More than 10% of Myanmar’s total rice production has been wiped out by the recent cyclone, a situation that will have far reaching effects on Myanmar’s economy. Without the harvest that would result from this season’s planting, Myanmar could face food shortages well into 2009.
Burmese citizens eat more rice than the Vietnamese and Thais – about triple that of other Asians. Now that rice prices are soaring, a slim harvest is of extreme concern. Myanmar usually produces about 10.7 million tons of rice annually, and exports about 600,000 tons of rice to neighbors like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
But the effects of saltwater-flooded rice fields in Myanmar are not likely to have a huge impact on the global economy – and will mostly affect the Burmese. Prior to the country’s military takeover, Burma was the world’s largest exporter of rice. Now, the military takes most remaining rice surplus.
Interestingly, as Myanmar suffers its own rice crisis, the rest of the world is experiencing some supply issues and price hikes. Global rice production, according to the USDA, is projected to rise 5 million tons to a record 432 million tons this year. Unfortunately, global consumption is also on the rise, and is expected to hit 428 million tons by the end of 2008.
In parts of Asia, where rice is produced in huge amounts and exported, farmers have had to put the brakes on international shipments. Vietnam reduced their rice exports by about a quarter earlier this year; India raised the minimum sale price of their exports by more than 50%. While this process may temporarily curb domestic inflation, it further limits global supply.
High fuel costs are partially to blame for rising rice prices, though government programs are a factor as well. Biofuel initiatives have led to a decrease in the amount of agricultural land used for food sources, while government rice stockpiles have simultaneously declined. Droughts and rice hoarding are additional factors.
The U.S. is experiencing the squeeze too. In April, Costco and Sam’s Club began limiting the amount of bulk imported rice that their customers could buy. Even with limits on international rice purchases, however, concerns here may not be as severe. About 90% of rice consumed by Americans is grown domestically.
Today, Thailand is the world’s leading rice exporter. They exported 9.55 million tons of rice last year and earned around $3.6 billion for doing so. This year, they expect exports to reach 8.75 million tons, with earnings projected at $4.7 billion. The U.S. accounts for less than 2% of global rice production, and is the fourth-largest rice-exporting country.
Rice provides more than one-fifth of the calories all humans consume. About half of the world’s population is dependent on rice, and eats more than is harvested annually.