A shortage of rain in parts of India has caused the rice planting area to shrink. And in China, rains and floods across southern provinces including major rice-growing regions reignited food security concerns there.
If this is the scenario of the world's two largest rice growers, then rice has the potential to emerge as the next challenge for global food supply after wheat.
Despite being the number one grower, China is also the biggest rice importer. Any crop loss in China means the Asian giant will scale up its procurement from the global rice market and reduce its availability for other consumers.
Here lies the concern for Bangladesh, the third largest rice grower in the World Agricultural Production.com index, which still needs to import to stabilise supply and price of the staple.
Much less rain this season is delaying planting of the second major rice crop, Aman, in many areas of Bangladesh. Getting fertiliser has become an added worry for farmers as traders are allegedly reducing supply to the market after the latest hike of urea price. The Business Standard correspondent found some farmers in Dinajpur who said they were not getting fertilisers in local markets.
The agriculture minister yesterday said the urea price had been hiked by Tk6 per kg to reduce its overuse and it should not harm farming.
In case of a lower output, Bangladesh's scope for sourcing rice from India, its traditional source of import, will diminish due to the projected lower output in India, which accounts for 40% of global rice trade, traders said.
Of late, there has been some rain since late July, bringing a bit of relief for rice farmers. But sufficient rains are not in the weather forecast during the rest of the planting season and farmers in many areas are worried about the possible cost of irrigation if they are to plant paddy on the full area they earmarked for Aman.
According to the Department of Agricultural Extension, Aman has been planted so far on 15.74 lakh hectares of land while the target is 59.05 lakh hectares.
Rainfall may decrease after the first week of August, according to the weather forecast, which farmers fear may hurt the Aman yield.
"The yield falls if you plant Aman late or the crop does not get enough irrigation," said Dinajpur paddy farmer Deben Roy. Paddy farmers in the country's northern swathe said the lower-than-usual rainfall has already affected the Aman seedbeds.
In the last 30 years, the average July rainfall in Bangladesh was 496 millimetres. But, total rainfall in July this year was only 211 millimetres – the lowest since 1981.
However, Agriculture Minister M Abdur Razzak told The Business Standard, "The rainfall is now normal, and we hope Aman planting will be completed by mid-August."
According to the statistics bureau, about 1.5 crore tonnes of paddy was harvested during the last Aman season. The yield per hectare was 2.6 tonnes.
Mirza Mofazzal Islam, director general of the Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture (Bina), told TBS that paddy suffers the most damage if there is a shortage of water at the time of flowering. Besides, if the health of the seedling is bad, the yield will be low.
Import braces for a squeeze too
According to the government, more than 2 crore tonnes of rice was yielded in the last Boro season.
But the authorities had to come up with 10 lakh tonnes of rice import permits in the face of a volatile market of the food staple. But the measure is yet to deliver the desired output thanks to the stronger US Dollar and recent price hike by the exporters.
Only 20,000 tonnes of rice have been imported so far, as importers are not opening the letter of credit (LC) even after managing the rice import permit.
Muhammad Mahbubur Rahman, senior assistant secretary (External Procurement) at the food ministry, told TBS that they are monitoring the import. The ministry is extending the LC opening time for now.
The importers point the finger at the surging US Dollar. Citing Indian media reports, they claimed that Indian exporters recently hiked rice prices up to 10%.
India accounts for 80% of Bangladesh's rice imports. Traders say if they import the food staple from India now, the retail rate of the rice will be more than the locally grown crop.
Shahidur Rahman, vice-president of the Bangladesh Auto Major and Husking Mill Owners Association, said import of per kg rice has spiked by Tk20 for pricier dollars alone.
Less rainfall in some parts of India may affect the rice product, which eventually will pose a challenge to global food supply. Total paddy planting in some Indian states including West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh has fallen by 13% this season thanks to a lack of adequate rainfall.
India has already stopped exporting wheat and sugar as part of domestic food security and to control local market prices.
Traders and food grain importers say if rice production falls, India may decide to reduce the export of the grain. This will put the country's South Asian neighbours in severe trouble. Because, there is not much rice import scope for Bangladesh from Vietnam, China, Thailand and Myanmar.