We dont need mandis in states like Haryana and Punjab

Written by Sandip Das | Kiritika Suneja | Updated: Feb 14 2013, 10:04am hrs
For the first time perhaps, Indias agricultural products exports have received global attention with an annual shipment of $32 billion during 2011-12. With exports for the current fiscal inching towards the $40 billion mark, the government has its task cut out for the implementation of a robust system where shipments of products take place without any restrictions. Sandip Das and Kirtika Suneja spoke to Asit Tripathy, joint secretary (agriculture), ministry of commerce, who is also the chairman of the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), on issues concerning food exports. Excerpts:

There has been a huge jump in Indias agricultural and processed food exports. What factors have contributed to this surge in exports

The exports of agricultural products have more than doubled in the last four years. The exports turnover during 2011-12 has been $32.62 billion. The growth trend continues as exports of agricultural and processed foods have grown by more than 23% during April-December 2012 compared to the same period last year. The export value during April-December 2012 is reported at $28.9 billion.

As per the latest statistics released by the WTO for the global trend, Indias share in global agricultural exports has gone up to more than 2% at present. There has been a significant growth in this share in the last couple of years, which is important keeping in view the large domestic demand for agricultural products.

What are the key commodities whose exports have seen a surge in the last five years What could be the reasons for the surge in shipments

Major performers are Basmati and non-Basmati rice, bovine meat, guargum, peanuts, wheat and processed food exports. One of the major contributors to the growth in the last two years has been the policy decision announced by the government, particularly in September 2011, to permit exports of wheat and non-Basmati rice. There may not be no period like 2011 to 2013 when there was no Minimum Export Price (MEP) regime on various food items including Basmati rice. The growth in the export of processed food products has been mainly coming from initiatives by the government through APEDA and other agencies in the area of infrastructure and quality development.

Could you elaborate on the infrastructure that supported Indias agricultural goods exports

Infrastructure for common use, such as integrated pack houses for fruits and vegetables and centres for storage of export cargo of perishable agri-products at the airports, have contributed significantly in improving the quality of the final produce delivered to the markets. Setting up facilities for pre-shipment treatments such as irradiation and vapour heat treatment have helped in getting market access for our products into the developed countries such as the US, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Quality initiatives with software-based traceability such as GrapeNet, AnarNet, PeanutNet have helped improve the perception of the buyers about the quality of the produce being offered by Indian exporters.

Could you tell us more about the government measures for ensuring that Indian shipment are not rejected because of the presence of higher levels of pesticide traces

Efforts are being made to increase the awareness of farm producers about the use of good agricultural practices, particularly the judicious use of pesticides. The problem faced by exports of grapes and Basmati rice in recent years in markets such as the European Union, Japan and the US are due to the detection of pesticide residues at levels higher than the Minimum Residue Limits (MRL) for a large number of chemicals. These MRLs are not based on any scientific studies. The levels of the pesticide residues detected in Indian produce do not pose any threats to consumers. These are issues related to legal compliance.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India has devised standards for all products because it is not possible to have different quality standards for products for domestic consumption and exports.

Even the exports of organic food products have been rising steadily from India...

The implementation of the national programme for organic production by the department of commerce has helped India to emerge as a reliable supplier of a wide range of organic produce.

India is the first exporting country that has introduced TraceNet, a software-based traceability for organic exports. Group certification of farmers has expanded the reach of the programme to small producers through the reduction of certification cost.

What are the long-term policicies of the government on the export of key agricultural goods Do you approve of the ban on exports as a policy for dealing with domestic price rises

The recent approval by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (for allowing unrestricted exports of 14 types of processed food) would help further the growth of exports. Exports of processed and value-added agricultural products would be permitted even if there is a restriction or ban on the export of basic farm produce. The processed or value-added items made from cereals, milk and fresh vegetables such as onion would be the major beneficiaries from this policy. We have no business of exporting fruits and vegetables. We must export processed fruits like juices, which are value-added products. Also, there are issues related to the logistics and packaging of fruits and vegetables.

Is the market for agricultural goods in the country helping the farmers and consumers

I am dissatisfied with the Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs) functioning across states. No doubt APMCs have served their purpose in Punjab and Haryana, but elsewhere they have not taken root because there is no agricultural surplus or many states lack the required will. In fact, an APMC in the commercialised set up is a bottleneck today. We dont need mandis in states such as Haryana and Punjab. What we need is direct selling with an integrated back-end supply-chain as there have been improvement is restrictions of trading.