Heat wave scorches India’s wheat crop and stalls export plans – WSB-TV Channel 2

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NEW DELHI — (AP) — An unusually early and record-breaking heat wave in India has reduced wheat yields, raising questions about how the country will balance its domestic needs with ambitions to increase exports and meet food shortages. deficits due to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Gigantic landfills in New Delhi, the Indian capital, have caught fire in recent weeks. Schools in Odisha state in eastern India have been closed for a week and in neighboring West Bengal schools are stocking up on oral rehydration salts for children. On Tuesday, Rajgarh, a city of more than 1.5 million people in central India, was the hottest in the country, with daytime temperatures peaking at 46.5 degrees Celsius (114.08 Fahrenheit). Temperatures crossed the 45°C (113°F) mark in nine other cities.

But it was the March heat – the hottest in India since record keeping began in 1901 – that delayed the harvest. Wheat is very sensitive to heat, especially in the final stage when its kernels ripen and ripen. Indian farmers time their planting so that this stage coincides with India’s generally cooler spring.

Climate change has made India’s heatwave hotter, said Friederike Otto, a climatologist at Imperial College London. She said that before human activities raised global temperatures, heat waves like this year’s would have hit India once in about half a century.

“But now it’s a much more common occurrence – we can expect such high temperatures around once every four years,” she said.

India’s vulnerability to extreme heat increased by 15% from 1990 to 2019, according to a 2021 report by medical journal The Lancet. It is among the top five countries where vulnerable people, such as the elderly and the poor, are most exposed to heat. This country and Brazil have the highest heat-related mortality in the world, according to the report.

Farmworkers like Baldev Singh are among the most vulnerable. Singh, a farmer from Sangrur in the northern Indian state of Punjab, watched his crop shrivel before his eyes as a generally cool spring quickly turned into relentless heat. It lost about a fifth of its yield. Others lost more.

“I fear the worst is yet to come,” Singh said.

Punjab is India’s “grain bowl” and the government has encouraged the cultivation of wheat and rice there since the 1960s. It is usually the largest contributor to India’s national reserves and the government had hoped buy about a third of this year’s stock in the region. But government assessments predict lower yields this year, and Devinder Sharma, an agricultural policy expert in the northern city of Chandigarh, said he expected to get 25% less.

The story is the same in other major wheat producing states like Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

Overall, India bought more than 43 million metric tons (47.3 million US tons) of wheat in 2021. Sharma estimates that it will instead get 20% to almost 50% less.

Although it is the world’s second largest producer of wheat, India exports only a small part of its harvest. It was looking to take advantage of the global wheat supply disruption caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine and find new markets for its wheat in Europe, Africa and Asia.

This seems uncertain given the delicate balance the government must maintain between demand and supply. It needs about 25 million tons (27.5 million US tons) of wheat for the vast food welfare program that typically feeds more than 80 million people.

Before the pandemic, India had vast stocks that far exceeded its domestic needs – a buffer against the risk of famine.

Those reserves have been stretched, Sharma said, by the distribution of free grain during the pandemic to around 800 million people – vulnerable groups like migrant workers. The program has been extended until September, but it is unclear if it will continue beyond that.

“We are no longer with that kind of surplus. . . with the resumption of exports, there would be a lot of pressure on domestic wheat availability,” Sharma said.

India’s federal agriculture and trade ministries did not respond to questions emailed to them.

Beyond India, other countries are also grappling with poor harvests that are hampering their ability to help offset potential supply shortfalls from Russia and Ukraine, normally the biggest and fifth-largest exporters. of wheat in the world.

China’s Agriculture Minister Tang Renjian said last month that the winter wheat harvest was likely to be poor, hampered by flooding and delays in planting.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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