The Slumbering Global Food Crisis Stirs Producing Countries Yet Again
Rising food prices mean many farmers around the world are reaping record profits. And South America's agricultural powerhouses, Brazil and Argentina, are responding to the farming windfall in opposite ways.
Brazilian government recently announced record farm credits, a form of indirect subsidy, to encourage Brazil's farmers to produce more while the price of their exports are high on world markets, a move that should improve Brazil's economy.
While Argentina increased export taxes on some crops, to keep the domestic price low in order to sell more at home rather than encouraging to sell out.
Eventhough global food crisis seemed to take a backseat attention the past few weeks (taken over by other major world events such as the Olympic and the American presidential race) the crisis however is showing no signs of settling nor appeasing any time soon.
However a little easement on the strain especially the crucial problem of the high price of rice has decreased 10% which relieved millions across Asia that struggles to afford their staple food.
However many analysts said that there would be an impending wave of inflation around the world in the months to come.
And food production and provision has now only become the major issue of international relations if not the central issue of the political life.
The United Nation and its agencies have been largely responsible for acknowledging that 'the right to subsitence' is a fundamental human right and therefore a duty which the international community must respond.
Increased food demand from rapidly developing countries, such as China and India, the use of biofuels, high oil prices, global stocks at 25-year lows and market speculation are all blamed for pushing prices of staples such as rice to record highs around the globe.
The unprecedented surge, which some analysts said is going to continue, posed a growing threat to regional governments worried about the prospect of hoarding and social unrest.
And although the problem of deprivation is thought to be technically soluble (and I say 'thought to be') by the assistance of International community, especially the relatively rich industrialized North could not respond as generously as expected.
In times of grain shortages, the world typically turns to the US, but US rice stocks have been cut in half the past two years. Rice acreage is being diverted to soaring corn, wheat and soybeans.
In 2007, the US produced only about six million tonnes of rice, out of total world production of 425 million tonnes.
In addition, while world grain output was recorded to have increased since early 1990s, the great beneficiaries were the wealthiest states, which continue to overconsume.
And given the issue of population explosion, food crisis is likely to be of systemic proportions over the years.
It was reported that Thailand and Vietnam have been preassured to urge farmers to grow extra crops which faced many setbacks such as the one of the worst flooding recorded just weeks ago. The overflowing Mekong river forced 33,000 families that were rice farmers to relocate away from the fertile delta.
India has also stop exporting non-Basmathi rice to its Asian neighbours in October last year and just yesterday the agriculture concertrated state of Bihar has been overwhelmed by flood which affected 20 million people who were majority - farmers.
"There's been a popular misconception that the world can produce as much food as it likes. Well, it obviously can't. And Asia can't feed itself at the moment," Gerry Lawson, the chairman of Sunrice, a major Australian rice producer, said.
The task of increasing production above consumption is complicated not just by a lack of political will, but also environmental degradation, global scarcity of crop land, irrigation water and climatic change associated with global warming. Go figure.
Many Asian countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia have imposed controls on the rice exports but a radical move by Brazil and Argentina are responding to crisis in the opposite way.
In the race to take advantage of the tight global food market, Brazil has a number of advantages over its southern neighbor. It is much bigger, with around 173 million acres of land currently under cultivation, more than twice that of Argentina. It has a wider range of agricultural exports. And while Argentina is the world's second biggest exporter of corn and the third biggest exporter of soybeans, Brazil is the world's first or second largest exporter of beef, soybeans, orange juice, chicken, sugar and coffee.
"We need to give incentives to producers because people are buying and eating more," said Reinhold Stephanes, Brazil's agriculture minister. "This is our opportunity to produce and export more, and help to reduce hunger in the world."
The problem seems to be slumbering in the public eye, but producing countries and farmers all over the world are feeling the rising heat.
Unless there is a coordinated international response which also involve bringing population growth into line with food production, a major international disaster is waiting to happen, or has it?