India, the world’s second-largest wheat producer, has banned grain exports with few exceptions, a move that could deepen a global deficit worsened by war in Ukraine and exacerbate already dire forecasts of world hunger.
The war interrupted wheat production in Ukraine and Russia, which are the main suppliers. Fighting and blockades in the Black Sea have disrupted grain transportation. And poor harvests in China, along with a heat wave in India and drought in other countries, have further strained global supplies.
India has about 10% of the world’s grain reserves, according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture, a large surplus resulting from its heavy subsidies to its farmers. It has been touted for months as a country that could help fill global supply shortages.
The wheat export ban, announced in a Commerce Ministry notice dated Friday, appears to be a U-turn on earlier statements by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Indian leader told President Biden in April that the country was ready to supply the world from its reserves. He also urged domestic wheat farmers to seize the opportunity, saying Indian authorities and financial institutions should support exporters.
The Commerce Ministry notice released on Friday said wheat exports were immediately banned, with some exceptions, as a sudden spike in the price of the crop threatened India’s food security. Limited exports will be permitted at the request of individual governments with vulnerable food supplies, the advisory said.
The export ban could deal a further blow to international organizations fighting the growing threat of widespread starvation. The World Food Programme, a United Nations agency, has warned that a further 47 million people could go hungry as the ripple effects of war add to an existing crisis of sharply rising food prices and shortages. fertilizer.
In early May, the agency’s chief economist, Arif Husain, said it was in talks with India to dip into its stock to ease the shortage. He also said the World Food Program had urged countries not to enact export bans because they could raise prices and reduce availability. “Let’s hope countries are listening,” he said.
Ashok Gulati, a prominent agricultural economist in India, said the ministry’s announcement misrepresented India, given that it contradicted the government’s previous comments on the willingness to provide wheat to countries in need.
“If there is a global surge, you can control it by opening rather than closing borders,” Gulati said.
This decision is also likely to be unpopular among Indian farmers.
Ranbeer Singh Sirsa, a farmer from Punjab state, said the ban would likely affect wheat farmers who had recently benefited from higher prices and demand.
“If the price wants to go up, let it stabilize at the international price,” Sirsa said. “Who are they trying to protect now, at the expense of the farmers?