Will Vietnam have a food crisis?

Published: 28/02/2011 05:00

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World food prices reached a new historic peak in January 2011, exceeding prices reached during the food crisis of 2007-08. A global food crisis could be looming and local media has discussed a possible rice price fever scenario in Vietnam as seen in 2008. Following are expert views on the issue. Excerpts:

Bui Ba Bong, deputy minister of Agriculture and Rural Development:

“Food price hikes on the global market would probably have little impact on Vietnam’s rice prices as the nation still has large rice supplies for the whole year. Moreover, the 2011 food crisis, despite being seen as a danger, will not happen like in 2008 as many countries are better prepared and have measures to prevent food speculation.

In response to the food crisis threat, the ministry this year will hold fast to food production to ensure rice supply and prepare to cope with natural disasters, bad weather and diseases. The potential of a food crisis will remain in coming years, so the ministry will manage comprehensive agricultural development, boost rice production to ensure food security and protect rice farming land.

The ministry will continue infrastructure investment and apply technology to increase output and suggest supporting policies for farmers. The ministry has submitted to the Government a national rice land plan until 2020 and a decree on rice land management. The two important documents will be out this year.”

Bui Chi Buu, director of Southern Institute of Agricultural Science and Technology:

“We see that the world’s unhusked rice output in 2010 dropped by 6.5 million tons from 2009 to 697.9 million tons, or 465.4 million tons of rice. Despite serious droughts and floods, Asia still saw output rising 3% to 631.4 million tons of unhusked rice given recovery of India and growth of Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Iran, North Korea, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.

Meanwhile, output fell in South Korea, Myanmar, Pakistan and Thailand due to adverse weather. Africa gained 24.6 million tons, up 1% while Latin America and Caribbean turned out 26.5 million tons, largely due to the contribution of Brazil. Bad weather also occurred in Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela. Therefore, global rice stocks have increased by 5% to 136.2 million tons, the highest level since 2002.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) expected rice consumption to rise by 2% during 2010 and 2011 while average food per capita was 56.7 kilos per year, up 1% from 2009.

Vietnam enjoyed a bumper crop and high prices last year with the total unhusked rice output of 40 million tons, including 21.5 million tons from the Mekong Delta. So the 2008 food price fever might not recur. Food shortage dangers still remain if corn and wheat growing nations keep using cereals as bio fuels and crude oil prices keep increasing. [An escalation in the use cereals as biofuels is unlikely] as soybean prices rose US$14 a bushel within the past six months, cereal and seed oil surged by 25%.

We are facing the impacts of climate change. Rice and wheat output cannot keep pace with population growth while farming areas and water resources are shrinking. The world is facing the biggest food security danger ever. On the other hand, Vietnam agriculture has continuously developed despite modest investment conditions. We expect the world’s cereal output this year to maintain its growth rate of 2010 to help ensure food security and complete the UN millennium goal.”

Le Van Banh, rector of the Mekong Delta Rice Institute:

“A report of the Third International Rice Conference held in Hanoi last year showed that nearly a billion people worldwide are suffering a food shortage. The problem turns worse when you throw in climate change, droughts, floods and forest fires.

Political crises in some African countries recently have prompted densely populated nations like Indonesia and China to build up their food stocks, decreasing world food supplies. Food prices may fluctuate in the coming time but the crisis may not happen as most nations have learnt from their experience in 2008.

As food shortages are a constant fact in this world, governments have to keep calm and solve the problem together. Vietnam has enjoyed bumper crops for years on end and now there is a good winter-spring harvest.

However, our agriculture still has to confront the risks of natural disasters, diseases, drought, salinity intrusion and flood. Vietnam plays an important role in world food security as it contributes 20% of the commercial rice volume.

With the lessons learnt in 2008, I believe the agencies involved in Vietnam will have solutions for the local rice market and export. It is important that the nation should have a sustainable rice production plan to ensure food security, balance the profits of producers and exporters, and support farmers to develop rice cultivation.”

Source: VIR

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