Mango to pepper, the same old problem

The month of May began with European Union (EU) banning import of Alphon- so mangoes, Momordica and Snake Gourd squashes and Patra leaves and concluded with Saudi Arabia imposing a ban on Indian green chili pepper. EU banned mangoes as it found the fruit contaminated by fruit flies and other quarantine pests. Saudi Arabia banned chilli peppers were banned due to the presence of high pesticide residue.

Just a few months back US put Indian spice export firms on red list alleging that the spices exported by them contained food poisoning bacteria Salmonella. Four years ago EU rejected table grape consignments from India as they were found containing traces of chlormequat chloride, a plant growth regulator.

Such actions by other countries have multi-fold effects on our credibility as a supplier of safe and standard products, on our foreign exchange reserves, on our economy as rates in local market collapse due to availability of the product locally as a result of which the government may have to dole out assistance to farmers.

Take the case of chili peppers which is considered one of India’s largest foreign ex- change earner. From April to November 2013, 1,81,500 tonnes of chili pepper was exported for $3 million. As chili’s contribution to our foreign exchange earning is 28% of total Indian spices export, the Saudi ban could affect our exchange reserves.

In each of these cases the general response from concerned Indian authorities is that they have taken up the matter with their counterparts in other countries. But, they need to take steps to resolve the issue permanently than take it up only after action by other countries.

In the EU ban on mangoes, an importer is quoted saying that that mangoes could be treated with water to get rid of insects and the EU Commission did not seem to have consulted importers before notifying the ban. If such a simple water treatment is avail- able then why was the ban imposed and why importers, who know of such treatment, were not consulted by EU. Why Indian authorities did not bring this lacune to the notice of au- thorities to solve the problem on a perma- nent basis.

Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) had received warnings and alerts from the Arab kingdom about the presence of high pesti- cide residues in chili. It passed on these warn- ings on permissible levels to exporters and labs as APEDA-approved laboratories check the quality and level of pesticides. One rea- son given for this ban is misunderstanding about use of pesticide residues.

But, the basic problem is not only in the in- ternational market. In Maharashtra, Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) recently de- stroyed 1,400 kg of Alphonso mangoes arti- ficially ripened using calcium carbide. If such habits continue, Indian products are bound to face problems abroad, where safety stan- dards are strict.

An effective solution for this problem is prop- er education and training by passing neces- sary information on standards to farmers and exporters and strict action at the domestic level itself in case of any violation. That will set in the tone for adhering to standards.

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