Monthly Archives: October 2016

Vitamin A rice now a reality

The first field trial of the Golden Rice in Bangladesh has yielded promising results, triggering prospect of the vitamin A-rich grain’s release as early as 2018.

Two months after harvesting the Bangladeshi version of Golden Rice line, GR2E BRRI dhan29, scientists at Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) found that rice grains retained 10 μg/g (micrograms/gram) beta carotene which is good enough to address vitamin-A deficiency (VAD).

Beta carotene, also known as pro-vitamin A, is a substance that the human body can convert to vitamin A.

With this development, a long wait is nearly over for rice breeders who have been trying since 1999 for a varietal development and release of Golden Rice, long being touted by the scientist fraternity as a key remedy to acute VAD problem.

According to the World Health Organization’s global VAD database, one in every five pre-school children in Bangladesh is vitamin A-deficient. Among the pregnant women, 23.7 percent suffer from VAD.

BRRI scientists analysed the post-harvest data collected from the first field test conducted on GR2E BRRI dhan29 during the last Boro season (November 2015 – May 2016) and drew the conclusion just recently that the results are positive.

“Two months after harvest, we’ve found an average of over 10 μg/g beta carotene in GR2E BRRI dhan29. The amount is good enough to meet 50 percent of vitamin-A needs of people consuming rice in their daily diet,” Dr Partha S Biswas, project leader of Golden Rice Project at BRRI, told The Daily Star.

The vitamin A-rich rice, named Golden Rice for its golden colour, was first developed by splicing three foreign genes — two from daffodil and one from a bacterium — into japonica rice, a variety adapted to temperate climates. It is capable of producing beta carotene. But for a better beta carotene expression in rice, the daffodil genes were replaced by maize genes later in 2005.

The BRRI carried out the field trial on the campus of Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (BARI) in Gazipur to keep Golden Rice segregated from other rice varieties grown in BRRI fields.

Provided the BRRI gets the necessary regulatory approval, the organisation would go for multi-location field trials of GR2E BRRI dhan29 in Boro seasons in next two years to set off the process of its commercial release, said Partha.

None of the major diseases like blast, sheath blight, bacterial blight and tungro was observed in the transgenic GR2E BRRI dhan29 and the yield was as good as that of the BRRI dhan29 (check variety) with good expression of beta carotene, according to a paper titled “Recent Advances in Breeding Golden Rice in Bangladesh”.

The paper coauthored by Dr Partha, and the IRRI’s Golden Rice Project Coordinator Dr Violeta Villegas, and Regulatory Affairs head Dr Donald J Mackenzie, was presented at the 4th Annual South Asia Biosafety Conference in Hyderabad, India in late September.

The Philippines is the only other country that is carrying out a multi-location field trial now on their homegrown Golden Rice line while the process of Golden Rice research remained at laboratory and greenhouse stages in Indonesia, India and Vietnam.

Although Bangladeshi rice scientists have been at the forefront of Golden Rice research since the development of this transgenic rice by Swiss and German scientists in 1999, the process gathered momentum only when then IRRI (International Rice Research Institute) plant biotechnologist, Dr Swapan K Datta, infused the genes responsible for beta carotene into BRRI dhan29 in 2002-03.

The genetic engineering technology to derive vitamin A in rice was first applied by Prof Ingo Potrykus of Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, and Prof Peter Beyer of the University of Freiburg, Germany back in 1999. All renowned journals and news magazines, including the Nature, the Science and the Time, covered the breakthrough in 2000.

The first generation Golden Rice (known as GR1) was developed through infusing genes from daffodil, but later the second generation variety (known as GR2) was developed by taking a maize from corn as it gave much better output of pro-vitamin A.

Some six lines of GR2 (scientifically called “events”) were developed and the IRRI chose to work on one called GR2R, which it developed and subsequently infused in Filipino and Bangladeshi rice varieties.

After years of lab and greenhouse tests on GR2R, the Philippines and Bangladesh eventually stopped upon an IRRI advice that Event GR2E would work better.

Golden Rice co-inventor Prof Peter Beyer told this newspaper that there were some problems with the Event GR2R. He said the new Event should work well.

Swapan K Datta, ex-IRRI scientist who infused beta carotene-producing genes into Bangladesh’s best performing rice variety, BRRI dhan29, said he was looking forward to see Golden Rice goes to farmers’ fields.

The BRRI dhan29, developed by BRRI in 1994, is the most productive dry season rice variety of Bangladesh that has gone beyond national boundaries to be grown in many other countries including India, China, Vietnam, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar.

Rice does not contain beta carotene. Therefore, dependence on rice as the predominant food source necessarily leads to vitamin-A deficiency, most severely affecting small children and pregnant women.

Consumption of only 150 gram of Golden Rice a day is expected to supply half of the recommended daily intake (RDA) of vitamin A for an adult. People in Bangladesh depend on rice for 70 percent of their daily calorie intakes.

The IRRI says VAD is the main cause of preventable blindness in children and globally, some 6.7 million children die every year and another 3,50,000 go blind because they are vitamin-A deficient.

In April 2011, Seattle-based Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation sanctioned a grant of over $10 million to IRRI to fund, develop and evaluate Golden Rice varieties for Bangladesh and the Philippines.

Officials concerned at IRRI and Gates Foundation said as the Golden Rice inventors and subsequent technology developer Syngenta allowed a royalty-free access to the patents, the new rice would be of the same price as other rice varieties once released for commercial farming in Bangladesh, and farmers would be able to share and replant the seeds as they wish.

Vietnam’s rice exports to fall short of target due to weak demand

The country may end the year with just more than 5 million tons in shipments.
Vietnam may not achieve its already revised target for rice exports this year due to weak demand from international markets, local media reported Friday.

In summer, the Vietnam Food Association (VFA) said rice exports would reach 5.65 million tons, down from the original target of 6 million tons. But even the lowered target may be a little too high now.

Nguyen Van Don, director of Viet Hung Company Limited in the Mekong Delta province of Tien Giang, told VietnamPlus that many rice exporters may not fulfill their business plans this year as there is an excess of supply globally.

China, a major buyer of Vietnamese rice, has already used up the official import quota this year. It is unlikely that the Philippines will buy more in the final two months of the year.

The Philippines is set to call for bids for an additional 250,000 tons of rice, but bidders may have to wait until late November to know information about the tender. Deliveries will be likely scheduled for early 2017, according to Don.

Firms in the Philippines have registered to purchase more than 300,000 tons of rice from Vietnamese companies, higher than the 293,000 tons that the Philippine government had asked them to buy from Vietnam.

Huynh The Nang, chairman of VFA, said apart from the modest demand from China and the Philippines, prospects for rice exports of Vietnam remain unclear for the rest of this year.

The country may just ship a little more than 5 million tons of rice for the whole year, Nang said. Exports via border trade are not included.

Vietnam’s rice exports in the first 10 months were estimated at 4.2 million tons, down 21.2 percent from the year-ago period. In terms of value, it was a 16.9 percent drop, to about $1.9 billion.

China imported 1.35 million tons worth $613.8 million, down 23 percent in quantity and 13.9 percent in value. Declines could also be seen in other markets including the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and the U.S.

Rice farmers plead for help amid deep price slump

Rice farmers in some provinces have grown increasingly impatient and are imploring the government to help them after prices plunged to a 10-year low.

In Buri Ram, farmers say they are in deep trouble as rice prices have dipped well below cost to five baht a kilogramme. They have asked the government to help prop the prices to at least 10 baht per kg, their break-even level.

Millers are now paying them only 5,000 baht a tonne for the main crop they are harvesting, citing high humidity and impurities.

They claim the price is the lowest in decades, yet they have no choice but to accept it in order to repay debts and have money for daily expenses, harvesting equipment rentals, and school supplies for their children for the coming semester.

“We spent 70,000 to 80,000 baht to farm on our 35 rai this year. Although the output was good, it’s questionable whether our income will cover the costs,” said Prakong Hoopracone, 49, from Muang district of the northeastern province.

Somyot Singthongprasert shared her view, adding that if the government doesn’t help them by propping up prices or controlling millers, he couldn’t see how he could repay debts and meet daily expenses.

In Phichit province in the Central region, groups of farmers from three districts — Muang, Taphan Hin and Bang Moon Nak — gathered at the provincial hall to submit a complaint to the government’s help centre. Deputy governor Piya Wongluacha accepted their letter.

The farmers said they were about to harvest jasmine rice but the price had dropped to 6,000 baht a tonne.

In Chai Nat, some farmers reportedly are putting their land up for sale because they can’t bear to lose any more money on their crops.

Government spokesman Lt Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd said on Saturday that the government was speeding up efforts to solve the problem, with the rice policy committee planning to meet on Monday.

But he dismissed some news reports as “half-truths”, such as stories linking farmland sales to low rice prices.

“We’ve checked the facts and found that the people who are selling farmland right now are actually landlords who no longer want to rent it or those with no manpower to work the fields,” he said.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha commended farmers who have switched to other crops or joined together to form community milling cooperatives, he added.

The junta’s answer to the costly rice-pledging programme of its predecessor is a barn-pledging scheme.

Aimed at slowing down the market supply of jasmine and glutinous rice paddy, the programme involves having the state-owned Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC) lend to farmers in the North and Northeast.

Growers are required to keep harvests in their barns and the bank will give them loans equal to 90% of the target prices, plus 1,000 baht a tonne as the storage cost.

In return, the government subsidises the interest for farmers, with a cap of 300,000 baht per household, or 20 tonnes of paddy.

For their part, the farmers keep the paddy until the time is appropriate to sell it. Farmers who don’t have barns can join through cooperatives.

The government approved the programme in late October 2015. For 2015, the crops were limited to jasmine and glutinous paddy in the North and Northeast. The maximum pledged amount was 2 million tonnes for a maximum credit line of 26.74 billion baht.

The pledged prices were up to 13,500 baht a tonne for jasmine paddy and 11,300 baht for glutinous paddy, or 90% of the market prices at the time.

Critics said the cap at 2 million tonnes was less than a third of the 7-million-tonne output of the two varieties.

Because of the restrictions and higher rice prices at the time, 80,000 farmers pledged 450,000 tonnes for loans totalling 6.39 billion baht for the 2014-15 crop year, according to BAAC data as of March 31, 2015.

Rice prices around the world have fallen as a record crop is forecast for the 2016-17 harvest season, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in its latest Rice Price Update.

The FAO’s All Rice Price Index showed international rice prices in the first eight months of 2016 were 9% below the levels of a year earlier

The International Grains Council (IGC) also noted a sharp fall in export prices of Thai rice in August.

“The market in Thailand was weighed down by sluggish international demand and increasing secondary crop arrivals, while additional pressure stemmed from efforts by the government to offload state reserves through a series of auctions,” it said. “At $369 [a tonne], 5% broken rice was down by $43 month-over-month.”

Cambodia/Indonesia: Cambodia aims to export one million tonnes of rice to Indonesia

Cambodia is about to sign very soon an agreement with Indonesia which will pave the way for the export of one million tonnes of rice under a new quota system, The Phnom Penh Post Online reported on Tuesday.

Commerce Ministry spokesman Soeng Sophary said a memorandum of understanding between the two countries has been finalized and is ready to be signed soon.

She said that the new quota system presented a valuable opportunity for the rice sector in Cambodia as it will open a new market for the country’s rice exporters and will provide the private sector with fair market value.

According to the Commerce Ministry’s estimates, about three million tonnes of paddy were expected to be produced this year, depending on how the grains are harvested and stored.

But Han Vanhan, undersecretary of agriculture, cautioned that even if the MOU was sgned, Cambodia will still have to compete with the other rice exports such as Thailand and Vietnam.

The intention to export one million tonnes of rice has always been part of the government’s strategy, but whether it will be realized or not depends on whether we can compete in the market or not, said Vanhan.

He pointed out that the main obstacles preventing Cambodia’s ambition to export one million tonnes of rice are millers’ capital shortage, inefficient logistical capacity, insufficient storage capacity and the high cost of electricity.

Cambodia’s Rice Federation vice president Hun Lak said the ministry’s plan was overly ambitious and Cambodia was years away from being able to export one million tonnes. – Thai PBS

Customs chief urged to file charges against rice smugglers

The agriculture lobby group Samahang Industriya sa Agrikultura (SINAG) on Wednesday called on Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon to immediately file charges of economic sabotage against RPR International Trading, their brokers, agents and cohorts in government for allegedly attempting to smuggle twelve 40-foot containers of rice, right in the heart of the customs headquarters.

“This is another litmus test on Commissioner Faeldon’s resolve to combat smuggling, there is already a law in place – RA10845 – that penalizes smuggling of agricultural products as an act that constitute economic sabotage, a non-bailable offence,” SINAG Chairperson Rosendo So said in a statement.

He added that it is not enough for the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to simply suspend the consignee’s accreditation and conduct photo ops for the apprehended containers.

“We are hoping that this time, these smugglers will be apprehended, charged and punished accordingly. Many in the agriculture sector voted for President Duterte because of his promise to end smuggling,” So said.

Under RA 10845, the amount of smuggled agricultural products constitutes economic sabotage if it is equal to or more than P10 million for rice, and equal to or more than P1 million for other agricultural products such as sugar, corn, pork, poultry, garlic, onion, carrots, fish and cruciferous vegetables.

Smugglers and their cohorts will face a penalty of life imprisonment and a fine amounting to twice the fair value of the smuggled agricultural product and the aggregate amount of the taxes, duties and other charges avoided.

The BOC appraised the value of the smuggled rice at P20 million and as such it is subject to economic sabotage charges.

The agri lobby group also reiterated their earlier demand for the BOC to file charges of economic sabotage against Sanfred Trading and Great Light Trading – the consignees of 88 40-foot containers containing red onions, when the import permit issued was for garlic and ginger.

The group said cases of smuggling should have been filed long ago against these importers/consignees, their respective brokers and cohorts in government, if any.

“Wala pang nakakasuhan ng economic sabotage kaya’t malakas pa rin ang loob ng mga smugglers na ito at tuloy ang kanilang ligaya,” So lamented.

In the last five years, SINAG research showed that close to P200 billion worth of agricultural goods have been smuggled into the country.

The SINAG report also disclosed that rice, with a market value of P94 billion, is the single biggest agricultural commodity being smuggled into the country. This was followed by pork at P40 billion, then sugar at close to P25 billion. Other commodities SINAG monitored include chicken, garlic, onion and carrots.

According to the group, a market value of P200 billion translates to around P60 billion to P80 billion in lost revenues for the government since these agricultural commodities are supposed to be protected and levied a higher tariff of 30 percent to 40 percent.

SINAG added that the common fight against smuggling was undertaken to prevent further erosion of our farmers’ livelihoods. The smuggling of agricultural products endangers the agriculture industry which is the very iber of our society.

Smuggling, according to SINAG, also exposes the country to unsafe and high risk agriculture and food products as the smuggled goods do not pass quarantine and

26.01 million tones: wheat production target for Rabi season set

Despite accepting 16 percent water shortage, the government Tuesday set wheat production target at 26.01 million tonnes for Rabi sowing season 2016-17 from an area of 9.12 million hectares. Sikandar Hayat Bosan, Minister for National Food Security and Research (MNFS&R), told a press conference after presiding over a meeting of Federal Committee on Agriculture (FCA) for Rabi 2016-17, the committee has fixed wheat production target at 26.01 million tons for Rabi season 2016-17.

The FCA meeting reviewed the estimate for Kharif crops production and fixed targets for the Rabi season 2016-17. It also reviewed agriculture input including fertiliser, water, seed and pesticides. The minister said that country will face 16 percent shortage of water during Rabi season 2016-17 which is six percent more than the last year.

The irrigation water availability position for current Rabi season was estimated at 30.34 million Acre Feet (MAF) as against average usage of 36.3 MAF for the season, he said, adding that overall water shortage would not have adverse impact on Rabi crops as the government would make effort to ensure effective water management.

Bosan said that Pakistan Meteorological Department has forecasted that less rainfall is expected during October and December whereas above normal rainfall is expected in February and March 2017. According to working paper of FCA meeting, out of 26.01 million tons, Punjab will produce 19.51 million tons, Sindh 4.2 million tons, Khyber Pakhtunkhawa 1.4 million tons and Balochistan 0.9 million tons.

About wheat stock situation in the country, he said that at the start of harvesting season of next year wheat crop, country will have 3 million tons surplus wheat stock. According to a working paper of FCA meeting, the currently country has 9.297 million tons wheat stock. Out of total 9.297 million tons, Punjab has 5.933 million tons, Sindh 1.395 million tons, KP 0.0725 million tons, Balochistan 0.00 million tons and PASSSCO 1.868million ton.

He said that the certified wheat seed availability would be 35.9 percent of the total seed requirement of the crop in 206-17 while during 2015-16, total seed availability stood at 26.1 percent of the total seed requirement of the crop. The minister said the FCA also fixed production target of other crops including gram, lentil, onion and potato.

He said that representatives of State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) informed the meeting that allocation of institutional credit for agriculture had substantially been increased to Rs 700 billion for 2016-17. The committee also discussed the position of supply of agriculture inputs for Rabi crops. The supply of Urea and DAP fertiliser will be satisfactory during Rabi season 2016-17, he said.

Bosan said the committee also reviewed the performance of Kharif crops for 2016-17 including sugarcane, rice, maize, chilies and moong. The minister said that sugarcane production for 2016 was estimated at 71.8 million tons from an area of 1.223 million hectares.

He said that the rice crop 2016 was estimated at 7.58 million tons from an area of 2.66 million hectares. Production achievements of some other crops like maize, moong, mash and chilies were also discussed in the meeting, he said. He said that the federal government in consultation with provincial governments announced a subsidy of Rs 27 billion on phosphatic and nitrogenous fertiliser for the financial year 2016-17. This subsidy will ensure the balanced used of fertilisers in our agriculture production system, he said, adding that the impact of fertiliser on yield and production in sugarcane, miaze and moon were also noted.

The meeting was also attended by the representatives of provincial agriculture departments, Indus River System Authority (IRSA), Pakistan Metrological Department, State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), Zarai Taraqqiati Bank Ltd (ZTBL), National Fertiliser Development Centre (NFDC) and others.

Vietnam, Cambodia agree to boost trade ties

ietnam and Cambodia will grant preferential treatment to each other in the field of trade, thus enabling their businesses to easily access the respective markets.

An agreement to this effect was signed by Vietnamese Ministry of Industry and Trade Tran Tuan Anh and Cambodian Minister of Commerce Pan Sorasak on the sidelines of the seventh Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Summit (ACMECS 7), the eighth Cambodia-Laos-Myanmar-Vietnam Summit (CLMV 8) and the World Economic Forum on the Mekong Region (WEF-Mekong) in Hanoi on October 26.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and his Cambodian counterpart Samdech Hun Sen witnessed the signing.

Under the document, Cambodia will offer special incentives to Vietnam, which are even higher than those the country has committed to other ASEAN member countries.

Accordingly, Vietnamese goods will be more competitive than products of other countries in the Cambodian market.

Up to 29 Vietnamese products, including milk, cream, cassava starch, meat and rice products, sweets, paint, plastics, paper, porcelains, steel and steel products, will enjoy zero-percent import tariff in Cambodia.

In response, Vietnam will give zero-percent import tax to 39 Cambodian products, mostly farm produce.

The agreement is expected to further boost trade ties between the two countries in farm produce, fisheries and industrial products, contributing to raising their people’s living standards, particularly those residing in border areas, as well as sustainable economic development in each nation on an equal and mutual beneficial footing.

It is also hoped to help accelerate the implementation of the joint statement reached during the visit to Cambodia by President Tran Dai Quang last June, aiming to bring the bilateral trade to 5 billion USD in the time ahead.-VNA

Rice exports raise $184m

he country has earned more than US$184 million from the export of more than 534,000 tonnes of rice and broken rice this financial year until October 14, according to the Ministry of Commerce.

There were around 401,370 tonnes of rice worth more than US$141 million and 233,620 tonnes of broken rice worth over US$39 million.

From October 8 to 14, the country shipped around 9,940 tonnes of rice worth US$3.8 million overland to China while 1,550 tonnes of rice worth US$0.6 million was exported by sea from October 9 to 15.

Last financial year around 1.4 million tonnes of rice and broken rice was exported compared with an estimated 1.5 million tonnes this year.

Minister urges growers, rice millers to work towards value addition

Sohail Anwar Khan Sial, Provincial Minister for Agriculture, has urged the growers and rice millers to jointly work for value addition in rice. A high delegation of Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan (REAP) under the leadership of Mahmood Moulvi, Chairman REAP, met Sohail Anwar Khan Sial at his office to discuss various issues.

During the meeting Members of Managing Committee Haji Abdul Rauf Chappal, Abdul Latif Piracha as well as members from Growers and Rice Millers were also present. During the meeting various suggestions and proposals for the betterment of rice trade have been discussed. Chairman REAP appreciated the efforts of the Minister for Agriculture to gather all the stakeholders of rice trade on the table and listening to their issues & problems and seek their solutions.

During the meeting, the Minister for Agricultural also agreed with REAP proposal for handing over of two Rice Research Institutes to REAP to run on Public Private Partnership basis. He assured REAP that Ministry of Agricultural will send his summary to Chief Minister Sindh for formal approval.

He hoped that in this way opportunity for employment will be generated as well as other development work will be improved in Sindh, besides resumption of the Research & Development work on rice which is stagnant since many years. Minister for Agriculture also urged the growers and rice millers to jointly work for value addition in rice and produce better quality rice, so that we can fetch more and more foreign exchange for our beloved country. The Minister appreciated the role of REAP towards the generation of valuable foreign exchange which is the back bone of our country’s economy.


Asian rice prices were largely subdued this week on thin buying demand despite purchase of Vietnamese grain by China and the likelihood of demand emerging from the Philippines, traders said on Wednesday.

The Thai market also remained dull, with quotations steady even after the commerce ministry cited a smaller harvest and also said the country’s trade talks with Malaysia and Indonesia will support prices.

Thai benchmark 5 percent broken rice stood unchanged in the past week at $350-$354 a tonne, free-on-board (FOB) basis.

“There is no demand, so the market is rather quiet,” a trader in Bangkok said.

Vietnamese rice prices eased after a short rally last week at the end of the Mekong Delta crop harvest while most buyers were looking at Thai or Pakistani grain, traders said.

Demand has improved just recently after China resumed its grain imports via cross-border trade earlier this month, Vietnam’s agriculture ministry said in its October report.

Vietnam’s 5 percent broken rice prices narrowed to $350 a tonne, FOB basis, against $350-$355 a week ago, of which $355 was the highest since Aug. 31.

“Vietnamese rice has now lost its competitive edge against Thai rice,” a trader at a foreign firm in Ho Chi Minh City said, citing similar quotations of Thai rice.

Vietnamese traders said they were monitoring possible demand by the Philippines, which is assessing the country’s rice supply and will decide shortly if more imports are needed.

Vietnam’s January-October rice exports will drop 21.2 percent from a year ago to an estimated 4.22 million tonnes, mostly sold to China, Ghana and the Philippines, the agriculture ministry said.

In India, the world’s top rice exporter, the 5-percent broken parboiled rice prices edged down to $364-$374 per tonne, from $367-$377 last Wednesday due to sluggish export demand and on expectations of a bumper crop.

“Since prices are correcting, some buyers are delaying purchases expecting further drops,” said an exporter based at Kakinada in India’s southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

“Expectations of a bumper Indian crop are also putting pressure on prices,” he added.

India’s non-basmati rice exports in April to August, the first five months of its fiscal year, edged up 0.8 percent from a year ago to 3 million tonnes.

Thailand’s shipment so far this year hit 7.9 million tonnes, nearing its goal of 9.5 million tonnes.