Natural Disasters In India, Philippines Affect Rice Supply, Could Have Global Implications

“A drought in India and typhoons in the Philippines have damaged large tracts of rice paddies, threatening to upset the fragile food market amid fears of shortages and riots, experts said Wednesday,” the Associated Press/BusinessWeek reports. Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap of the Philippines, which is the world’s biggest rice importer, noted that rice is a staple for half of the world’s population, a large portion of whom are poor. Yap “proposed an international food reserve that will safeguard against wild fluctuations in food prices. When prices are down, producers can build stocks to halt further decreases, while consumers can turn to the reserves when prices are rocketing, Yap said,” the news service writes. 

“India and Philippines are the two main drivers of the market, and rice traders are waiting to see if and how much they will import.” Although rice production estimates for India are not yet clear, “a drought of similar magnitude in 2002 lowered rice production in that country by 23.5 million tons (21 million metric tons), [Samarendu] Mohanty, [a senior economist at the International Rice Research Institute,] said” (Cerojano, 10/28).

In 2010, India might need to import between 1.1 million tons and 3.8 million tons to replace production losses from the drought, the AP/Forbes reports. Jim Guinn, vice president of USA Rice Federation, said, “Just the fact that India has significantly reduced production alone is a significant development given the tightness of supplies that we see in the world today.” He added, “But the fact that they may actually be an importer is of even more importance,” he said (Cerojano, 10/29).

To meet the needs of the growing world population, rice production should grow between 1.2 percent and 1.5 percent annually. But growth is currently “falling to less than 1 percent a year because of [a] variety of factors, including water constraints, more land planted for crops used to produce biofuels, climate change and rising prices of fuel and fertilizer, Mohanty said,” AP/BusinessWeek writes. He said there is a need to expand technological development aimed at improving productivity, even in unfavorable areas. This could be accomplished with seed varieties that are resilient against flood, drought, salinity and heat, he said (10/28).

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