The Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare has launched an initiative to develop a standard operating procedure (SOP) for two pesticides so that paddy farmers can develop good agricultural practices and avoid the presence of their residues in rice exports.
However, rice shippers are seeking the inclusion of more pesticides in developing such SOP. The two pesticides for which SOP would be developed are Tricyclazole and Buprofezin.
“The EIA (Export Inspection Agency) examines basmati and non-basmati rice consignments for 22 pesticide residues when they are shipped to Europe. Shipments to other countries, too, are tested for pesticide residues. But recently, the government launched a programme to develop SOP for only two of the pesticides,” lamented a rice exporter, who did not wish to be identified.
The exporter said that Indian rice shipments face problems concerning some 15 pesticides, and the government should have launched the initiative to develop an SOP for at least these.
SOP for safe use of pesticides
When contacted, Agricultural and Processed Food Products Development Authority (APEDA) Chairman Dr M Angamuthu told BusinessLine that the Ministry of Agriculture had initiated the development of “SOP for safe and judicious use of pesticides specific to use of Tricyclazole and Buprofezin”.
Under this, APEDA is organising “sensitisation programmes for farmers towards good agricultural practices and judicious use of pesticides for export-oriented production of rice”, he said.
The exporter said that the industry was working with farmers on good agricultural practices and paid at least ₹100 a quintal higher than the market price for pesticide-free rice.
“These pesticides will be studied and analysed for developing SOPs. But when EIA is aware of the number of pesticides that are causing problems, we think more should have been included,” the exporter said.
Tricyclazole is a fungicide used for controlling leaf and panicle blast in paddy. The formulation is banned in the European Union. The fungicide is absorbed quickly by the paddy plant, which helps it overcome fungal attacks on the plant.
Research studies show that the chemical can have harmful effects on humans resulting in decreasing body weight. It could result in human reproduction besides causing eye and skin irritations and headache.
Buprofezin is an insecticide used to control pests such as mealybugs, leafhoppers, and whiteflies in crops. It is also an insect growth regulator. This could be harmful to humans if exposed for long, with the liver likely to be affected due to toxicity. The EU has banned the use of this pesticide on food and feed crops since 2017.
The rice exporter said that the SOP has been in the works over the last couple of years under the insecticides board’s initiative.
An agriculture policy expert said that the focus has turned to Tricyclazole and Buprofezin since many rice export consignments are being detained abroad due to residues of these formulations.
Tricyclazole is used by paddy growers when the weather turns humid. “Farmers have no option but to apply the chemical to control fungal attack,” the expert, who did not wish to be identified said.
The issue has cropped with new varieties and short duration crops. For example, the new Basmati varieties are of short duration, and the plant growth happens during July-August when the humidity is high in North India.
The humidity makes the plant suspect to a fungal attack, and the farmer has to apply the pesticide to save his crop, “which he nurtures like his own child”.
On the other hand, with mechanisation taking over, farmers in South India have to wait for their turns for running harvesters on their field. This sometimes will result in the crop having to wait an additional 10-15 days before harvest.
The farmer would not want to risk any pest attack during this time, resulting in spraying the pesticide. “This is also one reason why no alternative has been developed to this,” he added.
A study on “Impact of pesticide residue on the export of Basmati rice” by Ankur Prakash Verma and Vinod Kumar of Sardar Vallabhai Patel University of Agriculture and Technology said Indian exports were facing problems in developed nations such as the EU, Japan, Australia and the US as the pesticide residues exceed the permissible limit.