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Rice output set to drop for the first time in 8 years, govt may extend curbs on exports

India rice export ban: Output could fall as much as 8% from last year’s record despite an increase in area under paddy, according to various forecasts.

Prolonged export curbs could further inflate food prices given low inventories in other key exporting countries including Thailand, Vietnam, Pakistan and Myanmar.

The Centre is expected to prolong restrictions on rice exports due to an expected fall in domestic rice production in 2023, marking the first decline in eight years. Extending these export limitations is likely to help the government in maintaining control over food prices in the run-up to the 2024 assembly elections. India, as the world’s largest rice exporter, caused global prices to soar when it banned non-basmati white rice exports in July 2023.

However, the state of the crop is hard to predict following an erratic monsoon. Output could fall as much as 8 percent from last year’s record despite an increase in area under paddy, according to various forecasts. The weaker output along with persistently high domestic rice prices ahead of five state elections this month and a general election next year have left farmers and traders worried that the government will prolong restrictions on exporting the grain.

Ramkali Bhargav, a farmer in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, said her paddy fields had recovered from an early season dry spell followed by floods. But just before harvesting, heavy rain and winds flattened her rice crop. “If the rainfall hadn’t occurred for another fortnight, our yields could have been at least 30 percent higher,” she said, slicing a sickle through toppled paddy in Chharasi village.

The crop loss is a problem for governments and consumers across Asia and Africa that have struggled to secure supplies of the staple since prices in the global market jumped to a 15-year high after India restricted its rice exports, which account for 40 percent of global rice trade.

Prolonged export curbs could further inflate food prices given low inventories in other key exporting countries including Thailand, Vietnam, Pakistan and Myanmar. “With elections looming, the government’s hypersensitivity to food prices makes even a slight production dip sufficient to justify maintaining export restrictions,” said a New Delhi-based dealer with a global trade house, declining to be named due to company policy.

A senior government official, also declining to be named, told Reuters that India does not intend to lift restrictions on any rice grades in the near future.

Diminished crop

In the year to June 2023, India produced a record 135.76 million tonnes of rice.

Two leading global trade houses, both declining to be named, told Reuters they expect India’s rice output for the current crop year to drop by 7 percent and 8 percent, respectively, from the previous year.

BV Krishna Rao, president of the Rice Exporters Association (REA), told Reuters he expects a smaller production drop of about 2 to 3 percent, as heavy rain benefited late-planted crops in some areas even as it damaged fields elsewhere.

The US Department of Agriculture expects a 3 percent decrease in India’s rice output, a decline of around 4 million tonnes, to reach a total of 132 million tonnes for the year ending in June 2024.

India’s Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare last week said production from the summer-sown crop could fall 4 percent to 106.3 million tonnes. It will provide an estimate for total output in its second report, typically published in February.

The soon-to-be planted winter crop is expected to drive a disproportionate share of the year’s decline. In recent years, production from winter-sown paddy has risen significantly, but this year, output is likely to decline by up to 5 million tonnes or nearly 20 percent due to lower water levels in reservoirs, said a Kolkata-based exporter, declining to be named due to the sensitivity of crop forecasts.

Water levels in India’s main reservoirs were at 71 percent of capacity in the week to Oct. 26, down from 89 percent a year ago, government data showed, after a summer monsoon that delivered unevenly spread rains.

Election season

Food inflation is highly sensitive in India, where Modi’s government has also banned wheat exports, restricted sugar and onion exports, and allowed duty-free imports of pulses in efforts to curb prices. Despite export restrictions, local rice prices remain almost 15 percent higher than a year ago. Meanwhile, India is considering extending a programme that provides free or subsidised cereals to more than 800 million people, with diminishing wheat stocks forcing increasing reliance on rice.

The government’s priority is to ensure ample rice supplies for subsidised distribution, and export considerations will only come after general elections, predicted Himanshu Agarwal, executive director at Satyam Balajee, India’s biggest rice exporter. In response to India’s curbs, Thailand and Vietnam have increased exports but have limited surpluses, said Nitin Gupta, senior vice president of Olam Agri India, a top rice exporter.

“If India sticks to the export ban for a while, bridging the supply gap could be difficult, leading to the possibility of even higher prices,” Gupta said.

In the fields, farmer Bhargav says there’s little that can be done about unpredictable weather.

“We are incurring losses from paddy cultivation,” she said. “Let’s hope the upcoming wheat crop gives us better returns.”

(This report has been generated with inputs from Reuters)

https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/india/rice-output-set-to-drop-for-the-first-time-in-8-years-govt-may-extend-curbs-on-exports-11647971.html QR Code

Published Date: November 2, 2023

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