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AGRICULTURE

EC lowers basmati fungicide tricyclazole’s tolerance limit to 0.001ppm
Tuesday, 30 January, 2018, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Shraddha Joshi, Mumbai
The European Commission (EC) has lowered the tolerance limit for tricyclazole, a fungicide used by most basmati rice growers across India, to 0.001 parts per million (ppm) from January 2018. This is bound to affect the exports of basmati rice from the country to the European Union (EU) this year.

The Government of India is learned to have started putting up mitigation plans, which include helping farmers to switch to another fungicide, namely isoprothiolane, which is accepted across the EU. However, isoprothiolane is not accepted in the United States market. That is a cause for concern.

A senior official with the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) said, “This issue has been going on for a long time. Exporters who are exporting basmati rice need to be registered with APEDA. From December, we have started educating the farmers to carefully make use of chemicals and comply with the set standards. Exporters are also working closely with farmers, thereby explaining the farmers the use of chemicals in the proper limit.” He also added that APEDA has thus far not provided any alternative use of fungicide to farmers.

For tricyclazole, different countries have fixed different import tolerance limits. While the United States has fixed the import tolerance in Indian rice at three ppm, the EU has a maximum residue limit (MRL) of one ppm (which is the most restrictive limit among the developed nations) and Japan has allowed a MRL of three ppm. The debate on banning the chemical tricyclazole in the EU has been taking place for a long time due to the harm it may cause to human health.

It is pertinent to mention here that India is the leading exporter of basmati rice to the global market. The country has exported 40,00,471.56 metric tonne (MT) of basmati rice to the world for the worth of Rs 21,604.58 crore (or $3,230.24 million) during the year 2016-17, which has decreased from 40,45,822.29 MT in 2015-16.

Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Iraq and Kuwait were the major export destinations during 2016 -17. The states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Uttarakhand and western Uttar Pradesh are the areas accounting for the bulk of India’s basmati rice production.

As per the All India Rice Exporters’ Association (AIREA), among India’s key export markets, the Middle-East accounts for two-thirds of the total exports, with Saudi Arabia and Iran topping the list. The exporters’ survey shows that their share of exports of basmati rice to the EU in the total export of basmati rice ranges between four and 25 per cent.

Meanwhile, the EU confirmed the non-approval of tricyclazole as an active substance in the Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2016/18265 and made the ban on tricyclazole binding on its member states.

It consulted its trading partners through the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and it was decided that, given the long shelf life of rice and products made of rice, there should be a transitional arrangement for rice grown in 2016 or before to allow the normal marketing and consumption of rice. However, this transitional arrangement would not be applicable on products treated with tricyclazole in 2017 and thereafter.

In the case of basmati rice, because it undergoes a specific procedure of maturation before being placed on the market, a reasonable period was allowed for transition so that the member states and EU food business operators (FBOs) could prepare themselves to meet the new MRL requirements.

In November 2016, the committee on sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures of WTO passed a notification on the reduction of the MRL for tricyclazole in certain products (including basmati rice) from 1mg/kg to 0.01mg/kg in the EU. The proposed date of adoption for all products, except basmati rice, was June 30, 2017. For basmati rice, the proposed date was December 30, 2017.

Arpita Mukherjee, professor, Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), informed, “In December 2016, ICRIER had submitted a detailed survey-based report on the SPS issues that Indian products are likely to face in the EU and the way forward. It showed that up to 60 per cent of the rice exported from India can face rejection and clients from the United Kingdom were contemplating sourcing rice from other countries such as Cambodia. This report also detailed how other countries were handling the tricyclazole issue in rice and how farmers in India should be given training and share information on not to use this in their next cycle of crop.”

She added that the study was funded by EC. However, the report could not be made public due to severe opposition raised by the Export Inspection Council (EIC), the export control agency for basmati rice. The EU division of the department of commerce could have at least used the report for consultation with rice exporters’ associations such as AIREA so that Indian farmers would have been more aware by now and could have change their practices. The farmers have lost two crop cycles between the study findings and now. This will lead to a significant loss of income for them.

“Certain countries exporting rice variants other than basmati rice to the EU, including Cambodia, have already decided to ban tricyclazole. In March 2017, Cambodia’s agriculture, forestry and fisheries ministry announced that it will ban all agricultural pesticides containing the fungicide, following the new MRL set by EU for it. This issue is not specific to EU as an important destination. In 2013, Indian rice exports faced SPS issues in the US (and a subsequent fall in export quantity) due to the presence of tricyclazole residues. In the case of India specifically, it is a common practice to use tricyclazole in Basmati rice,” Mukherjee said.

However, experts stated that tricyclazole has not been reported to have any adverse consequences on human health. An MRL of three ppm is permissible for tricyclazole in the United States, Thailand, Japan and India and China has an MRL permissible limit of two ppm. Since no new safety concerns on the use of this fungicide has come to light anywhere in the world, this EU action amounts to a non-tariff barrier to the ongoing India–EU trade.

The average export of basmati to EU is over three lakh tonne per year, earning about $2.95 million. During first quarter of 2018 (i e between April and June), India exported 99,798 tonne of basmati rice to EU. The major varieties preferred by EU are Pusa Basmati 1 and Pusa Basmati 6, which are grown by approximately 6.5 lakh farmers. With the decision to implement 0.01 ppm limit for tricyclazole. These 6.5 lakh farmers, including exporters, marketing agents and different workers associated with  production and trade, will be adversely affected.

Tricyclazole was developed by Dow Agro Sciences about 30 years ago and found to be very effective for management of blast disease in India without any report on adverse effects. It is the best option available at present, with its low cost and farmer-friendliness, for the control of rice blast disease. Although the misuse of this chemical may result in the detection of MRL above the permissible limit.

Gaya Prasad, vice-chancellor, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel University of Agriculture and Technology, Meerut, said, “For awareness among the farmers, pesticide sellers and exporters, the Government of India initiated awareness programmes for the production of permissible basmati rice with the collaboration of the state agriculture universities and all the segments of the export chain. Diplomatically, the Indian government is in touch with EU authorities, and hopefully the MRL will be revised soon. A minimum of 0.4 PPM is expected to be fixed for brown rice.”

“Western Uttar Pradesh is the third-largest grower of basmati rice, with 2.5 lakh hectare area and 7.8 lakh MT production. From time to time, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel University of Agriculture and Technology issues advice to basmati farmers for proper use of pesticide and also providing bio-control agents on a large scale, which are very good sources of insect, pest and disease management,” he added.

“We are excited to see the results of this year campaigning, farmers are requesting for more programmes and exporters are also giving preference to the paddy of this area. It shows that the impact of the awareness programme conducted by the Basmati Export Development Foundation and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel University of Agriculture and Technology is very encouraging. These types of workshops/training programmes will continue on a larger scale in the coming season. Farmers need to follow the advice from the scientists and they should not depend only on pesticide sellers,” said Prasad.
 
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