How India’s ban on some rice exports is ricocheting around the world

Last month, three days after

El Nino can leads to both heavy rainfalls and drought, raising fears for Asia’s rice output

Rice from Asia accounts for 90 percent of the global production. And paddy in Asia is especially vulnerable to El Nino, a climate pattern caused by the warming of surface waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean that leads to an increase in both heavy rainfall and droughts.

“India gets affected by El Nino 60 percent of the time, but Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia, gets hammered very heavily 100 percent of the time,” Murtugudde said.

Climate experts say in addition to El Nino, which can last from nine to 12 months, there are extreme weather conditions due to global warming.

“The whole country is on a monsoon break right now. What El Nino tends to do is extend these breaks. We have to see if El Nino creates a long break this August, in which case it’ll create serious deficits in rainfall,” Murtugudde said. Should that happen, it will hurt the next harvest.

For now, India is expecting a normal crop of 135 million tonnes, but August and September are critical in terms of rainfall for paddy that will be harvested between October and December. In India, this monsoon or “kharif” crop makes up about 80 percent of the total rice production. If rainfall fails, then India will have a drought that can affect about 35 percent of its rice production, Mohanty said.

At the same time, climate experts say, there could be massive floods in Pakistan because of Arabian Sea warming, damaging crops there.

El Nino’s peak warming, which typically happens from December to February, may affect India’s next crop, for which sowing takes place between October and December.

All this is adding to concerns of rice-producing and exporting countries – and they are beginning to create stockpiles in anticipation of a shortage.

“They may even consider temporary restrictions on rice export, which will lead to a situation like it was in 2007-2008, when rice prices tripled in a few months because of the rice ban that started with Vietnam,” Mohanty said.

At that time, India and Cambodia joined in the bans, leading to a global rice crisis.

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