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Heatwave scorches India's plan to export wheat to hungry markets suffering from Russia - Ukraine war

India is in the throes of a record-shattering heat wave that is stunting wheat production. Indian farmers time their planting so that the final stage when its kernels mature and ripen coincides with India's usually cooler spring. But the heat in March, the hottest in India since records first started being kept in 1901, stunted crops

FPJ Web Desk | Updated on: Friday, April 29, 2022, 04:34 PM IST

A farmer harvests wheat on the outskirts of Jammu, India, on Thursday, April 28, 2022 | AP
A farmer harvests wheat on the outskirts of Jammu, India, on Thursday, April 28, 2022 | AP
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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.

Gigantic landfills in India’s capital New Delhi have caught fire in recent weeks. Schools in Odisha have been shut for a week and in neighboring West Bengal, schools are stocking up on oral rehydration salts for kids.

On Tuesday, Rajgarh, a city of over 1.5 million peoplea, was the country’s hottest, with daytime temperatures peaking at 46.5 degrees Celsius. Temperatures breached the 45 C mark in nine other cities.

With some states in India’s breadbasket northern and central regions seeing forecasts with highs of 120 Fahrenheit this week, observers fear a range of lasting impacts, both local and international, from the hot spell.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told U.S. President Joe Biden earlier this month that India could step in to ease the shortfall created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The two countries account for nearly a third of all global wheat exports, and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has warned that the conflict could leave an additional 8 million to 13 million people undernourished by next year.

India’s wheat exports hit 8.7 million tons in the fiscal year ending in March, with the government predicting record production levels — some 122 million tons — in 2022.

But the country has just endured its hottest March since records began, according to the India Meteorological Department, and the heat wave is dragging well into harvest time.

India achieved its target of exporting 7 million tonnes of wheat on March 21, according to the Indian government, which is yet to issue wheat shipment data for the last 10 days of March.

Traders told Reuters wheat shipments, including cargoes sold to neighbouring Bangladesh by land, totalled 7.85 million tonnes in 2021-22, surpassing the target of 7 million and indicating robust exports in the 2022-23 fiscal year that began on April 1.

Other than Bangladesh, India exported wheat to South Korea, Sri Lanka, Oman and Qatar, among others, traders said. Most export deals were signed at between $225 and $335 a tonne free on board, they said.

With private trade procuring wheat for export, there may be reduction in government procurement but it is too early to say. The government is, however, monitoring the situation regularly, he added.

In early April, Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal had said that the country's wheat exports could cross 100 lakh tonnes during the 2022-23 fiscal.

Many countries are sourcing wheat from India and other countries after Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent Western sanctions against Moscow curtailed their wheat supplies.

Indian government plans to promote wheat exports to cash in on higher wheat prices in the global market. India is the second-biggest producer of wheat in the world.

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Published on: Friday, April 29, 2022, 04:34 PM IST