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PIA Press Release
2008/04/23

Commentary: Asian food crisis has political and civil implications

by Bapa Bedu

Koronadal City (23 April) -- The food crisis being experienced in the Philippines is also being felt in other Asian countries…

Politicians are facing the wrath of angry voters, government budgets are being stretched to pay for increased food subsidies and the potential for civil unrest looms, especially if the cost of essential items like cooking oil and rice continues to climb.

In Malaysia, where the governing coalition was nearly ousted in March elections, voters overwhelmingly cited the surging price of fuel and food as "the most important problem in the country" in a postelection survey carried out by the Merdeka Center, an independent polling agency.

If Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi steps down, which many members of his party are pressuring him to do amid postelection turmoil, he will be the region's first high-profile political casualty of fuel and food price inflation.

In Indonesia, the government recently revised its 2008 budget, increasing the amount it will spend on food subsidies by 2.7 billion rupiah, or about $290 million. Total government spending on fuel, electricity and food subsidies this year will total $20 billion.

"The biggest concern is food riots," said H.S. Dillon, a former adviser to the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture. "I don't see an immediate danger right now, but it has happened in the past and can happen again," Dillon said. A rise in soybean prices in January led to months of small but widespread protests across Indonesia.

The price of rice, which on world markets surged 165 percent over the past year, is being closely watched as a barometer of potential unrest.

"Rice is a political commodity," said Kwanchai Gomez, the executive director of the Thai Rice Foundation, a research center. "It's not only an economic one."

We say that the government continue to support the farmers through more financial help as well as technical measures and educate the farmers with the new technologies… and not to forget the irrigation needs of the farmers… (PIA 12) [top]

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