AAgriculture Minister Cem Özdemir (Greens) criticized India’s wheat export ban. “We all have a responsibility vis-à-vis the rest of the world, especially the major exporting nations,” Özdemir said on Saturday in Stuttgart after meeting with his counterparts from the G7 group of industrialized countries. “I take a very critical view of this,” he said, referring to New Delhi’s decision.
According to the wishes of the heads of departments, the heads of state and government of the G7 should now discuss the issue, as Özdemir reported. India will be the guest of the summit at Elmau Castle in Bavaria at the end of June. Germany is currently leading the group of states.
According to host Özdemir, the G7 is generally opposed to export bans. “We ask that the markets remain open.” India, the world’s second-largest wheat producer, had earlier announced it would ban the export of the grain with immediate effect.
According to Özdemir, the G7 wants to monitor the prices of production and foodstuffs, for example fertilizers, more closely than before. To this end, the agricultural information system of the G20 group of industrialized and emerging countries must be strengthened.
In addition to Germany, the G7 group includes the United States, Canada, France, Great Britain, Italy and Japan.
Concern about world hunger is growing
With the immediate wheat export ban, India has further stoked fears of impending global famine caused by the war in Ukraine. The government of the world’s second-largest wheat producer announced on Saturday that the export ban was aimed at curbing rising prices in its own country. India indeed wished to sell on the world market a record quantity of approximately ten million tons of wheat this year. An unusually early heat wave with temperatures well above 40 degrees in India had recently fueled concerns about a poor harvest.
On the world market, the export ban is expected to drive up prices further, as millions of tonnes of wheat are missing due to the war in Ukraine and the lack of deliveries from the Black Sea region results. This would particularly affect the poorest countries in Asia and Africa. India said on Saturday that existing supply contracts would be fulfilled and countries that would otherwise have to worry about “food security” would also be supplied. However, the export of additional quantities will be stopped.
According to the United Nations, nearly 25 million tonnes of grain already harvested cannot leave the country due to the war in Ukraine. Moreover, the future harvest cannot be maintained at the previous level. This drives up prices worldwide. In Germany, for example, wheat imports increased by around 65% in March in one year.
Federal Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir on Friday accused Russia of using hunger as a weapon of war. This applies in Ukraine, but also throughout the world, since Ukraine alone provides half of the cereals of the World Food Programme. Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock warned on Saturday that up to 50 million people in Africa and the Middle East are also at risk of starvation as a result of the crisis.
“The ban is shocking,” said a Mumbai-based worker at a global grain trader of India’s recent move. Of course, the government had also reacted to the high rate of inflation. As in other countries, prices in India have not only increased significantly for cereals due to the sharp increase in fuel, labor and transport costs. In addition, the heat wave caused the first bad harvests.
As recently as February, the government had forecast a production of over 111 million tonnes, which would have been the sixth record harvest in a row. In May, the forecast was capped at 105 million, and traders do not rule out that farmers will ultimately harvest less than 100 million tonnes. According to the government, the export ban is also an act of caution. The state buys more of the crop in India every year in order to give the grain to the poorer sections of the population.
Review of alternatives to grain export from Ukraine
The Group of Major Democracies (G7), meanwhile, is considering alternatives to shipping grain from Ukraine in a bid to break the Russian blockade in the region. After problems with rail transport via Romania due to the different track widths of the railways, exports via the Baltic ports have been examined, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) said on Saturday after of a G7 meeting near Weißenhäuser Strand on the Baltic Sea. But even when passing through the Baltic States, the prerequisites should first be clarified as to how to reach the ports.
Normally, five to six million tonnes of grain per month could be shipped from Ukraine, Baerbock said. However, this can only be achieved by sea. With rail delivery, you obviously get a lot less grain. But the following applies: “Every ton delivered can help a little to bring this hunger crisis under control. So far, a fraction has been exported by rail, mainly via Romania. The “bottleneck” is that Ukraine and Romania have different track widths on the railways. It will waste a lot of your time.
There will be no perfect solution as long as Russian bombardment of Ukraine continues, Baerbock said. 25 million tons of grain were stored in Ukrainian ports. “This is the grain the world so badly needs.” It is also important to export it, otherwise the next harvest will also expire. The G7 discussed the alternatives with Ukraine, the United Nations and the European Commission.
Baerbock stressed that it was not just about preventing a famine in a few months. The effects of the blockade are already being felt today because, even without the war in Ukraine, there are incredible problems providing for everyone and people are already starving. “That’s why it’s so important that we act together.”