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The global transmission of high food prices-World Bank’s February evidence

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Higher global wheat prices have fed into sharp increases in domestic wheat prices in many countries, the February 2011 Food Price Watch of The World Bank has said. The transmission rate of global wheat price increases to the domestic price of wheat-related products has been high in many countries, according to the report. “For instance, between June 2010 and December 2010, the price of wheat increased by large amounts in Kyrgyzstan (54%), Bangladesh (45%), Tajikistan (37%), Mongolia (33%), Sri Lanka (31%), Azerbaijan (24%), Afghanistan (19%), Sudan (16%), and Pakistan (16%). Several of these countries have a large share of calories consumed from wheat-based products, particularly for the poor. Global food prices continue to rise, though not uniformly for all grains.”

The World Bank’s Food Price Watch is produced by the Bank’s Poverty Reduction And Equity Group, Poverty Reduction And Economic Management Network. The World Bank’s food price index rose by 15% between October 2010 and January 2011, is 29% above its level a year earlier, and only 3% below its June 2008 peak. A breakdown of the index shows that the grain price index remains 16% below its peak mainly due to relatively stable rice prices, which are significantly lower than in 2008. The increase over the last quarter is driven largely by increases in the price of sugar (20%), fats and oils (22%), wheat (20%), and maize (12%).

Maize prices have increased sharply and are affected by complex linkages with other markets. In January 2011, maize prices were about 73% higher than June 2010. These increases are due to a series of downward revisions of crop forecasts, low stocks (U.S. stocks-to-use ratio for 2010-11 is projected to be 5%, the lowest since 1995), the positive relationship between maize and wheat prices, and the use of corn for biofuels.

Ethanol production demand for corn increases as oil prices go up, with sugar-based ethanol less competitive at current sugar prices. Recent United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates show the share of ethanol for fuel rising from 31% of U.S. corn output in 2008-9 to a projected 40% in 2010-11. Increased demand for high fructose corn syrup from countries such as Mexico, as they substitute away from higher priced sugar, also contributes to higher demand for corn. Prospects of easing in this market depend partly on the size of the crops in Latin America, particularly Argentina, which has been affected by unusually dry weather due to the La Nina effect, and the extent of import demand from China in 2011 as well as oil and sugar price trajectories.

Domestic rice prices have risen sharply in some countries and remained steady in others. The domestic price of rice was significantly higher in Vietnam (46%) and Burundi (41%) between June–December 2010. Indonesia (19%), Bangladesh (19%), and Pakistan (19%) have increased in line with global prices. These Asian countries are large rice consumers, especially among the poor. Rice prices have increased in Vietnam despite good domestic harvests. This is primarily due to the depreciation of the currency, which has fuelled overall inflation and expectations of higher demand from large importers and led  to the minimum rice export price being raised by the Vietnamese government. Rice price increases in Sri Lanka (12%) and China (9%) have been relatively moderate in the second half of 2010, while in Cambodia and the Philippines the retail price of rice remained largely unchanged during this period.

Largest Movers in Domestic Prices, June to December 2010
Wheat
Kyrgyzstan (retail, Bishkek) 54%
Bangladesh (retail, national average) 45%
Tajikistan (retail, national average) 37%
Mongolia (retail, Ulaanbaatar) 33%
Sri Lanka (retail, Colombo) 31%
Azerbaijan (retail, national average) 24%
Afghanistan (retail, Kabul) 19%
Sudan (wholesale, Khartoum) 16%
Pakistan (retail, Lahore) 16%

Rice
Vietnam (retail, Dong Thap) 46%
Burundi (retail, Bujumbura) 41%
Bangladesh (retail, Dhaka) 19%
Pakistan (retail, Lahore) 19%
Indonesia (retail, national average) 19%
Mozambique (retail, Maputo) 14%

Beans
Burundi (retail, Bujumbura) 48%
Cameroon (retail, Yaounde) 43%
Uganda (wholesale, Kampala) 38%
Kenya (wholesale, Nairobi) 22%

Maize
Brazil (wholesale São Paulo) 56%
Argentina (wholesale, Rosario) 40%
Rwanda (wholesale, Kigali) 19%

Food production and grain trade, Jan 2011

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The International Grains Council (IGC) has released its Grain Market Report for 2011 January. The IGC said that world grains supplies are forecast to tighten in 2010-11 but the outlook is little changed from two months ago. World production is expected to decline by 3.8%, to 1,726m. tons: the wheat estimate is lifted on better than expected southern hemisphere crops but the maize total is cut.

A serious drought has developed in eastern China over the past few months. Total precipitation has been scarce since October 2010, with some locations on the North China Plain receiving less than 10 percent of normal precipitation through December 2011. A lack of snow cover has deprived the dormant winter wheat crop of valuable moisture and protection from frigid temperatures and winds. Seasonably dry and cold weather is expected to continue for the next two weeks. USDA's WASDE said the impact of the drought has been mitigated by the widespread availability of water for irrigation, but crop stress could become serious if the drought continues after the winter wheat emerges from dormancy in February/March 2011.

By far the biggest fall in grains output was in drought-affected Russia, with big reductions too in the EU, the US, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. A further rise in world grains consumption is forecast in 2010-11, to 1,787m. tons. However, at 1.4%, the rise is flatter than in recent years. The expansion in industrial use has slowed markedly, especially in the US ethanol sector, although recent use there has been higher than anticipated. Total feed use will only rise moderately this year.

The forecast fall of 62m. tons in global carryover stocks mirrors the reduction in the major grain exporters, with big declines in Canada, the EU, Russia and the US. World trade in grains is expected to rise by 2m. tons, to 242m., only marginally more than before, with bigger imports by the EU and Russia expected to outweigh reductions in Near East and Far East Asia. Because of the fall of 29m. tons in Black Sea shipments, exports by Argentina, Australia, the EU and the US are expected to climb steeply.

IGC said that international grain and oilseed prices advanced strongly in December and again in January, with some values at their highest for two years. However, export prices remained below the peaks recorded early in 2008. While there has been little fundamental change in the overall supply and demand balance in the past two months, markets were driven higher by concerns about supplies of quality milling wheat and the tightening outlook for maize and soyabeans.

The influence of other commodities, including crude oil, also featured regularly on the major exchanges. For wheat, reports that the extremely wet conditions in eastern Australia would render at least one-third of the country’s large wheat crop unfit for flour milling were especially bullish. More recently, better prospects for US exports and a winter wheat acreage report showing a smaller than expected rise in Hard Red Winter wheat plantings further triggered buying.

USDA Crop Explorer, south India rice coverage, 2011 forecast

IGC said that China was among several recent customers for Australian feed grade wheat. For maize, there were worries about a reduced official US carryover forecast as well as about whether plantings for the next crop would be sufficient to prevent stocks falling further in 2011-12. The impact of dryness, attributed to the La Niña event, on Argentina’s upcoming harvest added to the market’s nervousness. Similarly, despite quite ample current stocks, US soyabean prices moved higher, initially because of continued heavy demand from China but more recently due to a lower official US supply estimate and strength in crude oil. Rice export prices also increased, but while Thai values in late-December climbed to a ten-month peak, they subsequently fell back as the main crop harvest advanced. After mostly declining since June, ocean freight rates for grains firmed slightly in recent months, despite a further slide in the Capesize sector.

The US Department of Agriculture’s World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) for 2011 January has said that global 2010-11 wheat supplies are raised slightly this month as increased beginning stocks are mostly offset by lower foreign production. Beginning stocks for Argentina are up 0.9 million tons with upward revisions to 2008-09 and 2009-10 production estimates. Argentina production is also raised 0.5 million tons for 2010-11 as harvest results indicate higher-than-expected yields. Production in Brazil is raised 0.4 million tons as favorably dry harvest weather boosted yields for the 2010-11 crop. EU-27 production is raised 0.3 million tons based on the latest official estimates for Poland. More than offsetting these increases are reductions for Kazakhstan and Australia. Kazakhstan production is lowered 1.3 million tons based on the latest government reports. Australia production is lowered 0.5 million tons as heavy late-December rains and flooding further increased crop losses in Queensland.

According to WASDE 2011 January, world wheat imports and exports for 2010-11 are both raised slightly. South Korea imports are raised 0.4 million tons, mostly offsetting an expected reduction in corn imports. Imports are also raised 0.2 million tons each for Thailand and Vietnam based on the pace of shipments to date and the increased availability of feed quality wheat in Australia. Imports are lowered 0.5 million tons for EU-27 based on the slow pace of import licenses to date. Major shifts among exporters are projected as importers focus on U.S. supplies to meet their milling needs. Australia exports are reduced 1.5 million tons as quality problems limit export opportunities. Kazakhstan exports are reduced 1.0 million tons with lower supplies. While Argentina marketing-year (December-November) exports are raised 0.5 million tons, exports during the remainder of the July-June world trade year are expected to be lower based on the slow pace of government export licensing.

Global 2010-11 wheat consumption is projected 1.2 million tons lower, mostly reflecting reduced wheat feeding in EU-27, the United States, and Kazakhstan. Food use is also lowered for EU-27 and Pakistan. Partly offsetting are increases in feed use in South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam, and higher expected residual loss in Australia with the rain-damaged crop. Global ending stocks are raised 1.3 million tons with increases for EU-27, Argentina, and Australia, more than offsetting the U.S. reduction.

WASDE 2011 January said that global 2010-11 rice production, consumption, trade and ending stocks are lowered slightly from a month ago. The decrease in global rice production is due primarily to a smaller crop in Egypt, which is down 0.5 million tons (-14%) to 3.1 million. Egypt’s area harvested in 2010-11 is reduced 19 percent from a month ago and is down 30 percent from the previous year. A reduction in the Egyptian government’s support of producer prices has discouraged farmers from planting rice. Additionally, the Egyptian government has imposed water restrictions thus reducing irrigation water availability. Furthermore, government restrictions have reduced exports. Global imports are increased slightly due primarily to increases for Indonesia and Turkey, but partially offset by a reduction for Egypt. Global exports are increased slightly due mostly to an increase for Thailand, partially offset by a decrease for Egypt. World ending stocks are projected at 94.4 million tons, down 0.4 million from last month and last year.

Deadly Merapi’s terrible aspect

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Der Spiegel has an article on Merapi, the volcano in Indonesia which has caused till today the evacuation of 160,000 people and has killed at least 122. The article is accompanied by pictures of the eruption and the devastation Merapi has so far caused.

A view from a domestic flight from Denpasar to Yogyakarta that was subsequently diverted to Surabaya airport shows a plume of gas and ash billowing some 10 km (six miles) high from the Mount Merapi volcano during an eruption on November 4, 2010. Volcanologists said the "high intensity" eruption was the strongest yet from the 2,914-metre (9,616-foot) Mount Merapi. Indonesia's most active volcano Merapi, located in Central Java province is a sacred landmark in Javanese culture whose name translates as "Mountain of Fire." AFP PHOTO / CLARA PRIMA

Mount Merapi erupts as seen from Deles village, Klaten, Indonesia, 01 November 2010. Indonesia's Mount Merapi volcano erupted again on the morning of 01 November, sending a plume of ash and smoke about 3,500 metres into the air. EPA/ADI WEDA +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Volcanic ash fall from Mount Merapi covers Yogyakarta city on November 5, 2010. At least 54 people were killed and dozens injured Friday when Indonesia's Mount Merapi volcano erupted again, burning villages as far as 18 kilometres (11 miles) away, officials said. The latest deaths bring the total toll to more than 90 since the country's most active volcano started erupting on October 26. AFP PHOTO / SONNY TUMBELAKA

YOGYAKARTA, INDONESIA - NOVEMBER 05: Refugees are seen at temporary evacuation centre following another eruption of Mount Merapi on November 5, 2010, in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. The eruption claimed the life of at least one man and injured several others from a village on the slope of the volcano that was not evacuated. Over 70,000 people have now been evaculated with the danger zone being extended again to over 20km as the volcano continues to spew ash and volcanic material. (Photo by Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images)

Vendor sells facemasks for protection from the ashes of Mount Merapi in a street Yogyakarta, Indonesia 05 November 2010. At least 48 people were killed and 66 seriously injured Friday by clouds of searing ash and lava from the latest eruptions of Indonesia's Mount Merapi volcano, hospital staff said. In the nearby city of Yogyakarta, Sardjito General Hospital spokesman Trisno Heru Nugroho said at least 48 bodies and 66 injured people had been brought in from the disaster zone. EPA/ADI WEDA +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Written by makanaka

November 6, 2010 at 16:40

Food inflation in Asia and India, and a word about price indexes

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Vendors in Mapusa, Goa

Vendors in Mapusa, Goa. The middle basket contains 'nachne', local millet

 

The question in Asia again is food inflation. Entering the last quarter of 2010, news reports from South and South-East Asia cite continuing high food inflation as a persistent worry for consumers. The food weighting in Asia’s consumer price indexes is mostly high. China, India, Indonesia and Thailand have CPI weightings of 33%-46% for food.

Hence, persistently higher food prices pose a bigger risk of a rise in inflation expectations and wages in these countries as compared with higher per capita income economies on a relative basis, says the late September Global Economic Forum briefing from Morgan Stanley. “While job growth was affected by the latest global financial crisis, with GDP growth back to trend line and employment levels having recovered sharply, the risk of a rise in inflation expectations is significant. While employment statistics in the region are not very transparent, given the GDP growth trend, it appears that employment growth should have been strong.”

China, India and Indonesia together account for 40% of the global population. Any small increase in demand from these countries in the form of imports tends to push up global prices. The recent crop failure in India and its attempt to import sugar are a case in point. Moreover, there are some crops that are peculiar to local markets with very little global supply. For instance, in the case of India last year, the country fell short of pulses (lentils), and it was not really possible to import the crop even if the government had wanted to. Indeed, the top four (in terms of population) countries in the region (China, India, Indonesia and Thailand) are all net exporters of food items. All four countries tend to maintain inventories for staple items like rice and wheat, and have public distribution systems to ensure availability of these essential items at a reasonable price. Most countries in the region subsidise food for the poor.

Against this background, two recent speeches from senior figures in India’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of India, are worth examining closely. First, in ‘Managing the Growth-Inflation Balance in India: Current Considerations and Long-term Perspectives’ the deputy governor of the RBI Dr Subir Gokarn talks directly about food inflation (he gave the speech on 05 October 2010 at The Private Equity International India Forum).

“The inflation rate, which was briefly negative in the middle of 2009, began to accelerate rapidly later in the year. This upward momentum continued into the first half of 2010, with double-digit inflation persisting for a few months. The rapidity of the transition was surprising, given the fact that the recovery in growth was just getting under way and, importantly, the global situation was still very uncertain. However, the reason for the sharp increase was that all the possible drivers of inflation were simultaneously contributing. Each one by itself may not have resulted in the outcome that we saw, but all three working together resulted in a rather sharp acceleration. Food prices rose sharply because the monsoon of 2009 was deficient in most parts of the country, impacting agricultural production. However, there are, I believe, longer term forces at work on food prices, which are a matter of concern.”

 

UN Millennium Development Goals Report 2010 / UNICEF Photo

UN Millennium Development Goals Report 2010 / UNICEF Photo

 

Next, in a speech titled ‘Perspectives on Inflation in India’, executive director of the RBI, Deepak Mohanty (on 28 September 2010 at the Bankers Club, Chennai) said that the Reserve Bank is concerned over “the unacceptably high inflation rate”. Mohanty dwelt awhile on the Indian government’s new wholesale price index series.

“In the meanwhile, the Government has also released the new series on the Wholesale Price Index (WPI) changing the base year from 1993-94 to 2004-05. In terms of change in the relative weight of major commodity groups, the share of primary articles has gone down by 1.9 percentage points, which has been compensated by increase in the share of fuel group by about 0.7 percentage point and manufactured products by 1.2 percentage points. There has been a reduction in weightage of primary food articles and manufactured food products by 2.6 percentage points in the new series to 24.3 per cent from about 26.9 per cent in the old series.”

“Second, notwithstanding a significant reduction in weightage, the food inflation in the new series is higher than in the old series. This is because of change in the consumption basket in favour of protein-rich items such as egg, meat and fish where price rise has been high apart from milk and pulses. Third, the non-food manufactured products inflation is lower in the new series than in the old series. This is because of a substantial overhauling of the basket with the introduction of a number of new items. For example, the new series has 417 new commodities of which 406 are new manufactured products. Fourth, the new series has wider coverage. For example, the number of price quotations has increased from 1,918 in the old series to 5,482 in the new series. The new series, therefore, is better representative of overall commodity price inflation.”

What is curious is that these trends have taken place during a phase of rapid growth in India’s formal economy. Gokarn explained that what was most significant from the monetary policy perspective was the growing visibility of demand-side pressures. He examined the price dynamics of the manufacturing sector – overall and without the food processing component. The latter, he said, has been used by many analysts as a reasonable proxy of demand-side inflation, which is the phenomenon that monetary policy can and should influence. Both sectors he said, and particularly non-food manufacturing inflation, “show a tremendous acceleration from a significantly negative rate of inflation during 2009 to reach rather worrisome levels by the middle of 2010”.

Mohanty finds that the new series of WPI inflation marks a major change in terms of scope and coverage of commodities and is more representative of the underlying economic structure. As per the new series, the manufactured products inflation is lower than what was seen on the basis of the old series, he said. The food price inflation, on the other hand, is higher than what was seen on the basis of the old series. “The high level of food prices is The 100th postindeed a matter of concern as the prices of protein-based items, which have a higher share in the consumption basket, are showing larger increases”. Moreover, Mohanty said, there is continuing shortage of food items such as pulses and edible oils. “If the supply response doesn’t improve, there is a risk that food price inflation could acquire a structural character”.

State of Food Insecurity 2010 – FAO says too little, too timidly

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Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), State of Food Insecurity (SOFI) 2010The 2010 edition of the State of Food Insecurity says much too little and what it does say is unconvincing. There is a theme for this years edition of one of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) ‘flagship’ reports. The theme is “countries in protracted crisis” by which FAO means conflict and war, internal and external.

FAO doesn’t say so explicitly in the introduction to SOFI 2010 on its website. There’s no excuses for FAO not to when the World Food Programme, Oxfam, ActionAid and a number of international agencies and aid groups have done so, not just this year but for at least a decade.

As the world’s pre-eminent compiler of food and agriculture-related research, data and analysis, FAO ought to see itself as duty-bound to be clear and fair in its reportage but it is not.

SOFI 2010 says that the majority of the world’s undernourished people live in developing countries. Two-thirds live in just seven countries (Bangladesh, China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia and Pakistan) and over 40% live in China and India alone.

The report says that “FAO’s projections for 2010 indicate that the number of undernourished people will decline in all developing regions, although with a different pace. The region with most undernourished people continues to be Asia and the Pacific, but with a 12% decline from 658 million in 2009 to 578 million, this region also accounts for most of the global improvement expected in 2010″. Where does FAO think this improvement is going to come from, given the fact that its own food price index shows how cereals have risen at a clip this year to match the rise in 2007?

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), State of Food Insecurity (SOFI) 2010Just as it did a month ago, the FAO is sounding like it is in two minds about what to report. SOFI 2010 says that “developing countries as a group have seen an overall setback in terms of the World Food Summit goal (from 827 million in 1990–92 to 906 million in 2010), while some progress has been made towards MDG 1 (with the prevalence of hunger declining from 20% undernourished in 1990–92 to 16% in 2010)”.

Which are the 22 countries covered by the ‘protracted crisis’ theme? Here they are, the numbers in total population in millions followed by number of undernourished in millions, both for 2005-07. (Why couldn’t these have been for 2009 in a report dated 2010?): Afghanistan (na / na), Angola (17.1 / 7.1), Burundi (7.6 / 4.7), Central African Republic (4.2 / 1.7), Chad (10.3 / 3.8), Congo (3.5 / 0.5), Côte d’Ivoire (19.7 / 2.8), Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (23.6 / 7.8), Democratic Republic of the Congo (60.8 / 41.9), Eritrea (4.6 / 3.0), Ethiopia (76.6 / 31.6), Guinea (9.4 / 1.6), Haiti (9.6 / 5.5), Iraq (na / na), Kenya (36.8 / 11.2), Liberia (3.5 / 1.2), Sierra Leone (5.3 / 1.8), Somalia (na / na), Sudan (39.6 / 8.8), Tajikistan (6.6 / 2.0), Uganda (29.7 / 6.1), Zimbabwe (12.5 / 3.7).

SOFI 2010 says: “On average, the proportion of people who are undernourished is almost three times as high in countries in protracted crisis as in other developing countries (if countries in protracted crisis and China and India are excluded). Nonetheless, not all countries in protracted crisis present very high levels of undernourishment as in some of these countries crises are localized to certain areas or regions. There are approximately 166 million undernourished people in countries in protracted crisis – roughly 20% of the world’s undernourished people, or more than a third of the global total if China and India are excluded from the calculation.”

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), State of Food Insecurity (SOFI) 2010The question, what happens when China and India are excluded from calculations? With the exclusions 130.4 million (China) and 237.7 million (India) fall out of the equations? Moreover, SOFI isn’t following it’s own data. The para above says 166 million (approx) undernourished in countries in ‘protracted crisis’ but the table annex shows that the 22 countries together have 146.8 million undernourished. If the larger number for the 22 countries is the 2009 estimate, then FAO could have used the same method to provide estimates for all countries for 2009.

When FAO recalculates its food price index monthly (the current index is up-to-date for September 2010) why are these estimates three years old? Why should China and India be excluded when they account for over a third of the global undernourished population? Last month FAO said that 925 million people in the world live in chronic hunger and explained that “the decline (from 1,020 million in 2009) was primarily attributable to better economic prospects in 2010 and the fall in food prices since mid-2008”. What fall in food prices? What better economic prospects?

The State of Food Insecurity 2010 is a disappointing and pedestrian effort. FAO ought to retract this version and revise it thoroughly without dwelling on themes like ‘protracted crisis’ and instead get to grips with the market- and economics-related reasons for food price spikes and the hunger they bring.

Grain markets and trade for the last third of 2010

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Earth_Observatory-La_Nina

Continuing a trend that began earlier in the year, La Niña conditions strengthened through the summer of 2010, evidenced by a streak of cool water across the equatorial Pacific Ocean. This map reveals a broad swath of cool water stretching from South America to New Guinea. The ocean is not, however, uniformly cool. Pockets of warm water are mixed with the cool, particularly in the western Pacific. Warmer waters in this region can lead to increased rainfall, and La Niña conditions may have played a role in the devastating floods in Pakistan during the Northern Hemisphere summer of 2010. Over the eastern Pacific Ocean, cooler waters lead to less moisture along the coasts of North and South America. So as more rain pounds some parts of the globe, La Niña conditions can deepen drought in others. NASA Earth Observatory

The International Grains Council released its monthly Grain Market Report on 2010 September 23. In this report the IGC said that global grain prices advanced again in September, those for wheat having returned to the peaks reached in early August. While the initial trigger for the steep upturn in wheat and barley values in recent months was the fast deteriorating outlook for these crops in the Black Sea region, much of the more recent bullishness is attributed to concerns about smaller than anticipated US maize (corn) yields, as well as substantial new grain buying activity by importers.

The market commentary of the report said: “Another feature is the difficult harvest weather in some countries, affecting milling wheat and malting barley quality. US soyabean prices partly mirrored the upturn in maize, but were also supported by concerns about South American crop prospects and continued heavy buying by China. Asian rice prices moved higher, largely because of the impact of the flood emergency in Pakistan. The recent surge in world grain prices, while not on the same scale as in 2007-08, again prompted concerns about its impact on global food prices as well as the increased volatility in the major commodity exchanges. One measure of such volatility is the day-to-day change in futures values which, even allowing for the events of three years ago, is significantly greater than earlier in the decade. Given the generally adequate supply situation for wheat and other grains, despite recent crop concerns, many have expressed surprise at the ferocity of recent market responses.”

Grains outlook for 2010-11 – This year’s sharply reduced crops in the CIS and Europe will contribute to a fall of 1.2% in global grain supplies, reversing three successive years of stock building. World production in 2010-11 is forecast at 1,741m. tons, (1,787m.), 4m. below the previous month’s projection. This follows downward revisions, for maize in the US and wheat in the CIS region, more than offsetting improved prospects in Australia. Significant reductions in wheat and barley output will outweigh another rise in maize, although prospects for the latter crop are downgraded slightly. The difficult growing and harvesting conditions in parts of North America, Europe and the CIS have affected supplies of high-quality milling wheat and malting barley.

Grain consumption in 2010-11 is projected to increase by 0.6%, to 1,780m. tons, but this represents a marked slowing compared with previous years as the overall rate of expansion in industrial use, especially for ethanol in the US, is scaled back. In the animal feed sector, maize use is expected to be boosted, while that of wheat will likely hold steady, but this will be more than offset by reductions in barley and other grains. With global grains consumption expected to exceed output after three surplus years, global carryover stocks in 2010-11 are projected to fall by 39m. tons, to 353m., mostly because of declines in the world’s exporters, notably Russia and the US. However, the total carryover will remain significantly above the lows seen earlier in the past decade.

International Grains Council Grain Market Report 2010 September 23

International Grains Council wheat and maize export prices

Global trade in grains is expected to fall in 2010-11, mainly because of reduced wheat shipments. At 237m. tons (239m.), the total is 5m. above the August forecast, following upward revisions for the EU, Russia and sub-Saharan Africa. Export forecasts for several countries, including Australia, Canada and the US, have been lifted, with total availabilities still seen as ample in a year which will see a huge shift in trade away from the drought-afflicted Black Sea region. In all, wheat and coarse grains shipments from Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine will fall by 27m. tons compared with 2009-10, with around half of this shortfall likely to be sourced in the United States.

The US Department of Agriculture’s ‘Grain: World Markets and Trade’ September 2010 report is also out. It noted wheat trade changes in 2010-11 in this way:

Selected Exporters: Australia is down 500,000 tons to 15.5 million based on logistical constraints. Canada is boosted 2.0 million tons to 17.5 million due to larger exportable supplies. EU is lowered 3.0 million tons to 21.0 million on reduced exportable supplies and quality concerns, particularly for German wheat. Iran is raised 450,000 tons to 500,000 due to greater exportable supplies and opportunities opened by reduced supplies in Russia. Kazakhstan is up 500,000 tons to 6.5 million on higher Russian import demand. Russia is raised 500,000 tons to 3.5 million based on exports shipped before the ban. United States is boosted 1.0 million tons to 34.0 million on strong demand, particularly for higher quality wheat.

International Grains Council Grain Market Report 2010 September 23

International Grains Council rice and soyabean export prices

Selected Importers: Nigeria is up 400,000 tons to 4.0 million due to expected consumption growth. Russia is raised 1.4 million tons to 2.0 million due to increased demand for milling wheat caused by drought-reduced production.

The USDA report recorded trade changes in 2009-10 as “large late-season adjustments reflect reported shipments”. These are – Selected Exporters: Canada is up 500,000 tons to 19.0 million. The United Arab Emirates is raised 450,000 tons to 950,000. Selected Importers: Indonesia is down 450,000 tons to 5.4 million. Iran is up 600,000 tons to 3.6 million. Turkey is lowered 300,000 tons to 3.2 million.

Rice world markets and trade – Despite weather problems in China and Pakistan, global crop prospects remain excellent said the USDA report. Record world production is expected to not only meet rising demand but also maintain global stocks at the highest level since 2004.

International Grains Council Grain Market Report 2010 September 23

International Grains Council world grain estimates

Prices – though quotes from all origins are up somewhat from last month, Vietnam’s increase is the most dramatic. With 2010 contracts already at a record 6.2 million tons, Vietnam raised the minimum export price of 5% broken to $450 per ton FOB, essentially halting new sales and, for the first time, pushing above higher-quality U.S. #2/4 quotes ($445 per ton FOB). Vietnamese quotes are now only $30 below Thai 100B quotes, a stark departure from the $120 spread just 2 months ago. As sales stall in Vietnam, Thai sales are expected to increase as the government finally releases intervention stocks. U.S. long-grain sales are also expected to pick up on newfound competitiveness and a record crop. By contrast, the medium-grain trade is somewhat on hold as the California crop has yet to be harvested. In addition, many tenders in major markets have yet to be announced.

The USDA report forecast trade changes for 2011. These are – Pakistan’s exports are slashed 750,000 tons to 2.9 million as floods have reduced the crop and damaged infrastructure. Afghanistan’s imports are reduced 100,000 tons to 200,000, as Pakistan is by far the largest supplier due to proximity and relative prices. Iran’s imports are cut 300,000 tons to 1.2 million on the expectation that imports from Pakistan will fall. Thailand’s exports are down 500,000 tons to 9.0 million because the government stock release is happening much later in the year than originally anticipated. Vietnam’s exports are raised 450,000 tons to a record 6.2 million on contracts to date. By contrast, imports are dropped 100,000 tons to 400,000 on a slowdown of border trade with Cambodia. Indonesia’s imports are doubled to 500,000 tons as relatively high domestic prices have caused a surge in trade with neighboring countries. Iran’s imports are dropped 150,000 tons to 1.2 million on the pace of shipments. Nigeria’s imports are lowered 100,000 tons to 1.7 million on slower-than-expected imports from Thailand.

World agri supply and demand estimates, Sep 2010

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Climate change. Image courtesy UNEPThe US Department of Agriculture’s World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (Wasde) report is out, dated 10 September 2010. Here are the highlights of its analysis on global wheat and rice.

Wheat

Global wheat supplies for 2010-11 are projected down 0.7 million tons as higher carry-in mostly offsets a 2.7-million-ton reduction in world output. Much of the offset is explained by Canada, where beginning stocks are increased 1.5 million tons, as reported by Statistics Canada, and production is increased by 2.0 million tons. These changes mostly offset lower production in Russia and the European Union (EU) 27. Production for Russia is lowered 2.5 million tons based on the latest harvest results for the drought-affected central growing areas in the Volga and Urals Federal Districts. EU-27 production is lowered 2.4 million tons with the largest reductions for Hungary and Romania where heavy summer rains reduced yields. Smaller reductions in a number of other member countries also reduce EU-27 production. Although the reduction for Germany is small, persistent and heavy August rains have reduced supplies of high quality milling wheat. Other production changes include a 0.3-million-ton reduction for Belarus and a 0.4-million-ton increase for Morocco.

World wheat trade for 2010-11 is raised with global exports projected 1.4 million tons higher. Export shifts among countries largely reflect availability of supplies and increased competition from North America. Exports are raised 2.0 million tons for Canada and 1.4 million tons for the United States. Exports are also raised 0.5 million tons each for Iran and Kazakhstan. A 0.5-million-ton increase in Russia exports reflects larger-than-expected shipments during early August, before implementation of the export ban on August 15. These increases more than offset a 3.0-million-ton reduction for EU-27 and a 0.5-million-ton reduction for Australia. EU-27 exports are lowered with reduced supplies and increased competition from Canada. Logistical constraints are expected to limit exports from Australia.

Climate change. Image courtesy UNEPWorld wheat imports for 2010-11 are raised with increases for Russia and Nigeria. Imports for Russia are raised 1.4 million tons as imports from regional suppliers support domestic usage, particularly for feeding. World wheat consumption is lowered 3.8 million tons with lower consumption in EU-27, Russia, and Kazakhstan outweighing increases for Pakistan, Canada, and Nigeria. Wheat feeding is lowered 2.0 million tons for EU-27 with imported coarse grains expected to partly replace wheat in livestock and poultry rations. Global ending stocks are projected 3.0 million tons higher with increases for EU-27, Canada, and Australia. Ending stocks are lowered for Pakistan and Russia.

Rice

Projected global 2010-11 rice supplies and use are both lowered from last month. Global rice production is projected at a record 454.6 million tons, down 4.6 million tons from last month’s estimate, mainly due to large declines for several countries including China, Indonesia, and Pakistan.

China’s 2010-11 rice crop is reduced 1.5 million tons to 136.0 million, due mainly to a decrease in the early rice crop. Both area and yield are reduced by early season drought in some areas combined with late-season flooding in other areas. Indonesia’s 2010-11 rice crop is reduced 2.0 million tons to 38.0 million, based in part on a report from the U.S. Agricultural Counselor in Jakarta. Indonesia’s 2009-10 rice crop is also reduced – a reduction of 1.7 million tons to 37.1 million. Indonesia’s yield growth has stagnated due to weather, pests, and disease problems. Pakistan’s 2010-11 rice crop is reduced by 1.2 million tons or 18 percent to 5.3 million as severe flooding lowered both area and average yield.

Global 2010-11 exports are reduced by 0.6 million tons to 31.0 million, mainly due to a reduction for Pakistan. Global consumption is lowered by nearly 2.3 million tons, mainly due to decreases for China (-0.5 million) and Indonesia (-1.35 million). Global ending stocks for 2010-11 are projected at 94.6 million tons, down 3.0 million from last month, but up slightly from 2009-10. Stocks are lowered for China, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Iran, and raised for the United States.

Chronic hunger persists, says FAO, but doesn’t tell us why

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The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has released new estimates of the number of chronically hungry in the world. The numbers themselves are quite terrifying, because the fact that there are so many chronically hungry even while the CGIAR assures us that global wheat stocks are a comfortable 175 million tons, means quite simply that food is being inequitably distributed, with terrible consequences.

It is this reason that seems to compel the FAO to speak in two voices in its current set of briefings. On the one hand, the organisation must call attention to the widespread nature of hunger and its persistence. On the other, it refuses to describe honestly the economic conditions and market influences that make the distribution of food inequitable.

That is why in his statement on 14 September 2010, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said “In this regard, stable and effective policies, regulatory and institutional mechanisms and functional market infrastructures that promote investment in the agricultural sector are paramount” instead of also recognising the food and price inequalities that exist in the seven countries in which two-thirds of all undernourished people live.

Mr Diouf knows the numbers, surely he knows the reasons those numbers are there? But no, instead he said, “The reformed Committee on World Food Security (CFS) which will meet next month opens new opportunities for dialogue and coherence in policy and action among all relevant actors in the fight against hunger. We should not miss such opportunity.” This month, next month, this year, next year. With respect, Mr Diouf, your organisation has already missed the opportunity.

Still, the FAO’s release is worth posting. Here are the main points:

At close to one billion, the number of undernourished people in the world remains unacceptably high in 2010 despite an expected decline – the first in 15 years. This decline is largely attributable to a more favourable economic environment in 2010 – particularly in developing countries – and the fall in both international and domestic food prices since 2008. The recent increase in food prices, if it persists, will create additional obstacles in the fight to further reduce hunger.

(The bit about “decline is largely attributable to a more favourable economic environment” needs some elaboration.)

FAO estimates that a total of 925 million people are undernourished in 2010 compared with 1.023 billion in 2009. That is higher than before the food and economic crises of 2008-2009 and higher than the level that existed when world leaders agreed to reduce the number of hungry by half at the World Food Summit in 1996.

Global cereal harvests have been strong for the past several years, even as the number of undernourished people was rising. The overall improvement in food security in 2010 is thus primarily a result of better access to food due to the improvement in economic conditions, particularly in developing countries, combined with lower food prices.

(The bit about “overall improvement in food security in 2010” needs some explanation.)

In parallel, international and domestic cereal prices have declined from their 2008 peaks, reflecting two consecutive years of record yields. While production in 2010 is forecast to be lower, the overall supply situation is considered as adequate. However, food prices in most low-income food-deficit countries remain above the pre-crisis level, negatively affecting access to food by vulnerable populations.

(The bit about “negatively affecting access to food by vulnerable populations” – think food riots and desperation, as happened in Mozambique two weeks ago.)

The analysis of hunger during crisis and recovery brings to the fore the insufficient resilience to economic shocks of many poor countries and households. Lack of appropriate mechanisms to deal with the shocks or to protect the most vulnerable populations from their effects result in large swings in hunger following crises.

Developing countries account for 98 percent of the world’s undernourished people. Two-thirds live in just seven countries (Bangladesh, China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia and Pakistan) and over 40 percent live in China and India alone.

(The bit about “resilience” and “shocks” needs elaboration, especially since the world’s undernourished have had no role to play in the designing of an economics of shock and hunger.)

Global farmland grab and the shadow of the Soviet kolkhozes

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Peasant girl with rake, 1930s, Simon Fridland

Peasant girl with rake, 1930s, Simon Fridland

The World Bank has just released an interesting document called ‘Rising Global Interest in Farmland: Can it Yield Sustainable and Equitable Benefits?’. It is presented as a response to the global farmland grab, reviews global trends of land expansion as well as empirical evidence on land acquisitions in 14 countries between 2004 and 2009: Brazil, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Liberia, Lao PDR, Mexico, Mozambique, Nigeria, Peru, Sudan, Ukraine, and Zambia. (I’ll post more on the study as soon as I can read it fully.)

The inclusion of Ukraine is interesting, primarily because of the country’s long history (as a Soviet republic) of collective farming, and also because of the horrific famine that engulfed Ukraine, the northern Caucasus, and the lower Volga River area almost 80 years ago, in 1932-1933, was the result of Joseph Stalin’s policy of collectivisation. This is also part of the region which suffered in the July 2010 fires that traumatised Russia.

The Bank’s study contains a few paras about the Soviet farming system which are worth reading closely, for they help explain the current wheat shortage in Russia and the responses of both Russia and Ukraine to the continuing wheat crisis.

Woman Collective Farmer, 1932, Simon Fridland

Woman Collective Farmer, 1932, Simon Fridland

Eastern European countries have undergone major transitions from the former Soviet system of collective and state farms to new agrarian structures (says the Bank’s section on Russia). These transitions have unfolded in many ways depending on countries’ factor endowment, the share of agriculture in the overall labour force, infrastructure, and the way the reforms were implemented. In areas of low population density, where collectives were divided into small plots allocated to members, the plots were quickly rented back by companies with access to finance and machinery.

These companies were often created from former collective farms whose managers could more easily consolidate land parcels and shares. Services, institutions, and logistics were geared to large-scale production, so smallholder grain production was never viable option. Where farms were land- and capital-intensive, corporate farming was the dominant organisational structure. On the other hand, many countries where land was split up into smallholder farms also performed well. The diversity is illustrated by the share of area under corporate farms 10 years after the transition, ranging from 90 percent in Slovakia, 60 percent in Kazakhstan, 45 percent in Russia, to less than 10 percent in Albania, Latvia. and Slovenia.

In Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, the transition was associated with a 30 M ha decline in area sown, with most of that area returning to pastures or fallow. Large farms were better able to deal with the prevailing financing, infrastructure and technology constraints. Aided by the phasing out of an inefficient meat industry and the associated demand for grain as feed, the region turned from a grain deficit of 34 mt in the late 1980s to exports of more than 50 mt of grain and 7 mt of oilseeds and derivatives. In light of the scope for transfer of available technology, Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, the region’s three land-abundant countries, have an opportunity to establish themselves as major players in global grain markets, especially if ways to effectively deal with volatility are found.

Farmer's first Spring. The Soviet region of Nizhnegorodsk's District, 1929, Arkadi Shishkin

Farmer's first Spring. The Soviet region of Nizhnegorodsk's District, 1929, Arkadi Shishkin

Given the slow development of markets, mergers to integrate vertically to help acquire inputs and market outputs led to the emergence of some very large companies. For example, in Russia, the 30 largest holdings farm 6.7 million ha, and in Ukraine, the largest 40 control 4 to 4.5 million ha. Many of the agricultural companies are home grown, though often with significant investment from abroad. Several have issued IPOs.

Some Western European companies have also invested directly in large-scale farming in the region. For example, Black Earth, a Swedish company, farms more than 300,000 ha in Russia. With greater demand and better logistics, there remains substantial potential for intensification and in some cases for area expansion. Cereal yields increased 38 percent from 1998-2000 to 2006-2008 but are still far below potential. For example, Ukraine’s cereal yields are 2.7 t/ha, some 40 percent of the Western European average. The potential to transfer technology and relatively cheap land has been one of the major motivations for foreign direct investment in the region.

In Russia land is either leased or owned, and in Ukraine. where private land sales are not allowed, all land is leased. usually for 5-25 years. But throughout the region, land rents are still very low relative to land of comparable quality in other parts of Europe. Competitive markets for land shares have yet to emerge. and in many situations imperfections in financial and output markets preclude own-cultivation as a viable option. So the bargaining power of landowners is often weak, suggesting that rental rates are low and that owners receive few of the benefits from large-scale cultivation.

Spring fiction by the Bank-Fund troll

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Vendor at Mapusa market, Goa

"Bank? Fund? Do they have a clue about livelihood?"

Pay no attention to the announcements coming from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund during what the troublesome twins call their ‘spring meetings’ of 2010 (an annual, very expensive, exercise in financial fiction, but an exercise which has disastrous consequences for many in developing countries). The global big media were inertly supportive, as usual, and had this to say:

Business Week: “The World Bank, created after World War II to eradicate poverty, received shareholder backing for two separate capital increases that will provide a combined $5.1 billion. The 186 member countries agreed to pay $3.5 billion for the bank’s unit that lends to governments, the first general increase in 22 years, the International Monetary Fund’s development committee said in a statement today.”

The New York Times provided a clue about the machinations behind the scenes to maintain US control over the World Bank: “Under the changes, China will become the bank’s third-largest shareholder, ahead of Germany, after the United States and Japan. Countries like Brazil, India, Indonesia and Vietnam will also have greater representation. Mr. Zoellick carefully devised the capital increase and voting changes to be adopted together. The $5.1 billion in so-called paid-in capital, which the bank can use for day-to-day operations, will bring the bank’s cash on hand to about $40 billion. Of the $5.1 billion, developing countries will contribute $1.6 billion in connection with a shift in representation that will give them 47.19 percent of voting power, up from 44.06 percent. The actions fulfill a pledge the bank’s members made in Istanbul in October.”

The Financial Times: “A package put to ministers at the World Bank’s meetings in Washington yesterday increased the bank’s $11bn (€8.2bn, £7.1bn) paid-in capital by $5.1bn in return for reforms to voting rights, which would mainly see a transfer of votes from smaller European countries to emerging markets such as China, India and Brazil. Robert Zoellick, the bank’s president, last year began campaigning to increase its capital in response to the global financial crisis. The bank increased lending by $100bn to combat the effects of the crisis on poor countries, helping to overcome the scepticism of countries such as France and the US. “This is a once-in-a-generation request to address the impact of a once-in-a-generation crisis,” Mr Zoellick said.”

Bahrain's Finance Minister and Chairman of the Development Committe Ahmed Al Khalifa (L) gives his opening remarks to the Development Committee at the World Bank April 25, 2010 in Washington, DC. Finance Ministers and Bank Governors around the world are attending the IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings this weekend in Washington, DC. IMF Staff Photo/Stephen Jaffe

Rhubarb, rhubarb

As predicted just before the ‘spring meetings’ by the Bretton Woods Project, the capital increase and voting rights hogged most of the headlines. “The G20 group of the world’s biggest economies promised a 3 per cent shift in voting share towards ‘developing and transition countries’,” the Project had commented. “The Bank will proclaim success in achieving this, despite the fact that it fudged the definition of what is a ‘developing country’ so that the category included many countries that have achieved high-income status. With further reform being delayed until 2015, rich countries seem to have stemmed the surge of demands from the large emerging markets for deeper reform.”

The World Bank has asked its members to put up more money, as it had stretched itself to its limits to lend more during the financial and economic crisis in 2009. After a big debate over the size of the capital increase, the Bank has secured a US$60 billion nominal boost to its capital, which means it will receive about US$5 billion in actual cash (the rest is ‘callable capital’ that members would provide if ever asked by the Bank). Said the Bretton Woods Project: “This is a relatively small boost that will only allow the Bank to return to lending the same amount it did before the crisis. It also means that rich countries again rebuffed the large emerging markets who wanted a much larger capital boost and offered to pay for it entirely out of their own coffers.”

The point is that all these reforms and discussions have been kept completely out of the public eye until now. There have been no consultations with stakeholders and little discussion with most of the Bank’s members. That the rich countries won’t budge on governance issues was highlighted in a March report by a US Senate committee. The US is the largest shareholder, with an effective veto over any changes to the Bank’s governance. The committee called on the Obama administration to maintain “United States voting shares and veto rights at the international financial institutions” and questioned existing reforms to the selection of the World Bank president by demanding preservation of “United States leadership of the World Bank and senior level positions at the other IFIs.”