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Asia worries about food stocks and prices

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Protesters scramble for food and drink being distributed during mass demonstrations at Cairo's Tahrir Square in early February. Photo: Reuters/RFERL

Protesters scramble for food and drink being distributed during mass demonstrations at Cairo's Tahrir Square in early February. Photo: Reuters/RFERL

Bangladesh, South Asia’s biggest rice buyer, is in talks with India to buy grains on a regular basis to bolster food security as governments seek to avoid a repeat of the unrest that broke out when prices last soared, reported Bloomberg.

A long-term agreement will protect Bangladesh from possible defaults by private traders, who sometimes fail to meet their commitments if prices gain, Muhammad Abdur Razzaque, the nation’s food minister, said in an interview yesterday. “Rice prices rose this year in our country; people are suffering as they have limited income,” Razzaque said by phone from Dhaka.

Bangladesh’s plan underscores a drive by governments to strengthen their reserves to help manage the impact of food prices that advanced to a record last month, beating the jump in 2008 that spawned riots from Haiti to Egypt. This year’s surge has driven millions into extreme poverty, according to the World Bank, and contributed to unrest in the Middle East and Africa. “When we go for international tenders and prices suddenly rise, private suppliers sometimes fail to fulfill their commitments,” Razzaque said. “They don’t supply us and put us in trouble. It has happened.”

In the Philippines, Sen. Francis Pangilinan, chairman of the Senate committee on agriculture, has called on the country’s Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to start preparing for the worst-case scenario as far as the prices of oil and other basic commodities are concerned in response to the volatile situation in the Middle East.

The Philippine Star quoted Pangilinan as having said that other nations have started preparing for an expected food and oil shortage, not only because of the turmoil in the Middle East but also because of the erratic weather patterns that the world has been experiencing. “Some Asian governments have already started to come up with measures to mitigate rising prices. Erratic weather patterns have started wreaking havoc on our agricultural lands. China and India are stockpiling on grains, which means we need to rely less on importation to secure our buffer. The price of oil continues to soar, it is a matter that requires our serious attention,” he said.

In today’s world of interlinked markets, a problem in one place quickly ripples out to others. Croplands in Russia, one of the world’s leading wheat producers, were devastated by fires during last summer’s record-breaking heat wave. Wheat harvests in Ukraine, also plagued by torrid weather, dropped 15 percent last year, a comment in Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reminded readers.

Both countries responded by introducing export bans that have exacerbated global shortages of the commodity. Partly as a result, world wheat prices doubled between June 2010 and January 2011. According to the World Bank, wheat prices have risen in the past six months by 54 percent in Kyrgyzstan, 45 percent in Bangladesh, and 33 percent in Mongolia.

In the oil-rich Caucasus republic of Azerbaijan, high prices have been sending citizens across the border into neighboring Georgia, where they are buying up meat, potatoes, onions, and apples. Nadeem Ilahi, head of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) delegation visiting Baku this week, warned that Azerbaijanis should expect overall prices to rise 10 percent in the course of this year — most of it due to the worldwide rise in the cost of food.

Written by makanaka

February 26, 2011 at 22:40

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