Rice bowl overflow

Rice bowl overflow


Cropping
Food security specialist Professor Paul Teng

Food security specialist Professor Paul Teng

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CONTRARY to prevailing fears about global food security, our ballooning world population is unlikely to be running short of the popular food staples rice and wheat in the near future.

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CONTRARY to prevailing fears about global food security, our ballooning world population is unlikely to be running short of the popular food staples rice and wheat in the near future.

In fact, given the rate at which rice production efficiency is likely to lift in the next decade, and changing dietary preferences in the developing world, Asia may even see periodic rice gluts.

Although many Asian countries are striving to achieve rice self sufficiency to safeguard against a repeat of the 2008-09 price shock which sparked food riots as rice hit $650 a tonne, the crop in most demand will be corn.

According to CropLife Asia, maize demand in the fast developing region is set to jump by almost 90pc in the next eight years to more than 300 million tonnes.

Projections by the International Food Policy Research Institute expect acute global demand for maize to exceed demand for wheat and rice by 2020 as it becomes increasingly important in human and animal diets.

The corn revolution reflects the value of stockfeed crops as meat consumption rises and a tempering in the world's reliance on long grain rice, according to food security specialist Professor Paul Teng.

"There will always be shortfalls when monsoons fail or droughts occur, but widespread self sufficiency among Asian nations could potentially result in a rice surplus."

About 3 billion people - nearly half the world's population - currently depend on rice for survival.

Across Asia much of the population eats long grain rice at every meal, with the crop accounting for more than 70 per cent of human caloric intake in countries such as Cambodia, Myanmar (Burma) and Bangladesh.

But Cambodia is on track to become an exporter by the end of the decade and Myanmar is also tipped to become a major rice producer.

With a long tradition of rice production in its Ayerwaddy Delta, Myanmar could potentially return to become a one the world's key exporters as it opens its economy to the world and gains access to modern agronomy inputs.

Vietnam and Thailand are already big rice exporters, each trading up to seven times more rice than is grown in Australia, while the Philippines and Indonesia are aiming be self sufficient within three years.

"As biotechnology (genetic modification) and better irrigation and fertiliser practises are adopted yields will improve dramatically in the next 10 years," said Professor Teng, a New Zealand trained agricultural scientist from the Centre for Non-traditional Security Studies at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University.

"Even by adopting correct fertiliser application strategies farmers in the Philippines could double current yields.

"India already exports rice, wheat and other grains and with advances in agronomy will become more productive as a grain producer - including corn.

Professor Teng said rising living standards would also see demand for rice subside in Asia as other food choices became affordable and available to more consumers.

"Reduced pressure on rice markets will also have a flow-on effect, easing some demand pressure on other traditional grain markets, diverting more interest towards growing and trading feed crops such as corn."

With surplus rice likely to be readily available, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has even suggested the Philippines' drive for self sufficiency by next year is "imprudent", and imports would be a cheaper investment.

The ADB claimed South East Asian countries would benefit more if they enhanced rice-trade co-operation.

Exporters could strike a deal with rice importers to guarantee allocations, avoiding the need for importers to spend heavily on investments for rice self-sufficiency and giving exporters more market access opportunities.

However the Philippines government has argued world demand is still rising and it was more concerned about improving the welfare of its farmers than serving foreign traders' interests.

* Andrew Marshall attended an Asian agriculture briefing in Vietnam as a guest of Syngenta.

The story Rice bowl overflow first appeared on Farm Online.

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