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Keep calm and carry on: Unlike wheat, rice isn’t hot yet

The world is now worried that India might restrict exports of rice too, pushing prices higher and worsening global food security. So far, rice is the only food commodity that has defied the spurt in global food prices that shot up by 60 per cent in May, compared to 2020 levels.

And India is a far bigger player in the global rice trade than it is for wheat.

According to estimates from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), India’s contribution to the global wheat trade stood at 3.5 per cent in 2021-22, but the reaction to the ban was still strong.

The numbers for rice are at a different level. In 2021-22, India exported a staggering 21 million tonnes of rice, close to 40 per cent of the global rice trade.

Many of the world’s poorest, low-, and middle-income countries — from Nepal and Madagascar to Kenya and Indonesia — depend on cheap rice supplies from India. India exports non-basmati rice to more than 150 countries across the world.

Fears about an export ban on rice are unfounded as of now, B.V. Krishna Rao, president of the Rice Exporters Association, said. “Domestic rice prices are currently about 10 per cent lower than minimum support prices (MSP). So, a situation like wheat is unlikely in rice.”

A severe heatwave in March-April this year led to a sharp drop in wheat production and pushed wholesale prices above the MSP. After the government failed to procure enough wheat for its public food security schemes, it imposed an export ban in May.

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