Sunday, April 27, 2008

Rice bowl

image: sridgway

We drove out to the ancient ruins of My Son today through hectares of golden rice. The harvest is on. Teams of harvesters worked plots in the fields, scything, stooking and threshing the grain by hand. Front courtyards were displays of colour as the rice, alongside chilis, maize and beans, was laid out to dry in the sunshine.

Globally soaring food prices aligned to international economic conditions are taking their toll even here in the world's 3rd largest rice exporter. Rising prices might be good news for farmers but consumers are suffering. A cafe owner told us today that the price of rice has doubled in recent months.

Rumours are of rice shortages but it appears that a far greater impact is rice hoarding. Vietnam and Thailand it seems have in fact had record rise crops in the past year.

According to U.S. Agriculture Dept. what's driving the price of rice so high are widespread worries about food inflation in many rice-growing nations. "In poorer nations, a large share of people's earnings is spent on food, and big price increases in other kinds of food are harming consumers," Childs says. So to protect their supplies of rice—a staple food in much of the world—several countries have imposed export bans or sharp limits. That has led to a sharp reduction of rice available for trade in the global market. In 2007, India and Vietnam, two of the world's biggest rice exporters, reduced their rice shipments. Since then, Cambodia, Egypt, and Brazil have all halted rice exports. (Business Week)

The outlook appears grim, especially for nations that are net importers of the grain and that have large rice-consuming populations, like the Philippines.

Meanwhile here in Vietnam where labourers earn 50,000 VND (~ $3) a day there were government announcements via jeep mounted loud hailers today informing the locals of subsidies and strategies to stop the price rises. It was an interesting but necessary medium in a country where the hardest hit are unlikely to access the news in any other format.

image: robynejay

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