I must confess: when I saw the front-page photo in the local Hong Kong newspaper of people hoarding rice, with a headline that shouted, ‘Threats of Curbs on Thai Rice Sends Jitters in Hong Kong,’ my first thought was, “Maybe I should load up on some extra bags of rice, too – just in case.”
Unfortunately, it is this kind of panic mentality that is feeding a rice crisis here in Asia. Soaring prices and the fear of scarcity have prompted not just consumers but also governments to hoard. India, Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia have all announced drastic limits on the amount of rice they will export. As these traditional rice exporters tighten their grip on reserves, countries that rely on imports are scrambling to secure supplies.
Food shortages punish poor nations and their people the most. This week, the Philippines and Bangladesh were unable to buy enough rice abroad to secure food for their people because no country wanted to sell.
In the meantime, the price of rice has reached record highs, doubling in just a year. There are many factors that have pushed up rice prices, including bad weather, industrialization, lack of investment in agricultural research, demand for bio-fuels and growing demand in India and China. But the immediate crisis could be eased if governments stopped hoarding and lifted their export restrictions. In other words, faith in the market needs to be restored.
Here in Hong Kong, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao stepped in and promised to ensure rice supplies to Hong Kong after panic buying led some supermarkets to run out of rice. Thai exporters also pledged to ensure supply. Last I checked, my local supermarket had plenty of bags of rice, so I won’t have to buy that extra supply after all.
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