Rice Merchant: ‘The Situation Requires Govt Intervention’

By Myat Pyae Phyo 5 August 2015

As Upper Burma has been battered by widespread flooding in recent weeks, attention has rightly focused on the tens of thousands of lives impacted by the high waters and landslides triggered by heavy monsoon rains since mid-July. But when the floodwaters recede and people return to their homes, a more enduring impact may come in the form of a major shortfall in the nation’s rice harvest. A staple crop and major Burmese export, rice paddies in much of the country’s agricultural heartland have been inundated and many plants likely will not produce this growing season.

This week The Irrawaddy spoke to Thein Zaw, chairman of the Mandalay Rice Commodity Exchange, to discuss the effects of the flooding on this important staple crop.

Can you tell us about the situation of the Mandalay rice market at present?

More than two weeks ago, the Chinese government seized rice exported into it through the Muse border, saying that the rice was smuggled. After that, sales cooled down and there were no rice exports.[Editor’s note: The Chinese government bans rice imports from the border with Burma, but the Burmese government and Burmese traders do not recognize the prohibition, leading to a large black market trade in Burmese rice on the Chinese side of the border.]

Then floods hit Kawlin and Wuntho [townships in Sagaing Division] and now almost all of Myanmar is facing floods. Though the demand is sluggish, rice prices have increased steadily. To put it in a nutshell, rice prices are increasing, but demand is sluggish.

Why have the prices increased? Is it because supply is low?

Transportation has been difficult during the flooding. We need to transport rice with waterborne vessels as roads are blocked and out of commission. Considering the weather conditions, rice merchants are not stockpiling much rice and are only ordering as much as they need to sell in their local markets.

Some of the flooded areas are major rice-growing regions. So, what will be the biggest difficulties for growing rice again when floodwaters recede in those areas?

The most important thing is the paddy seedlings [stored by farmers for the next planting season]. In Kawlin and Wuntho [townships], even paddy seedlings are gone because of the floods. I hear that the Myanmar Rice Federation will provide paddy seedlings for those regions as part of a rehabilitation plan. The federation is planning to provide paddy strains suitable for those regions.

What kind of support is required?

Paddy strains suitable to respective regions should be provided. It [the government] needs to make a list of cattle losses and damages, and agricultural machinery should be provided in a timely manner so that it will not seriously affect the harvest.

Though the private sector is helping as much as they can, [the situation] requires government intervention. Without government support, rice production may decline and livelihoods may be affected. So far, I have heard nothing about it [a government rehabilitation plan for affected farmers].