The government of India, the world’s second-largest producer of wheat, is preparing an aggressive program to increase production and ship enough wheat to make up for the anticipated shortfall from Ukraine and Russia, Reuters claimed Tuesday.
“Steps to be implemented over about two weeks include ensuring government-approved laboratories test the quality of wheat for export, making extra rail wagons available for transport and working with port authorities to give priority to wheat exports,” Reuters reported.
India is also “pursuing deals to export wheat and take advantage of surplus stocks at home and a sharp rise in global prices.”
India has always been a prodigious producer of wheat, second only to China. Russia is the largest worldwide exporter of wheat, and Ukraine is a major supplier as well – possibly on track to take the Number Three spot this year if the war had not intervened.
Farmers sit on sacks of wheat grains at a grain market in Amritsar on April 26, 2020. (NARINDER NANU/AFP via Getty Images)
India’s export volume surged by an impressive 527 percent last year, and is already on track to reach record highs in 2022. India’s biggest customers are neighboring countries such as Bangladesh and Middle Eastern states, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Afghanistan, Qatar, Yemen, and Oman.
Between them, India’s top ten customers consume 99 percent of its current export volume, and even with the remarkable growth it experienced in 2021, India still accounts for less than one percent of global wheat exports.
“Though India is not among the top ten wheat exporters in the global trade, its rate of growth in exports have surpassed that of all these countries, indicating the rapid strides it is taking in reaching new markets worldwide,” the Indian commerce ministry said proudly in December 2021.
In early March, after the first week of the Russian attack on Ukraine, the Economic Times of India reported a “flurry of enquiries from buyers seeking alternatives to Black Sea shipments as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine threatens to disrupt supplies from the two major producers.”
“Wheat availability in the world market anyway remains limited until April-May, and India can easily tap this opportunity,” Olam Agro India vice president Nitin Gupta told the Economic Times.
“We haven’t seen such interest in Indian wheat, at least not in our recent memory,” the unnamed chief of a global trading firm added.
Another emerging market for Indian wheat is Lebanon, whose trade ministry met with Turkish and Indian representatives last week to work around interruptions in supply from Russia and Ukraine. Lebanon imports nearly all of its wheat, and 60 percent of those imports currently come from Russia and Ukraine.
Industry analysts say India has large inventories of grain, thanks to five straight record-breaking harvests, but it has trouble getting more of its product through trade and shipping bottlenecks. Some potential buyers have also complained about the relatively poor quality of Indian wheat in the past.
“The globe’s attraction towards India’s wheat has increased of late. Are our financial institutions, export-import department and shipping industry ready for this? Are they making comprehensive attempts to cash in on the big opportunity that has arisen for India?” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked at a webinar last week, acknowledging these difficulties.
The Indian officials who spoke to Reuters anticipated an extra 10 million tons of wheat could be exported after the next harvest, with the measures advanced by the Modi administration in place. India’s record-smashing export volume last year amounted to 6.12 million tons, so the new program envisions more than doubling those exports to make up for the shortfall from Russia and Ukraine, and capitalize on soaring market prices.