UAE retailers have more than six months of rice in reserve amid India export ban

Measure will be reviewed in November after heavy rain disrupted sowing season

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Leading UAE retailers said India's export ban on non-basmati white rice would not have an immediate impact on them as they have sufficient reserves.

India banned the export of some varieties of white rice last month to curb rising prices in the local market after heavy rain disrupted the sowing season.

Last week, the UAE took the step of announcing a suspension of rice exports for four months, including rice brought in from India, a move designed to safeguard consumers from inflation and shortages.

We already have our own sourcing offices across the world that ensure uninterrupted supply
V Nandakumar, Lulu Group

The country’s biggest retailers told The National that rice supply was adequate as they kept at least at least six months of essential commodities in reserve.

Some stores in Dubai and Sharjah that specialise in Indian products temporarily placed a two-bag limit on sales of white rice.

India’s export ban does not apply to basmati rice, a long-grain variety better known overseas.

Bertrand Loumaye, country manager of Carrefour at Majid Al Futtaim Retail, said there was no supply disruption and no limits placed on the purchase of rice.

The retail giant does not directly export or import rice in the UAE but sources the grains locally.

“We work very closely with local and regional distributors to stock up on rice across our stores for our customers,” Mr Loumaye said.

“Carrefour maintains six months’ worth of essential commodities in stock. Furthermore, we share an open relationship with our distributors and suppliers and have not been notified of any changes in supplies or operations.”

Carrefour maintains a six-month reserve of essential goods. Pawan Singh / The National

Mr Loumayhe said the group had “full confidence” in UAE authorities with whom they worked closely to meet the country’s food security needs.

Abu Dhabi-headquartered supermarket chain Lulu also said price stability was a priority and there were adequate reserves in stock.

“The recent restrictions on rice export from India and re-export from the UAE is not having any adverse effect on us,” said V Nandakumar, director of marketing and communications at the Lulu Group.

“We already have our own sourcing offices across the world that ensure uninterrupted supply and price stability.”

Mr Nandakumar said there were no restrictions on the quantity of rice customers can buy.

“As one of the leading players in the grocery retail sector, food safety and security has always been our key priority and with this in mind we always maintain sufficient stocks with a more than six-month supply,” he said.

Two packets per customer

A popular Indian store, Al Adil, temporarily placed notices in shops to alert customers that they would only be allowed to buy two packets of some varieties of white rice.

“In order to ensure continued availability to all our customers, we are imposing a temporary limit on Peacock surti kolam rice and ambe mohar rice purchase effective immediately: Maximum two pieces per transaction, applies to both 2kg and 5kg packaging,” said a sign in an Al Barsha store.

“We sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused. We greatly appreciate your understanding and co-operation. Updates will be provided as we continue to monitor the situation.”

The restrictions were lifted on Tuesday.

“We were initially not sure of how much quantity we had but there is no limit on purchase of rice now in our stores,” said Dhananjay Datar, managing director and chairman of Al Adil.

“We have plenty of stock for the next six to eight months. There is enough rice in the market and we can also bring in rice from suppliers in other countries like Thailand, Pakistan and Vietnam.”

Heavy rain hits paddy fields

India is the world’s largest rice exporter and accounts for more than 40 per cent of global rice exports.

Torrential rain flooded paddy farms in June and disrupted the sowing of rice in several Indian states, with the government keen to keep a watch on the harvest.

The country’s export ban on non-basmati white rice varieties until November worried global markets already shaken by high food prices after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Experts said the move was aimed to protect the underprivileged who depended on rice as a staple food.

Dipa Sinha, an assistant professor at New Delhi’s Ambedkar University, said a poor wheat crop for two consecutive years resulted in the grain being substituted with rice in India's food distribution system.

The massive public distribution system provides subsidised food grains to 800 million people.

Farmer workers plant rice saplings in a paddy field on the outskirts of Amritsar in northern India. AFP

“Rice is the staple for two thirds of India’s population and this year we are seeing an inflation in rice,” said Ms Sinha, who works in the field of public policy, food rights and nutrition.

“The ban is to ensure the public distribution system does not face a crisis and prices within India don’t go up further because that would cause hardship to a lot of people.”

Vinod Kaul, senior executive director of the All India Rice Exporters Association, said supplies to the Middle East and Africa would be hit.

“Supplies will dry up in several countries – that is anticipated to be the impact and when supplies are short, prices do shoot up,” Mr Kaul said.

“Of India’s total rice export, about 36 per cent is white rice.

“Many countries depend on white rice, particularly in the Middle East that has a big expatriate Indian population and around 50 countries in Africa import rice from India.”

Heavy rain could affect rice yield and is among the reasons for the Indian government’s decision.

“Any government will be concerned about the food security of its population,” he said.

“There are worries that unseasonal heavy rains during the rice sowing season in June may have damaged crops so the export ban is a precautionary measure by the government.”

The decision will be reviewed in November.

“India’s harvesting season is mid-October to November and the government will be regularly monitoring the situation,” Mr Kaul said.

“By September, the government will have a clear idea if there is a drop or it is a normal situation and then they will review it.”

Updated: August 02, 2023, 1:53 PM