It’s been nearly half a decade since the United Nations announced that the global population passed the 7 billion mark, a number which is ever increasing. To accommodate the increase in the world population, food production levels have also risen. But despite this, the production of rice is about to decline for the first time in 6 years.
The results could potentially be disastrous because not only developing Asia, but emerging markets around the world use rice as a staple food.
Food Riots in The Philippines: Will it Happen Again?
With the imminent danger of another food crisis occurring, it is worth exploring what has taken place in the past to truly understand the possible consequences of one. In 2008, El Niño led to a severe decline in Asia’s production of rice, which in turn led to global consequences.
One of the world’s biggest rice production hubs, India, banned exports of rice which in turn led to a sudden price increase of $1,000 per ton. This caused food riots in frontier markets such as Haiti and the Philippines.
Manila had to crack down on hoarding, with the nation’s military overseeing the sales of subsidized rice and ordering fast food chains to serve half-portions. The country also pleaded to its Southeast Asian neighbors such as Vietnam to help the country more rice.
Vietnam and Thailand: Asia’s Future Food Crises?
Rice production can be quite volatile and subject to slight differences in temperature due to the nature of production. More than 60% of the global rice exports comes from three Asian countries, India, Thailand, and Vietnam. With these three countries experiencing unfavorable climate conditions this year, there is a high possibility that rice output will be much lower, which could bring about higher prices of a staple food for half of the global population.
As India, experiences a series of heat waves cutting its crops short, Thailand and Vietnam are also suffering similar fates. Severe droughts are hitting the two Southeast Asian countries as the trans-boundary Mekong river runs dry.
The United States Department of Agriculture predicts that rice production in Thailand will drop by more than 20% to 15.8 million tons this year. The Thai government itself has taken initiatives to help its local farmers. Due to a shortage of water in the irrigation system after two years of drought, local farmers were asked to not plant rice crops, but to focus on other crops better suited to the current situation.
In Vietnam, the situation is only a little better. With rice production expected to fall by 1.5% to 44.5 million tons, the Vietnamese government says that exports will be about 9 million tons. The decline is directly related to the destruction of the paddies caused by drought in the Mekong Delta region. Even though the government estimates a 1.5% drop, a trader who wishes to remain anonymous believes that the latest harvest was about 5% or 6% lower than the same period in 2015.
Demand for Rice in Asia Surges Ahead
As if the fall in production levels was not alarming enough, Southeast Asia’s top importers are also looking to buy rice more this year.
China expects to continue buying its previous year’s amount of 5 million tons, as its own rice production cannot keep up with consumption. Indonesia looks to increase its purchases of rice to 2 million tons this year, and the Philippines is looking short on rice once more despite its yearly imports.
Rice prices have slowly inched in response to the possible crisis. Even though not at 2008’s $1,000 per ton rate, it hit $389.5 in May which represents a 10-month high.
The world waits, watches, and carefully monitors the situation as another food crisis lingers.