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Burma looking to become world’s No. 1 rice exporter

Burma could be poised to reclaim its No. 1 position as the world’s top rice exporter, perhaps within three years, say officials, if all goes well. Burma was the world's top rice exporter in the 1960s.

A farmer sprinkles fertilizer on his rice field in Bago District, northeast of Rangoon. Photo: AFPA top priority is to give farmers better access to high-quality seeds and fertilizer, officials said.

“In China, every township has a seed production company,” Tin Naing Thein, the National Planning and Economic Development Minister told Reuters this week. “The government will encourage and support them here.”

Western companies including DuPont Pioneer are looking at investments in Burma, which have the potential to boost rice production.

Rice exports could increase as much as 2 million tonnes next year and 3 million by 2015, said Ye Min Aung, the secretary-general of the Myanmar Rice Industry Association. The rice export total last year was 778,000 tonnes.

He expects exports to double this year to 1.5 million tonnes.

One unknown factor will be the effectiveness of a new agricultural bank set up two months ago to provide credit to small farmers, many of whom are struggling with debt.

Rice mills are another problem. About 80 percent are small-scale, antiquated businesses that struggle to produce the white rice kernels expected by international buyers. As a result, mill losses, measured mostly by broken grains, are 20 percent higher than in Thailand and Vietnam, says Ye Min Aung of the rice industry association.

Several rice exporters are building large-scale mills that can handle as much as 200 tonnes a day, said Tin Htut Oo, head of the new National Economic and Social Development Advisory Committee, a body that advises the government.

“We can increase up to two million tonnes very quickly within one or two years,” he said of rice exports, if all goes well.

He also expects fertilizer sales to boom. Expanding that, he says, could produce a big increase in yields.

“You can imagine in a few years' time the use of fertilizer in Burma will at least double. I wouldn't be surprised if it tripled. That is a big area of investment,” he said.

No country's rice appetite is quite like Burma’s, which boasts the world's highest annual rice consumption at 210 kg (460 lb) per person, making up 75 percent of the country's diet, according to government statistics.