Literally the hottest issue currently is El Niño and it's accompanying symptoms of drought in the wider Mekong region.
However the consequences need not be too negative. for instance soothsayers predict an equal bounty of rice this year in Cambodia as compared to last year (Phnom Penh Post, Jul. 8):
'Chan Yutha, spokesperson of the Ministry of Water Resource and Meteorology, said a dry spell owing to effects of El Niño wouldn’t have the same impact on the start of Cambodia’s rice planting this year, with rainfall, once it begins this week, expected to extend until September.“The rainfall is expected to be even better than last year".
Thailand though expects a 2% drop. According to Bangkok Post (Jul. 2):
The overall impact globally might well be negligible. The Bangkok Post (Jul. 8):'The government expects drought from the El Nino weather phenomenon to shave Thai rice production for this year's main crop by 2% to 26 million tonnes, though this could mean a rise in prices'.
One aspect that may well change is the price, as Thailand is the bellwether for global rice prices, being the largest exporter in the past decade.'The global rice harvest will increase less than previously estimated because of a strengthening El Nino, reducing stockpiles for a second year, the United Nations said.Milled output will reach 499.3 million tonnes this year, compared with 499.9 million tonnes forecast in April, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization said Wednesday. That would be higher than a revised 494.7 million tonnes in 2014'.
However a few weeks later, prospects are more depressing as rains are yet to impact Thailand. The Nation (Jul 16):
'Amid falling water levels in the Chao Phraya River, water distribution will be halted for the agricultural sector from today, the Royal Irrigation Department said, adding all water will be allocated for domestic use and to sustain the ecology.
As a result of the ban on the use of water in the agricultural sector, it was reported that the farmers in Ayutthaya's Lad Bualuang district have to buy water from water trucks to save their rice crop, which will be ready for harvest soon. A local reporter revealed that the price of water per truck was Bt800'.
The Bangkok Post reported two days earlier more or less the same but noted that farmers would receive compensation.
And though for the nation itself there may be less disruption, farmers will be harvesting less, increasing their financial burdens. The Chiang Rai Times (Jul. 9):
'The drought and the critical water shortage in dams have prompted the Agriculture Ministry to ask farmers to hold off on planting their crops. The Office of Agricultural Economics estimated that the delay could cost farmers in Thailand’s central plains alone 60 billion baht ($1.8 billion) in potential losses'.Risky business
Meanwhile in Thailand the prospect of bleak rains means that buying insurance is becoming a hot item (Bangkok Post, Jul. 14).
'Farmers cultivating 1.33 million rai [200,000 ha] of rice paddy bought crop insurance as of July 8, said Pravej Ongartsittigul, secretary-general of the Office of the Insurance Commission. ... This year's insurance programme divides farmland into five areas depending on risk exposure. Farmers with the lowest risk are required to pay 60 baht a rai while the government contributes 64 baht a rai.It looks like a pay-out may well be on the cards ...
In the highest-risk locations, farmers are required to pay 100 baht a rai while the government contributes 383 baht a rai. Insurers will pay 1,111 baht a rai [$US200/ha] for damaged crops from a natural disaster and 555 baht a rai for damage from pests or diseases'.
Insurance may also be catching on in Cambodia. The Phnom Penh Post (Jul. 10):
'The Cambodian Agriculture Cooperative Insurance Company (CACIC), an initiative established by the Cambodia Center for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC), yesterday announced the start of an agriculture micro insurance service to help rice farmers better respond to climate change.The best advertisement would be farmers receiving a pay-out after being affected, but that's not what we want.
Farmers who become a member of CACIC will have to pay an insurance fee of around $10 per hectare each season, although this cost will vary slightly depending on the type of rice variety gown.
In return, they receive consultation on farming techniques, climate change resilience methods and will get an insurance payout when their crop is damaged either by flood or drought, according to Yang Saing Koma, president of CEDAC.
looks like a nice initiative but seems rather expensive for small farmers. It also needs to take off seriously:
'In the last two months, about 60 farmers have signed up with CACIC, registering more than 60 hectares of rice plantation. The fund has generated around 2.7 million riels, or $650'.
Fear the fake. Not.
The Phnom Penh Post (Jul. 15) has a curious article:
'The Cambodian Rice Federation held a press conference yesterday to allay fears drummed up by local media that fake rice is being distributed in the Kingdom.Rumours began to surface this week when a reporter with local news site Khmerload published a story claiming to have eaten plastic rice'.
'But it’s a con. Coffee here is cut through with scorched corn, soybeans, and dodgy flavourings. It’s a discovery as bitter as the filtered dregs thrown into Phnom Penh gutters. angus-pouring-his-own-blendPhnom Penh coffee roaster Angus Whelan pours a cup of his own blend'.
How does Thailand rid itself of rice stocks?
'The Energy Ministry has been assigned by the government to help off-load around 5.89 million tonnes of deteriorated rice held in stockpiles with the plan at the first stage to convert around 1.3 million tonnes of the rice into ethanol fuel and the rest into biochar (bio-charcoal)'.
However not everybody agrees on this solution. Same source (Jul. 13):
'Rice traders have urged the government to rush to hold an auction for 1.29 million tonnes of rotten rice from its stockpiles while demand in the market is high during the drought."Instead of opening bidding for biogas or ethanol production, rotten rice could be produced as feedmeal. The government should urgently release its rice in the meantime to clear out stocks," a rice trading source said last week.
The government should allow general bidders, not just bidders for biogas or ethanol production, as many industries also want rotten rice'.
'Thailand's rice export association lowered its annual target from 10 million to 9.5 million tonnes on Monday, due to a slowdown in the global economy and fears that drought in Thailand could slash output for the year.
Chukiat Opaswong, honorary president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association, said Thailand would face a tougher export market due to a global slowdown in trade and fluctuating exchange rates.
He added that concerns over the drought on Thailand’s rice production have boosted export prices and could drive buyers to Thailand’s competitors'.
'According to the Vietnam Food Association (VFA), Vietnam had exported 2.1 million tons of rice by the end of May, earning $870 million, a decrease of 10 percent in export volume and 13 percent price decrease in comparison with the same period in 2014....China remains Vietnam’s largest rice consumer, which bought 35 percent of the 2.1 million tons of rice Vietnam exported in the first five months of the year.
However, experts have warned against the heavy reliance on the Chinese market. China, despite high demand, has been tightening imports across the border gate since mid-2014, which has made it risky for Vietnamese enterprises to export rice to the market.
A source said that even contracts on exporting rice through official channels were also canceled, stressing that it was very risky to do business with China.
Nguyen Thi Bich Vuong, director of Hung Thinh Trade and Import/Export Company in Lao Cai province, specializing in exporting rice across the border gates to China, said only several consignments of goods were exported in the first three months of the year.
Meanwhile, no consignment has been exported since April when China began tightening control over imports'.
Land policies are often a contentious issue in Cambodia. And it should be noted that Cambodia has not yet lost it's spots. Cambodia Daily (Jul. 20):
'Environment Minister Say Sam Al was in Preah Vihear province on Sunday to help inaugurate Try Pheap’s newest project, a $52-million rubber plantation and additional facilities that the timber magnate has cleared thousands of hectares of protected forest to build.Odd that everybody seems to be stepping out of rubber and here there's a major investment in producing more future surplus.
Mr. Pheap was granted the 10,000-hectare concession inside the Beng Per Wildlife Sanctuary in 2011, and has clear-cut most of the site since.
Numerous reports and investigations have placed Mr. Pheap at the heart of a vast illegal logging operation that involves collusion with government officials and is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, allegations that both he and the government deny'.
This report coincides with a wider report on the wider push to export more rubber. From the Phnom Penh Post (Jul. 22):
'Protected areas and other biodiversity hotspots across Southeast Asia are increasingly under threat from expanding rubber plantations, with Cambodia at risk of losing more ecologically important land than any of its neighbours, a recent study reports.Certainly not the best pupil in the class.
If current trends continue, Cambodia stands to lose more than 2,500 square kilometres of protected areas to rubber plantations by 2020 – an area about the size of Luxembourg – according to a new study to be published in the September issue of the journal Global Environmental Change.
That number was significantly higher than for the other four countries surveyed – Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand – with Vietnam clocking in at 1,900 square kilometres of protected areas potentially lost.
Cambodia is also predicted to cede more ground than that quartet in every other category of environmentally significant land save one: conservation corridors, where Vietnam fares slightly worse'.
Meanwhile with the focus on rubber, governments are trying to be inventive. The Nation (Jul. 19):
'Thailand and Russia are considering a barter trade deal, with Russia seeking 80,000 tonnes of rubber while Thailand wants weapons and other goods in return'.
Looking for alternatives? Here are a couple:
Cambodia is seeking to export its mangoes to South Korea, according to a senior official at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.Waiting for the boom to bust? Growing Cambodia's Kampot pepper is increasingly popular. The Phnom Penh Post reports (Jul. 8):
'Kampot pepper production almost doubled during 2015’s harvest season compared to last year’s, although prices have remained flat, according to an industry representative'.And finally the problems with growing rice in Nepal, a very insightful article. The Nepaltimes (Jul. 3) mentions how the Nepali rice agriculture is succumbing to mechanisation:
'Even as Nepal’s annual rice production keeps dropping due to the shortage of farmland, fragmentation of holdings, labour shortage and falling productivity due to government neglect, here in the plains of eastern Nepal there is a quiet green revolution happening.
Combining SRI with mechanisation and setting up farmers’ cooperatives, boosts productivity, creates jobs and empowers many women like Sabita Chaudhary. If what is happening here can be scaled up to the national level, Nepal could even export rice again'.