News / Asia

Analysts: Regional Cooperation Needed to Manage Asia Food Supply Shocks

A farmer harvests her damaged rice, October 20, 2010, in San Mariano township, two days after typhoon Megi (local name
A farmer harvests her damaged rice, October 20, 2010, in San Mariano township, two days after typhoon Megi (local name "Juan") barreled Isabela province and nearby provinces in northeastern Philippines

Food prices are rising in Asia, and governments are taking various measures to keep them under control - from price ceilings to export restrictions. But uncoordinated government responses could exacerbate the situation.

Droughts, floods, shortages and increased demand have driven food prices in Asia higher in recent months. And experts say prices could jump even more as one of the world’s largest wheat growers, China, suffers from a dry spell.

As a result, some countries have taken measures to ensure their own supply. India has banned the sale of wheat overseas since 2007, and despite a bumper harvest this season, the government continues to stockpile wheat.

Food prices at "dangerous levels"

This week, the World Bank said food prices have hit "dangerous levels" and have pushed 44 million people into poverty. World Bank President Robert Zoellick urges governments to avoid banning exports or controlling prices, which he says would worsen the problem.

Katsuji Matsunami, a food security specialist at the Asian Development Bank in Manila, says the world is awakening to the danger of food supply vulnerability.

"The food supply system is vulnerable against climate extremes - droughts, floods and so on. In the last few decades, we’ve gotten enough money and all the might and knowledge, but we just simply didn’t do enough to flood-proof Asia’s vast flood plains or climate-proof small farmers from drought. We could have done that, but we didn’t do that," he said.

Agricultural policies partly to blame

Nagesh Kumar, chief economist of the United Nations Economics and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok, says weak agricultural policies are also to blame.

"Supply has not been keeping pace with rising demand because of neglect of agriculture in government policies over the past two decades. And so agriculture productivity has stagnated," said Kumar.

Asia embraced the agricultural "Green Revolution" of the 1960s and 1970s. But agricultural productivity has generally diminished since then as more farm land was used for homes and factories to accommodate rising populations and industrialization.

According to an Asia Foundation food security report last year, agriculture’s share of the economies of Southeast Asia’s major farm producers - Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia - has dropped from 38.6 percent in 1970 to 14.5 in 2007. In China, that number fell to 11 percent in 2007 from 35 percent in 1970.

Although the region is home to some of the world’s largest grains growers, more than 64 percent of the world’s undernourished people live here, too.

Governments take measures

In response to expected shortfalls, China pledged cash to farmers to irrigate wheat fields, plant wheat and corn, and treat crop disease. It also set aside $180 million for new equipment and more than $1 billion for drought alleviation.

China also imposed price controls for some food items to shield poor consumers from inflation - which reached 4.9 percent in January.

In Thailand, the government capped the price of cooking palm oil at $1.50 a liter, after floods sharply cut domestic production.

Kumar, however, says that while government intervention may be needed to help the poor, measures such as price controls may spur black market activity.

"If there is a sort of regulation, sort of monitoring along with price controls, it can be very effective, especially if prices are being driven by hoarding or speculation," said Kumar.

Need for coordinated actions

Individual government responses could exacerbate the situation. In early 2008, rice prices more than doubled. Cambodia, Vietnam, India and China, worried about supplies, cut rice exports. At the same time, rice-importing governments ordered large stocks in the international market, driving prices even higher.

Matsunami says there was no real reason for rice prices to skyrocket in 2008.

"Some experts say it was hoarding at every level… But I think more importantly there were various trade restrictive policies taken, export bans and things like that," he said.

So far, except for India, Asian governments have not restricted exports of important commodities. Indian wheat farmers are pressing the government to allow them to sell overseas, which could help increase global supply.

Rice prices are expected to moderate because of an ample harvest and lower demand from the region’s biggest buyer, the Philippines.

Matsunami says having adequate market information helps prevent price volatility. For example, he says the rice trade could benefit from better communication among governments about demand and supply.

"A major part of the rice trade being done within Southeast Asian region is among the Southeast Asian countries," he said. "Is there then a multilateral forum where rice importers and exporters sit together? They don’t have to share the greatest national secret. But can they just sit together and talk casually, ‘How do you see the outlook? How do you see your country’s rice market now?’ That kind of forum does not exist."

Regional food banks

Experts also push for the creation of regional food banks that nations can draw on at times of shortages as a way to prevent a sudden spike in prices.

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, China, South Korea and Japan have established a rice reserve but only for emergency humanitarian needs.

The eight-member South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation has yet to make its regional food bank fully operational despite an agreement in 2007.



You May Like

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More