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NEW DELHI : Indian officials advised wealthy nations to stop wasting food and pointed out New Delhi makes up less than 1% of global wheat exports after the Group of Seven developed economies criticized India’s ban on wheat shipments amid the Russia-Ukraine war.

Commerce ministry officials told Mint that at least eight countries, including Egypt, Turkey and Kuwait have exercised export restrictions amid wheat shortages triggered by the war. G7 nations, they said, have no “locus standi" to ask India to keep grain exports open. India exported over $600 million worth of wheat in March and April to offset shortages, they added.

“As per the UN Environment Programme food waste index, household food waste stood at 59 kg per capita per year for the US. The comparable number for Japan, Italy, Germany and Canada are 64, 67, 75 and 79 respectively," one of the officials said.

“As per the food waste index 2021, India has one of the lowest household food waste rates at 50 kg/capita/year. Besides, India ranked 19th in 2020 and 35th in 2019 among major wheat producers of the world," he added.

To be sure, the Russia-Ukraine war has disrupted nearly 30% of global wheat exports. This made Indian grain exports crucial despite it being a minor player.

However, Pradeep S. Mehta, secretary-general of the global consumer advocacy firm CUTS International, criticized the 14 May ban.

“By announcing the ban, you are denying price realization for our farmers. At the WTO, you are looking for a permanent solution to exports but banning wheat exports. This sends a wrong signal. Such knee-jerk reaction is not good for our image as a reliable exporter," he said.

Mehta warned that the ban may result in wheat prices falling below MSP. “Prices have already neared MSP in some states and the farmers will have to bear the consequence. It could fall below MSP soon."

Another official said that in the past, several developed nations have exported large quantities of grain only to find that they might need to import some in order to fulfill domestic requirements.

“But India cannot afford to be in that position. Over 800 million people are dependent on crucial programmes such as the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PM-GKAY) food security scheme. Who will we turn to fulfill our enormous requirement for grain? Food security is crucial for a country the size of India," the official added.

This official said data on wheat production comes with a lag.

“Export restriction is a regular step countries take in an event of need. We are in line with WTO rules. Ban on wheat exports is a temporary measure. If data after May 31 shows that conditions have improved, our procurement goes up, the decision could get reversed," he added.

A third official, however, said that the commerce ministry had planned to export wheat to several countries and it could have helped India gain markets in the long run.

Queries sent to the commerce and industry ministry remained unanswered at press time.

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