Monday, April 28, 2008

Frightening food shortage

The escalating price of food is related to the rising cost of oil is related to the war in Iraq.

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


  1. Nice try. But removing rice import monopoly will do nothing to alleviate rice shortage. This is because there are few sellers internationally, after India and Vietnam started to restrict rice export.

    The international speculation of food, is just a new round in the speculation activities that started with the speculations in stocks, then Oil futures, Iron, Copper etc. Poor people will suffer the most, while some rich will become extremely wealthy.

  2. The 'Cuisse de Grenouille', are the legs from the ones that are waiting to 'jump'?

  3. Hmmmm, isn't it Bernas exploit Malaysia farmer by buying the rice BELOW the market price?

    I heard that Sekinchang farmer complain the cross state(not even country) restriction impose by Bernas has force them to sell rice below market price.

    BTW, solution to reduce white rice consumption are abundance. In fact, brown rice are more "filling" than white rice. Ironically, brown rice provide more nutrients.

    The old day poor man food such as Kacang botol should be reintroduced. In fact, few Malaysia know Kacang Botol can be eaten from flower till the roots.

  4. Many of the countries which are now facing food shortages have only themselves to blame for the dilemma they are in. These countries thought they could buy food cheaply or they could get food aid for free forever. The lack of political will and corruption have left these countries without the food productiion capacity to feed their own people.

  5. The biggest single factor (there are many factors) in the escalating international food price inflation is the long Australian drought. The drought is now its 5th (?) year.
    Australia was (is) a major exporter of Wheat, various other grains, Dairy Products, Beef, Lamb, yes even rice.

    Production output of all these has been drastically cut, and there is no producer in the world which can take up that slack, not in the short term anyway.

    The escalating price of oil, the dramatic increase in China import consumption are all important factors.

    One positive factor is that actual total global food supply is not a major issue. The world still produces more food than ever in the history of humanity, but the escalating cost is worrying even rich, industrialised countries, and poor countries are suffereing the most.

  6. Our weather experts in the Malaysian universities need to tell us how "global warming" will affect the growing of food and cash crops in Malaysia.
    I am now in the midst of reading
    a very worrying book on adverse climate change called "Six Degrees". This book analyses how humanity will be affected as the earth warms up by
    1 degree Celsius, 2 degrees Celsius all the way up to 6 degrees Celsius.

  7. Global warming only helps Al Gore`s bank account.

  8. I switch channel everytime the word, "climate change" gets mentioned over Astro channels, especially BBC. Just another envelope to cover up the "global warming" myth.

    But for KT, of course, it's all the Yank's (NeoCons')fault and the evil Jooos that they support, that causes the worldwide food crises(not the Gory fool's one).

  9. good olde wits0 can always be relied upon to disparage poor olde kaytee ;-)

    but which of my points on the US avarice have you found incorrect? surely you aren't of those who believe in WMD or regime change? ;-) I stopping believing in the tooth fairy when I was 5 - ke ke ke

  10. "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
    "Iraq in 2003, and on a blatant American lie!"

    What has these got to do with the present food problems? Are you saying food prices are high because the Americans made it so. This is the kind of underhanded bullshit which
    wits0 is referring to. Statements such as those I have quoted shows you know nothing about the global supply of oil and even less with global food production. Not being able to control your hatred for the Americans when you are talking about a life and death matter for billions of people just goes to show how intellectually shallow you are. That is if I can even use the word intellectual to describe you in the first place. By the way there is a great differnce between the residents of the US or people generally referred to as Americans and the US government. Soemthing which your brain find impossible to seperate of course.