The Ministry of Agriculture’s decision to ban the import of cauliflower and beans after BAFRA found higher then permissible levels of pesticides is a welcome development for food safety.
For too long vegetable and other food items suppliers from across the border have been getting away with a lot of food malpractices which even include using harmful chemicals to make some fruits and vegetables appear better than they actually are.
The Ministry and BAFRA should not stop at this but should carry out regular and thorough checks of all imported food items and make those reports public as they are doing now.
However, in the longer run it will be better to engage the relevant government agencies and food suppliers across the border.
For instance it is well known that the bulk of our imported vegetables come from and through Falakata in West Bengal.
The import bans while sending a strong initial message should be followed up with discussions to improve regulatory and safety standards of these exporters across the border.
This would be in addition to strengthening our own border checks of imported food items.
On the other hand a collateral impact of the import ban has been a huge surge in the price of the banned vegetables making them virtually unaffordable for low income families.
This shows that the Ministry needs to come up with concrete measures to ensure that such bans do not lead to predatory pricing which while generating short term profits will be bad in the long run.
One solution would be to replicate Bhutan’s egg substitution success in the area of vegetables where initially high prices, shortages and unreliability caused by import bans gave way to more stable supply and prices.
This would mean more investments by all sides as well as simple farm to market strategies.
Until recently one of the biggest challenges for Bhutan’s food self sufficiency plans was cheaper imports but now the stakes are higher with a co-relation between food self-sufficiency and safety.
“The greatest fine art of the future will be the making of a comfortable living from a small piece of land.”