Myanmar faces food crisis because of cyclone

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — Myanmar faces food shortages in many parts of the country, largely due to last year's cyclone and a rat infestation that destroyed crops elsewhere in the impoverished country, according to a U.N. report released Wednesday.

The report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program forecasts that 85,000 tons of emergency food relief will be needed this year in the cyclone-affected Irrawaddy delta. Almost 100,000 more tons will be needed elsewhere: Food stocks in Chin State have been ravaged by rats while Rakhine in the north, historically among the country's poorest states, also needs assistance.

Blessed with abundant natural resources and fertile land, Myanmar was once the world's top rice producer.
But years of government mismanagement have placed it among the 20 poorest countries in the world, the United Nations estimates, with a per capita income of only $200 — 10 times less than its neighbor Thailand.
In the past four decades, it has seen its rice exports drop from nearly 4 million tons to only about 40,000 tons in 2007.

Cyclone Nargis, which left more than 130,000 people dead or missing in May last year, exacerbated the country's economic difficulties and raised the prospect of a humanitarian crisis.

In 2008, the WFP supplied 55,000 tons of food to families in the delta and 22,000 tons for the remainder of the country. None of that went to Chin state, which is expected to be second biggest recipient in 2009 after the delta.
"Access to food remains the critical challenge for the poorest people and for vulnerable populations in remote areas of Myanmar," said Chris Kaye, WFP's representative for Myanmar. "For many of those affected by Cyclone Nargis, who are engaged in rebuilding their lives and livelihoods, the limited delta harvest means they will continue to rely on assistance to meet their food needs."
Agriculture Ministry officials in Myanmar were not available for comment Wednesday.
Cheng Feng, an economist for the FAO, told The Associated Press that rice production in the delta during the second half of 2008 fell 32.5 percent to 1.93 million tons from a year earlier because so many paddy fields were inundated with sea water. A shortage of labor, higher fertilizer prices and lower rice prices may also have dissuaded some delta farmers from planting, according to the U.N. report.
"For the delta, we recommend support through the provision of relatively simple inputs such as seeds, draught animals and other livestock, hand tractors, fishing equipment, boat building and net making," Cheng said separately in a statement.