No immediate changes are likely in the Centre’s decision disallowing both import and export of wheat, officials tracking the matter have said. 

“India is unlikely to import wheat as, right now, the government is clearing FCI stocks and this would meet the current requirement. The intention is to clear up as much stock as possible so that one has space for procurement next year,” an official told businessline.

The government had estimated wheat stocks at 126 lakh tonnes (lt) as of April 1, 2023, before its decision to offload 50 lt from the Central Pool under the open market sales scheme (OMSS) was taken. Now that offtake is robust under OMSS and as much as 30-35 lt OMSS allocation is likely to be exhausted by March 31, the country may have around 90 lt of stock as of April 1, 2023, against the buffer norm of about 75 lt, another official said.

Wheat exports

On wheat exports, the official said the Inter-Ministerial Committee will take a view on the matter in due course after the new crop starts coming into the market from April and there is a more accurate production estimate available. “Last year, it turned out that a part of the wheat crop was affected due to a scorching heat wave in March and the decision to export had to be withdrawn abruptly. Such situations should be avoided,” he said.

Last week, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) issued an advisory to farmers from Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana asking them to check for heat stress in their wheat crop, as maximum temperatures were likely to be 3-5°C higher than normal in several parts of the country.

After the heatwave-induced drop in yield last year, exports during the procurement season led to official purchases falling to a 15-year low of 188 lt in the 2022-23 season (April-March), from 433 lt in 2021-22.

Read also: India wheat procurement target may be missed by a mile

‘Big risk’

“It will be a great risk if without ensuring 250 lt procurement, export is allowed, particularly when the temperature is rising in the wheat-growing belt and the Russia-Ukraine war is still continuing,” said an official source. Besides, the government’s policy of offering wheat to friendly countries is working fine and any extra procurement could be channelised for export on diplomatic grounds, he said

Since about 180 lt of wheat is needed for distribution under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) and other welfare schemes annually, and considering a provision of 50 lt for OMSS, the minimum procurement the government can target is 215 lt due to a higher opening stock of 15 lt from the buffer. Further, if it decides to double grain distribution through ration shops during January-March, as expected due to an election year, the procurement need may go up to around 245 lt.