Jagannath Khapre, president, All India Grape Exporters Association, said the residue problem has been overcome by Indian exporters over the last couple of years. I dont think this will be an issue in the coming years, he told FE. Grape export to the EU had come down to 22,000 tonnes in 2010-11 due to the pesticide issue. Gradually, it increased, touching 56,000 tonnes in 2012-13. In 2010, the EU had stopped grape imports from India saying it has found excessive chemicals in them. Around 40,000 tonnes of grapes worth R300 crore shipped to various European countries were halted as they exceeded the maximum residue level of a chemical contaminant chlormequat chloride a plant growth regulator was detected in excess of the prescribed maximum residue level (MRL).
In 2009, the EU had come up with new regulations on pesticides, raising the chemicals to be monitored from 98 to 167. Unaware of the changed rules, Indian exporters who did not meet the new standards, faced rejection. More than 90% of grapes were from Maharashtra and the balance from Andhra Pradesh.
According to Khapre, the government laboratories later conducted several tests of grapes and did not find any residue content, declaring the produce fit for European markets. However, several exporters who were affected by the rejection were unaware of the changes and it took some time for the trade to normalise. Indian grapes have to undergo around seven laboratory tests before being considered eligible for the European markets.
According to horticulture officials, grapes are now monitored for residues of 173 molecules. New markets such as Russia and China have also led to an overall growth in grape exports. For the last two years, grape exports to Russia have been growing. This year, exports to Russia may double in volume compared with the previous year. From February 2015 onwards, Indian grapes will also find buyers in Japan, Khapre said.
Besides the West Asia, grapes from India are popular in the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Spain, Germany, Sweden, the UAE, among others. Last year, many corporate grape exporters, including Mahindra Shubhlab, had registered a growth of 40 to 50% in exports.
After the pesticide issue, Apeda stepped in and put systems in place to control residues in grapes. Registering their farms on Grapenet is mandatory for farmers for grape exports. The Grapenet system was set up to establish guarantees on the levels of pesticide residues in table grapes meant for export to the EU. On these registered farms, all grape plots are pre-harvest sampled for residue analysis by authorised laboratories. When the result of the analysis complies with the EU MRLs, a certificate is issued online by the laboratory and the grapes can be harvested for export to the EU. After the issue of a phytosanitary certificate, the grapes can be exported.
The All India Grape Growers Association has also been inviting technical experts from other countries to educate farmers on the requirements of overseas markets. A three-day annual event of the association was held in Pune recently. Nashik is the largest producer of grapes in India with nearly 1.75 lakh acres under vineyards, while the total acreage in Maharashtra is around 2.5 lakh acres.