Monday, March 19, 2012

White rice linked to diabetes risk

Eating white rice regularly, as is commonly done in many Asian countries, may increase risk for developing type 2 diabetes, a new study shows.
Researchers looked at data from four studies: two in Asian countries (China and Japan) and two in Western countries (the U.S. and Australia). All participants were diabetes-free when the studies began. On average, people from Asian countries ate about four servings of white rice daily. Individuals in Western countries, however, ate less than five servings a week. The study found that the more servings of white rice a person eats per day, the greater their risk for developing type 2 diabetes, the form of diabetes most closely linked to obesity.

According to the new study, diabetes risk rises by about 10% with each increased serving per day of white rice. The study was not designed to show how white rice may increase the risk for diabetes, but researcher Qi Sun, MD, has some theories on the matter. White rice ranks high on the glycemic index, which means it can cause a sudden spike in blood sugar levels. White rice is also low in fiber that can help lower the risk for developing diabetes, Sun says.

China's rice imports from Vietnam seen tripling

riceHANOI: China could see a three-fold jump in rice imports from Vietnam this year, industry officials said on Monday, as the world's biggest consumer steps up purchases to contain domestic prices.
The demand from China, coupled with an industry-led stockpiling campaign, is keeping a floor under Vietnamese paddy prices even as the harvest of the major crop is peaking in the Mekong Delta food basket.
Vietnamese exporters have sold about 500,000 tonnes of rice to China so far this year, with nearly half that volume already shipped, Vietnam Food Association Chairman Truong Thanh Phong told the farm ministry-run Vietnam Agriculture newspaper.
"The number of contracts of rice sold to China has been increasing quickly," an official of Vietnam Food Association told Reuters, confirming the media report.
China has been buying rice from Pakistan and Vietnam in recent months to keep a lid on domestic rice prices which have climbed on the back of government support to paddy farmers, traders said.
"There is no problem with domestic supply. I think the estimated large imports could be due to cheap prices," said an analyst with a Chinese official think-tank.
A Singapore-based rice trader added: "It is not clear how much China is going to buy as it started very quietly and it is going to end very quietly."
Chinese domestic milled rice was quoted at about 3,900 yuan ($619) per tonne in Guangxi, bordering Vietnam, compared with $430 per tonne for Vietnamese rice, according to the China National Grain and Oils Information Centre.
The price differential has led to about 400,000 tonnes of Vietnamese rice sold across the border to China via largely unregulated trades, the Vietnamese food association said.
Last year, China imported 309,000 tonnes of rice from Vietnam, almost 150 percent more than the 124,500 tonnes bought in 2010, customs data shows. Exporters must register contracts with the food association to obtain shipping permits.
The forecast demand by China represents nearly 14 percent of the record 7.2 million tonnes Vietnam aims to export this year. If Vietnam does sell that much rice, it will overtake Thailand to become the world's largest rice exporter in 2012.
Thailand, which has been the world's biggest exporter for three decades, looks set to see exports fall sharply to 7 million tonnes at most due to high prices caused by government intervention to support millions of poor farmers.
Vietnamese 5 percent broken rice prices have risen to around $435 a tonne, up from around $405 a tonne few weeks ago, thanks to fresh demand from China as well as a government-sponsored stockpiling plan aimed to keep in stock 2 million tonnes of paddy for three months ending June 15.
"The prices are not likely to spike as there is a lot of rice in the world but it is certainly supporting the market," said a Bangkok-based trader. "We are looking at another $20 increase in Vietnamese prices."
On Monday, prices for Vietnam's winter-spring rice grade 1, used for processing the 5-percent broken variety for export, rose to 7,050-7,280 dong (33.8-34.9 US cents) per kg, up 3 percent from March 8, the day before the stockpiling plan.
The US Department of Agriculture has estimated China's milled rice production in 2011/12 at 140.5 million tonnes, up from 137 million tonnes a year ago.
China harvested a record 200.78 million tonnes of paddy in 2011, up 2.6 percent from 2010, according to official data.
The data also showed 2011 rice imports were 578,383 tonnes imported while exports stood at 515,497 tonnes.

Insight: Egypt's rice export ban only benefits smugglers

(Reuters) - Smugglers in the Middle East are enjoying an unlikely moneyspinner - illegal medium grain rice.
Shoppers across the Gulf, mostly unaware of the smuggling, depend on Egyptian rice to make popular Middle Eastern recipes such as Mahshi, a stuffed vegetable dish, since Cairo refused to lift a ban on exports.
Contraband Egyptian rice is displayed in shops across the Gulf including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, filling demand from shoppers like Ghada in Abu Dhabi who argue there is no replacement for the high quality medium grain rice.
"How can you make Mahshi with basmati rice?" asked Ghada, doing her weekly supermarket shop in Abu Dhabi where she and her family have been living for eight years.
But while Ghada and other shoppers in the Gulf are able to cover their needs through the growing trade in illegal Egyptian rice, Egypt has been forced to import rice to cover shortages in its subsidy program, introduced to fight rising food prices.
Egyptian rice is meant to be sold to the domestic market at subsidized prices - sometimes as little as $250 a ton - in a government program to avoid any repeat of protests over food inflation that rocked the country in 2008. In 1997, President Anwar Sadat's attempt to raise bread prices led to riots.
But the artificially low price has produced hefty premiums on the export market. With Egyptian rice fetching as much as $900 a ton abroad, some traders are willing to risk being fined by transporting the rice out of the country mainly to the Gulf.
"The only thing that has changed since the ban is that instead of dealing with rice traders, now I have to deal with smugglers, who basically look and operate like gangsters," said a Gulf-based trader, who declined to be identified.
The smuggling business is so large that a January report by the embassy attache for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates Egypt will export up to 600,000 tons of contraband rice in the marketing year 2011/2012, which runs from October to September. That would total around half of the 1.1 million tons it needs ever year for its subsidy program.
Egypt banned rice exports in 2008, regularly renewing it to try to protect its domestic market and ensure low prices. It last renewed the ban in October.
Egypt should cover its needs easily; farmers cultivated 1.7 million feddans of white rice this season and should produce around 4 million tons, covering 3.34 million tons of domestic demand including 1.1 million tons needed for the subsidy program.
But with large quantities diverted to smuggling, Egypt has been forced to turn to imports of cheaper long-grain rice to feed its population.
"We have opened the door for imported rice because the quantity of Egyptian rice offered in tenders does not meet the needs of the subsidy program," said Nomani Nomani, vice chairman of the state's main grain buyer, the General Authority for Supply Commodities (GASC).
Egypt first imported rice in December, buying 234,000 tons mostly of Indian origin. The USDA estimates it will bring in a total of 500,000 tons in 2011/2012.
It would make sense to many in the rice market for Egypt to lift the ban, continue importing cheaper grains, export its more profitable harvest and pocket the difference.
If Egyptian rice can fetch $900 a ton on the open market, GASC can pay around $530 a ton for imported rice, making a healthy profit.
"If we only open the door for imports, we will drain foreign reserves, but if we simultaneously open the door for exports, we will bring more greenbacks into the country," said rice expert and former exporter Mostafa el-Naggari.
Others say the government should allow those supplying rice to the subsidy program to export a similar amount. But others say that was tested in 2009 and quickly led to a black market in rice export permits.
"It was during that period that anyone who could afford to rent a shabby apartment opened up an Egyptian rice export business," said Samir Abdul Sammad, who imported Egyptian rice for UAE-based Lifco Trading.
Egypt, the world's largest importer of wheat, wants to decrease its reliance on imports and is willing to pay a large price to keep its citizens fed.
In 2011, the food subsidy bill amounted to $5.5 billion mostly for wheat but also for vegetable oils, sugar and rice, a heavy burden for a country with a faltering economy and a budget deficit that is ballooning after the uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak last year.
"GASC prefers that the ban remain in place, so that Egyptian rice remains available domestically without resorting to imports," Nomani said.
And so the government has purchased equipment to scan containers at ports in the same way bags would get checked at an airport. It is not a failsafe measure.
"I doubt they will be available at all port terminals, and even if they were, smugglers would still find a way to get the goods out by taking care of some customs or port officials," the Gulf-based trader said.
Smugglers have found increasingly ingenious ways to get round the ban - for example, taking advantage of lax security at the Sudanese and Libyan borders after the Arab Spring uprisings. But sometimes the old ways are the best - bribery at ports.
"Forget about the Sudan and Libya argument," said the Gulf-based trader, who regularly purchases Egyptian rice smuggled into the UAE.
"The rice I'm getting is coming directly from ports in Egypt like Alexandria, Ain Sokhna and Port Said."
Rice is often buried underneath other goods in containers to pass through ports. The cover-up sometimes means that traders receiving the goods are forced to buy products they don't want.
"I've had to accept packets of pasta, salt and other goods because the smugglers say if you want the rice you have to purchase the whole container with everything in it," the Gulf-based trader said.
And apart from smuggling, some rice traders in Egypt have also resorted to other tricks to profit their businesses.
"I've met various traders at a food exhibition in Dubai last month who have offered Egyptian rice to me, and when I asked how they could get it out of the country, they told me they were importing cheaper Russian rice and processing it to look like Egyptian," the Gulf-based trader said.
Some traders say they use stockpiled Egyptian rice from before the ban for their sales, while others blame their counterparts for bringing it into the country - no one actually confesses to having broken the ban.
"Egyptian rice sold there now is fresh with very high quality and thus is not pre-stored from before the ban. The ban has been imposed for several years now, and that rice can't be that old," GASC's Nomani said.
The ban has slowly been turning consumers away from Egyptian rice to other medium-grain origins.
"The market for Egyptian rice is getting smaller because there have been alternatives now for some time," said Ahmed Abou Al Nasr, chairman of Al Nahda Al Masriyya Food Stuff Trading Company, which has offices in both Cairo and Abu Dhabi.
"The smuggling business is not as large as when the trade was legitimate, and the U.S. medium-grain rice for example, which is of a higher quality and with a better price, is taking over," he said.
Cheaper Russian, Chinese and Vietnamese brands are also eating into the Egyptian rice market share, Nasr said.
Other traders complain that it is getting more difficult to source the contraband rice regularly to meet demand.
"The business is unpredictable now ... I have to buy large quantities just to make sure I don't get stuck," the Gulf-based trader said. Instead of renting a small warehouse for 12,000 UAE dirhams ($3,333) a year, the trader is now renting a much larger one for 200,000 dirhams to store his goods.
"If the government does not do something about this soon they will do to Egyptian rice what they did to Egyptian cotton," the Gulf-based trader said.
Egyptian cotton, or Egypt's "white gold" as it was dubbed during its heyday in the 1960s, has suffered from years of government neglect and a series of bad policies, which have enabled cheaper cotton imports to invade the market and provided little incentive for farmers to grow the crop.
"Since the ban came into place, I have said that it would make Egyptian rice forgotten in markets abroad," Al Nahda's Nasr said.

Pakistan to Swap Wheat, Rice for Fertilizer, Iron Ore From Iran

Pakistan may export 1 million metric tons of wheat to Iran in return for fertilizer and iron ore, said Tanveer Alam, a public relations officer at the Ministry of Water and Power.
A delegation of government officials will visit Iran by next week to work out details of the barter trade, which may include Pakistan supplying 200,000 tons of rice, he said by phone from Islamabad. “Once back, the delegation will submit a report to the cabinet, which will then approve the deal.”
Pakistan, Asia’s third-largest grower of wheat, may produce as much 25 million tons this year, the Ministry of National Food Security & Research said in November.

Vietnam may take top rice exporter title from Thailand

Vietnam may snatch the title of world's top rice exporter from Thailand this year, saying it aims to match last year's record shipments of 7.2 million tonnes helped by strong demand and a positive outlook for domestic production.

In contrast, Thailand, which has been the world's biggest exporter for three decades, looks set to see exports fall sharply to 7 million tonnes at most due to high prices caused by government intervention to support millions of poor farmers.

"In our assessment we can maintain and will strive to reach the level of last year," Vietnam's Agricultural minister Cao Duc Phat said on the sidelines of a regional conference held jointly with the Food and Agriculture Organisation.

"As of now, the winter-spring rice crop is going very well. The output could rise from 2011," he said.

The comments are more bullish than a government forecast this month of 6.6 million tonnes and come despite a government estimate that exports could fall 44 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier to 1 million tonnes as foreign buyers wait for prices to bottom.

Exports in the first two months of the year slowed due to thin demand, dropping 46 percent from a year earlier to 556,000 tonnes.

"But we would like to reaffirm that we do not have policies to limit rice exports this year," Phat said.

Traders said foreign buyers, including major traditional importers of Vietnamese rice such as the Philippines and Indonesia, were waiting for the Mekong Delta harvest to peak and prices to fall before making their purchases. Indonesia, which plans to import up to 2 million tonnes this year, should decide on this year's rice imports by no later than June when the government has a clearer idea about the size of the domestic crop, a government official said on Thursday.

Demand from Africa, another major buyer of Vietnamese grain, has fallen by two-thirds this year from a year earlier.

The Philippines said on Wednesday it would limit rice imports for the private sector this year to 380,000 tonnes but government-to-government deals were still likely to take total imports up to the planned 500,000 tonnes.

Some traders think the figure will be far higher, saying the Philippines needed to import more and imported grain is still lower than domestic grain.

In Thailand, which shipped a record 10 million tonnes in 2011, intervention has pushed export prices to around $520-$560 per tonne, well above rice from India and Vietnam, which is around $100 lower.

"We'll do 7 million tonnes at best this year and maybe only 6.5 million in a worst case scenario," said Korbsook Iamsuri, president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association.

The government has extended its intervention programme to the end of June, offering to buy rice from farmers at 15,000 baht per tonne, well above market prices of 8,000-10,000 baht.

As a result, Thai exports have halved to 1.07 million tonnes so far this year from 2.15 million in the same period of 2011.

PARC will benefit from IRRI, CIMMYT

Islamabad—Dr. Iftikhar Ahmad, Chairman, Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) has said that PARC will benefit from International Rice Research Institute ( IRRI ) Philippines & International Wheat and Maize Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) to develop successful Cereal Knowledge Bank (CKB) Model for linking agriculture research with extension & farmers in Pakistan. This he stated while addressing the concluding session of the two day workshop organized by Directorate of Scientific Information to develop outline for Pakistan Cereal Knowledge Bank in collaboration with provincial agricultural institutions.

It is to be noted that the Cereal Knowledge Bank (CKB) is the world’s leading repository of extension and training materials related to cereal and cereal production. The CKB was launched in January 2008 and is managed by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Philippines and International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) as a service to people working to improve the well-being of poor cereal farmers and consumers. ”. It has three main components: Rice Knowledge Bank, Maize Knowledge Bank, and the Wheat Knowledge Bank.

Speaking at this occasion Dr. Iftikhar Ahmad said that the fast and effective transfer of knowledge and technologies developed by agricultural scientists from the research laboratory to the farmer’s field has always been one of the biggest challenges facing those in agricultural research and development. He said most of the successful technologies that can play an effective role for increasing the income of the farmers and can strengthen the county’s economy can not reach to the farmers due to lack of transfer of technology mechanism which is the main cause of low productivity and poverty.

Dr. Iftikhar said that new standard for knowledge and information access within the agricultural development community will give a great boost to the faremrs for increasing their income and alleviate poverty. Dr. David Shires, Consultant International Education and Training Practices, IRRI The training course will help strengthen the participants’ knowledge and skills and further to help enhance capacity of farmer intermediaries effectively.

He said that to run the Cereal Knowledge Bank effectively there is a need for good quality knowledge, desire for use of that knowledge and people’s willingness to use this knowledge is the right mechanism that can play a significant role for dissemination of information to end users. Ms Shehnaz Zubari, Director, SIU apprized the participants that PARC is mandated to coordinate agricultural research and development linkage with national and international organization for improving agriculture sector of the country in collaboration with provincial institutions and ensure food security of the country. The workshop was attended by representatives of provincial agricultural institution, extension services including Azad Jammu & Kashmir.