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Food Prices Continue to Rise in Asia

  • Daniel Schearf

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says rising food prices in Asia are hurting the poor but have yet to reach a crisis level. The U.N. body says if the price of oil continues to increase the region’s food prices will follow suit.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says in Asia food prices have been affected by rising costs but not as dramatically as in other regions.

The FAO says the retail price of rice, Asia’s major staple, rose in Bangladesh by 33 percent from last year and in China by 23 percent.

But the region’s major rice producers, Thailand and Vietnam, are having good harvests that are expected to keep prices steady overall.

The FAO's representative for the Asia-Pacific region, Hiroyuki Konuma, says rising food costs in Asia are mainly affecting the region’s poor.

"Many of poor people who are so poor, they spend 50 to 70 percent of their income for food. So, if [the] price increases by 30 percent 40 percent it severely affects their purchasing power for food. And then it results in chronic hunger," Konuma said.

Konuma says the region’s rice production is expected to increase by more than two percent this year while wheat production will decline about four percent.

The FAO says world food prices hit a record high in February as the cost of oil was driven up by political instability in the Middle East and North Africa.

Despite adequate supplies of rice, some Asian nations appear concerned that rising oil costs could eventually affect food supplies.

Reports say Burma in February halted all rice exports.

Burma is not a major rice producer but the move indicates concerns that rice prices may rise as transportation costs increase.

Konuma says the FAO is carefully monitoring oil prices for any affects on Asia.

"It's a bit premature to say, but if the oil price goes up to the level that happened in 2007, 2008, to $140, $150 per barrel, it will seriously affect the production costs of the food," Konuma added.

Food price increases in 2007 and 2008 led some countries in the region to stockpile food and temporarily ban grain exports.

The FAO says while stockpiling emergency supplies is understandable, hoarding staples and banning exports only made the situation worse.

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