Myanmar still expects to export 2 million tons of rice this year, despite a warning from the World Food Programme that millions of people in the strife-torn nation may struggle to afford food over the next few months.
Shipments of the grain fell about 35% in February through April from a year earlier, Myanmar Rice Federation President Ye Min Aung said in an interview. However, the country is still on track to export at least 2 million tons in the year through September, he said. Myanmar typically sends 2 to 3 million tons of rice offshore each year out of a total harvest of 14 to 15 million tons.
The nation has been wracked by protests and deadly crackdowns by the armed forces since a military coup on Feb. 1. An armed ethnic group seized a military outpost near the Thai border this week in a sign that conflict will continue. The World Bank has predicted Myanmar’s economy could shrink by 10% this year, while the United Nations WFP said the crisis “will severely undermine the ability” of the poorest people to put enough food on the table.
There’s enough rice available for domestic consumption, but transport difficulties are making it harder for poor people to access it, Ye Min Aung said. Imported foods, such as edible oils, that Myanmar relies on are becoming more expensive due to a plunge in the kyat, he said.
“Banking and finance, cash payments have become very difficult,” Ye Min Aung said. “Transport and logistic costs are very expensive and the availability of containers to load and export rice is becoming harder.”
China is the biggest buyer of Myanmar’s rice followed by Bangladesh and other Southeast Asian countries, Ye Min Aung said. The nation is trying to broaden its markets but global competition in the rice industry is very high, he said.