Monday, May 5, 2008

Cyclone in Burma: will food scarcity and famine follow?

A few weeks ago I spoke with a Burmese scholar who assured me that Burmese would have enough to eat this year: Myanmar rice harvests had been plentiful. That was good news for the Burmese, because the world faces a severe food shortage crisis.

However, the calculus may have changed. Over the weekend, Cyclone Nagris devastated the major rice-producing region of Burma, the Irrawaddy Delta, home to 3.5 million people.
The northern and central parts of the delta are major rice-growing areas, producing 40% of the national total. The delta supports a very important fishery, especially for prawns. . .*
This year's crop will have been harvested by now. But where is the grain stored? Hopefully not in the vicinity of this region and its flattened villages.

With their villages devastated, will the Burmese farmers be able to plant next year's crop? I ask this question because in this region:
The predominant form of cultivation is single rice cropping during the wet monsoon, and this accounts for two-thirds of the total area under cultivation.**
The monsoon season has begins this month. That means, the farmers should now be preparing to plant next year's rice crop.

This disaster could not have come at a worse time for Burma and the world; the effects of Cyclone Nagris may be felt far beyond the shores of Burma. Because if the Burmese people are to be fed, the food may have to come from somewhere else. It is conceivable that the cyclone will drive up rice and food prices worldwide, and exacerbate global shortages.
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Photo: by Jotman. Shows a rice farmer in central Java. Indonesia apparently has sufficient rice to feed itself this year. In the wake of the cyclone, Burma will likely face food shortages.
* Source: ASEAN Regional Centre for Biodiversity Conservation
** Same source, the rice yield is about 2,000-2,500 kg per hectare.

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