Cyclone Smashes Myanmar Rice Bowl – From Al-Jazeera English

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Cyclone smashes Myanmar ‘rice bowl’

The effects of Cyclone Nargis are likely to be long-lasting and widespread[Reuters]

The destruction wrought by Cyclone Nargis also threatens to have devastated Myanmar’s agricultural heartland, posing concerns over long-term food shortages across an already desperately poor country.

The Irrawaddy delta region, which bore the brunt of the storm, has long been known as the rice-bowl of Myanmar.

But the features that made it so fertile – its low lying geography and its proximity to water – also made it vulnerable to disaster.

In the wake of the storm UN relief officials have reported distribution networks in the region in tatters and large tracts of rice-growing land still under water.

Rice plants generally die if they remain submerged for about four days.

“The cyclone certainly complicates matters,” said Paul Risley, a spokesman with the UN’s World Food Programme in Bangkok.

“It blew through the critical rice-growing areas of the country and it seems the harvest was only partially completed. This could represent a substantial loss to the country’s rice output,” he said.

In depth: Myanmar cyclone

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Satellite photos: Before and after the cyclone

Timeline: Asia’s deadliest storms

Video: Toll soars

According estimated by the Rome-based UN Food and Agriculture Organization the five states hit hardest by the cyclone on Saturday produce 65 per cent of the country’s rice.

The region also is home to 80 per cent of its aquaculture, 50 per cent of its poultry and 40 per cent of its pig production, the FAO said.

With as many as a million people directly affected by the catastrophe, rice shortages and possible accompanying public resentment present a major challenge to the country’s military government.

With food shortages and rising prices already triggering riots in poor countries, the cyclone’s disruption of the harvest in one of Asia’s richest rice-growing areas could also have global implications.

Until last weekend, Myanmar had been expected to export a portion of its rice harvest.

Shortfalls could hit Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and other regional neighbours that had been counting on importing Myanmar’s rice.

Traders suggest that in the cyclone’s wake, world rice prices, already soaring, could be sent higher.

Globally the cost of rice has already nearly tripled since the beginning of the year, busting the budgets of humanitarian agencies that provide emergency food aid to disaster-struck countries.

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