Colombia paddy shipment was fungus free, exporter says

General Manager of Saj Rice Group (SRG) Carlos Carbo yesterday said a consignment of paddy recently shipped by his company to Colombia was free of any disease, fungus or quality issues when it left the local shores.

Reacting to a claim by the Colombian Farming Institute (CFI) that the 1,000 tonne shipment was infested with a Tilletia-type fungus, Carbo emphasized that paddy is subjected to quality control procedures and tests from the “Rice Lab” before leaving Guyana. When contacted by Stabroek News, he explained that SRG has sold the quantity of paddy to a Colombia-based importer, INTERBAHIA Investment. Quality checks, he noted, were carried out by the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB). Tests were also done on the product by the “Rice Lab” which, Carbo added, is “an international laboratory that certifies most of Guyana rice.”

CFI, according to Carbo, has stated that the shipment is infested with Tilletia barclayana–a fungus which attacks rice kernels. However, Carbo said he has received information which states that the presence of this fungus was never reported in Guyana. The Ministry of Agriculture, Carbo continued, has confirmed this with support from CABI and EPPO.

According to Carbo, Tilletia fungi are found only in temperate climates and cause severe damage to the kernels. The fungus, he described, is “smelly and visible at first glance.” Neither a written report nor lab analysis, he pointed out, has been given to the Colombia importer in support of statements it made initially to the media with regard to the issue. Carbo stated that SRG has also learnt that the a shipment of rice from the United States (US), which arrived in Colombia four or five days earlier, was infected by Tilletia indica, a similar strain of the fungus. This, Carbo said, give strength to the theory that the infection could have occurred after the shipment arrived in Colombia.

Minister of Agriculture, Robert Persaud, has since written to Colombia’s Agriculture Minister informing him of the matter inclusive of a review, given SRG’s and GRDB’s insistence that the paddy left here free of fungus.

“We see Colombia as an emerging rice market,” Persaud said yesterday, “Especially at a time when exporters are being urged to diversify their markets so that we can get better prices for our increased production.”

On Sunday the minister had informed that steps were being taken to address the issue. He had ordered the GRDB to launch an investigation which is still ongoing.

According to a Reuters report published on Saturday, the CFI announced that 1,064 tons of rice found to be contaminated with “an identified exotic disease” will be returned to Guyana.

Reuters reported that the rice will be returned to Guyana following the discovery of a fungus which corresponds to the Tilletia type.

The same fungus, Reuters said, was detected in 5,493 tons of rice originating from the United States. Fearing a possible spread of the fungus in the territory, Colombia immediately ordered the rice transported back to its source.

Colombia has the US$2.6 million worth of infected shipment aboard a vessel docked at port Barranquilla in an attempt to isolate what the report described as an “identified exotic disease”. These procedures were executed to avoid possible contamination of Colombia’s cereals.

“All the agricultural imports that enter Colombia are put under a process of quality control,” Reuters said. The fungus identified during this process corresponds to the Tilletia sort plague–-a type of fungi which targets cereals. Controlling such a fungus would increase production costs and products would not be marketable if contaminated.

In December, Colombia approved a tender to import 75,000 tons of rice at zero duty to reduce the cost of the product in the local market.

Meanwhile, the local rice industry has been straining to cope with much lower international prices this year for rice.

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