Real fears are developing in Asia as governments push to shore up food supplies particular essentials like rice, wheat and other commodities amid soaring prices.
Asia, which consumes 90% of the world’s rice, is facing a supply challenge due to record-breaking temperatures and damaging floods in rice-growing areas. This is further exacerbated by fertiliser shortages which push the price of rice at its highest in 12 years. As if this is not enough, India which supplies 12% of the world’s rice, had decided in July to ban exports of non-basmati rice to support its own domestic demand.
All these confluence of factors have led analysts to fear that a repeat of 2007/2008 food crisis could happen again.
Grain shortage is also worsened by the Russian-Ukraine war of which both countries are major suppliers of wheat, corn and barley. Should any of the rice producing countries like Vietnam or Thailand start to follow India’s footsteps i.e. to ban exports, the domino effect will be felt in major importing countries.
Food Security has become a crucial topic not only to countries like Singapore, which relies almost entirely on imports of food products, but also in food producing nations like Malaysia and Indonesia. Recently, Indonesia has committed to provide its poor households with up to 10kg of free rice a month, and it has recently announced plan to import an additional 1.5 million tonnes of rice to offset the effects of the El Nino drought on domestic production. Little did we realise that panic buying by countries could also help to accelerate the food crisis.
The recent Israeli-Palestinian war has also caused severe damage to Israel food industry which is a major supplier of fruits. Its labour force was decimated as farmers, usually contract workers from Thailand and Palestine, have left for their own safety. There are also shortage of logistics and manufacturing workers in food manufacturing plants. A looming threat of war in the north of the country with Hezbollah could affect 40% of Israel’s fruit cultivation. Not only that, the Israel Ministry of Agriculture has warned that half of the country’s poultry and egg supplies came from an area within 5 km of the Lebanese border. To allay this fear, Israel has raised import quota for these products.
Israel burgeoning food tech sector, which is one of the world’s best, is also not spared from the war. According to Dr Nitza Kardish, CEO at agrifoodtech investor The Trendlines Group, “The city of Sderot and the Kibbutzim surrounding Gaza, which are one of the centres of the Israeli agro and food ecosystem, were severely damaged.” Many companies are also suffering from shortage of manpower as the male workers have been called back to serve the armed forces in the war.
Indeed, two-thirds of the above factors which cause food shortages are attributed to human causes – panic buying, wars, unsustainable farming. There must be serious efforts by all relevant parties to work together and reach a viable solution for all, otherwise be prepared for the next food crisis !