Rice prices poised to climb as drought deepens

Rice prices poised to climb as drought deepens
A boy catches fish in a dried-up pond near the banks of the Ganges River in Allahabad, India, on June 4. The government says the country is headed for its first drought in six years
PHOTO: Reuters

BANGKOK - It is baking hot in the mid-afternoon just outside Laos' capital, Vientiane. Won, a local rice farmer, looks up at the cloudless sky. It should be humid and raining, but so far in June, this area close to the Mekong River, which separates Laos from Thailand, has only seen desultory showers every few days. Won has already planted rice on her 6 hectares of paddies, but just down the road other fields lay fallow, waiting for regular downpours that the rice crops need.

"We have some irrigation water but the water levels are much lower than last year, when the rain started earlier," she told the Nikkei Asian Review. "If rain doesn't come in July, I will let the rice die." Won said that the irrigation water will only last for a few weeks.

It is the same story in Fang, hundreds of kilometers away in Thailand's far north, near the border with Myanmar. Farmer Panbunta Kantapan said the situation is already desperate. "If the rain does not come soon there will be no point planting at all," he said, adding that he was considering planting a less water-intensive crop, such as corn.

El Nino is back

Heat waves and drought have gripped nations across South and Southeast Asia as El Nino has taken hold for the first time since 2009. It has brought heavier rainfall to the Americas and a hotter and drier summer to Asia.

That is bleak news for rice production and exports as the three nations suffering the effects of the drought -- India, Vietnam and Thailand -- are also the world's leading exporters. The grain is the world's third-biggest crop after sugar cane and corn, according to the United Nations.

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