News / Asia

Thai Rice Shipments to West Africa Curtailed By Ebola Outbreak

FILE - Thai workers unload rice from the truck of a farmer, at a rice collection center, in the northeastern province of Roi Et, in Thailand.
FILE - Thai workers unload rice from the truck of a farmer, at a rice collection center, in the northeastern province of Roi Et, in Thailand.

The Ebola outbreak in Africa is beginning to have an impact on agriculture and shipping as far away as Asia, with Thailand’s rice industry among the first to experience a serious impact.

Africa is a major market for Thailand’s rice, but the industry is finding it difficult to meet demand.

Exporters in Bangkok say Africa consumes nine million tons of rice annually and two-thirds of it is imported. But they are currently unable to ship much of their crop to West African ports.

Operators of dry bulk vessels cannot find crews to man their ships because of fears of possibly contracting the deadly Ebola virus, according to Vichai Sriprasert, honorary president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association.

“Merchants in West Africa are trying to build up stocks to meet the requirements during Christmas sales. They have to buy now in order to have enough stock. But if we cannot find enough vessels to go there this would jeopardize the whole trade situation,” said Vichai.

So far this year, Thailand, has shipped more than 3.3 million tons of rice to Africa - a pace far ahead of last year’s total shipments of 3.75 million tons. The top destinations, in terms of volume, are Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, South Africa, Cameroon, Mozambique and Nigeria, in that order.

Not being able to ship rice quickly during this peak season is creating a bottleneck, with Thai exporters' warehouses already filled. Vichai said that is creating a chain reaction in the rice industry all the way back to the farmers.

“We cannot release the rice out of the warehouse and also cannot buy rice from the millers. And the millers' warehouses are also filled up. If they cannot sell to exporters they also cannot buy from the farmers. The price of rice from the farmer also has to drop because not too many people can afford to buy. There's no place to keep the stock,” explained Vichai.

Asia’s rice could become even more in demand in weeks and months ahead, with the Ebola outbreak expected to become worse before it improves.

The U.N’s Food and Agriculture Organization warns food in countries affected by the deadly virus has become more expensive. The FAO says some African farmers cannot reach their fields and food imported by ship and air is now unlikely to arrive as often.

Vijay Satia, the former president of the All India Rice Exporters Association, said he is confident Asia’s food cargo will still be able to reach African destinations, but at a higher cost.

“People will ship their material to the alternative ports where this problem is less, maybe taking their material by road or by rail. So costs of rice for the consumer can go up and price for exporters to the lower side,” said Vijay.

Shipping industry analysts say the problem of crews refusing to go to African ports is not yet at a crisis level, although some seaports are losing traffic. But they describe dry bulk ship owners as growing increasingly worried that if their vessels enter countries where Ebola is present, the next port of call may not allow their boats to dock.

The analysts say they have also not noted any serious disruption of shipments of major exports such as bauxite, aluminum and iron ore from mineral-rich West Africa.

But Nigeria’s Shipping Position Daily newspaper reports European ship owners have increased freight rates for cargo and imposed surcharges on crews coming into the West African countries battling Ebola.

The World Health Organization says Ebola has now killed more than 1,500 people in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.


Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

You May Like

Turkey's Controversial Reform Bill Giving Investors Jitters

Homeland security reform bill will give police new powers in search, seizure, detention and arrests, while restricting the rights of suspects, their attorneys More

Audio Slideshow In Kenyan Prison, Good Grades Are Path to Freedom

Some inmates who get high marks could see their sentences commuted to non-custodial status More

Ali Regained Title in Historic Fight 40 Years Ago

'The Champ' knocked Foreman out to regain crown he had lost 7 years earlier when US government accused him of draft-dodging and boxing officials revoked his license More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisiai
X
Henry Ridgwell
October 30, 2014 11:39 PM
Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid