Once upon a time, oil was so cheap no one bothered to invest into complicated complex offshore prospecting for oil, save at spots like Brunei or Venezuela where the oil reserve were known to be plentiful. There, as was boasted, you only needed to stick in a pipe and the black stuff would come gushing out.
Thanks to the Yanks support for Israel in 1967 and especially in 1973, when Israel was saved only by American massive infusion of military supply, which enabled Israel to withstand the (initially only) brilliant attack by the Egyptian army, the Arab world imposed an oil embargo against the USA and Western Europe in 1973. Oil price then took a humongous leap.
Thus, offshore prospecting for oil not only became cost effective but necessary as well – the rest is history.
And history repeats itself, as we all know.
Iraq in 2003, and on a blatant American lie!
Someone told me that now, it requires HK$1,000 to fill a tank in HK. In Australia, with unleaded at AUS$1.50 (super unleaded 1.60), it’s around $90 for a full tank, which is around RM265.
So the great salesman Anwar Ibrahim has promised lower fuel price, did he?
Anyway, some years back, anticipating this phenomenal oil price hike (thanks to the Yanks again), some nations started to invest in crops for biofuel, which became as cost effective to produce as offshore oil had once become so.
More nations are investing more and more in crops for biofuel, which means there’s less emphasis on, and less arable land for food cops, which means less food production, which is why the world is currently facing not only high food prices but worse and more frightening, less available food crop to purchase.
If those countries revert to food crops and reduce its production crops for biofuel, the oil price would shoot up even further.
I saw on TV a crowd in Senegal screaming blue murder at authorities for the lack of rice, the staple food of that African nation. One Senegalese shouted that rice is slowly but certainly changing from being a staple food into a luxury item for the people of that country.
Already, nations like Thailand are restricting exports of rice. Some call it national survival prudence whilst others term it as hoarding at a national level, and on a global scale.
Sadly, the most deprived will be those dependent on food aid as the unfortunate in Darfur and various parts of Africa. Higher prices also mean lesser quantity for aid groups to hand out.
Countries like Australia are also reassessing its rice (and cotton) production, not so much because of the preference for biofuel crops, but more because of water availability. As we Malaysians know, rice crops require lots of water, for which Australia has unfortunately diminishing quantities.
Malaysiakini headlines an article Gov't to subsidise rice price, where Shahrir Abdul Samad, the domestic trade and consumer affairs minister, told reporters at parliament house, that the government will subsidise (but only in the future) the soaring price of rice to ensure the staple food remains affordable for consumers.
Shahrir also came up with the idea of Malaysians changing their eating habits to cut the impact of rising rice prices. How? With or to what? Unfortunately he didn't offer any suggestion.
Once, when Indonesia under Soekarno was reeling under hunger because of rice shortage due to his gross mismanagement, the late President rationalised that corn was better than rice as a staple food, but alas, he didn't provide any damn corn to the Indonesian people.
It's like that infamous saying (but wrongly) attributed to the French queen, Marie Antoinette who when told the French people had no bread, said: "Let them eat cake!"
Shahrir claimed that "we can at least assure the lower income group that local rice will be made available to them at affordable price.”
I bloody hope so, but I believe the government needs to do more than just that. It needs to open up the protection doors for massive import of rice.
Surprising, Khir Toyo, former MB of Selangor has come up with a decent solution to the rice issue. In an interview with Malaysakini, as published in Khir Toyo: Umno has lost touch with reality he lamented about the political deafness of UMNO and BN to the cries of the people.
He wants the government to open up the market to permit import of rice.
He said: "… we have to open up the market to let the rakyat have the lowest price, while maintaining the income level of farmers. In other countries, unemployed people receive financial help from their government. The same can be done here."
"The government can help supplement farmers’ income when the price of rice drops. What we see now is that the rakyat has to pay a lot for basic goods, while farmers (enjoy subsidies)."
Indeed, why let the rakyat suffer just to protect the income of farmers. Instead the present protection of the farmers income through restriction in rice imports should be changed to one of subsidizing their income, while knocking down those protection doors and opening up the market for rice from abroad.
He also agreed that the rice-import monopoly of Bernas (Padiberas Nasional Bhd) should be terminated.
And he doesn’t want the government to deal with only rice, but the full nine yards, namely sugar and other basic food items.
I hope AAB isn’t going to say “Let them eat Cuisse de Grenouille.” *
* fried or sautéed frog legs served in garlic butter