Rice, a Staple Of Many Diets Around the World, Is Facing a Global Shortage

The world is about to face a global rice shortage, triggered by extreme weather patterns and newly-enacted restrictions from India, the biggest worldwide exporter.

According to the Associated Press, the price of a 55-pound bag of rice has inflated by about a fifth since June, going from the approximately $14 to $18.

But even before India's restrictions, El Niño conditions earlier this year began to put the squeeze on supplies, producing drought and flooding conditions in major rice-producing countries such as China and Pakistan. Asian countries in general account for 90 percent of where the world’s rice is grown and consumed, and the weather has taken a toll. Rice is a vulnerable crop, and can be most susceptible to losses during an El Niño event.

In the Philippines, $32 million worth of rice crops were damaged when Typhoon Doksuri swept through the country's northern rice-producing region last month, impacting an estimated 22 percent of its annual rice production.

As a result, many countries began buying up rice, causing a supply and demand frenzy.

India's ban the export of on short-grain, non-basmati rice came as an attempt to control domestic prices. It has impacted about a fifth of global exports, creating a deficit of 9.5 million metric tons of rice around the world. (Exports of long-grain basmati rice have not been affected.) Already, other countries are starting to follow suit.

The United Arab Emirates, the 16th-largest importer of rice as of 2021, announced a temporary suspension of rice exports last month in an effort to preserve its own domestic stocks.

Unfortunately, as is usually the case, poorer countries will be most affected as costs continue to rise. India provides more than 40 percent of the world's rice exports in over 140 countries, including lower-income countries like Benin, Bangladesh, Angola, Cameroon, Djibouti, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kenya, and Nepal.

Heightened fertilizer prices in Kenya already skyrocketed the cost of domestic rice for many impoverished people living there, and the rising cost of imports are exacerbating economic challenges.

However, the good news is that the rice shortage may not last indefinitely. Back in April, amid the looming crisis, data and analytics company Fitch Solutions estimated that the global rice market would return to “an almost balanced position in 2023–24," according to NBC News.

"We believe that the rice market will return to surplus in 2024–25 and then continue to loosen through the medium term," Fitch’s forecast noted. Of course, that's contingent on India resuming exports, but at the very least it's a possible light at the end of the tunnel.