MRLs and Trade: Trade disruptions in rice would badly affect farmers livelihood
Oct. 15, 2020
From producers, to traders, to regulators and consumers, the impacts of international trade regulations are felt all along the value chain. Understanding how a reliable and trusted regulatory framework feeds into all aspects of food security and safety is key to ensuring smooth trade in agricultural products.
In the interview conducted by CropLife International, experts from across the international trade landscape gave their perspectives on the vital role international regulatory standards play in facilitating trade and why reliability and science-based policy-making are fundamental.
This part is the interview with Ravichandran Vanchinathan, Indian rice farmer and Global Director of Global Farmer Network.
What is the Global Farmer Network?
Ravichandran Vanchinathan: “The Global Farmer Network is a non-profit organization formed by the farmers and for the farmers since 2000. It amplifies farmers’ voices in promoting trade, technology, sustainable farming, economic growth, and food security. This platform enables farmers to raise their voice in support of trade, technology and innovation, often knocking at the doors of policy makers to bring about desired change.”
Why is it important to minimize trade disruptions in rice?
RV: “I have been growing rice since 1986. Rice feeds more than half the world’s population, most of them living in Asia and Africa. We must produce enough to feed the growing population. Because of unpleasant trade wars, rice farmers are going to be hit in the crossfire. Unfortunately, most rice growers are the resource poor, small and marginal farmers. Trade disruptions in rice would badly affect their livelihood and millions of farmers all over India would be facing irretrievable peril.”
What role do MRLs play in the trade of rice and how does this impact on rice farmers?
RV: “Millions of rice farmers battle against biotic stresses like pests, disease and weeds alongside other abiotic stress factors. Fortunately, we have a solution on hand. The farm input industry has innovated powerful molecules which are safe and low volume chemicals.”
“Rice grows during rabi (winter) season when the temperature variance between day and night is significant. This is the ideal condition for several diseases including the deadly fungal disease known as Blast. This inflicts a lot of damage to fine grain such as the long slender aromatic Basmati Rice if preventative and corrective measures are not taken in time. Worldwide, rice farmers spray a certain chemical to manage Blast. This chemical has proven to be very effective in controlling Blast in rice. The insistence by the EU that farmers scale down the use of this chemical to 1/100th of the present 1% minimum residual level is a big blow to rice farmers.”
“If we drastically reduce the dosage or don't use these chemicals at all, two problems would arise. First, the grain quality will be low due to Blast infected rice. We call this dirty grain that cannot be exported or consumed locally. Second, the fungus would develop resistance against the fungicide we have been successfully using to control Blast. If the grain quality is poor due to Blast disease, the importer, especially EU nations, would reject it outright. Who will compensate the farmers? Currently, we don't have an alternative molecule to replace the one we are using. The arm twisting to reduce the spray of this fungicide to a very low level would inflict huge economic loss on the world’s rice farmers.”
Trade disruptions in rice would badly affect their livelihood and millions of farmers all over India would be facing irretrievable peril.”
What can be done to improve the regulatory environment around MRLs?
RV: “The present benchmark level of 0.01% is impractical if it needs to be complied with to satisfy just the EU member states. Instead it must be gradually reduced on an annual basis over a five-year timeline. The EU imports less than 10% of our overall export of Basmati. The Gulf countries are our major importers of Indian Basmati. They don't stipulate such stringent levels. The US and Japan allow an MRL that is more than 1% as they don’t see any harm to the consumer. Until alternative scientifically proven methods to ensure efficient control of Blast have been researched, the current MRL of 1% must continue.”
How important is science-based policy-making in the trade of food and ag products?
RV: “The policy paralysis in relation to agriculture should go. Policy makers should trust science. We have one of the best world class research labs on toxicology – the Indian Institute of Toxicology Research Institute in Lucknow. Similarly, we have the Central Institute of Food Technology Research in Mysore. We have some of the best brains in the world working in these Institutes. We should test in these labs and convince ourselves regarding the safety of MRLs. Armed with these institutes’ test results we must arrive at our own MRL and renegotiate with the importing nations.”
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