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Lentil shortage makes news in US

A shortage of dal (lentil) in US has been agitating Indian Americans for the last couple of months.

india Updated: Aug 18, 2006 12:19 IST

A shortage of dal (lentil) in the US that has been agitating Indian Americans for the last couple of months has made its way to the mainstream US media.

"A ban on Indian lentil exports is causing global prices to soar and Indian expatriates to stock up on the tiny peas," said the Washington Times, noting that New Delhi had banned all lentil exports on June 22 to stabilise domestic prices.

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, it said.

In the US, prices for Indian lentils have increased by 100 per cent or more in recent months.

Some stores sold all their lentils and have been unable to get more, the Voice of America said in a special English Agriculture Report.

"Staple crops provide foods that are an important part of the diet. For example, rice is a staple crop in much of Asia.

An Eastern European staple is the potato. The lentil is just such a crop for many South Asians," it noted.

India's effort to control inflation has not only led to high prices in the US; reports from Bangladesh say that country is also experiencing higher prices for lentils.

Many South Asian communities around the world also have been affected, VOA said.

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

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

Goomer said wholesale prices of dal have more than doubled, jumping from about 50 cents per lb (pound) to more than a dollar per lb.

Before the ban, his store sold 4 lb of dal for about $3. Now, it sells the same amount for $6.

Shahid Salimi, manager of Indus Food Center in Berkeley, California, said wholesale prices have risen sharply and 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. Salimi said Indians around the world may stop buying Indian lentils and switch to cheaper lentils grown in places such as Canada.

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