Heat wave scorches India’s wheat crop, snags export plans

Heat wave scorches India’s wheat crop, snags export plans

Heat wave scorches India’s wheat crop, snags export plans

An unusually early, record-shattering heat wave in India has reduced wheat yields, raising questions about how the country will balance its domestic needs with ambitions to increase exports and make up for shortfalls due to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Punjab is India’s ``grain bowl” and the government has encouraged cultivation of wheat and rice here since the 1960s. It is typically the biggest contributor to India’s national reserves and the government had hoped to buy about a third of this year’s stock from the region. But government assessments predict lower yields this year, and Devinder Sharma, an agriculture policy expert in northern Chandigarh city, said he expected to get 25 percent less.

The story is the same in other major wheat-producing states like Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

Even though it is the world’s second-largest producer of wheat, India exports only a small fraction of its harvest. It had been looking to capitalize on the global disruption to wheat supplies from Russia’s war in Ukraine and find new markets for its wheat in Europe, Africa, and Asia.

That looks uncertain given the tricky balance the government must maintain between demand and supply. It needs about 25 million tons of wheat for the vast food welfare program that usually feeds more than 80 million people.

Before the pandemic, India had vast stocks that far exceeded its domestic needs.

Those reserves have been strained, Sharma said, by distribution of free grain during the pandemic to about 800 million people.

``We are no longer with that kind of a surplus . . . with exports now picking up, there would be a lot of pressure on the domestic availability of wheat,’’ Sharma said.