Empty bowls, stomachs and pockets

– Can you hear the writing on the wall?

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Disquiet over the soaring rice price

THE soaring price of rice and dwindling stockpiles of Asia’s staple food are causing anxiety across the continent. In particular the Philippines, a big, hungry country which cannot grow enough to feed itself, could be in trouble. The front pages of Manila’s newspapers scream about a “rice crisis”, as politicians float drastic solutions, such as forcing the country’s top 100 companies to take up rice farming. Farmers in Thailand, the world’s largest rice exporter, are delighted with the price surge, although some were this week said to be hiring guards to protect their valuable crops against “rice bandits”.

The president of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, last month pleaded publicly with neighbouring Vietnam, the second-largest exporter, to guarantee supplies. The two countries signed an agreement on Wednesday March 26th apparently to do just that. But the various escape clauses that Vietnam insisted upon suggest it was more of a face-saving measure than a firm pledge. Vietnam and India, another big rice exporter, have recently announced export restrictions to try to curb soaring food prices at home. This will make it tough for poor, rice-importing countries, in Africa as well as Asia, to secure supplies.

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