Friday, June 11, 2010

Drought threatens Thailand's rice crop

Kinan Suchaovanich in Bloomberg Business Week: The world's largest rice exporter, Thailand, is facing major losses to its next crop of rice and a water crisis because of the worst drought in nearly two decades. Chanchai Rakthananon, president of the Thai Rice Mills Association, said Tuesday that rice output for the next crop cycle, ending in August, could fall to as little as 2 million tons from a previously forecast 5 million tons.

"It didn't rain when it needed to rain," said Angsumal Sunalai, director general of the Thai Meteorological Department. He blamed global climate change for the problem. Chalit Damroengsak, director general of the Royal Irrigation Department, said there would normally be three to four monsoon storms a year during the annual rainy season, "but farmers will be lucky if there is one this year."

Thailand produces about 20 million tons of rice annually in two to four crop cycles, exporting about 9 million metric tons and consuming the same amount. The government keeps a rice reserve of about 10 percent of output, mostly as a way of stabilizing prices, so the drought won't cause food shortages.

However, Thailand will face a water crisis if reserves are not refilled and demand for water continues to soar, said Chalit, who explained that the agricultural sector consumes 70 percent of the nation's water supply, while human consumption accounts for only 4 percent.

Water levels in medium to large size reservoirs nationwide are at 15 percent of total capacity. In some regions, local officials have asked farmers to postpone rice planting by one month for fear of depleting the reserves. The Meteorological Department predicts heavy rain for the next three months, but that poses more of a problem than a solution for rice farmers, because flash floods can wipe out planted seedlings….

An ox ambling around a Thai rice farm, shot by Love Krittaya, who has released the image into the public domain

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