India, the world’s biggest rice exporter, is heading for record shipments this year that will help to keep rising food prices in check, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization(FAO).

Indian exports of the planet’s most consumed staple may climb to an all-time high of 16.2 million tonnes this year, up about 12% from 14.5 million tonnes in 2020, said Shirley Mustafa, a Rome-based senior economist at the UN agency.

Ample Indian exports “have greatly contributed to ensuring access to affordable rice in international markets at a time when prices of maize, soybeans and wheat have surged, and the Covid-19 pandemic has made some sections of the global population poorer,” Mustafa said in an email on May 6.

India’s rice production is seen increasing to an all-time high of 120.3 million tonnes in the year ending June, from about 118.9 million tonnes a year earlier, according to the latest estimate from the nation’s farm ministry.

The average price of Indian basmati rice sold overseas in the 11 months ended Feb. 28 was about 13% lower than a year earlier, while the non-basmati variety was down 8%, according to government data.

India will give away about 8 million tonnes of rice and wheat in May and June to people covered under the nation’s food programme to ease hardship caused by the resurgence of Covid across the country, the government said last month.

India has also started selling rice and wheat in the open market for domestic use at below procurement costs to help consumers get food at affordable rates, Sudhanshu Pandey, the top bureaucrat at the food ministry, said on Monday.

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