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After India's rice export bans, some U.S. Indian grocery stores ration rice sales

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Some Indian grocery stores in the U.S. have limited the amount of rice that customers can buy. That's because the Indian government decided last month to ban some rice exports. Rahul Bali with member station WABE in Atlanta reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF GROCERY CARTS CLANGING)

RAHUL BALI, BYLINE: It is another busy weekend at a South Asian grocery store in suburban Atlanta. Shoppers fill their carts with fresh vegetables, dried beans, Asian snacks and tea. When you get to the rice section, there are bags as big as 50 pounds and a new, bright purple sign announcing a two-bag limit per customer on all rice.

RAMNATH CHELLAPPA: The Indian government has recently imposed a ban on exporting non-basmati rice.

BALI: Ramnath Chellappa is a professor with Emory University's Goizueta Business School.

CHELLAPPA: And non-basmati rice is consumed not only by the Indian diaspora, which is about 30 to 35 million, but it's also consumed widely across the world.

BALI: Heavy monsoon rains this year have affected rice production. Chellappa says there's also inflation and some politics.

CHELLAPPA: The Indian government has observed, it appears, the increase in the price of rice. And given that it is a staple commodity in India and given that the elections are coming, they certainly have an eye towards maintaining sort of the prices of these commodities.

BALI: India is the largest exporter of rice in the world. The export ban is already hitting prices here. Dilip Kumar is the CEO of Triveni Supermarket, an Indian grocery chain.

DILIP KUMAR: When we get the new stocks from the suppliers, suppliers already increase the price couple dollars.

BALI: Despite the price increase, Kumar is not too worried about a shortage because he says there is a lot of rice in the supply pipeline. And Chellappa points out the best-known Indian rice is not affected by the export ban. That's basmati.

CHELLAPPA: Which is the one that is primarily used in typical restaurants to make, you know, dishes like pulao and biryani and so on.

BALI: But some popular Indian dishes are made with non-basmati rice, and there's also rice eaten outside of the Indian diaspora.

CHELLAPPA: A lot of which goes to Africa, a lot of which goes to Bangladesh. In addition, you also have a variety of other places, all of whom are likely to be affected by this paucity, by this ban.

BALI: It's not clear how long the ban will last, but Indian parliamentary elections are expected in the spring. And while Chellappa is watching these developments, he'll do some extra rice shopping.

CHELLAPPA: I don't think I would want to say that I am ascribing or subscribing to the concept of panic-buying, but just to be safe, I think I'm going to go get another bag of rice.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHECKOUT MACHINE BEEPING)

BALI: Back at the store, the other new sign says, all rice sales are final - no returns, no exchanges. That's just in case some folks buy too much rice. For NPR News, I'm Rahul Bali in Atlanta.

(SOUNDBITE OF 9TH WONDER SONG, "SEASON COURAGE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Rahul Bali