India should keep lid on wheat exports to replenish local stocks - flour millers

FILE PHOTO: Workers fill sacks with wheat at a market yard on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, India

By Mayank Bhardwaj

NEW DELHI (Reuters) -India should extend a ban on wheat exports in place since last year to help ensure lower domestic prices and sufficient stocks for consumers, a flour millers' industry body said on Thursday.

Exports of the grain from India, the world's second biggest producer, surged after Russia's invasion of Ukraine boosted global prices, but a sudden rise in temperatures in March 2022 shrivelled the crop and cut yields, pushing local prices higher.

India imposed a ban in May last year, within days of promising to supply large quantities of the grain to a host of countries reeling from sky-high prices and severe shortages of the staple.

While there is no specific date for the ban to expire, government and industry sources have said it is scheduled to be reviewed next month. Reuters last month reported India was considering extending its term.

"The government's efforts have paid off and local prices have fallen, giving relief to consumers and a wide range of industries, including bread and biscuit makers," said Pramod Kumar, president of the Roller Flour Millers' Federation of India.

"The wheat export ban must continue," he said.

India's new season wheat has just started arriving on the market and the harvest will gather momentum in the next few weeks.

Last month India estimated wheat production in 2023 could rebound to a record 112.2 million tonnes, but some farmers and industry officials are less optimistic due to a sudden rise in temperatures in the past few weeks.

Last year's small crop size led to a 53% drop in government purchases to 18.8 million tonnes, pushing up local prices.

The Food Corporation of India buys wheat to run the world's biggest food welfare programme and to keep a sufficient stockpile to meet any emergency requirements.

(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by Jan Harvey)