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El Niño Expected to Further Hamper Rice Production in Asia


El Niño, a natural, temporary, and occasional warming of part of the Pacific that shifts global weather patterns and climate change, arrived earlier than usual according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The warmer, drier, and early arrival of El Niño is posing a threat to rice production in Asia, hitting global food security across the world. Most regions have yet to recover from the effects of the war in Ukraine.

According to scientists, there is a 1-in4 chance that El Niño will expand to supersize levels. A strong El Niño spells bad news for rice farmers in Asia as it typically means less rainfall for the crop.

90% of the world’s rice is grown and eaten in Asia.

Previous El Niños have resulted in extreme weather such as droughts and floods.

Abdullah Mamun, a research analyst at the International Food Policy Research Institute, stated that there are already “alarm bells,” pointing to the rise of rice prices due to shortfalls in production.

In Thailand, the average price of 5% broken white rice was about 16% higher in June compared to last year’s average.

Since last year, global stocks of rice have run low, part of which was due to the floods in Pakistan, a major rice exporter. This year’s El Niño may worsen woes for rice-producing countries as there is reduced availability of fertilizer due to the war. Some countries have also imposed export restrictions on rice.

Recently, global average temperatures have hit record highs. In India, monsoon rains were lighter than usual by the end of June. However, in the first week of July, the rains were heavy enough to cause flooding and deaths.

In Indonesia, President Monday has asked his ministers to anticipate a long dry season. In the Philippines, authorities are carefully managing water to protect vulnerable areas.

Some countries are preparing for eventual food shortages. Indonesia was among the worst hit by India’s restriction on rice exports after less rain fell than expected and a historic heat wave destroyed wheat.

Fertilizer is another crucial variable in rice production.

In 2022, China, a major producer, restricted exports of fertilizer to keep domestic prices in check as fertilizers were among the exports affected by sanctions on Belarus, a Russian ally, for human rights violations. The war has disrupted shipments of three main chemical fertilizers: potash, phosphorus, and nitrogen.

Bangladesh found suppliers in Canada to make up for the potash shipments, but many countries are still seeking new sources.

Beau Damen, a natural resources officer with the Food and Agriculture Organization based in Bangkok stated, “Each El Niño is different but historical trends suggest that scarce rainfall in South and Southeast Asia will parch the soil. This can cause cascading effects in the coming years. Some countries like Indonesia may be more vulnerable in the early stages of the phenomenon.”

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has stressed the need to manage water well in the coming weeks. He warns that various factors, including export limits and fertilizer shortages, could combine with El Niño to “make this a particularly damaging event.”

Hui Yin

Hui Yin moved from Hong Kong 🇭🇰 to the USA 🇺🇸 when she was just 8 years old. Now in her late 20's she enjoys writing and taking long walks in the park to burn off the copious amounts of rice she eats for dinner.

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