- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A ban on Indian lentil exports is causing global prices to soar, and Indian expatriates to stock up on the tiny peas.

The New Delhi government banned all lentil exports on June 22 to stabilize domestic prices after shortages caused the price of lentils in India to increase by 20 percent that month.

The announcement sent area Indian-Americans scrambling for lentils before prices skyrocketed. Stores across the nation are limiting the number of bags of lentils each family can buy as supplies run out.

Lentils, known as dal in India, are dried seeds used in many Indian dishes, such as curry. The high-protein food is a staple in South Asia. For the enormous vegetarian population among Indians, dal is the main source of protein.

One of the most popular and widely used lentils in India is toor dal, a golden seed with a sweet, nutty flavor that is used in many Indian soups.

Kandy Goomer, manager of India Foods Warehouse in Laurel, said the ban is affecting Indian expatriates throughout the world.

“Ninety-nine percent of all Indian meals have at least one dish of dal,” he said. “Dal is an essential food for Indians.”

Mr. Goomer said wholesale prices of dal have more than doubled, jumping from about 50 cents per pound to more than a dollar per pound. Before the ban, his store sold 4 pounds of dal for about $3. Now, it sells the same amount for $6.

“Lentils used to be the cheapest meal,” he said. “Now it’s expensive.”

He said the Indian government imposed the export ban out of concern that rising world demand was pushing the price of the popular peas out of the reach of millions of poor people in India.

“For people in India, the ban is good because the cost is going down and normal people there can afford it,” Mr. Goomer said. “For people here, it is bad.”

Shahid Salimi, manager of Indus Food Center in Berkeley, Calif., said wholesale prices have risen sharply, but he did not condemn the ban.

“The poor [in India] cannot afford to eat, so the government is doing the right thing, at least from their point of view,” he said.

However, Mr. Salimi said the ban may have long-term adverse effects for India.

“The government has put India out of the market,” he said. “Now people will be exposed to other sources of lentils, like Canada, Australia and Turkey.”

Although India is the top producer of lentils, Canada is the largest exporter. Mr. Salimi said Indians around the world may stop buying Indian lentils and switch to cheaper lentils grown in places such as Canada.

Mr. Salimi said that once India is out of the game, the nation will have a difficult time attracting former customers when the ban is lifted in March.

“Soon, Americans will start growing lentils because it is a big market,” Mr. Salimi said. “Indian-Americans will have other options besides Indian lentils.”

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