EU curbs on fungicide use threaten basmati exports

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on January 17, 2018


Farmers confused as alternative chemical is restricted in the US

India’s basmati exports to the European Union (EU) are set to take a serious hit this year as the 28-member bloc has lowered the tolerance level for tricyclazole — a fungicide used by most basmati growers in the country — to very low levels, ignoring New Delhi’s plea for more time.

Pushed against a wall, the government, in collaboration with exporters, is now trying to help farmers switch over to another fungicide, isoprothiolane, which is an alternative to tricyclazole and is accepted in the EU. However, the fact that isoprothiolane is not accepted in the US has made the switch difficult, a government official told BusinessLine.

“While the EU accounts for more than 10 per cent of India’s basmati exports, the US is also a big buyer and cannot be ignored. We cannot let go of one market to protect the other,” the official said.

The Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (a body under the Commerce Ministry), together with the All India Rice Exporters’ Association (AIREA), is now working with farmers for a solution.

Different sprays mooted

“The solution that is being explored is to divide basmati fields into pockets and spray parts of it with tricyclazole and parts with isoprothiolane. The basmati sprayed with tricylazole can be exported to the US, while the rice sprayed with isoprothiolane could be exported to the EU countries,” the official explained.

Whether farmers actually understand the complex process and convincingly adhere to it would be the test.

“We have also roped in the Punjab government and hopefully, together, our efforts will succeed,” the official said.

In the April-November 2017 period, India’s total export of basmati was to the tune of $2.61 billion. Of this about $331 million of the aromatic rice was shipped to the EU, while the US bought basmati rice worth $120 million.

The problems for Indian basmati exporters began when the EU announced that it would lower its tolerance level for tricyclazole by over 100 times to the default level of 0.001 ppm (parts per million) from January 2018, effectively banning its use.

According to the AIREA, farmers would need at least two years’ time to switch over to a new fungicide. Although some workshops with farmers started last year, there is still a long way to go.

“We are concerned that our basmati exports to the EU will take a hit as many exporters are not in a position to comply fully with the new norms. Our focus is on trying to sort out the matter with farmers at the earliest,” the official said.

Published on January 17, 2018

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