Posted on

Coronavirus and the Milling Industry


Baking bread became a hobby for many people in the UK during the coronavirus lockdown – a way to spend time doing something productive while stuck at home. But for many people in places such as India and Pakistan, baking your daily bread is not a hobby but a necessary task to feed your family.

Flour shortages and restrictions due to the lockdown were therefore serious threats to people’s ability to provide for themselves. In India the closure of ‘mandis’ (agricultural markets) during the lockdown, together with the effects of unseasonal rains led to a severe wheat shortage. A government programme was established to distribute up to 5kg free wheat per person per month, but as ‘chakki shops’ (small local mills) had also closed in the lockdown, this left many with wheat they are unable to grind.

Small electric-powered mills in India. Photo by Geoff Holman, 2010.

In one case ten bikers were arrested for looting a flour truck. A week after lockdown began some agricultural markets began reopening, but others remained closed and the flour milling industry as a whole was running at only 25% capacity. By the fourth week of lockdown this had increased to 50%. One miller stated “At one moment one thinks of stopping the machine. But then we realise that atta and dal are essential commodities. So we have to run the show, no matter if there is an acute shortage of labourers. At my mill, I have only 25 per cent of the strength (of labour), but we are somehow managing the operations during the lockdown. Let me assure you, we will work overtime to feed the people.”


India Today, Coronavirus fallout: Shops in India may run out of atta, maida stocks very soon, says report, 24th March 2020,

Deccan Herald, PDS beneficiaries woes: Free wheat of no use when flour mills shut due to lockdown, 31st March 2020,

Business Today, Coronavirus impact: Loot, mayhem, anarchy amid lockdown, 29th March 2020,

Business Standard, Coronavirus lockdown: Vegetable, grain mandis limp back to normalcy, 1st April 2020,

Business Standard, Covid-19 Lockdown: Flour mills run at 25% capacity on wheat, labour paucity, 14th April 2020,

Outlook, ”We’ll work overtime to feed people” during lockdown, assure millers, 18th April 2020