RISING RICE PRICES. Rice is seen on display at Little India, an
Indian grocery store in New York City’s Curry Hill neighborhood. An
earlier than expected El Niño brought drier, warmer weather in some
parts of Asia and is expected to harm rice production. But in some parts
of India, where the monsoon season was especially brutal, flooding
destroyed some crops, adding to production woes and rising prices. (AP
Photo/Bobby Caina Calvan)
From The Asian Reporter, V33, #8 (August 7, 2023), page 8.
India cuts rice exports, triggering panic-buying of
food staple by some Indian expats in the U.S.
By Bobby Caina Calvan
The Associated Press
NEW YORK — Chatter on one of Prabha Rao’s WhatsApp groups exploded
last month when India announced that it was severely curtailing some
rice exports to the rest of the world, triggering worry among the Indian
diaspora in the United States that access to a food staple from home
might soon be cut off.
As in any crisis situation — think bottled water and toilet paper —
some rushed to supermarkets to stock up, stacking carts with bags and
bags of rice. In some places, lines formed outside some stores as panic
But Rao, who lives near Syracuse, New York, was reassured when the
proprietor of her Indian market sent out an e-mail to customers to let
them know there was no need to worry: There was an ample supply of rice.
At least for now.
An earlier than expected El Niño brought drier, warmer weather in
some parts of Asia and is expected to harm rice production. But in some
parts of India, where the monsoon season was especially brutal, flooding
destroyed some crops, adding to production woes and rising prices.
Hoping to stave off inflationary pressures on a diet staple, the
Indian government imposed export bans on non-Basmati white rice
varieties, prompting hoarding in some parts of the world.
The move was taken "to ensure adequate availability" and "to allay
the rise in prices in the domestic market," India’s Ministry of Consumer
Affairs, Food & Public Distribution announced July 20. Over the past
year, prices have increased by more than 11%, and by 3% over the past
month, the government said.
Non-Basmati white rice constitutes about a fourth of the rice
exported by India.
"On WhatsApp, I got a lot of messages saying that rice was not going
to be available. I think there was a lot of confusion in the beginning
because, as you know, rice is very important for us," Rao said.
"When we first heard the news, there was just mild confusion and
people started panic buying because they thought that it may not be
available," she said.
There are scores of different varieties of rice, with people having
their preference depending on taste and texture. India’s export ban does
not apply to Basmati rice, a long-grain variety that is more aromatic.
The ban applies to short-grain rice that is starchier and has a
relatively neutral flavor — which Rao says is preferable in some dishes
or favored in specific regions of India, especially in southern areas of
At Little India, a grocery store in New York City’s Curry Hill
neighborhood in Manhattan, there was no shortage of Basmati rice and
That wasn’t the case at other Indian groceries.
On its Facebook page, India Bazaar, an Indian grocery chain in the
Dallas-Fort Worth area, told customers not to panic. "We are working
hard to meet all our shoppers’ demands," the post said.
Customers cleared shelves and waited in long lines to stockpile bags
of rice, reported NBC Dallas affiliate KXAS.
"They really wanted to purchase ten, 12, 15 bags," India Bazaar’s
president, Anand Pabari, told the station. "It was a really crazy
India’s move came days after Russia backed out of a deal to allow
Ukrainian wheat safe passage through the Black Sea, prompting warnings
that the action could lead to surging prices.
Some economists say the ban might further hurt food supplies around
the world, and some governments have urged the Indian government to
reconsider the export ban.
At least in the United States, the supply of imported rice from India
may not yet be a problem — despite the panic buying — but a long-term
ban would certainly deplete that stock.
Rao says she and others will just have to adapt by purchasing rice
grown in the United States or imported from other countries.
"I might have to substitute Basmati rice," she said, "but it doesn’t
taste that good, especially with South Indian dishes."
A U.S. resident for three decades, Rao said she is accustomed to
"When we first came here, there was not even that much rice from
India," she said. "So I’ve learned to substitute, and I’m fine with the
other brands that we get."
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