Asian rice crisis starts to bite|
By: Hannah Belcher
UPDATED ON: FRIDAY, MARCH 28, 2008
Cambodia has become the latest Asian country
to impose restrictions on exports of rice – the
staple food for half the world's
The government announced
the two-month export ban to ensure "food
security" on Thursday, blaming surging overseas
demand – particularly in Africa and the Middle
East - for the skyrocketing cost of
rising demand has seen rice stocks plummet to
their lowest in about three decades, with
average prices doubling over the last five
Earlier this month the
UN secretary general warned that global food
stocks had fallen to their lowest level in
decades, driving prices up and threatening
millions with starvation.
That is worrying
governments – especially in the poorer Asian
nations where a rise of even a few cents can for
millions mean a difference between surviving or
Earlier this month, the
rising cost of rice brought protesters onto the
streets of the Indonesian capital, Jakarta
And recently the
world's top importer of rice, asked
Vietnam, the world's number two exporter, to guarantee
It was an unusual plea,
and seen as a sign of growing anxiety among
nations over how they will feed their
many rice farmers in the Philippines
are being extra vigilant about their planting
techniques, saying they cannot afford to loose a
single grain come harvest.
The government is trying to play down the problem, but farmers say the country is facing a serious supply crisis.
"The population of the Philippines is growing, now its 87 to 90 million people," Jimmy Tadeo of the National Rice Farmers Council told Al Jazeera.
"But the use of land for rice is shrinking. The government has not prepared for this dilemma."
Like many countries in Asia, rice is the staple food in the Philippines.
Generous amounts are served in restaurants and cafeterias, but much goes to waste.
Now the Philippine agriculture ministry has told the restaurant owners to start dishing up smaller portions.
Filipinos consume nearly 12 million tones of rice each year but the government's National Food Authority says it is finding it increasingly hard to source supplies.
This week the government signed a deal with Vietnam for a shipment of one and a half million tones.
"The price of rice may go up but we won't have a shortage, the supply will continue," said Gloria Arroyo, the Philippine President.
Certain rice varieties, she has promised, would to be kept affordable for poorer households.
But a growing number of consumers say prices are still too high.
"It's too much, it has added a big burden to our budget," one shopper in the capital, Manila, told Al Jazeera. "Rice is really expensive now"
The Philippine rice industry says the global crisis is just one part of the problem.
Other significant factors, it says, are a slowdown in domestic production and corruption in the supply chain.
The government has blamed black-market traders for fuelling the rise and says it will clamp down on anyone who artificially jacks up prices.
"There are traders out there who are taking advantage of the situation," Arthur Yap, the Philippine agriculture secretary told Al Jazeera.
"So we have asked the national food authority to me more stringent."
Rice shortages have been politicised in the Philippines and could well be once again.
In an effort to fend off the crisis the Philippine government has unveiled plans to boost production by planting an additional 2.7 million acres during the coming rainy season.
Critics however say it's a damage control measure in a country where rice has always been a politically sensitive crop.
Original article: Al Jazeera
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