By Su Phyo Win,Htin Linn Aung | Wednesday, 05 August 2015
The Myanmar Rice Federation has agreed with traders to suspend rice exports until September as more than 500,000 acres of paddy fields are flooded nationwide, leading to a sharp rise in prices over the past few days.
To help contain the problem, rice exports will be suspended until September 15, U Nay Lin Zin, associate secretary of the Myanmar Rice Federation (MRF) told The Myanmar Times.
As floods have spread throughout the country, around 100,000 acres of paddy have been destroyed and over 500,000 acres of rice fields are underwater, according to August 2 statistics from the MRF. Rehabilitation efforts are critical and urgent, added U Nay Lin Zin on August 3.
Following heavy monsoon rains, the death toll from flooding reached 46 on August 3 with more than 217,000 people affected, according to state media. President U Thein Sein has declared natural disaster zones in four areas – Chin and Rakhine states and Sagaing and Magway regions.
Since the flooding began, the price of a bag of high-quality rice has roughly doubled, from between K40,000 and K50,000 to as high as K100,000. Prices are likely to stabilise if exports are temporarily stopped, said U Soe Tun, vice chair of the MRF on his social network page.
Myanmar’s average yield from two paddy-growing seasons – the monsoon paddy and the summer paddy – is normally over 12 million tonnes, according to the MRF. Over 2 million tonnes are for export while more than 10 million are consumed locally. If this year’s yield is lower than 10 million, it will be inadequate to supply local consumers, said rice traders.
Rice exporter U Wei Lin said that if exports are suspended until mid-September, traders will be able to redirect up to 25,000 tonnes of rice to the local market. “Over this period, if the weather is fine we can expect average exports of between 5000 and 20,000 tonnes of rice – equal to 500,000 bags of 50kg rice,” he said.
This stock will have been harvested during the previous crop. Some of the rice in storage may be waterlogged, but is unlikely to have been destroyed, he said. To help alleviate the problem, the MRF plans to offer paddy seed to farmers as well as financial support, according to U Nay Lin Zin.
“We estimate it will cost around K20 billion to supply the paddy seed and agricultural aid. To address the problem of rising rice prices, we plan to suspend both cross-border and overseas exports,” he said.
A major concern is that water in Ayeyarwady Region continues to rise to a dangerous level, he said. This area, in the southwest of the country, is where much of Myanmar’s rice is produced. Until it becomes clear how much further the water will rise, it is hard to tell how much damage will be caused and the likely cost of rehabilitation efforts, he said.
The best time for growing the monsoon paddy in most regions is traditionally before the end of August, so farmers urgently need to cultivate their crop, said U Myo Myint, a member of the farmers union in Sagaing Region. As flooding continues, the time for replanting is running out.
With the exception of Tanintharyi Region, all of Myanmar’s regions and states have suffered as a result of flash floods.
In total, more than 970,000 acres of farmland and plantations have been flooded, according to an announcement by the Department of Agricultural Planning and Statistics. Of these, around 200,000 acres have been damaged and over 46,000 acres have been destroyed.
“People from various sectors have forecast that economic losses from the flooding are likely to be worse than from Cyclone Nargis,” said U Nay Lin Zin. “If the cost includes not only replanting but also community rehabilitation, it could reach around K100 billion. But we can’t yet measure how badly the rice sector will be hurt.”
Nothing can be done until water levels fall, U Ye Min Aung, general secretary of the MRF, told The Myanmar Times. “We will view the damage after the water subsides and will rebuild after that,” he said.