Basmati needs recipe for exports

Pesticide residue,marketing bottlenecks likely to lead to a decline in exports.

Written by Amrita Chaudhry | Ludhiana | Published: July 29, 2011 3:39:32 am

The long grain and aromatic basmati is likely to see a price dip during the harvest season of 2011-12. The reasons are mainly two-fold. While on the export front the crop is taking a beating due to pesticide residue,on the domestic front supply has overshot demand.

Punjab,Haryana and Uttar Pradesh are the three major basmati producing states. Haryana tops the list. With the introduction of PUSA 1121 variety in 2008,Punjab is a close second. At present,Punjab has some 6 lakh hectares of area under basmati crop,which,as per experts,is likely to rise and in fact,the production is all set to touch 16 lakh metric tonnes this year.

Traditionally,basmati has been grown in Amritsar,Tarn Taran and Gurdaspur districts. The introduction of PUSA 1121 has resulted in pockets of basmati crop emerging in Fatehgarh Sahib and Fazilka districts as well.

On the export front,Punjab and Haryana together contribute 70 per cent of the total basmati exports to countries like UAE,Iran,Saudi Arabia,Kuwait and Yemen. Over the past few years,exports to the UK and US have declined.

Dr Baldev Singh Dhillon,Vice-Chancellor of Punjab Agricultural University (PAU),listed reasons for this decline: “Our basmati faces stiff competition from the crop grown in Pakistan. If we want to expand our markets in the UK,US and Canada,we need to control the use of pesticides,” he said.

Along with pesticide residue,marketing of this crop is also a major issue. Farmers earn Rs 1,900-2,400 per quintal as price for this crop.

Director of Agriculture,Punjab,Balwinder Singh Sidhu said,“Marketing of basmati is the only issue which can lead to some distress. There is no minimum support price (MSP) for this crop as the government procures grains only for the poor and this is an elitist crop. Thus,the procurement of basmati is left to private traders. The farmer sells it to middleman,who,in turn,sells it to trader. The trader does not make payment till the time his stock is not sold. Thus,the entire money chain is stuck.”

An example of this can be seen at Kotkapura in Punjab where arhitya or middlemen have advised farmers not to sow basmati or go slow.

Ashok Goel,secretary of Arhitya Association of Kotkapura,said,“We have to make payments to farmers the moment we purchase their crop,but the trader does not pay us till the time his stocks are not exported. For this area alone payment worth Rs 20 crore is stuck due to sluggish exports. Traders claim that some basmati stock could not be exported due to high content of pesticides.”

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