(eTN) – The cost of agricultural commodities has leaped to record highs and supply of daily foodstuffs such as rice, wheat, cereals, meat, eggs and dairy products has become scare, begging the question: Is climate change, droughts and floods in the Asian region to blame for the growing tensions over shortages of food?
It has become apparent that all across the world, governments are beginning to negotiate “secretive” barter arrangements as well as building up stockpiles to last for at least the next six months in an attempt to head off mounting social unrest.
The impact of high food prices has triggered unrest in dozens of countries, the latest in the Philippines, following riots in Haiti and Egypt.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has projected prices are likely to remain high for at least 10 years. “Rising prices have triggered a food crisis in 36 countries. The threat of malnutrition on a massive scale is looming.” FAO has confirmed it is cutting food handout rations to some 73 million people in 78 countries.
“Food prices are now rising at rates that few of us can ever have seen before in our lifetimes,” said John Powell of the World Food Program.
The price of rice, Asia’s staple food, has rocketed by 74 percent in the past year to an all time high. It went up by more than 10 percent in a single day in the past week.”Prices will keep going up as production fails to keep up with soaring demand,” warned the International Rice Research Institute last week.
As food shortages grow and cereal prices soar, it is provoking riots throughout the Third World, the world’s poorest people. The Philippines, once self sufficient in rice, is in the grip of a food crisis as “massive queues” formed to buy rice from government stocks. In a move to crack down on looters and hoarders, Philippine President Gloria Arroyo has “drafted” the military to distribute rice supplies.
ASEAN member countries Vietnam and the Philippines have failed to conclude a rice agreement. In a crisis meeting with the Philippine President Arroyo, Kevin Cleaver, from the UN International Fund for Agricultural Department told her there is now a “food crisis” facing the world, triggering unrest in dozens of countries around the world.
Floods in central China this year displaced millions of people and devastated rice and corn crops. “Overall, China’s harvest has fallen by 10 percent over the past seven years.”
Rice-importing countries Bangladesh, Vietnam and Afghanistan have been hit hardest, as the world’s biggest rice producers including China, India and Indochina are restricting exports to protect their stocks and limit inflation.
Bangladesh is facing its worst food shortages since the major famine of 1974. Twice hit by severe flooding last year and devastating cyclone have left hundreds of families surviving on one meal a day after spending up to 80 percent of their income on food. A recent riot at a textile factory near Dhaka, demanding higher wages to meet higher food prices, resulted in injuries to dozens of people, including the police.
“The government failed to build enough stock of food immediately after last year’s disasters,” said a Bangladesh Development Council spokesman. “The situation may worsen further.”
Economists estimate 30 million out of the Bangladesh’s total population of 150 million could go hungry. “It could become a serious political problem for the military-backed government,” said Shawkat Ali, advisor to the country’s Ministry of Food.
Australia, one of the world’s largest grain producers, suffered its worst drought last year, the worst for more than a century. Its wheat harvest fell by 60 percent.
The World Bank predicts that global demand for food will double by 2030.