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Rice and Fertilizer are the Linchpins of Global Food Insecurity

24 February 2024

Recent restrictions on rice exports by India prompt this analysis of the on the ground conditions of global food insecurity, returning to some of the themes we explored in The Future of Food (In)Security and Agriculture Cybersecurity: Grain Hoarding, Rice Shortages and the War in Ukraine.  In 2024, we are on the lookout for technological and geopolitical convergences.  Global rice supplies and fertilizer access in war torn countries are just such a convergence. 

World’s Poor Face Even Pricier Rice If India Extends Export Curbs

“Rice-importing countries in sub-Saharan Africa have felt the greatest impacts, scrambling to find alternative sources…”

From Bloomberg last week:   India’s restrictions on rice exports have already sent ripples around the world. Those curbs may now be extended, threatening to keep food inflation in many countries higher for longer.  The world’s top shipper started restricting sales of key varieties last year to help keep local food prices in check ahead of national elections.  The impact of existing measures is evident in the high cost of the staple that’s vital to the diets of billions of people in Asia and Africa — home to some of the world’s poorest countries.  Benchmark Asian prices are near a 15-year high. India’s exports of the grain to its major markets have slumped from usual levels, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, according to recent analysis from the International Food Policy Research Institute.

For example, in the four months through November, India’s exports to West Africa slid some 54% from a year earlier. Shipments to East Africa and Central Africa dropped 58% and 80%, respectively, the Washington-based IFPRI said in a note.  “Rice-importing countries in sub-Saharan Africa have felt the greatest impacts, scrambling to find alternative sources,” said the note’s authors Joe Glauber and Abdullah Mamun.

About half of the global population relies on rice for daily diets. The key question now is how long India’s export curbs will remain in place. If exports continue at their current sluggish pace beyond India’s elections in the coming months, it will likely result in higher prices and more pressure on rice-importing nations, the IFPRI warns.

India’s Strained Farmlands Are a Threat to Global Food Supply

“…restrictions have tempered cost increases at home, but they’ve hurt vulnerable importing nations, pushing the global price to a 15-year high and raising the possibility of social unrest in reliant regions such as Africa.”

Back in November, Bloomberg provided a detailed report of the on the ground conditions in India  India’s farm sector is fraying. That’s bad news for its 1.4 billion people, for tens of millions of cultivators, for a government seeking reelection — and for global food supplies.  The world’s most populous nation is today a leading producer of rice, wheat, milk, sugar and more. But its agricultural sector still leans heavily on ill-equipped smallholders. Farm plots have been shrinking for decades, infrastructure remains rickety and climate change is only bringing more disruption.

The South Asian nation still lags China in yields for major crops, even though the government has more than doubled farmer subsidies over roughly the past decade.  The most significant effort to tackle this underperformance, effectively by deregulating internal markets, sparked many months of dramatic demonstrations by farmers in 2020 and 2021 — the worst protests of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s near decade-long tenure.  The crisis reflected a rushed, poorly handled legislative process but also the tangle created by decades of distorting subsidies.  That’s turning into a growing headache as India — either unable or unwilling to tackle its structural problems — limits exports to curb food inflation and appease the electorate. Farmers and overseas buyers pay the price.

Source : oodaloop