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Imagine Burma being the second largest rice exporter in the world, just behind Thailand, while Vietnam is the world’s fourth largest rice importer. This was the situation in the international rice market 50 years ago. However, when you think of major players in international rice markets, Burma, officially known as Myanmar, doesn’t come to mind despite its neighbors dominating world rice trade.
It has remained close to self-sufficiency in rice for the last 50 years and despite exporting rice in most years, much smaller nations like Uruguay and Cambodia have been exporting more rice in recent years. This is despite the fact that Burma is the seventh largest rice producing country in the world. It has been exporting rice to sub-Saharan African countries and its neighbor Bangladesh, but these trade volumes are not consistent year to year. Instead, it may be argued that Burma sees international rice markets as a way of getting rid of surplus rice stocks.
Could Burma once again become a major rice bowl for international markets like neighboring Thailand? It has huge natural resources for growing rice like the Irrawaddy Delta; however, average rice yields have been flat and actually dropped slightly over the last decade. Domestic rice consumption is still very high with 50 percent of daily calorie consumption per person coming from rice, but there has been a decreasing trend where locals are substituting rice for other foods. Burma also has the second lowest population growth rate in Southeast Asia behind Thailand.
Whether Burma can re-establish itself as one of the world’s major rice exporters really depends on if it can complement its reducing domestic demand for rice with addressing stagnating rice productivity.
This article was originally published in Oryza on 10 June 2014. Oryza is an industry leader in rice and a media partner of DVB.
Author Adam John is a PhD economics candidate at the Agricultural and Food Policy Studies Institute at Universiti Putra Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and is based in Stockholm. His thesis looks at international rice prices and their effects on rice markets.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not reflect DVB editorial policy.