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Southeast Asia: Rising price of rice

Rice is the staple food in Southeast Asia and in many parts of the world. Asia 2008 notes how rice is valued in Indochina:

“In Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, saying ‘eat rice’ means more than just ‘eat rice’. In Thailand it just means ‘eat’ (kin khao). Asking ‘have you eaten rice today?’ is a way of saying ‘how are you?’ In Vietnamese it is polite to say ‘please eat rice’ (mơi ăn cơm) before every meal – even if the meal is noodles. You can even get rice-flavored ice-cream here. It's not bad.”

Bruneians believe that rice is not just a food that fulfills hunger. Elders remind the children to finish their meal to the last grain of rice because if not, the rice would cry. Philippine scholar Michael Tan writes the importance of rice in Filipino culture. Lovely Laos quotes a colonial ruler who once said: “The Vietnamese plant rice, the Cambodians watch it grow and the Lao listen to it grow.”

Rice is also a very strategic commodity. Rice shortages can cause panic and unrest in many countries. Many people in Southeast Asia are worried over reports that rice is getting more expensive and supplies are dwindling. Southeast Asian governments are assuring their constituents that prices will stabilize soon and there will be no shortages in the local markets.

Singapore Short Stories sums up the reasons why rice is expensive today:

1) Higher fuel costs, with crude soaring above US $100 a barrel and threatening to stay that way, have been a major factor in the crisis, making fertilizer more expensive and increasing transport costs.
2) In Southeast Asia, disease, pests and an unparalleled 45-day cold snap that extended from China to Vietnam in January and February have also hurt harvests. Flooding in the Philippines and Vietnam has added to the growing crisis.
3) Medium-grade rice exported from Thailand, the world’s biggest rice exporter, reached $760 a metric ton, up from $360 a ton at the end of last year.

Precious Kingdoms links to an article which cites the effects of rising rice prices in Asia:

33% Rise since January in price paid by Philippines for rice from Vietnam
3 billion People worldwide who rely on rice as a staple food
40% Rise in rice price in Thailand this year
19.2% Rise in consumer prices in Vietnam last month, against March 2007
8.4% Rise in food prices in the Philippines last month, compared with March 2007
854 million Number of people worldwide who are “food insecure”
1 billion People globally who survive on less than $1 a day, defined as “absolute poverty”

The Philippines is the world’s top rice importer. Arnold Padilla explains the rice situation in the Philippines today:

“Tight supply and high prices will hurt the poor most. The rich have extra money to buy a big volume of rice, even at unusually high prices, that could meet their families’ need for a couple of months. For most families, however, they buy rice to meet a day’s need, or in many cases, a meal’s need. (Aside from those who could not afford a meal at all.)”

Indonesia First quotes a government minister who asserted that the rice price in Indonesia is slightly lower than in the world market. Humbahas writes that the government would no longer conduct rice import this year because with last year’s rice procurement drive, Indonesia now has more than one million tons in stock.

Manjaku Sayang points out how expensive rice will hurt the poor:

“So what does this mean for us, the people having fried rice for lunch? For the wealthy and middle class consumers, rice and wheat price increases are a pricier inconvenience that they can and will have to bear with. But if prices go higher, it will be a disaster for the poor, who spend most of their disposable income on food.”

Exegesis is disappointed with the rice policies of the Indonesian government. Cafe Salemba is frustrated too:

“Some months ago, when the domestic rice price was high –due to shortage–, and the international price low, we didn't want to import because, some said, it would hurt the rice farmers, even though when majority net consumers would love to have lower imported rice price. Now, when the domestic price is low –due to harvest season–, and the international price high, we don't want to export because, some says, it would be good to have large domestic reserve to protect the rice consumers, even though at the cost of, well, the rice farmers who may gain for that high international price. So which one is which –defending the rice farmers or consumers? I am scratching my head.”

Simply Jean observes that Singaporeans have started on a buying spree on all rice available in the market. nightorchid's garden thinks the biggest winners of this situation are the rice millers and packers since all they have to do is hold on to their rice and wait for the price to rise. blabbering blob of blogging blogger reminds us that the backup rice supply is not going to become a mechanism to keep prices down since the blogger believes rice is still gonna become more expensive.

in passing – malaysian has a message to fellow Malaysians:

“When news that there are shortages of rice in some countries in this part of the world, we in Malaysia began to fear of rice shortage as well. To allay that fear the authority has assured consumers that there are ample stocks of rice in this country. So folks do takes it easy and continue to enjoy this wonderful grain that we call Rice.”

Tangents has a proposal on how to strengthen rice subsidies in Malaysia:

“With savings resulting from the above abolishing of subsidies for sugar and cooking oil, as well as longer term savings on health costs, etc, the government may be able to continue supporting subsidies for staple food items such as rice and flour. Rice especially is worthy of subsidies both for strategically ensuring supply security locally and to support farmers that remain on the poverty line.”

Tonyhiicon blogs about the initial reactions of Malaysians over reports of a global rice shortage:

“It instantly cast a chill over the market, sending consumers at large to a state of fret. Coupled with the price talk was a widespread scare of a possible scarcity of supplies in the market. This imbalance position is definitely going to exert pressure on pricing. Fortunately rice is a controlled item in Malaysia.”

Words from Malaysia says it is healthy to reduce consumption of rice:

“For strategic and health reasons, let us keep to a minimum our rice intake. Rice may be great for our taste buds, but not for our body. Rice and other grains like wheat and corn are actually worse than sugar. Rice is chemically no different from sugar. When digested, it becomes sugar. One bowl of cooked rice is the caloric equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar. It does not matter whether the rice is white, brown or organic. Brown rice is richer in fiber, has some B vitamins and minerals, but one bowl of it is still the caloric equal of 10 teaspoons of sugar.”

Straight Talk has an advice for the government:

* Promote better management of internal resources to avoid wastage and non-performance and channel extra resources to the poor to mitigate the increase in cost of living;
* Encourage local food production and upstream activities e.g. poultry, vegetable, fruits and rice cultivation;
* Create a committee to look into issues faced by a new class of urban poor;
* Review the current subsidy system to ensure our scarce funds are used for more appropriate functions; and
* Create a contingency plan in the case of acute rice shortage

MangoZeen reports that in Cambodia the rice crisis has lead to suspension of exports as speculators gamble on the increasing demand for the food staple. The Mirror reports that the opposition is taking advantage of the rice situation by conducting demagogy. KI Media quotes Cambodian leader Hun Sen:

“Hun Sen said that the price of rice should jump in 2000-2001 when there was a major flood in Cambodia, but the price of rice during that time was stable. Regarding the current rice price soaring, it is due to the fact that Cambodian rice is the cheapest in the region, and even Malaysia and The Philippines is considering buying rice from Cambodia also. Furthermore, Thailand and Vietnam are both currently buying rice from Cambodia. Hun Sen added: ‘Is Cambodia short of rice yet? Because there are dishonest people who are instigating rumors about rice shortage in the market.”

Brunei Lifestyle is happy that the current stock for the nation’s needs is more than sufficient and that the price has not changed since the government is subsidizing the price. Liyana Tassim appeals to the public to save the environment.

Vietnam Business Finance reports that the price of Vietnamese rice is higher than Thai rice.
Magnoy Samsara warns that rice bandits are scaring Thailand. Burma News notes that despite the drastic price increase, observers say there is no immediate fear of a rice crisis, as most of the rice consumed in Myanmar is produced domestically.

Chao-Vietnam explains why Vietnam has imposed a ban on rice exports:

“Vietnam has extended a ban on rice sales until June to help stabilize domestic food prices as it tries to tame double-digit inflation…A cold spell that damaged part of agricultural crops in northern Vietnam early this year and double-digit inflation rocking the country's small economy have prompted Hanoi to halt its grain exports.”

Thailand Crisis praises a public official for explaining the factors which made rice more expensive:

“Accusing the people who hoard and speculate… it’s easy… It can pay on a political level. But it’s of course not enough to explain the current situation (much more complex). Talking about world market prices, demand, population growth and pressures on lands this is new. And courageous.”

  • lestat

    These rise in prices of staples is often the prelude of very large and devastating famines.

    http://www.famine.com
    famine

  • tori

    would like to buy rice from a suppiler. serious response only. thank you.

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  • Jim

    Temporarily, countries and people so dependent on rice will have to switch to noodles as their staple food. This is what the Liberians are currently doing and it is working well. A 50kg bag of rice in Liberia currently sells at $34 (more than double since last year), whereas the similar amount of maize or spaghetti (yes, I said spaghetti) sells for $12. Of course, the rise in the demand for noodles will cause their price to rise eventually, which is one of the reasons why this is only a temporary solution. But, in conclusion, a country or people should never rely on a single commodity so much as to make that commodity so powerful in itself. Even if they are poor, there are always, and I mean always, viable alternatives.

  • Ian Thomson

    The rice price crisis is a symptom of a much larger and more terrible one .With rapid urbanisation, especially in India and China, tens of millions of subsistance farmers -who grew their own food and in a good year a bit extra for the factory workers , have become factory workers. Who will feed everyone? Most of the best food growing places are nice and flat and suitable for industrial developement.
    Couple this with the drive in the west to use other staple foods to produce Ethanol and we are all in trouble

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