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Myanmar storm may affect world rice supply

May 08, 2008

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BANGKOK, May 7: The cyclone that tore through Myanmar’s Irrawaddy delta could turn the country from an exporter of rice to an importer, adding to global concerns about food supply shortages, said the UN’s food agency on Wednesday.

Rice prices have retreated from the record levels they reached last month, but the US futures market rose more than 2 per cent amid concerns that the storm in Myanmar, which killed at least 22,500 people, could put a fresh squeeze on supplies.

Soaring food costs, called a “silent tsunami” by the World Food Programme, have fuelled unrest from Haiti to Bangladesh and exporting countries have curbed shipments to ensure domestic supplies and keep inflation under control.

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said the storm damage to Myanmar’s rice bowl Irrawaddy delta could scupper plans by the Southeast Asian country to export 600,000 tonnes of milled rice in 2008, and force it to import from neighbours instead.

“If post-harvest losses turn out being large, localised food shortages in the short term may result,” the FAO said. “Such losses could also impair the country’s ability and government decision to export rice in 2008.”

The FAO said the 2007 output estimate of 30.02 million tonnes of paddy, or an equivalent of 18.9 million tonnes of milled rice, could be revised down once the extent of the damage was known.

The storm battered five states accounting for 65 per cent of the former Burma’s rice output, it said.

Myanmar’s junta insists it has enough rice stocks to keep people fed, but the price of small bags have doubled since the cyclone tore through the fertile delta at the weekend.—Reuters