India’s export ban on non-basmati rice has prompted calls to pursue greater self-sufficiency among rice-consuming countries and expand rice production to new regions such as Africa in order to increase food resiliency.
Economist David Dawe who specializes in food policies and was formerly with the Food and Agriculture Organization stated that the ban would lead to a lot of emphasis on “becoming self-sufficient” in rice-importing countries. “It will be important for them to invest in agricultural research, to increase competitiveness and productivity of their domestic farmers so that their domestic production situation is healthier,” Dawe said.
Jahur Ali, principal scientist and head of the Hybrid Rice Development Consortium at the Philippine-based International Rice Research Institute said, “Hybrid rice is ‘the most viable option’ for many countries as it increases yields by around 30%.” He also highlighted the importance of investments in irrigation, research and extension, postharvest facilities, and organic fertilizers to complement the adoption of hybrid seeds.
Last October, Chinese researchers revealed a new type of hybrid rice which is twice as tall as standard varieties. It also had yields more than 30% higher at 12 metric tonnes per hectare from nine metric tonnes. According to Ali, the giant hybrid rice was originally developed by the late Chinese scientist Yuan Longping who believed increasing the biomass of the rice plant and efficiently converting it into grain yield is the solution to breaking the yield plateau. The research is still in its early stages, however.
According to SciDev.Net, Ali said that countries in Asia and Africa currently require “high-yielding rice hybrids that are of shorter duration (less than 120 days) and nutrient-use efficient while addressing the market requirements.”
Flordeliza Bordey, deputy executive director at PhilRice, revealed that the Philippine government will soon be supporting local farmers by providing hybrid rice and fertilizer to around 842,000 hectares of irrigated areas under a national rice program. Bordey said, “Apart from mainstreaming our climate change adaptation strategies, we intend to increase the production share of the dry season relative to the wet season. We are also leveraging digital transformation to efficiently and effectively implement these strategies. Thus, with or without the export ban, the Philippine government will continue its program to improve its local production capacity.”
Previously, the US Department of Agriculture reported that the Philippines is projected to surpass China as the world’s top rice importer.
India imposed the ban on the export of non-basmati rice in July and by August, the Indian government also imposed a 20% additional duty on basmati rice to “prevent the possible illegal exports of white non-basmati rice in the garb of basmati rice.” The government has not indicated how long the ban will last, however, some experts believe it could stretch until May 2024.
GV Ramanjaneyulu, executive director of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture said, “Since general elections in the country are just a few months away, the government doesn’t want to take any risk about the rise in food prices. So, the ban, in my opinion, will continue until May when general elections will be held.”
Jitender Mohan Singh, director of the Agro-Economic Research Centre at Punjab Agricultural University, had a similar view, saying that he doesn’t expect the ban to be lifted soon. “Availability of rice in the country is crucial for domestic use and especially because the government has to provide free food grains to 81 crore [810 million] people in India under the prime minister’s free distribution of food grain scheme,” he said.
On the contrary, Tarun Bajaj, director at India’s Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority, commented that it was all speculation. “As of now, there is no reason for us to say that the ban will continue till May next year. I don’t see any merit in what is being said about the ban,” he explained.
According to the International Food Policy Research Institute, 42 countries receive more than 50% of their total rice imports from India, saying that this share would not be substituted easily with imports from other large exporters like Vietnam, Thailand, or Pakistan.
Based on a policy brief by the CGIAR research center AfricaRice, India’s rice export ban would also likely lead to food and nutrition security issues, especially in Africa. According to AfricaRice, Africa accounts for a third of global rice imports. Rice is grown in about 40 out of 54 countries in the continent, and rice cultivation is the main activity and source of income for more than 35 million smallholder farmers.
The brief reported that while African countries have taken steps towards food self-sufficiency, they also need to take additional measures such as purchasing climate-resilient seeds for popular rice varieties. They also need to invest in irrigation and encourage the development of regional fertilizer manufacturing plants to reduce dependency on imports.