India and current global food scenario

Government of India has imposed ban on export of wheat and sugar after the increased export demand due to Russia and Ukraine war

India and current global food scenario

Ashish Kumar Singh & Akash Singh

During the 'Global Food Security-Call to Action' held in New York, Indian Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan said, “The Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing conflict between Russia-Ukraine have impacted the developing countries, with spiraling energy and commodity prices and disruptions in global logistical supply chains,” He also emphasised India’s commitment to work collectively to alleviate the sufferings of the most affected countries and neighbors.

Government of India has imposed ban on export of wheat and sugar after the increased export demand due to Russia and Ukraine war. Ukraine and Russia together account for about 14% of global wheat production, and about 29% of all wheat exports. Ukraine is among the top five global exporters for a variety of key agricultural products, including corn, wheat, barley and sunflower oil.

Around 50 countries depend on Russia and Ukraine for wheat, maize and sunflower oils and a majority of them are poor countries. The conflict and international economic sanctions on Russia have further disrupted supplies of fertilizer, wheat and other commodities from both countries, pushing up prices for food and fuel. In the last two years, the number of severely food-insecure people in the world has doubled, that is from 135 million pre-pandemic to 276 million now.

India is world’s 2nd largest producer of the wheat but is not listed in world top ten wheat exporting countries as it has to first secure food for its 139 million people. However, in cases where any country faces food shortage or crisis, India does not hesitate in extending help. Recently Indian humanitarian aid reached Afghanistan in the form of 50000 metric tons of wheat to Taliban lead government of Afghanistan. Later on, India also supplied 10000 tones to Myanmar and Sri Lanka. India has accounted for 105 million metric tons of wheat cultivation this year, which is slightly lower than the projection of the 111 million tons. Wheat procurement by government agencies is also expected to be only half of the target set for this season. Unexpected heat-waves and early summer have affected the crop yield mainly in northern states like Punjab, Haryana and Utter Pradesh.

Now India is a hope for world, as it has a record high production of grain despite of all difficulties. In the midst of the crisis, this record production of so many crops in India is the result of tireless hard work of the farmers, different agencies and the diligence of our scientists as well as a few good government policies.

India is ready to feed the world. IMF is trying to persuade India to lift the ban from wheat, sugar and rice otherwise the world is going to face big food inflation and 276 million people will struggle to get their daily needs. One could think of the period when IMF, during 1991 economic crisis, asked India to put gold reserve on mortgage and open its market for the world and private players. Given the current scenario, India can and should ask IMF and WTO to put Indian currency in trade preference list. It will help to improve valuation of rupee.

The current Indian government has decided to make availability of the food to needy countries by government to government procurement. Recently India exported around 40000 tons of wheat to Egypt, which recently opened its market for Indian wheat. Meanwhile countries like Turkey have refused the Indian wheat by stating phytosanitary concern.

Despite such reservations, the total wheat export of India which was 2.17 lakh tons in 2019-20 increased 100 times in 2020-2021. There is big surge in demand for Indian wheat from international market. Similar trend is also visible in sugar and rice export. Sugar export was 38 lakh tones in 2019-20 and it is expected to be around 100 lakh tones in current financial year. Around 95 lakh tone of rice was exported in 2019-20 and is expected that it will cross 210 lakh tone this year.

The food prices have increased in India in the last few months, however, the Indian government is trying hard to insure that we have sufficient stock for wheat, rice and sugar to meet the domestic demand.

No one can ignore shortage of the fertilizer as we all know that the Russia and Ukraine are major exporter of the Urea and Phosphate based fertilizers. Recently government has made MoU with Jordan for supply of chemical fertilizer. Jordan will supply of 30 LMT Rock Phosphate, 2.50 LMT DAP, 1 LMT phosphoric acid for the current year, ahead of ensuing cropping season in India.

Recently PM inaugurated a liquid or Nano urea plant in Kalol Gujarat. This is one major development by IFFCO to insure self-dependence in fertilizer requirement. IFFCO is planning 6 such nano urea plants across India.

With all these developments, it seems that India will not likely face any major food shortage in coming year, and it can help a few countries as well. However, practices of black-marketing, hoarding must be controlled. If the production has increased then the farmers should get reasonable price for the crops. What India needs to emphasize on is that neither the Anndata nor the public faces any crisis in these troubled times.

(Ashish Kumar Singh is a doctoral candidate of political science at the NRU-HSE, Moscow. Akash Singh is a business development professional in polymer and chemical sector and has worked in Oman & Qatar.)

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