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Floods disrupt Sri Lanka's rice production

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Staff Writers
Colombo, Sri Lanka (UPI) Feb 14, 2011
Recent flooding in Sri Lanka destroyed more than one-third of the county's upcoming rice harvest, a government official said.

After January's second round of massive flooding, nearly 500,000 acres of the 1.7 million acres of rice planted have been destroyed, IRIN news service of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports.

"We expected a yield of around 2.75 million metric tons from the harvest due in March to April," Kulugammanne Karunathileke, secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, told IRIN. "After the heavy rains we will only get around 1.75 million."

Most severely affected were the eastern districts of Ampara, Batticaloa, Polonnaruwa, Trincomalee and the north-central district of Anuradhapura, which account for more than 1.2 million tons of the country's rice harvest.

Rice experts warn that yields could also be low in areas that weren't directly affected by the flooding.

"The indirect damage is the spread of fungal diseases that will cause the harvest to drop even in areas outside the flood zones," said Nimal Dissanayake, director of Sri Lanka's Rice Research and Development Institute.

The floods have already had an effect on the country's rice prices.

"In a global climate of food price volatility, such disruptions in the production of staple commodities in developing countries ring alarm bells," Josette Sheeran, executive director of the United Nations' World Food Program said in a statement.

"We all know that any price hikes have a greater impact on the world's poorest people, because they spend up to 80 percent of their daily income on food."

WFP said it requested the Sri Lankan government to import rice to meet the agency's rations for 500,000 flood victims.

Traders attempting to sell rice higher than government-determined prices would be prosecuted, the Sri Lankan government has warned. In an effort to deter bulk suppliers from hoarding rice, the government last week released a buffer stock of 25,000 tons in the market.

Sri Lanka's has rice stocks totaling about 400,000 tons, says the Rice Research and Development Institute.

"If those stocks are made available, we can keep prices in check till June or even July without shortages," Dissanayake said.

U.N. officials said they plan to issue an appeal for international relief for Sri Lanka after a poor response to the agency's $51 million appeal generated only about one-fifth of the needed funds. More than 1 million people have been affected by the flooding.

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