Maize consignments intercepted with pests, export to Vietnam and other countries in doldrums

Pakistani maize intercepted with Khapra beetle; Vietnamese authorities alert DPP

ISLAMABAD: Following risks to Pakistan’s rice exports to Russia and a longstanding ban on rice imports by Mexico due to pest interceptions, another major export commodity, maize or corn, is now facing similar threats in Vietnam and other importing countries.


As per details for the financial year 2023-24, maize exports are expected to reach an unprecedented milestone of 1.5 million tons. The export value of corn reached $13.45 million in the same fiscal year, compared to $9.95 million in the same period the previous year, marking substantial growth. 


A Golden Year for Maize:


In this export, Vietnam stands as the leading importer of Pakistani corn, with the export value to Vietnam rising to $4.80 million in July-June 2023-24 from $1.26 million the previous year. Other importing countries include Malaysia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Afghanistan, Oman, Yemen, the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, and others. Over the last two years, Pakistan has become the 24th largest exporter of maize grains.


This record level has been driven by an excellent harvest and consistent growth, largely fueled by the demands of the Pakistani poultry sector, which previously relied mainly on imported genetically modified soybean. Strict checks by the Department of Plant Protection (DPP) during 2022 and 2023 on the unlawful import of GMO soybean from the USA, Brazil, and Argentina, without obtaining licenses from the Environmental Protection Agency of Pakistan and devitalization prescribed by the DPP, positively impacted the poultry industry, thereby increasing the domestic need for feed. The demand for non-GMO maize by Vietnam’s poultry and cattle industry also resulted in increased cultivation and exports to Vietnam. 


This also led to a decline in the import of over $1 billion worth of soybean by Pakistan for oil consumption and meal use in the poultry industry by 2021. Additionally, the devaluation of the Pakistani rupee has helped position exporters to offer highly competitive pricing in the global market.


The interceptions:


However, Pakistan’s maize export to Vietnam is facing potential risks due to continuous interceptions of maize consignments with harmful organisms, specifically the Khapra beetle, which is an intolerable pest for Vietnam and is widespread in Pakistan. The DPP is struggling to regulate this pest within establishments engaged in the export of agricultural commodities due to its limited human and financial resources.


In a recent letter to the Ministry of National Food Security and Research, Ministry of Commerce, DPP, and other concerned organizations, the Commercial Section of the Embassy of Pakistan in Hanoi highlighted significant concerns regarding the export of five non-compliant and infested maize consignments from Pakistan to Vietnam.


During a meeting held on July 3, 2024, between Faiza Shafqat, Trade and Investment Secretary at the Pakistan Embassy in Vietnam, and Mr. Nguyen Quang Hieu, Deputy Director General of the Plant Protection Department (PPD) of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) in Vietnam, the issue was brought to light. The PPD issued two notes, dated February 15 and July 3, 2024, detailing the non-compliance concerns.


According to the letter, Vietnam imports corn worth $2.5 billion annually, presenting a significant opportunity for Pakistan to expand its market share further. However, the recent interceptions of Pakistani corn with Khapra beetle pose a serious threat to this potential growth.


The letter dated February 15, 2024, addressed to Dr. Muhammad Qasim Khan Kakar, appointed as Director Admin on deputation in DPP from Agriculture Research Institute, Agriculture and Cooperatives Department, Government of Balochistan, highlighted that Vietnam had intercepted corn consignments with harmful organisms, not in compliance with the country’s phytosanitary import requirements. The letter warned that repeated issues could lead to an import suspension.


The export pace has been slowing down, attributed to non-compliant stocks infested with pests and higher moisture content due to poor phytosanitary measures at corn processing and storage establishments by the DPP.


Issues within the DPP:


The issue can be tracked back all the way back to DPP. The Plant Protection Department suffers from a severe shortage of technical and qualified officers. Currently, 14 technical officers, without any physical quarantine infrastructure, are handling duties including quarantine inspection, supervising disinfestation treatments, audits of grain establishments, and phytosanitary certification, which is practically impossible and gives rise to corrupt practices.


After the expiration of contracts for 56 entomologists under the Anti-Locust Project and the termination of 54 entomologists under the LEAF project, the DPP is left understaffed. , According to an order dated June 30, 2024, the DPP, has posted Mr. Fakhar u Zaman, a senior technical officer, as Deputy Director Operations. 


However the integrity of the said officer is revealed to be tainted as he is already nominated in an FIR on charges of corruption and the release of an old shipment of chickpeas by FIA, Karachi along with other technical officials who remain a part of DPP till date. 


Similarly other existing officers have also been known to be on the wrong side of the law. Insiders claim that Mr. Umer Farooq, an entomologist, is nominated in an FIR by FIA on charges of corruption and release of an infested soybean consignment by receiving a bribe of 160 million rupees and remained in judicial custody in Landhi Jail, Karachi for more than three months. 


The officers’ political protection affords them the opportunities to remain out of the limelight. Dr. Muhammad Basit, Deputy Director Quarantine Operation, another Deputy Director, has been transferred from the DPP quarantine office at the Karachi seaport to the DPP office in Sukkar without any regulatory and quarantine work by on the directive of the Federal Minister, MNFSR, Rana Tanvir Ahmad, following repeated complaints of corruption and releasing consignments of ginger, coconut, garlic, pulses, spices, and soybean on bogus inspections. 


Ali Akbar and Muhammad Tariq, Assistant Entomologists, have also been deputed at the Taftan land terminal for quarantine duties. Whereas non-technical officials are not entitled to appointment in quarantine due to restrictions in plant quarantine regulations.


Dr. Muhammad Rao Ishfaque, Deputy Director Technical, has been posted at the DPP outpost in Lahore all alone to conduct quarantine inspections of hundreds of consignments daily. This includes inspection of consignments simultaneously at Allama Iqbal International Airport, mango treatment plants, NLC ports, and audits of more than a hundred consignments and establishments.


Similarly a low number of officers, often coming out to be one or two, have been appointed to inspect massive regions across the country.


More than 54 commercial fumigators registered with the DPP, along with more than 100 rice, sesame, maize, and chili establishments, and more than 30 mango hot water treatment plants and more than 25 citrus cold treatment plants are without regular inspection, audits, and monitoring as required under domestic and international regulations, resulting in interceptions and bans on Pakistan’s main goods.



Even now, as per insiders, nothing was done by the DPP, especially by the relevant department of Quarantine in response to such letters, which invited another similar letter this month from Vietnam. 


When contacted for comments Secretary Ministry of National Food Security and Research Fakhre Alam refused to give any whereas Director General DPP Tarik Khan could not be contacted despite repeated attempts.

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


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