BURMA: 2008/09 Rice Crop Threatened By Slow Post-Cyclone Recovery
Tropical cyclone Nargis struck the heart of Burma’s rice growing region in the low-lying Ayeyarwady delta on May 2nd, causing extensive damage to agricultural lands, infrastructure, livestock, and stored food grains. A 12-foot storm surge (tidal wave) accompanied the cyclone, reportedly penetrated 25-30 miles inland along the storms path. A nearly 2000 square mile area of prime farmland was inundated with salt water and/or heavy rainfall. The affected region normally accounts for roughly 60 percent of the nation’s rice production. The United Nations (UN) estimates that 2.4 million people were directly impacted by the storm. The outlook for the 2008/09 rice crop is very uncertain, as the planting window will close in late July. Little to no actual progress has been made to restore or rehabilitate damaged lands and infrastructure, while farmers are yet to be supplied with sufficient food, viable seed, tools, livestock or replacement mechanical tillers and fuel. USDA has conducted a post-flood assessment which indicates that as of May 30th flood waters have receded over a sizable area (300,000 hectares total recovery; 490,000 hectares improved since May 5th). However, a month after the cyclone approximately 1.40 million hectares or 80 percent of the original inundated area is still affected by some degree of flooding. Approximately 870,000 hectares has shown no improvement. As a result of lasting flood conditions and the fast-closing planting window for rice, USDA currently expects that approximately 700,000 hectares will go unsown in the main monsoon season, thereby reducing overall rice area in 2008/09. USDA currently estimates 2008/09 Burma rice production at 9.4 million tons (milled basis), down 0.6 million from last month and 12 percent from last year. Harvested area is estimated at 6.4 million hectares, down 10 percent from last year. In addition, USDA estimates that approximately 1.0 million tons of rice (milled rice equivalent) from the 2007/08 harvest was lost or destroyed by the storm surge and subsequent flooding. These stocks were largely held on-farm and by local millers and warehouses.
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Burma: Post-Flood Rice Impact Analysis - May 30, 2008
The post-cyclone recovery effort has been underway for the past month, but owing to many political, organizational, logistical, and financial obstacles very little action has been taken to improve the average farmer’s capability to restore and rehabilitate their lands or plant the 2008/09 wet season rice crop. The planting window for the wet season rice crop in the Ayeyarwady delta typically closes in late July, with the bulk of the crop transplanted from seedling nurseries well before that date. Given the widespread devastation to farm lands and the death of a significant number of the regions draft animals, it is becoming apparent that potentially large sections of the worst hit areas will likely go unsown this year. As the map below illustrates, the highest concentrations of livestock in Burma were located in the heart of the storm ravaged region.
Burma: Cyclone Nargis Livestock Impact Analysis
The U.N.’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has a disaster response team in Burma which is conducting a detailed agricultural sector assessment. One of the critical concerns is how to overcome the loss of draft animals and at the same time secure adequate stocks of appropriate planting seed for immediate distribution to the rural farm population. Cattle and water buffalo brought in from other countries or regions will need time to be trained to effectively perform field operations, whereas fuel shortages and a lack of mechanics will limit the ability of mechanical tillers to fulfill the urgent need for cultivators. In addition, it is uncertain what viable seed stocks are available inside Burma, and how appropriate available varieties are for use in the lower delta. The FAO estimated that approximately 700,000 hectares of rice fields would need rehabilitation from salt water inundation or storm damage before planting could be considered, and even under the best conditions it is extremely unlikely that this scale of work could be accomplished in a few weeks time. Time is simply running out to get the 2008/09 main season rice crop planted.
Burma: Regional Rice Area Distribution
Collectively, the four main Divisions (provinces) that were affected by cyclone Nargis account for approximately 4.0 million hectares of rice, or 57 percent of the national total. Disaster observers indicate that the greatest damage, both short-term and long-term, occurred in Ayeyarwady and Yangon divisions which account for approximately 37 percent of national rice acreage. Of the 2.6 million hectares of rice in these two regions, USDA estimates approximately 1.25 million hectares were originally flooded as a direct result of cyclone Nargis. As of May 30th, though flood levels have receded, approximately 1.1 million hectares is still experiencing some level of inundation. The areas showing the greatest change in the severity of flooding were the coastal areas of southern Ayeyarwady division. Natural drainage in these coastal rice farming areas must have aided the recovery, as further inland crop areas have not shown the same degree of improvement. In contrast, much of the southern regions of Yangon division which were heavily inundated are not showing much improvement a month after the cyclones passing. It should be noted, despite observer’s opinions that damage in Mon division should not impact prospects for the 2008/09 rice crop, that moderate flood levels have persisted in major rice growing areas for the past month. USDA has received no independent reports from this region indicating that flood damage is incidental and that rice planting activities should be at normal levels.
Burma: Cyclone Nargis Flood Level Comparison (May 5th versus May 30th)
To what degree the current flood levels in Burma will have a negative affect on short-term field conditions and planting suitability is unknown. More important, it will take time to determine the exact extent of saltwater intrusion, and the acreage of rice land that cannot be cultivated owing to salt or physical damage. USDA will be evaluating all available information over the coming weeks concerning possible damage to rice production capabilities, and planting prospects. Revised production estimates will be made available when more detailed assessments have been completed.
Current USDA area and production estimates for grains and other agricultural commodities are available on IPAD's Agricultural Production page or at PSD Online.