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, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

You May Like

French Refugee Drama Wins Cannes Top Prize

Dheepan is about a group of Sri Lankan refugees who pretend to be a family in order to flee their war-torn country for a housing project in France More

Photogallery Crisis in Macedonia Requires Meaningful and Swift Measures

The international community has called on Macedonian leadership to take concrete measures in support of democracy in order to exit the crisis More

Activists: IS Executes 217 Civilians, Soldiers Near Palmyra

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Sunday said the victims include nurses, women, children and Syrian government fighters More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmakingi
X
Bernard Shusman
May 24, 2015 2:55 PM
According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.
Video

Video Effort Underway to Limit Damage from California Oil Spill

Cleanup crews are working around the clock to remove oil from the waters off the coastal city of Santa Barbara, in California. About 380,000 liters of oil may have leaked out before a rupture in an onshore, underground pipeline was discovered Tuesday. The environmental disaster hit the popular West Coast resort area before the Memorial Day weekend. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports investigators have yet to determine what caused the incident.

VOA Blogs