Russian authorities just stopped a contaminated consignment of Pakistani rice. Are we looking at a ban?

Pakistan is trying to make its mark in the international rice trade at a time when India has stopped its export of rice. Will this be detrimental?

A nasty surprise awaited the Russian port authorities when a consignment of Pakistani rice arrived at port on the 15th of March. The consignment of white rice had the presence of an insect Megaselia scalaris (LOEW), commonly known as “scuttle fly” or “coffin fly.”

Normally, the presence of minor insects would not be a major deal breaker in the international trade of food commodities. Countries regularly have pest control and fumigation protocols for all imported food. The only problem was that the particular kind of fly that was in the consignment is not native to Russia, and as such a fast reproducing pest such as the coffin fly could wreak havoc on Russia’s ecological integrity.

To fend away such a situation, Russia has strict controls against it in place. This, of course, is a blunder of great magnitude. Pakistan is currently at a crossroads in the international market where its rice is high in demand because of India ending its export of different kinds of rice. To send a consignment to a high-profile country like Russia that has not been properly vetted and contains a foreign pest will send shockwaves in the effort to make Pakistan a major rice exporter. 

It takes glaring inefficiency to make a mistake of this magnitude and possibly harm trade ties between the two countries. What makes this worse is that this is not the first time this has happened. Pakistan faced a similar situation with Russia back in 2019 and had to face a ban from the country. So what effects will this latest mishap have on Russia-Pakistan food trade?

While talking with different sources with the government departments and other stakeholders, we tried to understand the whole episode and reasons behind such incidents which harm the country’s exports. And why, at a time when Pakistan needs exports to balance its current account, are regulators shooting themselves in the foot. 

A story of Russian interception

Under the Article VII of International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), the importing country has sovereign right to “regulate the entry of plants and plant products and other regulated articles and, to this end, may prescribe phytosanitary measures including ban on import of goods from any trading country with the aim of preventing the introduction and/or spread of regulated pests into their territories.” This is mainly because invasive pests may be detrimental to the agriculture industry of an importing nation once introduced, developed and spread.

Rosselkhoznadzor – Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance (FSVPS) is a National Plant Protection Organization (NPPO) of Russia under the Ministry of Agriculture of the Russian Federation it is responsible for biosecurity of Russia.

Originally, “biosecurity” was mainly used in defence regarding the control of biological weapons. Later, due to its growing importance, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Biosecurity defined it as a strategic and integrated approach that encompasses the policy and regulatory frameworks (including instruments and activities) for analysing and managing relevant risks to human, animal and plant life and health, and associated risks to the environment.

Rosselkhozdanazor has sent a ‘Notification of Non-compliance’ to Department of Plant Protection (DPP), National Plant Protection Organization of Pakistan, under Ministry of National Food Security and Research (MNFSR) on violations of international and Russian phytosanitary requirements at deliveries of regulated products from Pakistan to the Russian Federation on 17th March.

The notification has been served by Rosselkhozdanazor to DPP (NPPO) in connection with provisions of the International Standard for Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, (ISPM-13) prescribed by IPPC to whom Pakistan and Russia also signatory. In the notification, Rosselkhozdanazr has provided DPP necessary information regarding intercepted rice shipment and requested to conduct an investigation into the matter and take measures to prevent this violation, and inform the Rosselkhoznadzor about the measures taken in the shortest possible time.

Notification reveals that the intercepted white rice consignment was exported by M/s Garribson Pvt. Ltd. in Karachi through MSC MARITINA V on 10th of January. The consignment arrived at the big port of St. Petersburg of Russia on 15 of March after a two month voyage. Coffin flies were detected in the shipment by Rosselkhozdanazor during inspection. 

According to Pakistani documents, prior to leaving from Pakistan, the consignment was disinfected by M/s Prince Pest Control Services, Karachi, a vendor selected and arranged by the exporter. Hafiz Muhammad Zohaib, an Entomologist from DPP conducted the inspection and declared it free from pests and approved its phytosanitary certificate.

Mr. Muhammad Shaukat Hayat, Minister (Trade & Investment) in Embassy of Pakistan, Russia translated and forwarded this notification to DPP and warned DPP that in order to avoid any possible ban on rice exports from Pakistan to Russia, an investigation into matter of sending non-compliant rice shipment to Russia should be conducted and shared its results with FSVPS immediately. 

However, his remarks regarding a possible ban on Pakistani rice exports to Russia, something that was reportedly not hinted at in the Rosselkhoznadzor letter, has created panic and unrest among the rice industry. According to the rice industry they are already facing very strict phytosanitary import measures for export of rice from Pakistan to Russia that allow only 19 rice establishments and companies including the non-compliant company (Garribson), to export rice. The panic was justified because precedent suggests that in the past FSVPS has banned import of rice from Pakistan in 2006 and then in 2019 intercepting infested rice shipments.

According to International Sanitary and Phytosanitary standards, when a country intercepts an import at its port, that has a harmful organism, it has three options; confiscation and destruction of consignment; disinfestation and deport the consignment; or emergency disinfestation treatment and releasing of the consignment in the country.   

It is revealed that despite the notification sent to the DPP by FSVPS, the FSVPS had given clearance to the intercepted consignment after treatment onshore instead of deporting or confiscating and destroying the consignment. 

Interestingly the notification of non-compliance issued by Rosselkhoznadzor mentions India as a country for the issuance of the phytosanitary certificate accompanying the consignment. The notification hence mistakenly attaches a certificate issued on 29th of March  with notification that was itself served on 15th March 2024. The DPP states that this might need clarification from Rosselkhoznadzor by DPP.

According to Schedule XI of Pakistan Plant Quarantine Rules, 2019, the registration of M/s Prince Pest Control Services, Karachi is necessary to be suspended. Since, interception has occurred due to defective fumigation. Therefore unless it is established in investigation that the container had been opened after treatment by any other agency, the registration will remain suspended. 

Disciplinary action is also provided against Hafiz Muhammad Zohaib for issuing phytosanitary certificate to infested consignment based on faulty and inept inspection, unless it is established that the containers were not opened by any other one or agency.

It is pertinent to note that this investigation and phytosanitary actions are pending since 17th of March. 

While the news of any ban on Pakistani rice has been categorically denied and is found out to be nothing but an undue remark added during translation by Mr Shaukat Hayat, it sparks a new debate regarding the issuance of these notifications to Pakistan. The officials at DPP do not receive the notification with an open heart. Their discontentment, however, is not based on phytosanitary standards but rather on other factors such as courtesy. They claim that they have never dared to reciprocate similar strong action, such as a “notification of non-compliance”, against Russia despite repeated interceptions of Russian wheat and grains with harmful insects. 

Rather, the DPP opts to conduct emergency disinfestation treatment to Russian goods on arrival after detection of biosecurity risks and gives them biosecurity clearance. Why does Pakistan afford such leniency to Russia despite its biosecurity misconduct? God knows. But is that reason enough to expect Russia to do the same, even the DPP fails to answer.

DPP; A bureaucratic nightmare

According to insiders the major issue causing negligence on the part of the department is lack of relevant and technical officials running the department. As per the available information, DPP is currently operating without a regular head of department i.e., a Director General, a Plant Protection Adviser and a Director Technical. In their absence the Deputy Director Quarantine, and Entomologist Quarantine (H), both BS-18 and BS-17 officers respectively are reluctant to take actions for want of jurisdiction. 

However, it is revealed that even when the positions were occupied the Director General and Director Technical, were hired on a political basis. Against precedent promotions and hiring of individuals without due procedure has been the norm at the DPP.

The post of Director General has been vacant since 9th April 2024 after the Sindh High Court ruled that the appointment of a preferred Director General by the Federal Government in DPP under Civil Servant Act, 1973 and Civil Servant (Appointment, Promotion & Transfer) Rules, 1973  (the CSA,1973 Act & CSR, 1973) had been made without lawful authority and jurisdiction as such appointment could not be made when an eligible senior most officer was already available.

In June 2022, the Federal Government temporarily appointed Mr. Allah Ditta Abid as the Director General, instead of Dr. Muhammad Tariq Khan, the senior most officer without specifying any reason. Tariq Khan who then challenged the appointment before the high court, got the decision in his favour. The court ordered the appointment of an eligible officer as Director General, on a regular basis by promotion by holding a meeting of the Selection Board immediately. The ministry has not complied with the order so far.

The officials also believe that the appointment of favourites overlooks their technical qualification and relevant experiences in most cases. As a result the DPP collects all muds and burdens of wrong policies and actions introduced and spread by the temporary appointments.

An insider revealed that the former secretary of the ministry proposed the appointment of retired army officers in DPP to regulate import and export of agricultural commodities with respect to sanitary and phytosanitary measures. This shows that he was not aware that as per international guidelines and conventions signed by the Federal Government, technical manpower is required for inspection and certification of regulated agricultural goods. An unqualified candidate would not be able to carry out the job and nor would he be acceptable for the importing countries. Such policies lead to total disaster of these departments and invite restrictions on import of agricultural goods from Pakistan. 

Another example of these hirings is an officer appointed by the most recent caretaker government Mr Muhammad Qasim Khan Kakar on the post of and Director Admin in DPP without requisite qualification and experience. While in service he was given additional charge, on mere verbal order of the outgoing secretary, MNFSR of the post of Director Technical (Quarantine), overlooking the regulation that additional charge could not be given against a filled post.

The decision proved to be fatal for the department resulting in case after case of corruption and outright incompetence. The officer was later recommended for suspension for the clearance of a highly infested shipment of chickpeas lying at Karachi port without proper inspection and testing and on fake documents. Earlier, in 2022, the whole top brass of the DPP was investigated by the FIA for alleged corruption in the Methyl Bromide case. The department allegedly preferred one company to import the substance and use it for fumigation purposes. The case resulted in Pakistan’s meat exports to be flagged as substandard by major importer destinations like the United States and Europe.

Another reason behind poor working of DPP, as per officials of the department, is the shortage of necessary infrastructure and modern gadgets of inspection. The officials have admitted that presently, the number of DPP experts are too few to conduct proper inspection and certification, so, they have to release many importable high risk consignments daily without inspection and appropriate treatment. Custom, and exporter agents are wisely manipulating this situation for their own benefits. 

Just how important is DPP?

The effects of these problems are far reaching. They have allowed the introduction and spread of a welter of invasive biosecurity risks in Pakistan. The increasing pest complex in crops, orchards and forests has increased the use of pesticides to control and this has soared the pesticides import bill of Pakistan from 30 billion to 130 billion during the last 12 years and despite indiscriminate use of pesticides, Pakistan’s production is declining due to invasive pests. 

If the recent interception is an example of the diligent work of Rosselkhoznadzor (FSVPS) that quarantine specialists do on a daily basis, this interception is a classical paradigm of poor work done by the experts of DPP, responsible for the biosecurity of Pakistan. 

The export products of the country have become infamous for being intercepted and face stringent restrictions from importing countries. This has caused a substantial dip in Pakistan’s exports. It is a big blow to an agricultural country like Pakistan whose fragile economy depends upon enhanced export of agricultural products and a reduced import of agricultural products.

While for now, the call for a ban may have been a wolf cry, insiders suggest that if investigation and corrective actions remain pending and more consignments are intercepted in Russia, Pakistan may face ban from Russia and other countries for sending non-complying goods.

The problem of being under-resourced to DPP however, is not new. The federal government has failed to provide requisite manpower and build infrastructure for the most key National Plant Protection Organization, DPP in Pakistan since 1990 

Today DPP’s manpower and infrastructure has been reduced manifolds since its inception.

The policy and actions of MNFSR have always been more experimental and temporary rather than serious and permanent regarding its attached department including DPP, Federal Seed Certification and Registration Department (FSCRD) and Animal Quarantine Department (AQD) since long. Sometimes, MNFSR blames the Planning Commission, other times the Finance Department, and mostly, the Establishment Division for their pity and irrelevant objections in the way of strengthening of DPP, AQD and FSRD.

Ban from Russia in 2006 and 2019 was also imposed on Pakistan when it was headed by non-qualified and non-experienced temporarily appointed officers.

The timing

All of this comes at a time when Pakistan is anticipated to achieve a record high in rice exports by June, driven by India’s decision to limit its own shipments. The move has redirected buyers to source more rice from Islamabad, where prices are at their highest point in almost 16 years.

Normally India would be the Big Kahuna in the rice export field, but due to domestic troubles, the Indian government put a ban on the export of rice and raised the price of Basmati rice. With India out of the market, buyers are switching to Pakistan, and local prices are gradually rising despite higher production, said Hammad Attique, director, sales & marketing at Lahore-based Latif Rice Mills. Pakistan is offering 5% broken white rice at around $640 per ton and parboiled rice around $680 per ton, up from $465 and $486 respectively a year ago. Pakistan currently exports non-basmati rice mainly to Indonesia, Senegal, Mali, Ivory Coast, and Kenya and premium basmati rice to the European Union, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, dealers said. In India’s absence, Vietnam, Thailand, and Pakistan are trying to fill the gap. However, Pakistan’s relative proximity to buying countries in the Middle East, Europe and Africa is providing it with a freight advantage, said a Mumbai-based dealer.

Pakistan’s rice exports are expected to reach 5 million metric tons in the 2023/24 financial year, up from 3.7 million tons the previous year. Some industry officials are even more optimistic, suggesting that exports could reach 5.2 million tons, given the significant improvement in production this year. Pakistan is projected to produce 9 to 9.5 million tons of rice in 2023/24, rebounding from the previous year’s 5.5 million tons, which was impacted by floods. In December alone, Pakistan exported approximately 700,000 tons of rice, with higher production and elevated global prices enabling rapid exports. Basmati rice exports are expected to increase by 60% to 950,000 tons, while non-basmati exports could surge by 36% to 4.25 million tons. Traditionally, India offered non-basmati rice at a lower price than Pakistan. 

However, with India withdrawing from the market, buyers are turning to Pakistan. 

Local prices are gradually rising despite higher production, with 5% broken white rice priced at around $640 per ton and parboiled rice at around $680 per ton, up from $465 and $486 respectively a year ago. Pakistan’s current export destinations for non-basmati rice include Indonesia, Senegal, Mali, Ivory Coast, and Kenya, while premium basmati rice is exported to the European Union, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, as reported by industry dealers. 

Ghulam Abbas
Ghulam Abbas
The writer is a member of the staff at the Islamabad Bureau. He can be reached at [email protected]


  1. “this has soared the pesticides import bill of Pakistan from 30 billion to 130 billion during the last 12 years ”

    Are these figures adjusted for PKR devaluation over said period?


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