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 "Juan") barreled Isabela province and nearby provinces in northeastern Philippines
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

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

Survivor: Gunman Spared 'Lucky One' to Give Police Message

Law enforcement official says a manifesto of several pages was recovered; contents not revealed More

This forum has been closed.
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.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs