Burma Poised to Double Rice Exports

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A woman harvests rice at a field in Bago, Nov. 15, 2012.
A woman harvests rice at a field in Bago, Nov. 15, 2012.

Burma expects to nearly double its rice exports to 3 million tons by early next year, selling to new markets as it moves toward taking back its former spot as the world’s top exporter of the grain, an industry spokesperson said.

Myanmar Rice Industry Association central executive member Soe Tun told RFA’s Burmese Service that Burma plans to export to several new markets beyond Africa by the end of the current fiscal year in March 2014.

Burma’s rice market was mostly confined to Africa during decades of international sanctions against the Southeast Asian nation’s notorious military regime, which yielded to a reformist government in 2011.

According to Commerce Minister Win Myint, “Burma expects its rice exports to reach 3 million tons in the next fiscal year,” said Soe Tun, who is also a spokesman for the Myanmar Agribusiness Public Corporation.

“We are now exporting to European countries, including Russia, Spain, Portugal, and Belgium. We have exported about 5,000 tons to these countries.”

Burma signed an agreement in March that led to a shipment of 5,000 tons of rice to Japanese trading house Mitsui earlier this month—its first export of rice to Japan in 45 years. The deal will also see Japan invest in Burmese processing plants that will have an annual intake of 400,000 tons of rice.

Last month, during Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s visit to Burma, a memorandum of understanding was clinched for Burma to export up to 500,000 tons of rice per fiscal year to Indonesia depending on the supply and demand factors in the two countries.

Record exports

Soe Tun said Burma had recently set new records in rice exports, referring to a state media report which said the country had exceeded its target of 1.5 million tons in the last fiscal year by about 600,000 tons, marking “the highest amount of rice exported from Burma in the last 46 years.”

“Burma is now fifth in terms of rice exports around the world,” he said, and is poised to grow.

The Southeast Asian nation was the world’s biggest rice exporter for much of the first half of the 20th century until it was overtaken by Thailand after an army coup in 1962 set up nearly five decades of junta rule.

Since taking power in 2011, Thein Sein’s reformist government has quickly revamped Burma’s rice production and reputation as an exporter.

Regional competition

Soe Tun acknowledged that Burma faces steep competition from its neighbors.

“Our competitors are India and Vietnam,” he said. “Their rice prices for export market are not very different from us.”

But experts suggest that Burma holds an advantage over other major rice producers in the region like Thailand and Vietnam because of an abundance of internal rivers and idle land which could be used to grow the crop.

Burma’s overall production stood at 13 to 14 million tons of milled rice in the last fiscal year, according to the Irrawaddy online journal.

Vietnam’s total rice output last year reached 44 million tons, while Thailand’s stood at 37 million tons.

Potential setbacks

Despite improvements in recent years, productivity in Burma’s agriculture sector, which accounts for more than a third of the economy, has been hampered by factors such as antiquated practices and poor seed quality.

In order to continue to improve yields, Burma will need to work to educate farmers and use better equipment, officials have said.

Soe Tun said that Burma must grow a significantly larger rice crop to feed its own people if the country is to reach expectations for exports.

“If we export 3 million tons next year, we’ll need to grow more rice in the country,” he said.

“We have kept about 10,000 tons of rice for domestic use this year.”

Reported by Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.





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