India, normally the world’s largest rice exporter, banned exports of non-basmati white rice in July in an attempt to curb domestic food price inflation, as Gro wrote about here. A shortfall in 2023/24 rice production would boost India’s domestic food price inflation and increase pressure on the government to expand the export ban.
Due in part to El Niño, this year’s monsoon delivered erratic precipitation across many of India’s major crop-producing regions from June-September, as this Gro display shows — damaging the country’s main, or kharif, crop, which accounts for around 70% of total rice production. Now, low soil moisture is threatening the rabi, or summer crop, which is currently being planted.
Unlike the kharif crops, which rely on rains, the off-season rabi crops largely depend on adequate soil moisture and irrigation. While soil moisture levels in West Bengal, India’s largest rice-growing state, have risen since late November, they have been near historic lows for much of the year, as seen in this display from Gro’s Climate Risk Navigator for Agriculture weighted to the state’s rice-growing regions. In Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, the second and third top rice-producing states, soil moisture is declining.
The El Niño weather pattern tends to bring less rainfall and warmer temperatures to key rice-growing areas in Asia. The last time India saw a decrease in rice production was 2015/16, also an El Niño year.
A smaller Indian rice crop would especially impact countries like Bangladesh, China, Benin, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, which rely on India’s rice exports. India has consistently been the lowest-priced rice supplier, as this Gro display shows.
The weak 2023 monsoon has also caused production problems for other food staples produced in India, including wheat and soybeans. With El Niño forecast to bring more unfavorable weather through early 2024, India could increase its grain imports to meet demand.