Editorial: Rising Rice Prices a Symptom of Broader Food Insecurity
The military regime, meanwhile, is not likely to put a high priority on the people’s wellbeing in this regard because they are mainly focused on maintaining their power.
21 Mar 2023
Arakan State has more than 1.2 million acres of arable land, but only about two-thirds of the farmland can be cultivated. Paddy yields have decreased drastically due to the effects of climate change, and the price of rice is also increasing.
There is a definite possibility that the price of rice, which has been rising steadily, will be higher than it is now when the rainy season arrives.
The rising price of rice in the local market is partly due to the fact that rice from Arakan State was being exported to mainland Myanmar even as agriculture was declining due to the high costs of agricultural inputs, political instability and outright conflict.
Since the military coup, much of the country has been plunged into economic uncertainty amid the robust and enduring armed resistance to the ruling junta. People are simultaneously experiencing food and life insecurities.
If we compare the rice produced in Arakan State with the consumption rate of the Arakanese people, there may be a small surplus. In such a situation, rice produced in Arakan State is shipped to mainland Myanmar and abroad, instead of going toward a reserve stockpile to address the aforementioned food insecurity.
Farmers may think they are getting a good price, but the real beneficiaries are the rice merchants. At this time, it will be necessary for rice merchants to put national interests first and consider the circumstances of their own people rather than their own profit.
A “rice crisis” occurred in Arakan State in 1967, under the rule of dictator General Ne Win and his Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP). That year, Arakanese people faced severe food insecurity and starvation after a cyclone badly affected rice yields and the government refused to provide sufficient supplies of the staple grain, having instead over-allocated rice for export.
Due to the scarcity, even those who could afford it were unable to buy rice. Some people in Arakan resorted to eating taro root and roselle, while others starved to death. In Sittwe, residents reached their breaking point. A protest was staged on August 13 that the army cracked down on with deadly force, firing into the crowd and killing dozens, perhaps hundreds. While the official government narrative put the tally of dead at 24, it is a widely held belief that more than 300 people died on August 13, 1967.
Currently, the grassroots are once again facing food difficulties due to rising rice prices. There are signs that the price of rice may increase further in the Arakan State townships of Buthidaung and Maungdaw, which are difficult to travel to.
Between the military council and the United League of Arakan/Arakan Army (ULA/AA), which has significant influence in Arakan State, it is necessary for these two authorities to manage the rice trade to ensure sufficient rice reserves for Arakan State.
Some rice merchants are only acting for their own financial gain. In cases such as this, it is right and proper for governments or quasi-governments like the ULA/AA to step in and take corrective steps.
Amid the decline in rice yields and the increasing number of people abandoning agriculture, rice shortages seem an inevitability.
U Khaing Thukha, the spokesperson for the Arakan Army, said at an online press conference on February 27 that the ULA/AA will monitor illegal rice trading. However, it will be difficult to stop the experienced smugglers, who have been doing it for ages.
In the current situation, it can be seen that greedy people are still doing this, looking only at their own interests and not paying attention to the faces of the Arakanese people. The military regime, meanwhile, is not likely to put a high priority on the people’s wellbeing in this regard because they are mainly focused on maintaining their power.
For these reasons, DMG urges all stakeholders to do their part, whatever it may be: support our local farmers, stockpile rice when possible, avoid price gouging — and call out price gouging when you see it. Food insecurity begets all manner of other insecurities, and if this regime is not careful, its own position of power may one day be imperiled by the hungry masses.