India diversifies food exports as curbs on domestic staples weigh

India’s agricultural food exports in the 2023/24 financial year fell slightly short of the previous year, hitting about $50 billion as efforts to diversify shipments to the United States, Europe and other markets helped to offset curbs on rice, wheat and sugar exports, reported Reuters.

The export curbs were imposed by the world’s second-largest producer of wheat, rice and sugar last year to rein in rising domestic prices.

The curbs have hit food exports by between $5 billion and $6 billion, said commerce ministry official Rajesh Agrawal, adding that overall agriculture exports could be about $50 billion for the year to March 31. That compares with a total of about $53 billion the previous year.

“The government aims to reduce dependence on a few items … and promote a wide range of farm products, such as oilseeds, fruit, vegetables and processed foods,” he said.

India’s merchandise exports fell for the first time in 2023/24 since 2020/21, hit by geopolitical tensions and export curbs.

Exports have also been dented by a slowdown in global demand, the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war and the Red Sea shipping crisis brought on by conflict in the Middle East, Agrawal said.

Exports of basmati rice had reached $5.2 billion by the end of February, up 22% year on year, helped by an increase in global prices, he said. Official numbers for the full 12-month period are expected to be announced in the next few days.

To boost exports, the government has identified 20 agricultural products with high export potential in developed countries. These include items such as bananas, mangoes, cashew nuts, buffalo meat and alcoholic beverages.

Abhishek Dev, chairman of the Agriculture and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), a state-run agency that aims to boost farm exports, said India’s share in the $400 billion global market of such products was only 2.23% in 2022, amounting to $9 billion. 

“The aim is to capture 4% to 5% market share in the next few years,” he said, adding that shipments of bananas and pomegranates had been sent to Russia and the United States. 

Dev said that India’s fruit and vegetable exports rose 14% in 2023/24 to $3.7 billion, followed by a 12.4% rise in exports of meat, dairy and poultry items to $2.8 billion.