Rice Farming

 - Rice Producers Forum -

In the eye of the storm

By Dwight Roberts
President and Chief Executive Officer

Some U.S. agricultural economists call it a perfect storm. Asian rice officials call it a tsunami. Blame it on $100+ for a barrel of oil. Blame it on the Australian drought. Blame it on government policies around the world. Blame it on ethanol and biofuels. Blame it on China and India’s prosperity and a growing world population. Blame it on global warming.   Whoever is at fault is not the point now. The truth of the matter is that there are folks going hungry around the world with little relief in sight. It’s unfortunate that it takes these conditions and the suffering of people around the world to recognize the role of the U.S. farmer.

At the USDA’s 10th Annual International Food Aid Conference in Kansas City in April more than 700 people from 25 countries gathered to discuss the theme “Future Pathways to Food Aid.” Topics included the Farm Bill, World Trade Organization negotiations, emergency and developmental aid and nutrition and supply-chain management. The conference came with growing concerns about the spread of hunger as food prices surge around the planet.

Food shortage results in riots and fights to the death
According to the International Monetary Fund report, food prices have surged some 85 percent in the past three years, and food riots are starting to destabilize a number of countries. Men with shotguns walk along the side of combines harvesting rice in Thailand; hoarders are threatened with life sentences in prison in the Philippines; people are eating mud in Haiti where the Prime Minister was thrown out of office; two people in Egypt were killed fighting over bread prices; while food aid truck drivers in parts of East Africa are routinely shot and killed as hungry gangs help themselves.

Pakistan has tried to seal its border to prevent food smuggling to Afghanistan. Countries are banning rice exports and dropping import duties in drastic efforts to control consumer prices.

Josette Sheeran, the executive director of the World Food Program, the world’s largest food aid organization told the conference crowd that “most countries are getting 40 percent less food for the same contribution, putting more than 100 million people under severe stress because of high food prices.”

Gaddi Vasquez, U.S. ambassador to U.N. agencies in Rome, said the hunger crisis has spurred interest in greater global investment in agriculture. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer insisted that food aid remains necessary and that we cannot succeed in the war on hunger without it. President Bush announced the withdrawal on the Bill Emerson Humanitarian Trust, making some $200 million available in emergency food aid. Schafer went on to say that U.S. farmers, agribusiness, private voluntary organizations, government agencies and other partnerships have won many battles in the eradication of hunger around the world.

Yes, we are finally seeing a good example of why a few politicians during their campaigns say that agriculture is a vital aspect of the country’s national security. Can you imagine the United States putting a ban on rice exports? No, never, but several buyers of U.S. rice have even asked that question lately.

Leaders converge to address prices and mass starvation
While there is no simple solution for weathering this storm, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization has called for a June summit of international leaders to manage what the agency is calling a worldwide food shortage emergency, while World Bank president Robert Zoellick has also called for a global response to address the escalating prices and prevent mass starvation.

This tidal wave is apparently going to get bigger before it gets better, so there may be someone else – the farmer – to blame the food crisis on, especially if oil continues to go up. Why can’t those farmers keep producing a crop when their costs are higher than market prices? Surely, Congress and the White House understand the meaning of a farm safety net. Get a bigger canoe, folks.

For more about USRPA, visit www.usriceproducers.com.