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Why did India give up its leadership position in grain markets?

Защо Индия се отказа от лидерска позиция на зърнените пазари?

In the spring of 2022, as world wheat prices rose due to Russia's blockade of the Black Sea ports of top wheat exporter Ukraine, India appeared poised to help fill some of that void in the world market.

After several years of bumper harvests and all-time high stocks, India was poised to become a major player in the international wheat trade.

"We already have enough food for our people, but it seems our farmers have taken care to feed the world too," boasted Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the time.

But just a few weeks later, the Indian government abandoned its plan to increase foreign supplies and instead issued a ban on export of wheat. Why did the country's plans change so abruptly and drastically?

Oscar Tjakra, senior research analyst at RaboResearch Food and Agribusiness for Asia, said Indian officials reversed course as a result of a smaller-than-expected wheat crop in the 2022-23 season, rising food inflation and low government orders for wheat under the MSP program that affect the government's ability to supply wheat under its food aid program to the domestic market.

Tyakra noted that the ban remains in place 18 months later as the Indian government, along with the rest of the world, tries to deal with high food inflation, even as various agencies forecast a record world wheat crop in 2023-24 .

Interestingly, although the government flooded the market with heavily subsidized wheat from government stocks and kept the export ban in place, it failed to reduce food inflation to the desired level.

"Free grain handouts have reduced the government's food stocks, and lower wheat production in 2022 and 2023 has meant a slower-than-expected replenishment of government warehouses," the analyst said, noting that despite that the state stocks of wheat as of September 2023, were 1.2 million tonnes higher than the previous year, they remain below the 10-year average.

"Despite the wheat export ban, Indian wheat prices in the domestic market still increased in 2023," Tyakra said. "Domestic wheat prices in India hit their highest point in nearly eight months in September 2023."

According to the expert, the decision to ban exports is not just about supply and demand fundamentals. There is also a political element.

"It doesn't look like the Indian government will lift the bans on rice and wheat exports anytime soon. The government will most likely lift these bans only after next year's elections," Tjakra said.

Food inflation, which accounts for almost half of India's overall consumer basket, rose 6.56% in September. Inflation in September was above the Reserve Bank of India's (RBI) upper limit of 2% to 6%.

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