cleared, said Gupta.

Has the issue hit Basmati price?

The testing process has led to a fall in Basmati price due to a panic gripping the market. From Rs. 3700 per quintal last year, it is now Rs 2700 per quintal this year.