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Friday, March 28, 2008

Rice: shortages, inflation and famine

I've posted a number of times on peak food and the coming crunch of real modern day famine with few if any hits or comments. I don't know if this is a lack of concern because we are a rich country or if constantly whining about Harper and Dion is really that much more fulfilling than looking at a real issue that will impoverish or kill millions.

In just the last week major rice exporters such as India and Vietnam and also Egypt have either cut or banned the export of rice outside their countries in order to maintain supply and keep their internal food inflation in check.

Vietnam will cut exports 22%, India will raise the minimum price for exports by 50% virtually killing all non Basmati exports, and Egypt will outright ban the export of rice to keep prices under control and maintain sufficient domestic supplies. Cambodia a much smaller exported also announced similar measures which when totaled with the other exporters will take a full 1/3 of the rice off of the international market.

These most recent moves have raised spot prices by 30% this week and doubling rice prices since January.

So who will get hurt the most a world rice shortages?

The poor naturally, rice is a staple for a good portion of the worlds poorest peoples. At the low end of the spectrum the poorest people already end up paying a large portion of their yearly income on food alone and for their main staple to double will mean starvation for some, and malnourishment for many more.

The Philippines and Africa both are major net importers of rice,as is the Middle East. Africa as the poorest of these regions is destined to be hurt the most aggravating a region already suffering from wars, droughts, and the disaster that is Zimbabwe.

Another major hit will be taken by aid agencies like the U.N. who will find this year their donor dollars will feed 50% less people.

Yet somehow, western nations can still justify burning grain ethanol. We should be rioting in the streets in sympathy with these people not burning their food.Recommend this Post


Val said...

Well... here's one hit at least.

Maybe people read but refuse to let the information sink in - it is really too scary to consider.

Maybe these issues (I've been doing a lot of thinking about pharma lately) make us realize, or at least bring to the edges of consciousness, how fragile or broken our 'democracy' really is. If we do not feel that there is any way to make a change - what is the point of worrying about these big issues.

After all, the media and our governments have worked very hard to convince us that we cannot make a change - that one voice is not going to be heard. That corporations have all the power and that the big decisions are made somewhere over there. That we need to be fearful and allow *someone* who knows better to decide for us. Sometimes it is hard to ignore those voices.

I'm glad that you are not one of those people. Thanks for bringing the big issues back to mind.

GAB said...

Thanks Val, there are very few who would say I'm the sane or compasionate voice. Hell I don't even believe it.

Sorry I can't make the fete this weekend,(still coughing up lungs)

big birthday hugs.

Too bad your classes were not downtown, I'd buy you a drink after work some night.

Val said...

Ahem... I am *extremely* flexible when it comes to offers of free alcohol. Especially now that I am heading into my last week of classes.

I also do lunches.

Just tell me when and I am there.


Anonymous said...

At the risk of sounding callous, people obviously don't care (much) about the poor, especially the poor safely in other countries, other continents. However, luckily, people do care about themselves and their near and dear. Food prices are going up for everyone. Gas prices are also going up, and since most people still don't even know how to buy local food, and often there simply isn't enough local food available, this is pushing prices up due to transport. Wheat prices are rising everywhere, and so are corn prices. Since corn is in nearly everything in the form of corn syrup, all sorts of things are costing more. So far, it's not hurting that much, but the costs of all goods are going up, and the poor in rich countries are also being squeezed.

My central point is not that we should not be concerned about poorer countries' citizens. We should. But, I sincerely think the story in the media, on blogs, emphasizes too much how "the poor and poor nations will suffer most." Everyone is going to suffer from resource depletion and climate change. It's more effective to tell people, "Your pocket book and your freedom to enjoy your lifestyle, and possibly even your ability to simply make ends meet, will soon be curtailed," than to basically reassure them that it will be the poor "over there" who will continue to suffer the brunt of the effects of our changing ecological circumstances.

GAB said...

I think the distinction is a poor canadian spends maybe 20% of their income on food quite possibly less and yes many could do without a cell phone or without tv, take out yada yada.

The poor of the developing world may spend 50%+ of their income on staple foods and have much less wiggle room.

While you are right the story has more impact to focus on our poor but our poor are not as poor and as theirs, their poor are more likely to starve.

The end game is the 3rd world poor will be bid out of the market, our poor will become poorer, the middle class will defer a latte to make up the difference and the rich won't notice as corn and soya is poored into their Hummer for a trip to the mall.

It's gonna be ugly however you tell the story.

Anonymous said...

I think it's going to be worse than that. A perfect storm is headed our way. Oil is only going to get more expensive. The global economy cannot operate the way it currently does when energy gets more and more expensive. People are going to lose their jobs and our food system will have to be restructured. I don't think most people are accounting for all the factors in play. Two of the biggest jobs in the future will probably be small scale farmer and soldier, both of which have a better chance than office-schmuck of keeping a person fed, even if the labour is back breaking and life-threatening respectively. Cheap, abundant, portable energy has allowed us to overshoot population-wise, and at some point it's going to slap us in the face.
We've been using oil to grow our food, and that'll be the first priority use of it (and making war) once it becomes scarce.

Short term, sure, it'll be about as you describe. But the whole point is not to think for the short term. That's what got us into this mess. If you want to convince people to stop doing things that hurt the poor, remind them that they're next in line.

GAB said...

Your scenerio is correct once we start down the decline of peak oil. The problem is giving people too much bad information at one time, the balk and deny immediately.

It's stupid and juvenile but we have to first convince them there is a problem and then bring it home. It's like the banks, they know damn well how much money they've lost but keep giving out portions of the truth rather than just bite the bullit and risk a panic.

It's all marketing and death by a thousand cuts, which is just as deadly as getting gutted once but people seem to cope better in small doses. Do you pick off the band aid or rip it off?

When I give my long term, poverty, war, 70%+ die off rants, no one listens, no one plans more than 1 year off. I believe this scenerio and want the farm now, I just can't figure out how to get it.

Theresa said...

I'm sickened and dismayed by these food shortages, and especially by the practice of "food profiteering" which enables speculators/investors to make money off of starving people. I've blogged about it myself and am in the middle of composing a letter to my MLA, who was, of all things, a futures trader. A fellow blogger named Greenpa at Little Blog in the Big Woods has got quite a buzz going about this practice, and a lot of other info on the topic as well, if you're interested...

Glad to have found your blog!