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Punjab’s loss is J&K’s gain as basmati hits test hurdle

Of the basmati purchased from Punjab in the previous kharif season, rejections reported from Sweden, Finland and Norway. At least 24 shipping containers returned since exporters began in January.

punjab Updated: Jul 25, 2018 10:17 IST
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Gurpreet Singh Nibber
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Punjab basmati,Jammu basmati,Kashmir basamti
Of the basmati purchased from Punjab in the previous kharif season, rejections have been reported from Sweden, Finland and Norway(Shutterstock)

After a series of rejections by European countries over traces of fungicides in basmati rice procured from Punjab, exporters have turned towards Jammu and Kashmir to get supplies as farmers in the hilly state use negligible amounts of pesticide when compared to their counterparts in the plains.

Of the basmati purchased from Punjab in the previous kharif season, rejections have been reported from Sweden, Finland and Norway. At least 24 shipping containers (each with 12 tonnes) have returned since the exporters began in January, causing panic.

“Rejections are still happening; of each consignment of rice worth Rs 10 lakh that comes back, we have to pay Rs 6-7 lakh additional as penalties, and logistical and other charges,” said Ashok Sethi, a director for the Punjab Rice Exporters’ Association. According to him, total basmati export to different countries is worth Rs 10,000 to 12,000 crore annually. Same amount of coarse rice is exported to developing nations where stringent tests are not conducted. Last year the basmati in Punjab was purchased at Rs 3,000 to 3,200 per quintal; 2.5 lakh tonnes were purchased from Punjab and 25,000 from J&K. “Though the quantity from J&K is negligible for now, it’s not a good trend,” said an agriculture department officer who did not wish to be named.

Sethi said traces of fungicides tricyclozole and carbondozium were found in the basmati from Punjab, and more rejections are now apprehended from countries in the Middle East that are major buyers but are conscious after reports emerging from Europe.

“No doubt that the variety ‘1121’ of Punjab basmati is loved worldwide but, being very health conscious and having strict norms, European and Middle Eastern countries check every consignment,” said Sethi. “Left with no option, exporters have turned towards Jammu and Kashmir, offering Rs 500 per quintal more to J&K basmati besides spending additional on the logistics.”

The exporters’ association ran awareness campaigns among farmers and pesticide dealers asking them not to use any pesticide or fungicide after the flowering stage on basmati. Awareness meetings were held in basmati districts of Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Pathankot, Gurdaspur and Ferozepur. “Pesticides make no positive impact after the crop reaches flowering; rather it’s a negative,” said director, agriculture, JS Bains. He added that a ban can’t be imposed on pesticides and fungicides at the state level but awareness has helped.

Exporters have now promised to pay more to farmers who are not using chemicals that were found in tests in Europe. “We will conduct tests at the time of purchase, and basmati testing negative for the chemicals will fetch Rs 300-500 a quintal more than the prevailing prices; exporters have promised that,” said agriculture secretary KS Pannu.

The agriculture department, according to Pannu, is recruiting volunteers who will go to each village and reach out to individual farmers about the negative impact of the pesticides. He said that as basmati sowing has begun again, farmers have also been suggested alternatives that fall in ‘green chemistry’, that is, ones that are less harmful.

First Published: Jul 25, 2018 10:12 IST