Globally, India is one of the world’s top producers of both rice and wheat. These two crops are among India’s most crucial grains for economic growth and food security. As per the latest estimates, the output of foodgrains in India is expected to reach a new record high of 323.55 mt, up 2.5% from the previous record high of 315.62 mt in 2021–2022. This is due to the record-high wheat, rice, and coarse cereals production. Despite the kharif season’s decreased output, record-high rice production is predicted.
Farming of these two staple crops is called the rice-wheat cropping system (RWCS), particularly relevant in Northwest India. However, continued RWCS adoption in northwest India has led to significant problems and a decline in the system’s productivity. A number of issues, including the depleting soil nutrient pool, declining soil health, groundwater depletion, rising production costs, environmental pollution from crop residue burning and increased greenhouse gas emissions, and herbicide resistance in weed species threatens the sustainability of RWCS system.
According to a report by United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Indian population will surpass China as the world’s most populous country by end of 2023. Along with growing population our dietary habits are also changing, which is contributing to an increase in the demand for rice and wheat in India. The high domestic demand and challenges in production are impacting India’s markets. To guarantee that farmers obtain a fair price for their crops, the Indian government, for instance, sets minimum support prices for rice and wheat. These costs may impact market prices and food inflation. Since rice and wheat are staples for our population, the government purchases a lot of wheat and rice for distribution through its public distribution system to guarantee food security for disadvantaged communities. Therefore, the production and pricing of rice and wheat are woven into our socio-economic structure and are critical for its stability and growth.
Recent Price Rise, Ban and Global Impact
Since the Ukrainian conflict started in February last year, wheat prices have risen as Russia and Ukraine produce around one-fourth of the world’s wheat. India banned wheat exports in May 2022 to manage the high domestic demand and to slow the rise in domestic prices due to the spike in global prices. In an effort to increase local supply in light of a decrease in the area planted with paddy during the current kharif season, it also barred the export of broken rice and placed a 20% export levy on all non-Basmati rice, with the exception of parboiled rice.
However, export restrictions on food products may not always be welcomed globally unless there is a significant disaster in the nation in question. Concerns about food security in weaker countries were raised at the recently concluded WTO ministerial meeting and the G-7 summit. Several millions of people fall below the poverty line as a result of sudden export bans, which impose huge expenses on less developed countries.
Role of Climate Change
Climate change is also a critical factor impacting demand and supply of critical grains. Wheat is a staple cereal that is significantly impacted by temperature and elevated CO2 levels. These factors not only have an impact on wheat yield but also make wheat more susceptible to disease. High temperatures increase transpiration, which raises the risk of drought and lowers productivity.
Rice, the primary food staple, is considered as the largest employer and the driver of Asian economies. China, India, and Indonesia are the three Asian nations that produce and consume the most rice, which means that a sizable portion of the world’s population is heavily dependent on rice. Studies already conducted using statistical models suggest that climate change-related heat waves could reduce rice yields in South East Asia, South Asia, and Southern Africa.
Agricultural experts, institutions, and other stakeholders need to step forward to help farmers evaluate more sustainable farming methods. For example, rice and wheat had different cultivation needs in the past since rice seedlings needed to be transplanted in puddled circumstances. In contrast, wheat needed aerobic soil that had been finely ground. As an alternative solution, it has been discovered that rice may also be produced effectively without the need for constant flooding by using non-puddled transplantation or direct seeding methods. Similarly, wheat can also be grown successfully using no-till methods.
Farmers could also benefit from new alternatives to the current rigorous tillage and crop establishment techniques in order to preserve water, maintain soil health, and ensure environmental safety in light of all the difficulties presented by the current challenges. There is an opportunity to explore and use new technologies to preserve natural resources and boost overall agricultural productivity.