The second largest granary in the world is closing. Hit by an extreme heat wave with peaks of 50°C affecting harvests, India announced on Saturday that it would ban wheat exports. A restriction intended to ensure the national food security of the country of 1.4 billion inhabitants. While the international market is already strained due to the war in Ukraine, Indian exports, which represented more than 7 million tonnes in 2021, are therefore compromised. The country is yet the eighth largest exporter in the world by volume, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
Among the main countries affected is Bangladesh, a country bordering India, which received almost half of its exports. This is followed by the United Arab Emirates and Sri Lanka, according to United Nations international trade data.
The importers of Indian wheat are therefore mainly Asian, neighbors of India. African countries import only a few tens of tons per year, with the exception of Djibouti (10,914 tons in 2021), Ethiopia (9,995) and Somalia (6,700). European countries are also small importers of Indian wheat, France having bought only 500 tons last year.
For Bangladesh, the 3.6 million tonnes of Indian wheat imported in 2021 are, on the other hand, strategic. Over the year 2020-2021, the country had consumed 8.5 million tonnes, according to the specialized site Agrochart. For those countries heavily dependent on Indian wheat, New Delhi says “Keep a window open for our neighbours. We have also kept a window open for a number of vulnerable countries if their government requests it”, says the Indian Minister of Commerce. India also specifies that export contracts concluded before the decree would be honored, the measure only concerning future exports.
Before that, India had nevertheless expressed its willingness to come to the aid of world markets in the event of supply problems caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a country which exported 12% of wheat worldwide. The announcement of the suspension of Indian exports was poorly received internationally. Meeting in Stuttgart, Germany, the G7 agriculture ministers immediately criticized the decision, fearing that the raw materials crisis would worsen. “If everyone starts imposing such export restrictions or even closing markets, it will only worsen the crisis and it will also hurt India and its farmers”said the German Minister of Agriculture.
However, this export ban will not help the global forecasts for 2022, which are already not very optimistic with the war in Ukraine – which is causing the reduction of a third of the country’s harvests – and the drought in several regions of the world. According to a report by the United States Department of Agriculture (article in English) published at the beginning of May concerning the year 2022-2023, “world wheat production is expected to decline due to lower harvests in Ukraine, Australia, Morocco, Argentina, European Union, China.” Conversely, forecasts of larger harvests in Canada, Russia or Turkey will probably not be enough to offset this drop.
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