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Prepare for "climaggedon"

Poor monsoons affected rice yields in 2009
(Jaspreet Kindra/IRIN)

Rice producing Asian countries had to contend with poor rains in 2009, and now another season of low rainfall has been forecast for some of them, which has prompted concern whether the price of the grain could go up later in 2010.

This is the second of a four-part series on food security where IRIN asks, "Are we heading for another crisis?" In this report we look at the possible impact of the current El Niño on rice prices in Asia and we find it seems a bit unclear.

In 2009 the impact of El Niño - the periodic flow of warm sea water across the central and eastern Pacific Ocean - disrupted rainfall patterns across Asia.

"In the short-term rice stocks are comfortable but it will be hard to predict the impact on prices if there is another bad season", Concepcion Calpe, Senior Commodity Specialist on rice with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

There are good stocks in the world's largest exporter of rice, Thailand, and the second largest, Vietnam, said Calpe. Vietnam's main rice growing area, the Mekong River Delta, is facing a serious drought.

Andrew Aaronson, chairperson of Interagency Commodity Estimates Committee on rice at the US Department of Agriculture concurred, "Global rice stocks are for the most part `comfortable' at the present time assuming normal import demand... The global rice situation is okay now, but is worth watching very closely."

But warned William Dar, director-general of the India-based International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), "Possible dry weather in coming months could negatively affect the secondary cropping seasons, mainly rice." 

El Niño can lead to higher atmospheric temperatures and have a disruptive impact on seasonal rains. Experts believe the phenomenon will linger until the middle of 2010 in some parts, affecting crop yields.

''To deal with weather-related uncertainty in the long-term Dar called for a strategy to counter the impact of what he called "climaggedon", brought on by the combined effects of El Niño and climate change''

Poor monsoons, linked by some experts to the El Niño in 2009, had affected rice yields in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Nepal.

On March 4, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAG-ASA) said many parts of the Philippines had poor rainfall because of the current El Niño and dry spells would continue through to June 2010.

"We don't know yet if it [the lingering El Niño] will impact on the monsoons [in South Asia] again this year," said Calpe.

Aaronson said another poor monsoon in South Asia, particularly in India - a major consumer and producer - "could drastically change the current situation", but the El Niño has begun to turn moderate, which "may point to a more normal monsoon in 2010; however, that is just a guess at this time".

When food supply in Asia and the Pacific, home to two-thirds of the world's population, is inadequate, the effect ripples throughout the world and the impact on the global food supply can be partly responsible for a food crisis, as happened in 2008.

ICRISAT's Dar said PAG-ASA had forecast 40 percent to 60 percent less rainfall in the Philippines, and was expected to reduce rice yields significantly.

The Philippines is the world's biggest importer of rice. If the Philippines enters the market to buy it will have an impact on prices, experts believe.  In its first Crop Prospects and Food Situation in 2010, FAO listed Philippines along with Bangladesh, China, Nepal and Iraq, as countries that were expected to import to compensate for crop losses because of poor rains. 

FAO said rice stocks held by five major exporting countries - Thailand, Vietnam, India, Pakistan and the United States - would come under pressure.

Food prices have begun to rise within many Asian countries. "We might have entered a phase of high prices, food prices within countries remain high - the cost of production specially labour prices have gone up in Thailand and Vietnam," pointed out Calpe.

To deal with weather-related uncertainty in the long-term Dar called for a strategy to counter the impact of what he called "climaggedon", brought on by the combined effects of El Niño and climate change. He said governments should start phasing in hybrid seeds and crop varieties that were "climate change ready" to ensure food security, and consider water-saving irrigation technologies.

Here is a snapshot of the Asian and Middle Eastern countries that feature in the FAO list of the world's 33 most food insecure nations.

Type of food insecurity Exceptional shortfall in food supplies.
Reason Severe insecurity and poor harvests in the past.
Change since November 2009 The situation is unchanged. Insecurity persists in a country ravaged by conflict. Poor weather conditions in 2009 brought the smallest crop ever harvested.

The security situation in Iraq is visibly better than in 2006/07, but the high levels of violence contributed to some 1.55 million Iraqis being displaced within the country since 2006, according to the Iraq Humanitarian Action Plan 2010.
Nutritional status A UNICEF-led survey in 2006 found 11 percent of children aged below five to be severely stunted.
CAP funding Under the Humanitarian Action Plan 2010, agencies have asked for more than US$193.5 million.

Type of food insecurity Severe localized food insecurity.
Reason Ongoing conflict and several years of drought have prolonged people's precarious circumstances.
Change since November 2009 The situation has deteriorated despite a bumper wheat harvest in May/June 2009. Longstanding conflicts continue to erode incomes and assets, and displace people.
Nutritional status The effects of the food, fuel and financial crises are putting an estimated 1.2 million children under five at high risk of household insecurity, malnutrition, infectious diseases and livelihood vulnerability, according to UNICEF's Humanitarian Action Report 2010.
CAP funding Only 8.9 percent of the $870 million requested has been covered.

Type of food insecurity Severe localized food insecurity.
Reason A series of cyclones have displaced people, affecting livelihoods and food production in some parts.
Change since November 2009 Improving as the impact of the cyclones dissipates. Food production was affected by the failed monsoons in 2009 and food prices have begun to rise.
Nutritional status A Demographic and Health Survey in 2007 found 16 percent of children aged less than five years were severely stunted, an indicator of chronic malnutrition.
CAP funding There is no current CAP for Bangladesh.

Type of food insecurity Severe localized food insecurity.
Reason Food insecurity persists in areas affected by Cyclone Nargis, which struck southern Myanmar in 2008. The cyclone destroyed livelihoods, agricultural infrastructure and assets.
Change since November 2009 Improving as the impact of the cyclone ameliorates. The price of rice, the staple food, is stable but still higher than pre-2007 levels.

Localized food supply and market access problems persist.
Nutritional status In 2007 the World Health Organization reanalyzed the findings of a UNICEF-led survey conducted in 2003 and found that 16 percent of children aged less than five were severely stunted.
CAP funding There is no current CAP for Myanmar.

Type of food insecurity Severe localized food insecurity.
Reason Poor market access and past disasters. Some 2.7 million people have reportedly been affected by floods, a winter drought and high food prices. The loss of the 2008/09 winter crop was followed by the failure of the monsoon season in 2009, affecting the paddy crop.
Change since November 2009 Circumstances of people affected by natural disasters are improving.
Nutritional status A Demographic and Health Survey in 2006 found 20 percent of children aged below five were severely stunted.
CAP funding The Nepal Humanitarian Transition Appeal was issued in 2009, and later revised upwards to $145 million.

Type of food insecurity Severe localized food insecurity.
Reason Serious insecurity in the conflict-weary northwestern part of the country has led to the displacement of nearly two million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). High food prices have also affected affordability.
Change since November 2008 Prices have begun to rise again, reflecting concerns over the 2009/10 winter crop because of droughts in various parts.
Nutritional status Malnutrition rates are typically around 10 percent among children under five, according to UNICEF Humanitarian Action Plan 2010. The agency intends to treat 211,000 children under five years old for acute malnutrition.
CAP funding An appeal for more than $537.7 million in 2010 has been issued.

Type of food insecurity Severe localized food insecurity.
Reason Past tropical storms and localized conflicts affect food insecurity. Tropical storm Ketsana affected two million people in the main rice producing area, the northern island of Luzon, in September 2009.
Change since November 2009 People are recovering from the impact of Ketsana, but food aid is still needed. Rice production in 2010 is also likely to be affected; drought is expected in some of the major rice producing areas.
Nutritional status In 2007 WHO reanalyzed the findings of a 2003 national nutrition survey and found the incidence of severe stunting to be 11 percent among children younger than five.
CAP funding A flash appeal was issued in November 2009 for $143.7 million for people affected by storms and floods.

Sri Lanka
Type of food insecurity Severe localized food insecurity.
Reason A 25-year civil war with separatist rebels mainly in the north and east ended in May 2009. Livelihoods and food security were affected in those areas, and many people fled the fighting. Farming has been disrupted.
Change since November 2009 The lingering effects of the war are dissipating. Food production and local markets are being resurrected in the affected areas.
Nutritional status A Demographic and Health Survey in 2006/07 found that four percent of children aged under five were severely stunted.
CAP funding A mid-year review in 2009 of the Common Humanitarian Action Plan said approximately $270 million had been requested.

Type of food insecurity Severe localized food insecurity.
Reason Escalating conflict in the northern governorates of Saada and Amran has affected the food security situation there. The number of IDPs has doubled since August 2009.
Change since November 2009 Yemen is a new entry in the list with the food security situation in north having taken a turn for the worse. The Humanitarian Response Plan for Yemen 2010 said structural factors had limited agricultural growth and the country had become a net food importer, bringing in 90 percent of wheat and 100 percent of rice, the two staple commodities. An estimated 48 percent of households are food-insecure.
Nutritional status According to the Humanitarian Response Plan half of all children were chronically malnourished.
CAP funding The Humanitarian Response Plan 2010, issued in November 2009, appealed for $177.4 million.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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