India’s ban on rice exports leads to some panic buying in Canada

South Asian grocery stores across Canada are witnessing a surge in customers amid India's ban on the export of non-basmati white rice products. Jazan Grewal spoke to the general manager at Iqbal Halal Foods in Mississauga.

By Jazan Grewal

Rice is a staple for billions of people around the world but India has imposed a ban on the export of non-Basmati white rice products. A Toronto South Asian grocery store says it is already feeling the pinch, leading to a spike in panic buying.

“What happened in the last couple of days, it’s only a panic purchase,” Salam Hasan, general manager at Mississauga’s Iqbal Halal Foods, tells CityNews. “We used to have enough for three to four weeks. The stock was sold in just a couple of days.”

Hasan says for the time being the popular South Asian grocery store has implemented a restriction, allowing each family to buy just one bag of rice.

“The previous experience with India, last year, lasted around one month. If you think about one month – banning the export of a particular item – remember, there are a lot of containers at sea coming our way.”

According to Sriram Ramamurthy, the business development manager overseeing rice imports at Iqbal’s grocery, the rice ban has a major impact on their operations.

The store is known for importing around 40 different brands of rice and non-Basmati varieties make up approximately 40 per cent of their rice imports. In response to the ban, the store has already been forced to raise the price of a 10-pound bag from $15 to $20.

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“Our efforts to finalize a rice import deal which was underway has been completely halted by the ban,” Ramamurthy said. The most popular non-Basmati rice varieties at Iqbal Halal Foods include Sona Masoori, Surti Kollam, Ponni, Parmal and Seeraga Samba rice.

India’s Ministry of Consumer Affairs says the ban is to “ensure adequate availability of non-Basmati white rice in the India market and to allay the rise in prices in the domestic market.”

Customers who spoke with CityNews admitted to some concerns over the situation.

“If there’s a ban on the export, definitely the price will go up,” said one man. “In the current situation in Canada, where already a lot of things are priced high, inflation is high …it will be a huge concern because, for the South Asian population, it is an important product that is used daily.”

“For me, it will probably not make a difference because I’m not a rice person,” said one woman. “We have rice once a week. I’m more into bread so as long as wheat is not a problem, I’m good.”

The export ban comes 10 months after India added 20 per cent duties on rice exports, making it even more expensive and the country accounts for more than 40 per cent of the global rice trade.

Canada relies on rice imports since the grain is not cultivated locally. India stands as the third-largest rice-importing country for Canada.

It’s not clear how long the ban will stay in effect but experts warn the move could see food costs spike globally.

Files from The Canadian Press were used in this report

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