INDIA – Despite an anticipated record wheat crop, India is poised to witness a significant surge in wheat imports during the 2024-25 marketing year. 

This surge is driven by steady domestic demand, depleted government stocks, and favorable global prices, according to a report from the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) of the US Department of Agriculture.

The Global Agricultural Information Network (GAIN) report, released on March 29, projects India’s wheat production to reach 112.5 million tonnes for the upcoming harvest, attributed to favorable weather conditions throughout the planting and reproductive growth stages. This forecast surpasses the previous year’s record output of 110.5 million tonnes.

However, with consumption also expected to reach a record high of 113.5 million tonnes, wheat imports are projected to soar to 2 million tonnes, a substantial increase from the 2023-24 total of 120,000 tonnes, marking India as a net importer of wheat for the first time since 2017-18.

The FAS highlighted the challenges posed by depleted government stocks and weak global prices, necessitating a reduction in import duties to supplement domestic supplies. 

The government is unlikely to lift its export ban on wheat and wheat products, as emphasized by its focus on prioritizing domestic food security.

India, recently surpassing China as the country with the world’s largest population, faces the monumental task of providing food for over 1.43 billion people, constituting about 18% of the global population. 

To address this challenge, the government has launched a US$15 billion grain storage scheme aimed at increasing storage capacity by 70 million tonnes over the next five years.

Despite India’s significant food grain production, which reached 311 million tonnes in 2023, its storage capacity remains insufficient, totaling only 145 million tonnes, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. 

Annual post-harvest losses, estimated at between 10% to 15%, primarily stem from inadequate storage facilities and inefficient distribution networks, highlighting the urgent need for infrastructure improvements in the agricultural sector.

Meanwhile, according to a report by Reuters, India is urging global and domestic traders to refrain from purchasing new-season wheat from local farmers as it attempts to rebuild its depleted reserves. 

The Food Corporation of India, a government-backed entity, has sold record quantities of wheat over the past two years to curb food inflation, resulting from smaller crops due to dry weather and a ban on wheat exports in 2022.

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