The Philippines have intensified efforts to tackle the food crisis sparked by soaring global prices. President Arroyo has threatened rice hoarders with harsh punishment if they steal state subsidised rice. She has also appealed to the United States to help boost government stocks amid concerns over possible shortages.
A Filipino woman stands in a queue to buy rice in Manila
Rising food prices have forced thousands of people in Manila to stand in long queues to buy rice and other basic food at subsidised rates. The government has been criticised for having been aware of the problem for almost a month but not responding in time.
The agricultural secretary Arthur Yap has also acknowledged in a recent interview that the government has not given enough priority to agricultural production in the past: “We have data to show that in the past we did not invest as much as we should have in terms of irrigation facilities, post harvest programmes, in terms of national seeds programmes. The priority of our President was to put the Philippine fiscal house in order. Now that we have the budgets planned, we are giving priority to other sectors. And the proof of this is that the agriculture is growing, rice production is growing. This year our summer crop and our national crop are projected to be more than 2007.”
But despite this optimistic projection, the Philippines, which is one of the world’s largest importers of rice, is caught in the middle of a worsening global rice supply shortage. Analysts fear that the rising prices and food shortages could lead to social unrest and pose security problems. But President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has urged people not to create panic and assured them that the government has secured sufficient supply of rice. She has also called a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday to discuss the issue.
Dr Cezar P Mamaril is an expert from the Asia Rice foundation in manila. He says the crisis is not as serious as it may look:” I think it’s just a matter of distribution because in some areas there is an excess of rice and in others not. Some people are trying to hoard so that they can command higher price. Hence there is shortage but I think it is temporary.”
President Arroyo has said that the authorities are investigating alleged rice hoarding and they will crackdown on those who try to divert supplies of rice or sell them at market prices. She has ordered the military and police to secure rice warehouses and distribution centres. Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap adds that the US has agreed to sell Manila 100,000 tonnes of rice to help boost the government stocks.
Meanwhile the surge in food prices has caused tensions in some other Asian countries as well. At least 50 people were hurt in Bangladesh at the weekend when a protest by workers over soaring food costs turned violent. In Indonesia, the government has had to eliminate duties on the import of wheat and soya beans because of drastic price hike. Also in India the government has had to lower import duties on edible oil and ban the export of rice to check inflation.
And as crises continue to loom over Asia, the government of the Philippines has urged south East Asian nations and other countries such as China, Japan and India to call an emergency meeting within a month or two to discuss ways of coping with the situation.