Centre, basmati exporters looking at alternative fungicides to treat rice

The Centre is working with basmati exporters to identify alternatives to tricyclazole — a fungicide used to treat rice — as the European Union seems inflexible in its decision to bring down the tolerance level for the chemical next year, effectively banning its use.

“If alternatives are not found, India’s basmati exports to the region could get hit drastically as the levels of tricyclazole in Indian rice is mostly much higher than the default level of 0.001 ppm (parts per million) that the EU wants,” a government official told BusinessLine.

The Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), under the Department of Commerce, together with basmati rice-exporting companies, is looking at possible solutions to the problem, the official added.

No issues with current cap

The maximum residue limit (MRL) for tricyclazole, a fungicide used by rice-growing countries to protect the crop from a disease called ‘blast’, is at present fixed at 1 ppm by the European Union.

Indian exporters do not have any problems staying within this limit, but once the default level of 0.001 ppm kicks in, much of the $3 billion of basmati exported to the EU from India could get affected.

The industry and government are finding it difficult to zero in on other fungicides that could be used because of a peculiar problem, the official said. While the fungicide isoprothiolane (IPT) could be a good alternative to tricyclazole as it has similar properties and is allowed in the EU, it is difficult to advise farmers to switch to it as the chemical is restricted in the United States.

So, in order to save the market in the EU, India would have to put at risk its market for basmati rice in the US, if it switches to IPT. The Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) is also working on varieties of rice that are resistant to the heat blast disease but it will take time to yield results.

“Before we are able to have our own varieties of disease-free rice, we have to use our diplomatic skills to sort out the problem with the EU and also with the US if required,” the official said.

India is continuing to talk to the EU hoping to convince it to change its mind about lowering the maximum residue limit for tricyclazole.

“The EU does not seem too impressed by the problem Indian basmati exporters may face next year. India is talking to countries like Italy and Portugal, which do not support the EU initiative of raising the tolerance level, to strengthen its argument,” the official said.

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