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Southeast Asia: Coping with the rice and food crisis

Food prices continue to rise in the world market. People are concerned about the soaring cost of rice, which is the staple food in the Southeast Asian region and in many parts of the world. Governments are now re-examining their food and agricultural policies in order to prevent consumer panic and social unrest.

One of the earlier proposals was to create an OPEC-style group or a rice cartel in the region: Organization of Rice Exporting Countries or OREC. This idea has been dropped already. The Philippine government was alarmed over this plan. Filipino blogger, Philippines Without Borders, explains why the plan is counterproductive:

“Those countries on the Mekong like Thailand and Vietnam just cannot store rice forever. Unlike oil, rice deteriorates in just a few months of storage in the warehouse. And the Thais and the Vietnamese could eat only so much rice. In fact, forming Orec is counterproductive for these rice exporters. When they hoard their own rice, local prices decline, thus hurting their own farmers. If they want to benefit from the current situation, it’s in their best interest to sell rice and not hoard it.”

Many are still worried over the economic impact of the strong cyclone which hit Myanmar early this month. Rice prices had quadrupled inside Myanmar and hunger is expected to worsen. Golden Colour Revolution writes:

“The Irrawaddy division is agriculturally the most essential division for Burmese people and it produced one third of the rice production for 57 millions people. After the typhoon Nagris, the whole delta area’s rice production lands are flooded with salt water. Farmers can’t grow rice on salted land and there are no farmers left to produce rice for the country and the most important agricultural sector of the country has been destroyed. In the beginning of every June of the year, Burmese farmers usually prepare to grow their paddy plants in the farming area of the country to feed 57 million mouths. But this year, the rice production will drastically decline because of the typhoon.”

Governments are advising their constituents to reduce consumption of rice. A Malaysian blogger responds by insisting that anti-corruption efforts should be the focus of politicians:

“Now, we are facing food crisis we were told eat less rice. Fine, we can go for bread, however the price of flour also hiked. The price of noodle also hiked. What else we can eat? When the price of petrol hiked, we were told to change our live style. What else? Should we sit down and think, where the tax money goes? Should it be spent like this? Please, work hard on anti-corruption. My heart is heavy now, really heavy. I can imagine how hard my family members struggling for living. What should we do? Sit down and wait? Please, wake up. Work hard on anti-corruption.”

The Daily Brunei Resources reviews the food self-sufficiency plan of Brunei. Cafe Salemba proposes an overhaul of Indonesia’s agricultural policies:

“So when we come up using public resources to develop the agriculture revitalization program, are we speaking the same language for large scale commercial agriculture? Are we ready to give up the idyllic view of a small plot land owner peasantry for a large scale industry and see a transformation from myriad small peasant landowners class to become waged farmers working in a handful large scale agroindustrial companies?”

Youthful Insight enumerates the measures which can benefit Indonesian farmers:

“Indonesia’s agricultural industry is rife with asymmetric information. Rice distributors, wholesalers, and exporters, usually city folk with access to urban market prices and world market price data, have always seemed to have the upper hand over the rice farmers, rural folk who do not enjoy the same access to information. As a result, farmers suffer from a weaker bargaining position, causing them to undersell their rice almost every time. Government institutions need to step up and take the responsibility of insuring informational symmetry. If necessary, government officials from the Ministry of Agriculture should give farmers weekly updates on prices, as well as giving them institutionalized protection from distributors and middlemen who seek to exploit.”

Lao Voices tackles the land use problem in Laos:

“Many rice fields that covered the mountainous North of Laos are gone. They are steadily being replaced by rubber trees. The Chinese are coming to Laos and they need their rubber products for their galloping economy.”

Doing Business in Vietnam Seminar notes the quality of rice in Vietnam’s supermarkets is deteriorating:

“With rice as the main staple of nutrition in the diets of many Vietnamese families, the quality and price of rice is currently becoming a major problem for them. As prices are rising, it is becoming more and more difficult for supermarkets to provide high quality rice at a price that citizens can afford. To curb this problem, quality is decreasing rapidly so that prices can remain stable for purchasers.”

Mon Casiple hints that unscrupulous individuals are illegally profiteering from the rice problem in the Philippines:

“The price of rice is shooting through the roof. Yet, the mystery tales from the farmers are that the middlemen are not buying in extraordinary quantities in these times of an alleged demand market. The inescapable conclusion is that the same somebody or somebodies already had the supply before it happened–probably through technical smuggling or direct smuggling. They are now reaping the superprofits. These acts, particularly of government people, are simply treason.”

Bikoy, student leader from the Philippines, provides an action plan for the agricultural sector. Filipino Lawyer Marichu Lambino thinks it’s extraordinary for the Philippine president to literally sit at the preliminary investigation of alleged rice hoarders at the Department of Justice. The Explainer dissects the rising pork prices in the market. Professor Danton Remoto: How to survive as a nouveau poor in the Philippines.

The cost of fertilizer is getting more expensive in Cambodia. As a result of rising food prices, police and dog owners claim cases of dognapping are up in many parts of Cambodia. Perhaps dog meat is delicious and cheap for some Cambodians.

KI Media headline: Cambodia sees Opportunity in Rising Food Prices. Im Sokthy believes Cambodian farmers should be encouraged to venture in other small businesses to generate additional income. My Longkang thinks padi farming in Malaysia should be subsidized.

Thailand Crisis reports that the Thai government’s intervention in the rice crisis will cost 42 billion Thai Baht. The blogger is also not surprised that the consumer confidence index is down in Thailand.

Singabloodypore reports that more and more free meals are given today to help the poor residents of wealthy Singapore. A Xeno Boy in Sg adds that the queue for free food is getting longer. The number of people going to the malls is also lower this year in Singapore.

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