India has exported 1.8 million tonnes of wheat to a dozen-odd countries, including Bangladesh and Afghanistan, since the country banned exports of the grain on May 13, according to Food Secretary Sudhanshu Pandey. About 33,000 tonnes of wheat as humanitarian assistance has already been supplied to Afghanistan against the commitment of 50,000 tonne, he said.
Pandey, addressing a ministerial conference on ‘uniting for global food security’ held at Berlin, Germany on June 24, said India has always taken the needs of the world into consideration, even while meeting the onerous obligations of feeding its population of 1.38 billion people, an official statement said.
The secretary said: “It is important here to explain that the recent decision by the Government of India (GoI) to bring about regulation on wheat exports was essentially taken to protect domestic availability as well as availability to vulnerable countries to whom supplies cannot be ensured by market forces.” India has nonetheless continued with its commitment to cater for the genuine needs of neighbouring countries and food-deficit nations through Government-to-Government mechanism and also to fulfil supply commitments already made, he said.
“After the regulation until June 22nd this fiscal year, 1.8 million tonnes of wheat have been shipped out, almost four times from the previous year to countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Israel, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Oman, Philippines, Qatar, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Switzerland, Thailand, UAE, Vietnam and Yemen,” he said.
On May 13, the government suspended wheat export with immediate effect. It moved the export of all varieties of wheat, including high-protein durum, from “free” to the “prohibited” category. The decision was aimed at controlling rising prices of wheat in the domestic market.
India had exported a record 7 million tonnes of wheat during 2021-22 fiscal, while typically, the country exports around 2 million tonnes which is around 1 per cent of global wheat trade, he said.
Stating that India is deeply conscious of its responsibilities towards the most vulnerable in various parts of the world, Pandey said the country continued to provide humanitarian assistance, both through the supply of vaccines as well as food consignments, during and beyond the pandemic.
For instance, the country has dispatched several shipments of humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan, including 33,000 tonnes of wheat of a total commitment of 50,000 tonnes made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and continues to do so in the wake of the devastation caused by the earthquake a couple of days ago, he said.
During the pandemic, India has also provided food aid in the form of wheat, rice, pulses and lentils to several countries around the world including Afghanistan, Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Lebanon, Madagascar, Malawi, Maldives, Myanmar, Sierra Leone, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, Zambia, Zimbabwe and others, to strengthen their food security, he said.
During the COVID pandemic, India embarked on what can be described as the world’s largest ever food support system to cover nearly 810 million people.
“Even today, more than two years after we began, we still continue to provide food support to these vulnerable people who are equivalent to the population of Europe and the United States combined. To ensure rightful targeting, the whole system was run on a massive technology platform which was biometrically authenticated,” he said.
Stating that India has acknowledged the efforts made by the UN Secretary General to enhance global food security, the Secretary said the country also welcomed the recommendation of the Global Crisis Response Group Task Team to exempt purchases of food by the World Food Programme for humanitarian assistance from food export restrictions with immediate effect.
“We have also highlighted that it is important that similar exemptions are provided to all member states and relevant stakeholders who are contributing to this global humanitarian effort,” he said.
Pandey further said that the COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted global food security, which has been further exacerbated by recent geo-political developments and impact of climate change. He also shared that the world is now faced with rising costs of food, fertilizers and fuel. The Global South, the developing and least developed countries, and the world’s most vulnerable, have been particularly impacted in a disproportionate manner.
“Recent developments have highlighted the urgent need for developing resilient and uninterrupted food supply chains, so as to ensure both food security and nutritional security, in times of climate change induced natural calamities, global pandemics and conflicts around the world,” he said.
He further said that India is making a genuine effort to adopt a holistic approach to agriculture and make it more sustainable, including through effective water and soil management, and improving crop diversity and production practices.
Digital technology is now playing an important role in empowering the farmers of India through crop assessment and digitization of land records. Post-harvest infrastructure has also been strengthened, including through the creation of an Agriculture Infrastructure Fund of Rs 1 trillion as well as the establishment of cold chain storage capacity of 35 million tons in recent years and a program for 12 million tonne capacity for silo construction.
Sustainable food processing technologies are being adopted to reduce the overall carbon footprint, including through the adoption of waste utilization, resource recovery and circular economy in the food industry, he added