The second-most populous country in the world is now attempting to assess the damage, and experts worry that India may have to increase its imports to make up for yield shortfalls that will occur come harvest time.
Will this be possible, though? The world is already reeling from a supply chain shock linked to Russia’s war in Ukraine. Both Russia and Ukraine are heavy exporters of wheat and other food crops, and both nations are now capping or banning exports as part of new protectionist measures.
The heatwave that swept India in March is the hottest on record since the country first started tracking weather patterns back in 1901. Normally, March is a cooler time period, which makes for good wheat harvests – but not this year.
“Wheat is very sensitive to heat, especially during the final stage when its kernels mature and ripen,” reports The Associated Press (AP). “Indian farmers time their planting so that this stage coincides with India’s usually cooler spring.”
India’s “grain bowl” region may not produce enough this year to supply the country’s national reserves with food
A London-based “climate scientist” is blaming global warming for India’s heatwave. Friederike Otto from Imperial College London says that human activities are to blame for the failed wheat crops.
“But now it is a much more common event,” Otto is quoted as saying about how there have always been heatwaves, but they are supposedly much more common now that humans have advanced technologically.
“We can expect such high temperatures about once in every four years,” he added.
From 1990 to 2019, according to a 2021 report published in the medical journal The Lancet, India’s vulnerability to extreme heat increased by about 15 percent.
“It is among the top five countries where vulnerable people, like the old and the poor, have the highest exposure to heat,” the AP added. “It and Brazil have the highest heat-related mortality in the world, the report said.”
In the northern Indian state of Punjab, one farmer said he lost about a fifth of his wheat yield due to the recent heatwave. Others in his area lost much more – and they are not even out of the woods yet.
“I am afraid the worst is yet to come,” said Baldev Singh.
Punjab is India’s “grain bowl,” much like how Ukraine is Europe’s “breadbasket.” A large percentage of India’s food comes from Punjab, as the government has been encouraging the cultivation of both wheat and rice throughout the region since the 1960s.
Punjab is usually the largest contributor to India’s national reserves. The government of India was hoping to snap up about a third of its stock from the Punjab region, but that may no longer be possible due to the heatwave.
Devinder Sharma, an agriculture policy expert in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh, says he expects the government to receive about 25 percent less grain from the Punjab region this season.
“Overall, India purchased over 43 million metric tons (47.3 million U.S. tons) of wheat in 2021,” the AP further reported. “Sharma estimates it will instead get 20% to nearly 50% less.”
“Even though it is the world’s second-largest producer of wheat, India exports only a small fraction of its harvest. It had been looking to capitalize on the global disruption to wheat supplies from Russia’s war in Ukraine and find new markets for its wheat in Europe, Africa, and Asia.”
More news coverage about the implosion of the global food supply can be found at FoodCollapse.com.
Sources for this article include: