New Delhi: India’s growing affluence is seeing its population turn more carnivorous, leading the country with the world’s highest number of vegetarians to import more corn for chicken feed than ever before.
Corn purchases by Asia’s second-biggest grower are set to climb to a record 1 million tons in the year starting in November, said Jaison John, general manager for procurement at Suguna Foods Pvt., a top poultry producer in India. Most supplies are likely to come from Myanmar and Ukraine, he said.
India’s growing population, rising disposable incomes and changing food habits are boosting the consumption of non-vegetarian food, according to CLFMA, an association of Indian feed manufacturers. Per capita incomes jumped 10% in the year ended March from a year earlier. Meanwhile, chicken demand is likely to rise by about 5% on the year to 5.1 million tons this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Another reason for the increased imports is India’s own corn production, which may disappoint after several producing states received scant rains last year. Output is estimated at between 18 million tons and 19 million tons in 2018-19, compared with demand of as much as 20 million tons, CLFMA said. That’s way below the government’s own production estimate of 27.8 million tons.
That also means India, which was a net exporter until last year, is likely to sell just 500,000 tons this season, less than half of the 1.1 million tons it exported in 2017-18, the USDA said.
“I think India will export lesser and lesser corn in the future,” Oscar Tjakra, senior grains analyst at Rabobank in Singapore, said by email. The country could become a net importer if the growth rate of domestic corn output stays lower than the pace of consumption, he added.
The significant shortfall in domestic production is also being reflected in local corn prices, which surged 52% from a year earlier to a record in July, according to a report by the USDA. Higher imports may also support benchmark prices, which reached a five-year high in June on U.S. planting concerns. December futures climbed as much as 1.2% to $4.2975 a bushel in Chicago on Monday.
Rising local prices are also prompting some Indian feed manufacturers to buy wheat as a substitute, which is generally costlier than corn. Buyers have procured 300,000 tons to 400,000 tons of wheat this year, according to CLFMA. State-run MMTC Ltd. is also seeking offers from overseas suppliers for shipment from August to October, according to a tender notice on its website. – Bloomberg