India’s basmati rice growers face losses as floor price dents exports

By Mayank Bhardwaj and Rajendra Jadhav

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI (Reuters) – India’s decision to maintain the current floor price for basmati rice exports will further hamper overseas sales of the premium variety and hit farm income, leaving growers saddled with large stocks of the new-season variety, farmers and millers said.

India and Pakistan are the only growers of basmati rice. New Delhi exports more than 4 million metric tons of basmati – the premium long-grain variety famed for its aroma – to countries such as Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

New Delhi set a floor price, or minimum export price (MEP), of $1,200 a ton in August. It was expected to cut this MEP but the government on Saturday said it would maintain the floor price until further notice.

India, the world’s biggest rice exporter, has also curbed exports of non basmati rice varieties in an attempt to keep a lid on domestic prices ahead of key state elections.

“We are staring at massive losses,” said Sukrampal Beniwal, who grows basmati varieties in the country’s north. “We have harvested our crop, but there are no buyers.”

Farmers plant summer-sown rice varieties in the rainy months of June and July and start harvesting their crops from October. As the new harvest trickles in, prices start to fall.

Farmers, millers and exporters had believed the government would lower the MEP, which they consider too steep, as the new-season crop comes to market.

“The decision to continue with the $1,200 MEP is a big blow to us,” said Vijay Setia, a leading exporter from the northern state of Haryana, one of India’s breadbaskets, adding that the government needed to cut it to $850-$900 a ton with immediate effect.

Basmati rice farmers are struggling to sell their produce because millers and traders have stopped coming to dozens of wholesale markets to buy, Beniwal said.

Paddy prices of basmati varieties have fallen more than 20% since the government imposed the MEP, traders said.

Basmati is not widely consumed in India and the government doesn’t buy the variety to build state reserves.

“Farmers find themselves in a frustrating predicament,” said a leading exporter who asked not to be named. “We are empowering Pakistan to seize control of the basmati rice market in the short term.”

(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj and Rajendra Jadhav; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)