Parboiled rice trade hits record on African and South Asian demand; India big player

Parboiled rice, which is processed by steaming rice in the husk thus retaining nutrients and resulting in more separated grains when cooked, has grown in prominence and now accounts for nearly 20 percent of global trade, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

It said in its latest World Agriculture Supply and Demand Estimate (WASDE) report that global parboiled trade surged past 8 million metric tons to a new record in 2017, up by a third from the prior year.

Some buyers, such as South Africa at nearly 1 million tons, have maintained their relatively steady imports, but new and renewed importers, particularly from West Africa, South Asia, and East Africa, led trade to the increase to new levels, the report said.

The largest proportion of parboiled rice is destined to West Africa. Nigeria is the largest parboiled rice market in Africa, yet a weakened economy, and certain import and currency restrictions curtailed imports directly into the country beginning in 2015.

Nigeria is a member of the regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has a common import regime. Although most other ECOWAS member states prefer regular white rice over parboiled rice, imports of the latter have surged, particularly to Benin. Indirect trade through this regional economic community and into Nigeria stepped up considerably over the past year.

The report pointed out that South Asian buyers Bangladesh and Sri Lanka suddenly re-entered the market in 2017, having barely imported any parboiled rice in the prior year.

“Both had poor local harvests, so the governments tendered for emergency purchases and facilitated greater trade by the private sector. Imports in 2018 will be largely dependent upon the ability of both countries to increase harvested area and attain improved yields,” it said.

Finally, East African countries Somalia and Djibouti are relatively new importers but, combined, saw imports rise by 30 percent compared to 2016. With growing populations and essentially no domestic production, imports for this region are set to rise in 2018.

India and Thailand are the primary suppliers of parboiled rice, followed distantly by the United States and Brazil.

India, the report said, has dominated the market since 2012, the first full year in which its non-basmati export ban was removed. Since mid-2014, the two main competitors’ prices have been in tight competition.

Over half of Indian parboiled exports in 2017 were to West Africa, and it also dominated trade to Sri Lanka and East Africa. Thailand increased its global market share somewhat in 2017, providing stiff competition with India in the Bangladesh market and accounting for the bulk of the South African imports, the report said.

U.S. exports are primarily destined for Saudi Arabia and North America. Brazil, largely focused on Western Hemisphere markets, was the only major supplier to see a slight decline in parboiled exports during 2017, it added

Uttara is a correspondent with Indoasiancommodities. You can write to her on

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