At a time when rice production in most countries of Asia has been hit by bad weather, the major rice exporting country -- Thailand -- has put a ban on exports because of her own bad harvest.
At a time when rice production in most countries of Asia has been hit by bad weather, the major rice exporting country -- Thailand -- has put a ban on exports because of her own bad harvest. It's the first time Thailand has been short of rice; within the country itself rationing has been introduced.
In a normal year most of the countries which consume rice need to import. This year, when Thailand is unable to provide, their need is even greater than usual because of their own poor harvests. Indonesia, where the Five-Year Plan to increase production has been hampered by flooding, wants to import this year between 600-thousand tons and one-point-one million tons. The Philippines, self-sufficient in the late sixties, is suffering from bad weather and civil disturbances. Output last year was three-hundred thousand tons down on the previous year; and a conservative estimate of her import needs this year is six-hundred thousand tons. Both Hong-Kong and Singapore are totally dependent on imports -- Hongkong requires about three-hundred and fifty thousand tone a year. South Vietnam and the Khmers imported more last year than the a-hundred-and-thirty-five thousand tons they bought in 1971; Phnom Penh alone imported over a hundred thousand tons. Both these countries have had production badly disrupted because of fighting.
Production in Thailand is expected to be about thirteen million tons -- ten per cent down -- though there have been estimates which put the figure as low as eleven and two thirds million tons. Stocks of rice, which were 486-thousand tons at the beginning of the year, had fallen from one-point-two million tons at the beginning of last year. Besides the effects on the domestic market -- rationing and high prices -- there is a danger that Thailand will lose world markets.
And the shortage has affected the Japan Kennedy Round aid programme; whereby grain, bought by Japan from Thailand, has been supplied to various countries.
The shortages stem from the harvest in December, the second crop from the land is due in July and until this has been assessed, it's difficult to know how bad the situation is. At the beginning of August the Thai Government relaxed the ban on exports to the extent that broken and parboiled rices are now allowed to be sold. As exporters have to sell to the Government twice as much rice as they export, this will help to ease the situation within the country as well.
The high price of rise has led to riots in Thailand, Indonesia and elsewhere. Other repercussions include meals without rice in some Khmer restaurants, and the substitution of wheat for rice.
The reasons for the present shortage go back to the old problem of increasing pressure on land from an over-growing population. The situation has been exacerbated by the worst drought this century. The areas affected ran from the Eastern U.S.S.R. down into South East Asia. It was particularly bad last year; which affected last year's crops, which is, of course, the rice available this year. There's an urgent need for more irrigation. And, in general, for capital to be spent to up-date farming methods.
The so-called 'green revolution' has still got a long way to spread. The new strains of rice are used by far too few farmers, most are still growing old low-yielding types. So poor rice seedlings coupled with a lack of fertiliser had kept production below potential. Another problem is hoarding by middlemen to force up the prices and so make vast profits. Some areas, like Phnom Penh and South Vietnam have been hit by war. And, instead of having a surplus, as was one the case, they now need to import.
The few bright spots in the otherwise gloomy outlook include good rice harvests in Japan, expected to reach around fifteen-million tons; a surplus in Pakistan, for the first ten months, of over four-hundred thousand tons; a record in Taiwan where production is expected to reach over two million five hundred thousand tons and U.S. production will probably be over four-million three-hundred thousand tons.
The Rice Research Institute outside Manila, in the Philippines, is looking at ways of improving output. Low-cost machines are being designed, new strains of rice, including "dry-rice", are being grove; and work is being done to help governments persuade farmers to use these new methods.