Rice Stores Plenty for Current Fiscal Year, Official Says

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 22 October 2015

RANGOON — Burma has adequate rice stores to ensure food stability throughout the current fiscal year, according to an official from the Ministry of Commerce, in response to concerns about the fallout of recent flooding in the country’s agricultural heartland.

Myint Cho, director of the ministry’s Department of Trade Promotion, said government reserves have enough rice to meet local consumption demands nationwide through April 2016 and there is “no need to worry this year.”

Conceding that next year could see some rice shortages, the official said the government and the Myanmar Rice federation would be prepared to suspend exports if food shortages occur.

Stability over the coming year will depend on the outcome of this year’s late harvest concluding in the next two months. Imports will also be an option if yields are found insufficient for local consumption, Myint Cho said.

Rice exports were suspended in early August due to devastation caused by flooding in the wake of Cylone Komen, which brought torrential rains and landslides to much of the country’s agricultural heartland in late July and early August.

Partial exports resumed in mid-September, though the overland rice trade remained on hold until Oct. 15, when regular trade recommenced nationwide.

According to ministry figures, Burma produced more than 13 million tons of rice over 23 million acres of paddy during the fiscal year 2014-15, ending in April. At least 9 million tons were used for local consumption, while about 1.7 million tons went to the export market.

Yielding nearly US$645 million last year, rice is a vital export commodity, targeting markets in China, India, Japan, other Asean nations, the European Union and Africa.

Trade took a hit this year due to the hiatus, though local demand appears to have been met. A new report produced jointly by the UN World Food Program (WFP), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and the Burmese government indicates that demand for food commodities has decreased in most flood-affected areas, while supply has decreased slightly or remained stable.

Decreased demand, the report said, is likely due in part to the distribution of aid and an overall reduction in local retail because of reduced incomes.

The report said that while most villages surveyed had access to key food commodities, impacts of the disaster will continue in the medium to long term, and the full extent of food insecurity has not been assessed.

Most immediate damage was felt by agricultural households, and rice fields suffered the bulk of agricultural losses, with “an expected reduction in production of up to 89 percent in damaged paddy fields, compared to the same time last year.”

The report further recommended a food security assessment mission, to be led by the government, FAO and WFP, to “estimate the performance of agriculture for the upcoming market year and recommend measures to address the food security and nutrition implications.”