Chilli powder sold in Indian market sometimes branded contains high level of Aflatoxin B1
Agriculture Nutrition & Health

‘Doubling Agricultural Export’ without quality control in place could backfire !

The Ministry of Commerce and Industry of India, is now looking to foster “Doubling Agricultural Exports” to fulfil the Government’s vision of doubling farmers income. No doubt, it’s a robust plan to reshape Indian agriculture as expected from a dynamic government while stepping towards “New India”.

The task of doubling the agricultural exports and integrating the produce of Indian farmers into the global value chain is no doubt stupendous, but at the same time equally challenging. This should start with the identification of burning problems damaging Indian agricultural exports, keeping in view of the declining export trend in important commodities and rising import alerts and recalls.

Presence of Aflatoxins, a carcinogen in Indian chillies has long been a deterrent not only to export market but also in domestic processing industries. Red chillies which are spotted with black discolourations are usually used for processors of Chilli powders leaving the best quality for export. Such Chilli powder sold in Indian market sometimes branded contains high level of Aflatoxin B1 (anywhere between 30 to 960 ppb as against permissible limit of 20 ppb). Aflatoxin B1 is highly carcinogenic causing liver cancer, duodenal ulcer besides suppressing immunity. 

Chilli powder sold in Indian market sometimes branded contains high level of Aflatoxin B1

The picture given here was taken from a processing plant that uses Chillies with aflatoxin traces for making chilli powder. The loads of Aflatoxin containing fungus (Aspergillus flavus) can be seen in the picture (right). This has been again echoed in Times of India’s News claiming the presence of cancer causing aflatoxins found in Chilli samples observed in Guntur. This is set to destabilise India’s export which is the major producer, exporter and also consumer of Chilli. The prospects of  Andhra Pradesh is also in stake as it set to be the largest Chilli producing state, close to 7.0 lakh tons annually.  

Second, India continues to use pesticides which are not even permitted or banned in developed countries. Application of such pesticides in Basmati Rice resulted in dwindling of its export. European Union in a recent move drastically reduced the Maximum Residue Level (MRL) of Tricyclazole from 1 ppm to 0.01 ppm in Basmati rice, putting Indian exporters to a great challenge. Excessive pesticide and chemical residues are major concern for Indian agricultural exports besides aflatoxin, right from Basmati to grapes to peanut – the list is exhaustive.

The announcement of increasing the value of agricultural export to US$ 100 billion by 2022 appears blue sky with the falling export from US$ 43.0 billion in 2013-14 to US$ 33.0 billion during 2016-17. However, India ambitiously signed agricultural export deals with number of countries in North America, Latin America, Asia Pacific and South-east Asia and is moving aggressively to expand more market destinations. Such a move requires serious introspection into the preparedness and capabilities of various stakeholders involved in agri-export and its value chain.

The author Dr. M S Basu is a Managing Director, SBSF Consultancy. And also a former Director ICAR (DARE); Visiting Scientist ICRISAT (CGIAR); UNIDO International Consultant on Aflatoxin, Malawi (Africa); Senior Advisor, National Cooperative Federation, New Delhi & Executive Director, Urvara Agro-Biotech, New Delhi. Reach him by mail at muktisadhan@gmail.com