Burma aims to match Vietnam rice output

Nov 25, 2009 (DVB), Burma's rice production, once the most prodigious in the world, is making headway towards its former glory and will soon match Vietnam's output, a leading rice trader said.

Rice production in the country, which took a significant knock following cyclone Nargis last year, will however need significant assistance from the Burmese government, the director of the Myanmar Rice Traders Association (MRTA), Dr Myo Aung Kyaw, said.

"Now the government is constantly allowing the export of rice from the country," he said. "Depending on the market demands, farmers and equipment will change within one or two years."

Vietnam exported six million tonnes last year, and is currently the world's second largest exporter of rice, behind Thailand.

Up until the 1960's, Burma led the international market, but the industry collapsed after the establishment of military rule in 1962.

This diminished the output of rice from an estimated two million tonnes per year in the 1930's to 0.03 million tonnes in 2005, according to the Washington-based Progressive Policy Institute.

The industry took a battering in the wake of cyclone Nargis in May last year, which destroyed more than a million hectares of arable farmland in the country's southern Irrawaddy delta.

The ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) was roundly condemned for maintaining similar export levels of rice, despite aid organizations claiming that millions of Burmese were without adequate food supplies.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has warned that it could take up to three years before the economy recovers from the cyclone.

According to figure released by the government's Central Statistical Organisation in Octoberr, rice prices in Burma have doubled since 2005.

The government said earlier this year that it would aim to export around one million tonnes of rice before 2010, although the announcement was met with skepticism.

"Burma still has a long way to go to reach to the same level as Pakistan, Vietnam and Thailand," said a rice exporter, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We are some steps behind those countries in terms of rice quality, production technology and the quality of the grain."

The comments echoed by Myo Aung Kyaw, who said that Burma still lags behind competing countries in terms of modern equipment and maintenance systems.

Reporting by Aye Nai

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