Fri, Jul 10, 2009 - Page 9 News List

Asian rice politics eats into food security

Last year’s mythical rice crisis could increase calls to stop rice exports

DPA CORRESPONDENTS

Hopefully, the Democrats will do away with the rice-pledging scheme altogether before they leave office and replace it with an alternative program that assures farmers a decent price for their rice, but keeps the government out of the trade.

Given such convoluted political considerations, it is understandable that some countries are worried about their food security, even if last year’s shortage was essentially an illusion.

In Cambodia, Kuwaiti investors have reportedly signed 99-year leases for huge tracts of Cambodian rice farmlands to secure their own supply.

Chan Tong Yves, secretary of state for the Cambodian Ministry of Agriculture, confirmed there were plans to lease farmland to Kuwaiti investors, but would not provide specific details.

Such deals raise worries.

“One issue is do these countries have the legal system to protect people who claim a right to the land?” the FAO’s Calpe said. “And secondly, are the governments solid enough to handle these investments in a transparent manner, beneficial to the local community?”

What would be preferable is a free rice market that works.

“If there is a proper marketing policy and the government does not intervene, there is no need for Middle Eastern investments in rice farms,” analyst Nipon said. “They don’t need to come here as long as the government keeps its hands off.”

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