Indonesian government food distribution company Bulog has approached rice exporting nations, barring India, to buy the cereal to meet its domestic demand, triggering a surprise among Indian shippers.

However, Bulog wants broken rice from India since the variety is unavailable elsewhere, trading sources said. The Indonesian agency entered the market this week to buy at least 0.5 million tonnes (mt). 

Jakarta’s food distribution company’s move has caused pain among Indian exporters, who have now taken up the issue with the Indonesian ambassador in New Delhi. A delegation of The Rice Exporters Association (TREA) will meet the ambassador on December 5 to express their concern over Bulog ignoring Indian rice.

Competitively priced

“We are the world’s top exporter of rice. In this context, it is surprising that Bulog is ignoring us. We should have been at the top of their list,” said TREA President BV Krishna Rao.

Bulog has sought broken rice from India, which has banned its exports to curb shipments and ensure ample supply in the domestic market. “The Indonesian agency has sought broken rice which we will not be able to supply. On the other hand, we can supply other varieties of rice at a competitive price,” said an exporter without wishing to identify.  Bulog seems to be looking at earlier problems in buying Indian rice. “They are non-existent now,” he said.

Data from the Thai Rice Exporters Association show that Indian rice is far more competitive than the cereal offered by countries around Indonesia such as Thailand and Vietnam.

India’s 5 per cent broken white rice is currently quoted at $393-397 a tonne compared with $456 quoted by Thailand, $438-442 by Vietnam and $416-420 by Pakistan. 

Similarly, India’s 25 per cent broken rice is offered at $378-382 against Thailand’s $445. Vietnam is offering it at $418-422 and Pakistan at $400-404. 

The Thai connection

Indian white rice prices are competitive despite the Centre imposing a 20 per cent export duty. The exporter said Bulog could buy up to 2 mt of rice annually from India if the issue is handled “properly”. 

A trade expert said Bulog usually prefers to buy rice from Thailand through some “underhand dealings”, since Bangkok buys an unlimited quantity of paddy at a rate higher than the market price from its farmers to help them get better prices. There are allegedly some irregularities in this procurement, which officials there take advantage of. 

India announced curbs on rice shipments from September 9 by imposing a 20 per cent export duty on non-basmati white rice. It banned exports of fully broken rice while exempting parboiled and Basmati rice from the restrictions. 

H1 exports up

The Centre imposed curbs on rice exports to manage a tight food situation with the cereal’s stocks dropping to their lowest since 2018 at 16.6 mt besides 19.65 mt of milled paddy (13.5 mt of rice) as of November 1 and kharif rice production estimated lower.

According to the Agriculture Ministry’s first advance estimates, rice production is pegged at 104.99 million tonnes (mt) against 111.76 mt last year. This year, kharif paddy cultivation was affected by deficient rains in eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal.

India exported a record 17.26 mt of non-basmati rice in 2021-22, while shipments in the first half of the fiscal are 8.8 per cent higher at 8.95 mt against 8.23 mt in the same period a year ago. 

Indonesia is not a regular buyer of Indian rice. It imported 3.26 lakh tonnes (lt) in 2018-19 before reducing it to 105 tonnes the following year and below 50,000 tonnes in 2020-21. It bought 2.1 lt last fiscal and in the first half of this fiscal, the imports were 1.22 lt. 

Trade experts say the government could impress Indonesia to buy rice from India more regularly than when its neighbouring countries face problems, pointing out its palm oil purchases from Jakarta.