By KYAW HSU MON / THE IRRAWADDY
RANGOON — The Myanmar Rice Federation (MRF) is urging Burma’s government to prepare rice reserves for a potentially extreme El Niño period in the months ahead.
Weather specialists anticipate El Niño, which has a 12- to 18-month cycle, to produce dangerous heat waves in the first six months of this year. As a result, the government is warning people to make adequate preparations, particularly those in the agriculture sector.
“Due to El Niño, the summer paddy will be cultivated late as we may face water shortages. There may be a rice shortage and as a consequence, rice prices would go up,” Soe Tun, MRF vice chairman, told The Irrawaddy.
“That’s why we’re encouraging the government to prepare rice reserves.”
In Burma, the annual paddy-harvest runs from around June-July until September-October. This year Soe Tun said rice should be stored starting in April and May.
The outgoing government has recently been calling on farmers to take the necessary steps to brace themselves for another El Niño, including more economical use of drinking and irrigation water, regular checks for irrigation leaks and improving irrigation channels.
The government already appears to be heeding the rice federation’s advice. On Wednesday, a report in the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar stated that the ministry of commerce had prepared over 40 warehouses for the storage of rice in Rangoon, Mandalay and Irrawaddy divisions, as well as Arakan State.
Tun Lwin, considered Burma’s most trusted weather forecaster after having served in the Ministry of Meteorology and Hydrology for more than 30 years, said recently that El Niño could soon ratchet up temperatures in Burma to 45 degrees Celsius.
“El Niño started mid-last year, and it’s expected to linger until about the same time this year. We’ll have to prepare for some of the highest temperatures yet this summer,” he said.
The majority of Burma’s rice fields are located in Magwe, Pegu and Irrawaddy divisions, which could see temperatures of more than 40 degrees Celsius as early as this month.
Rice is one of Burma’s primary export items, but as a result of widespread flooding in July and August of last year, as well as an increase in crop prices, the commodity’s trading power has experienced a dramatic decline. According to MRF estimates, more than 700,000 acres of paddy fields can be replanted out of the more than 1 million lost.