Cyclone Nargis, which recently struck Myanmar (Burma), killed thousands of people, caused severe flooding of land, and destroyed most of the rice stocks in the Irrawaddy Delta, the "food bowl" and primary rice producing region in the country. According to the FAO, rice production in Myanmar will drop significantly in 2008, which will negatively impact not only the country's food security, but also that of certain poor countries that depend on Burmese exports.
In Myanmar, poor people get more than 60 percent of their protein intake from rice, leading EU Commissioner for Development Louis Michel to fear the emergence of famine in this country that is isolated from the rest of the world.
Moreover, this major crisis could further weaken Myanmar's agriculture sector, already facing difficulties due to the decisions of the military junta in power. Indeed, efforts aimed at diversifying and developing agricultural production have proven to be ineffective, and the junta's liberalization of the rice sector has caused rice prices to drop, reducing income for some farmers.
Myanmar is once again in a difficult situation after the cyclone. While somewhat self-sufficient up until now, it seems that the country will now be forced to import rice. This has led a number of experts such as Paul Risley, spokesman for the World Food Programme (WPF) to question whether "Myanmar can continue to maintain self-sufficiency and also whether it can continue commitments to other countries."
Beyond just Myanmar, it is the food security of certain poor countries that is directly threatened. Leading the list of such countries are Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, themselves struck by a cyclone last November. These countries will no longer be able to count on Burmese rice to respond to the shortages caused by the cyclone. Additionally, lower rice production in Myanmar could exacerbate the already severe tensions on the rice market, where a slight drop in supply with regard to forecasts leads to sharp price increases. Inevitably, it will be the vulnerable populations of Asia and Africa that could be affected, as rice constitutes a central part of their diet.
Just as we have seen from simulations using the momagri model, Cyclone Nargis demonstrates that extreme weather conditions are like a bomb on increasingly tense international agricultural markets that could go off at any moment, causing almost irreversible collateral damage. It is clear that the unregulated liberalization of international agricultural trade – marked by the dismantling of the remaining regulatory mechanisms and a significant contraction of world stocks – revives these tensions and magnifies their effect on international prices. It is, therefore, urgent for the international community to have in place accurate tools and objectives for food security and food supply.