India’s faltering rice output can cause a new food crisis

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Threat to the output of the world’s biggest rice exporter comes when food costs are soaring, inflation rampant globally.

Rice could emerge as the next challenge for global food supply as a shortage of rain in parts of India, by far the world’s biggest exporter, has caused planting area to shrink to the smallest in about three years.

The threat to India’s rice production comes at a time when countries are grappling with soaring food costs and rampant inflation. Total rice planted area has declined 13% so far this season due to a lack of rainfall in some areas, including West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, which account for a quarter of India’s output.

Traders are worried that a drop in rice production will complicate India’s inflation fight and trigger restrictions on exports. Such a move will have far-reaching implications for the billions of people that depend on the staple. India accounts for 40% of global rice trade, and the government has already curbed wheat and sugar exports to safeguard food security and control local prices.

The jump in India’s rice prices reflect concern about output. Prices of some varieties have soared more than 10% in the past two weeks in major growing states such as West Bengal, Odisha and Chhattisgarh due to deficient rain and increased demand from Bangladesh, said Mukesh Jain, a director at Sponge Enterprises Pvt., a rice shipper. Export prices may climb to $400 a ton by September from as much as $365 now on a free-on-board basis, he said.

Most of the world’s rice is grown and consumed in Asia, making it vital for political and economic stability in the region. In contrast to the surge in wheat and corn prices after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, rice has been subdued due to ample production and stockpiles, helping to ward off a bigger food crisis.

Much is riding on the rice crop in India and the monsoon’s progress. Some agricultural scientists are optimistic that there’s still time to continue planting and make up for some of the shortfall. Rain is forecast to be normal for August to September, which may improve crop output.

Agencies

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