The West African Ebola virus outbreak is rippling through the continent's import markets, and Thailand, one of the world's largest rice exporters, is feeling the pinch. The Thai rice industry has already been hurt by policies of the former government, deposed earlier this year by the military, and the Ebola epidemic is further stressing it.
According to the Bangkok News, Thailand was already on track to set new records for exports to Africa, and while it will ship more this year than last, it's still unlikely to be able to meet demand. That's bad for the African nations who need the staple food product, as well as for the Thai economy and general political environment.
The report said that shippers are unable to find crews willing to make the journey to African ports due to fears of contracting the virus.
Vichai Sriprasert, honorary president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association, told the Bangkok News:
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. 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 stock.
The Thai export bottleneck comes at the same time that West African food production is facing logistical issues also related to the Ebola outbreak. Those problems are causing rising food prices that threaten weak economies. And as farmers are unable to get their harvests in because of the outbreak, Africa's import needs are likely to rise.
Earlier this year, analysts predicted good harvests thanks to rainfall levels in most parts of these countries. But as harvest season approaches, workers in these areas are far from their typical routines, which will aggravate already high food prices.
As the death toll from the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa continues to rise, experts are concerned about the long-term effects the disease will have on the fragile markets and economies of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, which have suffered the most damage.