Global rice supply faces new threat as Thailand urges crop curbs after poor rainfall

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Thailand has urged farmers to reduce their rice planting to save water following poor rainfall, a move that poses a fresh threat to global supply after India banned some shipments of the grain.

Farmers in the key central region have already planted most of their rice but the government is encouraging a switch to other crops that need less water, according to a statement from Surasri Kidtimonton, the secretary-general of the Office of the National Water Resources.

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Thailand, the world’s second-biggest rice exporter, is seeing less rain as the nation braces for a potential drought next year as the El Niño weather pattern leads to drier conditions. Cumulative rainfall so far in the central region is about 40 percent below normal levels and the move to curb planting of the grain is to help conserve water for household consumption, according to Surasri.

Rice prices in Asia surged to the highest in more than three years last month after India — the world’s biggest exporter — banned some of its shipments. The grain is essential to the diets of billions of people and further price gains would burden consumers with additional inflationary pressure.

Thailand’s central region was expected to account for almost 14 percent of total rice-growing area in 2023 and forecast to make up about 19 percent of the main paddy harvest in 2023/24, according to the Ministry of Agriculture. Water levels in major reservoirs in the area are at about 51 percent of capacity, said Surasri.

The government previously warned that El Niño could lead to un-usually low rainfall, and advised farmers to grow one crop this year instead of the usual two. However, some of the shortage from Thailand should be offset by higher shipments from Vietnam, which are likely to exceed its target for the year.

Vietnam exported 21 percent more rice in the first six months than a year earlier, with shipments increasing to the Philippines, China and Indonesia, according to the Customs Department. The nation says an increase in overseas sales won’t affect its food security.

India is by far the world’s biggest rice exporter, accounting for 40 percent of global trade, while Thailand and Vietnam make up 15 percent and around 14 percent, respectively, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

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India halts largest rice export category, triggering global food inflation fears

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