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Ebola Fears Affect Asian Rice Export

A man moves food in an area of Monrovia, Liberia that has been hardest-hit by the Ebola virus, Monday, Aug. 25, 2014.

A man moves food in an area of Monrovia, Liberia that has been hardest-hit by the Ebola virus, Monday, Aug. 25, 2014.

The growing number of Ebola cases in Africa is having an effect on farmers, exporters and shipping companies in Asia.

The rice industry in Thailand is among the first to be severely affected. Africa is an important market for Thailand’s rice. But the industry is having difficulty meeting the demand because of worries about Ebola.

Thai exporters say Africans eat nine million tons of rice every year. Two-thirds of that is imported. The exporters are having trouble shipping rice to ports in West Africa. The reason: ship owners cannot find crewmembers to work on ships sailing to those ports. Some crewmembers fear they will become infected with the Ebola virus if they travel to West Africa.

Vichai Sriprasert is an official with the Thai Rice Exporters Association.

“Merchants in West Africa are trying to build up stocks to meet the requirements during Christmas sales. They have to buy now in order to have enough stock, but if we cannot find enough vessels to go there this would jeopardize the whole trade situation.”

Thailand has already shipped more than 3.3 million tons of rice to Africa this year. That is almost as much as it shipped in all of 2013. The top importers of rice in Africa are Benin, Ivory Coast, South Africa, Cameroon, Mozambique and Nigeria.

Thai exporters’ storage areas are now full of rice. Mr. Vichai says that is causing problems for everyone in the rice industry, including farmers.

“We cannot release the rice out of the warehouse, and also cannot buy rice from the millers. And the millers’ warehouses are also filled up. If they cannot sell to exporters they also cannot buy from the farmers. The price of rice from the farmer also has to drop because not too many people can afford to buy. There’s no place to keep the stocks.”

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says food prices are rising in countries affected by the deadly virus. It says some African farmers cannot work in their fields. And it says food imported by ship and air is now not likely to arrive as often.

Vijay Satia is a former president of the All India Rice Exporters Association. He says shipping companies will still be able to transport food from Asia to Africa, but at a higher cost.

“People will ship their material to the alternative ports where this problem is less, maybe taking their material by road or by rail. So costs of rice for the consumer can go up and price for the exporters to the lower side.”

Shipping industry experts say fewer ships have been arriving at some African ports. They say the problem of crews refusing to work on ships going to those ports has yet to become a crisis. But they say some cargo ship owners are growing increasingly worried. The owners fear that if their ships enter ports in countries where Ebola is present, the next port may refuse to accept their ship.

The experts say they have yet to note problems with shipments of major exports such as bauxite, aluminum and iron ore from mineral-rich West Africa.

But a Nigerian newspaper says European ship owners have increased rates for cargo and crews sailing to the African countries fighting Ebola.

I’m Christopher Cruise.

This story was reported by VOA Asia Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok. Christopher Cruise wrote it for Learning English. George Grow edited it.


Words in This Story

effect - n., the result or change caused by something (“The storm had a serious effect on the economy.”)

affected/affect - v., to produce an effect on; to influence (“A lack of sleep affected the singer’s performance.”)

export - v., to send to another country; n., something sent to another country, usually for sale

import - v., to bring from another country; n., something brought from another country, usually for sale

travel - v., to go from one place to another, usually for a long distance

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