Rice Stock Estimates Studied by FAO on Lack of Reliable Data

Rice-stock estimates for several countries including China may not be accurate due to a lack of reliable data on consumption and post-harvest losses, according to the United Nations’ Food & Agriculture Organization.

The estimate for China’s stocks may be too high, Concepcion Calpe, the FAO’s senior rice analyst, said by phone from Rome today. The UN agency is studying the rice balance sheets of several countries as part of creating the Agricultural Market Information System, she said.

The FAO has forecast world rice stocks will climb to a record 169.8 million metric tons at the end of 2012-13 from 159.3 million tons a year earlier. Growing rice stockpiles avoided a food crisis last year even as wheat and corn prices jumped on drought in the U.S. and Russia, the World Food Programme said in September.

“It’s very difficult to get any clue about the stocks,” Calpe said. “Even developed countries have problems, it’s general. FAO has very high estimates for stocks in China, and we’re worried that this might not be the case.”

The FAO, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the International Grains Council all have different estimates for rice inventories, according to Calpe.

“We have no idea what the stocks are,” Calpe said. “Even the definition of stocks is difficult. We’re trying through AMIS to come up with a normalized method to improve the overall balances.”

Shared Database

The Group of 20 nations agreed last year to set up AMIS as a shared database of food stocks and crop forecasts, managed by the FAO, to increase market transparency and reduce price swings for agricultural commodities.

Calpe said fewer than 10 countries, including the U.S. and the Philippines, conduct “serious” surveys to keep track of rice stockpiles, while countries in Europe as well as Japan lack accurate data.

Estimates indicate China’s stockpiles have been rising for eight years as per-capita consumption of rice declines and output continues to rise, according to Calpe. The FAO’s analysts are questioning whether this is reasonable, because keeping stocks is expensive, she said.

The FAO is working with China and other AMIS countries to improve the reliability of data, including rice consumed as food, the analyst said.

Rice imports into China last year by private buyers were prompted by high domestic prices, which in turn may have been the result of the government’s policy to keep large rice stocks, according to Calpe. The estimate for Chinese rice inventories may turn out to be correct, she said.

“For eight years they’ve been stockpiling in China,” Calpe said. “China definitely can afford these things, but we need to have some evidence.”

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