Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bumper crop of rice expected, but can the poor buy it?

A bumper crop of rice is expected in Asia this year. Not only rice, but other staples of the diet are expected to have great harvests. But will the poor have enough money to buy this food?

In a conference on food security of Asia, an United Nations official urged governments to create jobs and food stamp programs to make sure that the poor get some of the surplus.

The Associated Press reports that the good harvest is expected to ease food prices. Our snippet of the story comes from the International Herald Tribune.

U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization official Purushottam Mudbhary said buffer stocks of rice, corn and wheat, along with recent sharp drops in oil prices, should further ease food prices that rose alarmingly earlier this year.

But if the poor, who will be hit hard by the global financial crisis, are not able to buy them, Southeast Asian nations still risk facing malnutrition and social unrest, he warned.

He urged countries to develop job-creating projects, food stamp programs and other livelihood initiatives to help the poor gain better access to food. Most Southeast Asian countries lack adequate support for the unemployed and the poor.

"We expect to have very good harvests in Southeast Asia," Mudbhary told a news conference Wednesday at the end of a two-day meeting on food security hosted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Rice has the brightest harvest prospects in Thailand, the world's largest rice exporter. The country is expected to have a surplus of 6 million tons. Vietnam, the world's third largest rice exporter, also expects a robust harvest while Indonesia and Cambodia should be able to produce enough for domestic consumption, Mudbhary said.

The Philippines, the world's top rice importer, has contracted enough rice to fill a 10 percent domestic production gap, officials said.

The soaring food prices of the past year triggered riots around the world.

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