ABARES gives false comfort on COVID-19 risks to local and international rice supplies

17th April 2020


Photo source: The Guardian

The Ricegrowers' Association of Australia finds the ABARES Insights Report on Australian food security released today is misleading in its assurances that rice shortages are due only to panic buying, and that Australia is not at risk of a supply shortfall.

The report fails to draw on the most recent international developments affecting global rice stocks and trade in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and fails to recognise the impacts of water policy reform and drought in driving down Australian rice production in 2019 and 2020.

 

 Specifically:

  •  Australia is not currently self-sufficient in rice, and faces a serious shortfall risk.

  •  Due to water policy and drought, the Australian rice harvests of the last two years represent less than 25 per cent of annual Australian consumption.

  •  If more water is not made available at cheaper prices between now and the 2020 rice planting window in October, another extremely small Australian rice crop is likely.

  •  ABARES assumes if the drought does not break, Australia can rely on rice imports instead.

  •  However, international supply chains are struggling to meet higher than normal demand here and overseas due to the COVID-19 pandemic, widespread drought and locust plagues.

  •  Some rice exporting nations, including Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar, are now restricting exports due to their COVID-19 food security concerns amid persistent drought.

  •  ABARES relies on International Grain Council forecasts to claim global grains stocks are abundant, based on current national inventories and forecast harvests in 2020-21.

  •  This ignores the latest developments as described above, where many exporting countries are now holding inventories rather than trading due to domestic food security concerns.

  •  It also ignores how COVID-19 restrictions on seasonal worker movements may affect how much rice is panted and harvested in the northern hemisphere in 2020.

  •  ABARES has failed to include an important cautionary note in the most recent International Grains Council’s COVID-19 statement, dated 26 March: ‘The Council's projections for supply and demand are tentative until the progress and duration of the pandemic become clearer’. https://www.igc.int/en/gmr_summary.aspx

  •  ABARES has failed to consider how long Australia’s low rice stocks will last at current demand rates. It’s a big assumption to think Australians will stop buying while they eat their way through their panic-bought stocks, and fails to consider what happens after that.

  •  Australia overall may not be facing a food security issue, but there is a question mark over one staple – rice. Unlike dairy and other cereals, rice can only be irrigated.

  •  Australian ricegrowers are the most water efficient in the world, using half the global average water per tonne of crop.

  •  Our rice paddies provide valuable feeding and feeding habitat for waterbirds and animals, including the Australian bittern.

  •  We are environmentally sustainable, and highly water efficient – but without guaranteed water for 2020, we cannot guarantee Australian households will not run short of rice.