A string of policy initiatives announced and being put in place by the Narendra Modi government with the aim of doubling farmers’ income shows persistence and will to overhaul the agricultural sector. This government is appointing agriculture counsellors in 10 countries, including the US and China, to boost India’s agricultural exports as part of the plan to double it to $60 billion by 2022. As per report “Now, the Ministry of External Affairs has designated one officer each in 10 selected missions as Agriculture Counsellor. The next action would be to send experts to those places.”
While welcoming such an aggressive strategy for developing international agricultural trade to achieve a growth target that is quantifiable, I would urge upon the government to take a top-down approach to bring about sweeping reforms (even at the risk of inviting criticisms and protests for heavy handedness). The logic I would like to put forward is based on first hand knowledge of past failures when taking a bottom-up approach, which have so far led to dwindling or non-existent Indian agricultural exports, but to a handful of countries. Even our mangoes and basmati rice are being rejected or held up at ports by the EU and US, respectively.
India, in the past, has witnessed the failure of many bottom-up approaches for boosting agricultural exports and trade as these did not take into cognizance the ground reality causing crash landing. Prime concerns at the ground level right from arsenic in irrigated water to pesticide residues, aflatoxin contamination, adulterants used, etc. must be dealt with on a war footing to cleanse up the system to prop up this government’s ambitious initiatives, without which, no matter how noble the intent, it is bound to fail.
It should be made mandatory to set up strong and well trained Quality Control and Quality Assurance departments in agriculture exporting companies (like seen in pharmaceutical companies) who understand country specific regulations, fine tune GAP, develop passport data that can be shared with importing countries and finally formation of Inter-Departmental Panels for monitoring and certification.
If we want to boost exports to US and EU, we should begin with understanding how at least the US FDA works. It maintains a list of import alerts based on evidence and detains products without physical examination that appears to be in violation of U.S. laws and regulations and there were hundreds of such Alerts issued against Indian commodities/companies at the off-loading ports. The full list of such alerts was shared with APEDA suggesting corrective measures to make India’s exports more credible. Hope the authorities will pay heed to it.
Coming back to the topic of ground reality, Stanford University in a recent study revealed that turmeric from Bangladesh is laced with lead chromate, a dangerous neurotoxin causing debilitating chronic diseases. Situation may not be different in the Indian market. France in recent past has rejected consignments of chilli powder from India on detection of Sudan Red-1, a banned carcinogenic colouring matter. The European Commission is likely to introduce more stringent measures to prevent such goods from entering its market.
As part of Compliance oversight through administrative measures, the Spices Board of India should black list unscrupulous exporters responsible for such contamination and bringing bad name for India. Need of the hour is to promote sanctity in trade practices and follow regulations of importing countries meticulously.
A top down approach based on strict food safety and regulatory requirements of the export destination is, therefore, imperative to push through food safety and regulatory reforms in a system that has so far not been conditioned to be market savvy and still operates with a subsistence mentality. It will also, over time, help improve domestic standards as genuine impediments at the soil/plant and processing levels that are limiting exports will have to be overcome and removed. In a top-down approach, whereby the agricultural export commissioners and selected trained experts, aggregate and push down best practices for exporting to individual countries will bring in much needed reforms to how we grow, harvest, sort, process, ship and market agricultural produce.
Based on my over 4 decade long experience in agricultural research and development with a product and market focus, I have already made some concrete suggestions through proposals submitted to APEDA about eight months ago. I have offered to address compliance issues and make the major Agri commodities export worthy. Still awaiting APEDA’s decision.
Initiative of ‘Doubling Agricultural Export’ without quality control in place could backfire! Mukti Sadhan Basu, Ph.D | 30-Dec-2018
Having worked in Africa as UNIDO International Consultant on Aflatoxin management in Groundnut, Maize, Chilli and heading ICAR Network Project on ‘Management of Mycotoxins in Agriculturally Important Crops’ namely Groundnut, Maize, Rice, Sorghum and Spices on pan India basis, I wish to offer my expertise in shaping Indian exports. As traders/exporters or those setting up export focused businesses, if you need advice, please feel to drop me a line.
Blending of scientific knowledge from Field to Port to promote quality exports is a must in dispensing off with prevalent practices of Pick from Mandi and Pack culture.
Dr Mukti Sadhan Basu is a former director of the National Research Centre for Groundnut, Indian Council of Agricultural Research. He was also International Consultant on Aflatoxin Management, UNIDO and worked in Africa in that capacity. Presently he is Managing Director of SBSF Consultancy.