05/27/2024, 17.07
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Thailand wants to sell 10-year-old rice to Africa

The Thai government has been criticised for the decision, forcing Commerce Minister Phumtham Wechayachai to show the rice is still edible in the presence of officials and journalists. However, according to expert opinion, old rice loses much of its nutritional value. A dozen African countries import thousands of tonnes of rice from Thailand every year.

Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Several African ambassadors have expressed concern at reports that the Thai government plans to auction 15,000 tonnes of unsold rice harvested in 2013-14.

Despite government reassurances that the rice is edible, many Thais and several food experts have criticised the decision.

Yesterday, Commerce Minister Phumtham Wechayachai announced that a committee would be set up to oversee the sale.

“The rice is expected to be exported to Africa. We hope the auction will fetch a good price," he said. “Revenue from the sale will be returned to state coffers. I am glad the controversy over the rice has ended.”

The minister went on to say that bidders will be allowed to check the quality of the rice, in line with criteria set by the Ministry of Commerce.

Last week, Thailand said it would auction off 150,000 bags of rice, from which it expects to earn between 200 and 400 million baht (US$ 5.4 million to US$ 10.8 million).

However, the rice has been sitting in two warehouses in the northeastern province of Surin for about 10 years after the failure of a programme established by the administration of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

From 2011 to 2014, the government purchased rice from local farmers at a price above the market price, without setting any limit on the amount purchased.

When the programme stopped in May 2014, about 18.6 million tonnes of rice remained unsold, most of which was put on the market in 2018 during Prayut Chan-o-cha's administration.

As a result of criticism, Minister Phumtham went with a group of officials and journalists to inspect the warehouses, in front of whom he ate freshly cooked rice to prove that it was edible.

The government added that a test carried out by a private laboratory on samples taken from the two warehouses in Surin did not show the presence of chemical residues.

According to some, however, rice, which undergoes dozens of fumigation cycles (a process through which parasites are eliminated with gases) still poses risks to people's health.

In addition, James Marsh, a food safety expert, noted that 10-year-old rice probably contains very few (or zero) nutrients. “The most you can store grain, especially rice, should not exceed five years,” Marsh explained.

Data from Statista shows that Thailand is the world’s second-largest exporter of rice, with 8.2 million tonnes sold abroad.

The top 10 African importers of Thai rice in 2023 were South Africa, Senegal, Cameroon, Mozambique, and Côte d'Ivoire, which together imported 2.48 million tonnes. The next on the list are Zimbabwe with 55,691 tonnes, Algeria with 76,747 tonnes, Angola with 135,909 tonnes, Benin with 139,206 tonnes, and Togo.

Rice is often smuggled from Benin and Togo into Nigeria, where government policies are in place that limit imports to boost local production.

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