A growing food security threat is set to push Prime Minister Narendra Modi into a conundrum: continue sending wheat to countries hit by dwindling supplies from the war in Ukraine or stockpile food at home to fend off high inflation.
Severe heat waves have damaged wheat yields across the South Asian nation, prompting the government to consider export restrictions, Bloomberg News reported. While the food ministry said it sees no case yet for controlling wheat exports, it's a question that will gain momentum and carry political ramifications for PM Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
PM Modi has sought to burnish his reputation as a dependable global leader, but he faces frustration on home soil about record-high inflation, one issue that brought down the previous government and paved the way for his ascension to power.
"At a time when the world is facing a shortage of wheat, the farmers of India have stepped forward to feed the world," PM Modi said this week at a gathering of the Indian diaspora in Germany. "Whenever humanity is faced with a crisis, India comes up with a solution."
After the war hampered logistics in the Black Sea region, which accounts for about a quarter of all wheat trade, India has tried to fill the vacuum.
Egypt, the world's top buyer, recently approved India as a source for wheat imports. Last month, Piyush Goyal, the food and commerce minister, said India hopes to become a permanent exporter of wheat, shipping as much as 15 million tons this year, compared with about 7.2 million in 2021-22. Officials are pushing the World Trade Organization to relax rules so that India can export from state reserves, Goyal said.
But the country's domestic challenges have come into sharper focus in recent weeks. Hundreds of acres of wheat crops were damaged during India's hottest March on record, causing yields to potentially slump by as much as 50% in some pockets of the country, according to a Bloomberg survey.