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Chatter on one of Prabha Rao’s WhatsApp groups exploded when India announced that it was severely curtailing some rice exports to the rest of the world, triggering worry among the Indian diaspora in the United States that access to a food staple from home might soon be cut off.
An earlier-than-expected El Niño brought drier, warmer weather in some parts of Asia and is expected to harm rice production. But in some parts of India, where the monsoon season was especially brutal, flooding destroyed some crops, adding to production woes and rising prices.
Hoping to stave off inflationary pressures on a diet staple, the Indian government imposed export bans on non-Basmati white rice varieties, prompting hoarding in some parts of the world.
The move was taken “to ensure adequate availability” and “to allay the rise in prices in the domestic market,” India’s Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution announced July 20. Over the past year, prices have increased by more than 11%, and by 3% in June, the government said.
The ban applies to short-grain rice that is starchier and has a relatively neutral flavor — which Rao says is preferable in some dishes or favored in specific regions of India, especially in southern areas of the country.
India’s move came days after Russia backed out of a deal to allow Ukrainian wheat safe passage through the Black Sea, prompting warnings that the action could lead to surging prices. Some economists say the ban might further hurt food supplies around the world, and some governments have urged the Indian government to reconsider the export ban.
At least in the United States, the supply of imported rice from India may not yet be a problem — despite the panic buying — but a long-term ban would certainly deplete that stock. Rao, a U.S. resident for three decades, says she and others will just have to adapt by purchasing rice grown in the United States or imported from other countries.
This article was provided by The Associated Press.