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

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More