India has announced an immediate ban on wheat exports, citing a risk to its food security partly due to the war in Ukraine and a spike in global prices.
A notice in the government gazette by the Directorate of Foreign Trade on Friday said a spike in global prices for wheat was threatening the food security of India and neighbouring countries.
Before the war, Ukraine and Russia accounted for a third of global wheat and barley exports in India.
But since Russia’s invasion on 24 February, Ukraine’s ports have been blocked and civilian infrastructure and grain silos have been destroyed.
At the same time, India’s own wheat harvest has suffered from a record-shattering heat wave that is affecting production.
Even though it is the world’s second-largest producer of wheat, India consumes most of the wheat it produces.
Before the ban, India had aimed to ship a record 10 million tonnes this year.
It was aiming to capitalise on the global disruptions to wheat supplies from the war and to also find new markets for its wheat in Europe, Africa and Asia.
Most of that would have gone to other developing countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand.
But now India’s ban could push global prices to new peaks due to already tight supply from the COVID pandemic, which is expected to hit poor consumers in Asia and Africa particularly hard.
A Mumbai-based dealer with a global trading firm told Reuters: “The ban is shocking.
“We were expecting curbs on exports after two to three months, but it seems like the inflation numbers changed the government’s mind.”
During the pandemic, India’s own vast stocks of wheat, which have always been a key buffer against famine, have struggled with distribution of free grain to around 800 million people.
To balance supply and demand, the government needs about 25 million tonnes of wheat each year for an extensive food welfare programme that usually feeds more than 80 million people.