Explained: How criticism of India’s wheat ban export isn’t accurate

In April, as the Russia-Ukraine war dragged on and countries across the world saw food stocks dwindling, Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed India could feed the world should the World Trade Organization allow it. Later, on 4 May, Modi reiterated that he wanted to “save the world from hunger”. But that was not to be. Instead, 10 days later, India banned the export of wheat because of record-high domestic inflation and an intense heatwave, which destroyed the crop. The decision has evoked reactions from politicians and world leaders, many requesting and urging India to rethink its wheat export ban. On Tuesday, International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Kristalina Georgieva in Davos implored India to reconsider its ban, saying the country could play a key role in international food security and global stability, reported NDTV . “I do have an appreciation for the fact that India needs to feed nearly 1.35 billion people and I do have appreciation for the heatwave that has reduced agricultural productivity, but I would beg India to reconsider as soon as possible because the more countries step into export restrictions, the more others would be tempted to do so and we would end up as a global community less equipped to deal with the crisis,” she told NDTV . In the same report, Georgieva added, “Wheat is one of the areas where Ukraine and Russia have been dramatically impacted by the war so depending on how much India can export and where it directs its exports, it could have significant impact, especially if exports go to the countries most severely impacted like Egypt or Lebanon where what we see is not only risk of hunger but risk of social unrest and impact on global stability.” As India continues with its wheat ban, despite pressure from the Western countries, we take a closer look at India’s wheat production, how much it exports, what countries have said about the ban and the government’s defence of the decision. India’s wheat stock India is a huge wheat producer — most of the grain is used to feed its population of 1.3 billion. In mid-February, nearly a month before the recent hot spell, the government said India was on course to harvest an all-time high 111.32 million tonnes of the grain, up from the previous year’s 109.59 million tonnes, reported Reuters . However, the government’s own admission, the country is “not among the top 10 wheat exporters”. Also read: India bans wheat export: What is durum, common bread, and sharbati varieties of wheat and how are they different? Government data shows that India ranked 19th in 2020, 35th in 2019, 36th in 2018 and 2017 and 37th in 2016 when it came to wheat exporting countries. This shows that India has an insignificant share (0.47 per cent) when it comes to wheat exports. Figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations show that Russia exported 18.78 per cent of wheat to the world in 2020, followed by the United States (13.16 per cent), Canada 13.15 per cent) and Ukraine with 9.09 per cent. The heatwave has caused irreparable damage to the wheat crop and it is now expected that India’s wheat output for the year will be 105 million tonnes. Countries irked at India New Delhi’s U-turn on wheat invited much criticism, especially from the G-7 nations. German agriculture minister Cem Ozdemir was quoted by AFP as saying, “If everyone starts to impose export restrictions or to close markets, that would worsen the crisis.” The ministers of the G7 nations further urged countries around the world not to take restrictive action that could pile stress on the produce markets. “We call on India to assume its responsibility as a G20 member,” Ozdemir added. A miffed United States also called out India on the wheat ban, saying restrictions would exacerbate the global wheat crisis already in place due to the war in Ukraine. On 16 May, US agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack expressed “deep concern” over India’s move, which has resulted in a rally in already elevated wheat prices. Vilsack said India was constraining the ability to access wheat, which he defined as a “wrong thing at this time”, CNBCTV18 reported. US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield also said: “We have seen the report of India’s decision. We’re encouraging countries not to restrict exports because we think any restrictions on exports will exacerbate the food shortages. But you’ve – again, India will be one of the countries participating in our meeting at the Security Council, and we hope that they can, as they hear the concerns being raised by other countries, that they would reconsider that position.” “Indian wheat exports are especially important this year on the back of Russia-Ukraine crisis,” Oscar Tjakra, senior grains and oilseeds analyst at Rabobank, told CNN Business. The “ban will reduce the availability of global wheat for exports in 2022 and will provide support to global wheat prices,” he added. India’s defence The Narendra Modi-led Centre has stood firm on its decision on imposing restrictions on wheat exports. On 19 May, Union minister V Muraleedharan, speaking on the issue at the 'Global Food Security Call to Action' at the UN Security Council, said, "It is necessary for all of us to adequately appreciate the importance of equity, affordability and accessibility when it comes to food grains. We have already seen to our great cost how these principles were disregarded in the case of COVD-19 vaccines. Open markets must not become an argument to perpetuate inequity and promote discrimination." #IndiaAtUN

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