Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

‘El Nino’ may affect Asian paddy harvest in 2002

22 Feb 2002 -- Bangkok - A likely return of the ‘El Nino’ climatic aberration could affect Asia’s rice harvest in 2002, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations said in a new assessment of global paddy production.

Known to take place once every two to seven years, ‘El Nino’ last hit the region during 1997-98 causing severe drought and seriously damaging agricultural production in Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia, Philippines and Papua New Guinea.

According to FAO’s latest Rice Market Monitor issued 22 February, “based on recent observations, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is considering a possible return of El Nino next spring, although there is still considerable uncertainty over its strength and amplitude”.

The year 2002 paddy crop is already well under way in the southern hemisphere with harvesting starting in Indonesia in February. Excessive rains so far and an ‘El Nino’ recurrence could, however, stand in the way of the “ambitious target” of 53.9 million tonnes set by the government for 2002 against the 50.1 million tonnes output in 2001, notes FAO.

‘El Nino’-linked uncertainty also surrounds the 2002 paddy harvest in the Philippines where the 2001 rice production was affected by the passage of typhoon Lingling in November last year.

The world food and agriculture agency has, however, raised upward by nearly one million tonnes, its previous estimate for Asia’s 2001 paddy harvest. Asian paddy farms produced 537.4 million tonnes last year, according to the February 2002 issue of Rice Market Monitor.

The increase, since the last assessment in the December 2001 FAO report, is largely due to upward revisions of paddy outputs in Bangladesh (up 800 000 tonnes) and Thailand (plus one million tonnes), which are accompanied by reduced estimates for China, Iran, Pakistan and the Philippines.

But this is still about 7 million tonnes less than Asia’s year 2000 paddy crop, with the decline largely due to the steep 8.4 million tonnes drop in China’s harvest, making it the country’s smallest since 1995.

Despite the contraction in output, FAO has revised its estimate of the global rice trade during 2001 to 23.4 million tonnes up from the 22.8 million tonnes reported in the previous Rice Market Monitor. This reflects increased exports by Thailand, with a new record of 7.5 million tonnes, and Pakistan at 2.3 million tonnes.

Thailand is projected to export the same amount in 2002 when the international rice trade is expected to grow to 23.8 million tonnes, mainly on account of a surge of nearly one million tonnes in imports by China as a result of its new WTO (World Trade Organization) obligations. Indonesia too is expected to step up rice imports by 50 percent to make up for the disappointing 2001 domestic harvest. However, the exceptionally high African rice imports of 7.1 million tonnes in 2001 are expected to slump to 6.3 million tonnes in 2002, due to large opening stocks and the anticipated rise in international rice prices.

World rice prices are continuing to recover with gains in Thailand following a new round of government purchases in November and strong import demand, due in part to a temporary export ban in Viet Nam.

However, India’s big rice stocks, with 24.8 million tonnes held by government agencies, would encourage subsidised export prices in that country that could exert much downward pressure on the international market.

RAP 02/04

More information at: