India assures countries 'most in need', says at UN it will provide food aid despite export controls

India “has never been found wanting” when it came to helping countries in distress, whether it was the Covid pandemic or conflicts. “We have provided food aid in the form of thousands of metric tonnes of wheat, rice, pulses, and lentils to several countries, including our neighbourhood and Africa, to strengthen their food security”, he said

Arul Louis May 19, 2022
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India’s Minister of State for External Affairs V. Muraleedharan speaks at the Ministerial Meeting on “Global Food Security Call to Action” convened by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday, May 18, 2022, at the United Nationsin New York. (Photo Source: UN)

India's Minister of State for External Affairs V. Muraleedharan has given an assurance that, despite restrictions on exports, India will provide food to countries that “are most in need” because of the Ukraine conflict. India’s assurance came as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that the Russian invasion of Ukraine “threatens to tip tens of millions of people over the edge into food insecurity, followed by malnutrition, mass hunger and famine”.  

“Let me make it clear that these measures allow for export on the basis of approvals to those countries who are required to meet their food security demands”, he said on Wednesday explaining India’s food export policy at the Ministerial Meeting on Global Food Security Call to Action convened by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

He said, “This will be done on the request from the concerned governments. Such a policy will ensure that we will truly respond to those who are most in need”. 

The global food crisis has been precipitated by the disruption in supplies from Ukraine and Russia, which Guterres said “produce almost a third of the world’s wheat and barley and half of its sunflower oil”. 

Muraleedharan's categoric assurance sought to dispel an impression created by some international media reports that India will not pitch in to help the countries facing starvation because of the export restrictions announced last week. The restrictions only apply to future commercial transactions.

Guterres said that “there should be no restrictions on exports”, while also adding that “surpluses must be made available to those most in need”. 

But Muraleedharan said that “open markets must not become an argument to perpetuate inequity and promote discrimination” – approaches that he asserted, created problems with the availability of Covid vaccines.

The wheat export restrictions were introduced only “to manage our own overall food security and support the needs of neighbouring and other vulnerable developing countries”, he said. 

India “has never been found wanting” when it came to helping countries in distress, whether it was the Covid pandemic or conflicts. “We have provided food aid in the form of thousands of metric tonnes of wheat, rice, pulses, and lentils to several countries, including our neighbourhood and Africa, to strengthen their food security”, he said. 

Muraleedharan said that India has donated 50,000 tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan, sent 10,000 tonnes of rice and wheat to Myanmar and was also assisting Sri Lanka.

“In keeping with our ethos of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’, which means ‘the world is one family’, and our Neighbourhood First Policy, we will continue to assist our neighbours in their hour of need, and stand by them, always”, Muraleedharan said.

Guterres called for ensuring that sanctions and restrictions did not lead to food shortages.

He said that “there is no effective solution to the food crisis without reintegrating Ukraine’s food production, as well as the food and fertilizer produced by Russia and Belarus, into world markets -- despite the war”.  

With Moscow facing several sanctions, Guterres said, “Russian food and fertilisers, must have unrestricted access to world markets without indirect impediments”.

But Russia must also “permit the safe and secure export of grain stored in Ukrainian ports”, he added. 

Blinken said the allegations that sanctions on Russia were causing food shortages were “false”. “When we imposed sanctions on Russia in order to end the war as quickly as possible, we deliberately and carefully created exceptions for agricultural goods and fertiliser”, he said.

Blinken asked “countries to step up with substantial new contributions to fill the gaps faced by humanitarian organizations and agencies that are battling food insecurity which are forcing humanitarian groups to make incredibly wrenching decisions about when and where to cut lifesaving assistance”.

(The author is a New York-based writer-commentator South Asia Monitor and Nonresident Fellow, Society for Policy Studies, SPS. Views are personal.)

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