Japan’s Hunger Becomes a Dire Warning for Other Nations

MARIKO Watanabe admits she could have chosen a better time to take up baking. This week, when the Tokyo housewife visited her local Ito-Yokado supermarket to buy butter to make a cake, she found the shelves bare.

“I went to another supermarket, and then another, and there was no butter at those either. Everywhere I went there were notices saying Japan has run out of butter. I couldn’t believe it – this is the first time in my life I’ve wanted to try baking cakes and I can’t get any butter,” said the frustrated cook.

Japan’s acute butter shortage, which has confounded bakeries, restaurants and now families across the country, is the latest unforeseen result of the global agricultural commodities crisis.

A sharp increase in the cost of imported cattle feed and a decline in milk imports, both of which are typically provided in large part by Australia, have prevented dairy farmers from keeping pace with demand.

While soaring food prices have triggered rioting among the starving millions of the third world, in wealthy Japan they have forced a pampered population to contemplate the shocking possibility of a long-term – perhaps permanent – reduction in the quality and quantity of its food.

A 130% rise in the global cost of wheat in the past year, caused partly by surging demand from China and India and a huge injection of speculative funds into wheat futures, has forced the Government to hit flour millers with three rounds of stiff mark-ups. The latest – a 30% increase this month – has given rise to speculation that Japan, which relies on imports for 90% of its annual wheat consumption, is no longer on the brink of a food crisis, but has fallen off the cliff.

According to one government poll, 80% of Japanese are frightened about what the future holds for their food supply.

Last week, as the prices of wheat and barley continued their relentless climb, the Japanese Government discovered it had exhausted its ¥230 billion ($A2.37 billion) budget for the grains with two months remaining. It was forced to call on an emergency ¥55 billion reserve to ensure it could continue feeding the nation.

“This was the first time the Government has had to take such drastic action since the war,” said Akio Shibata, an expert on food imports, who warned the Agriculture Ministry two years ago that Japan would have to cut back drastically on its sophisticated diet if it did not become more self-sufficient.In the wake of the decision this week by Kazakhstan, the world’s fifth biggest wheat exporter, to join Russia, Ukraine and Argentina in stopping exports to satisfy domestic demand, the situation in Japan is expected to worsen.

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Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club limits rice purchases

NEW YORK, April 23 (Reuters) – Wal-Mart Stores Inc’s (WMT.N: Quote, Profile, Research) Sam’s Club warehouse division said on Wednesday it is limiting sales of several types of rice, the latest sign that fears of a rice shortage are rippling around the world.

Sam’s Club, the No. 2 U.S. warehouse club operator, said it is limiting sales of Jasmine, Basmati and long grain white rice “due to recent supply and demand trends.”

U.S. rice futures hitting an all-time high Wednesday on worries about supply shortages.

On Tuesday, Costco Wholesale Corp (COST.O: Quote, Profile, Research), the largest U.S. warehouse club operator, said it has seen increased demand for items like rice and flour as customers, worried about global food shortages and rising prices, stock up.

Sam’s Club, the No. 2 U.S. warehouse club operator, is limiting sales of the 20-pound (9 kg), bulk bags of rice to four bags per customer per visit, and is working with suppliers to ensure the products remain in stock.

Warehouse clubs cater to individual shoppers as well as small businesses and restaurant owners looking to buy cheaper, bulk goods.

With prices for basic food items surging, customers have been going to the clubs to try to save money on bulk sizes of everything from pasta to cooking oil and rice.

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IMF alert on starvation and civil unrest


“Children will be suffering from malnutrition” … a UN peacekeeper with locals in Port-au-Prince,
where hunger-provoked protests and looting have left six dead. Photo: AP

THE poorest countries face starvation and civil unrest if global food prices keep rising, says the head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Hundreds of thousands of people would starve, he said in Washington. “Children will be suffering from malnutrition, with consequences for all their lives.”

He predicted that rising food prices would push up the cost of imports for poor countries, leading to trade imbalances that might also affect developed nations.

“It is not only a humanitarian question,” he said.

Global food prices have risen sharply in recent months, driven by rising demand, poor weather and an increase in the area of land used to grow crops for biofuels.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation says 37 countries face food crisis. The president of the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, urged members on Sunday to provide $US500 million ($540 million) by May 1 to help alleviate the problem.

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Food riots to worsen without global action: U.N.

ROME (Reuters) – Food riots in developing countries will spread unless world leaders take major steps to reduce prices for the poor, the head of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said on Friday.

Despite a forecast 2.6 percent hike (This is disinformation.) in global cereal output this year, record prices are unlikely to fall, forcing poorer countries’ food import bills up 56 percent and hungry people on to the streets, FAO Director General Jacques Diouf said.

“The reality is that people are dying already in the riots,” Diouf told a news conference.

“They are dying because of their reaction to the situation and if we don’t take the necessary action there is certainly the possibility that they might die of starvation. Naturally people won’t be sitting dying of starvation, they will react.”

The FAO said food riots had broken out in several African countries, Indonesia, the Philippines and Haiti. Thirty-seven countries face food crises, it said in its latest World Food Situation report.

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Food prices to rise for years, biofuel firms say

LONDON – Staple food prices will rise for some years, but should eventually fall to historical averages as harvests increase, biofuel company executives said on Thursday.

Soaring demand for better quality food from rapidly industrializing emerging markets such as China, supply shortages, increased demand for biofuels, and a surging appetite for food commodities by investment funds, have combined to push prices of basic foods higher and higher in recent months.

Stephane Delodder, managing partner of Netherlands-based consultancy iFuel Corporate Advisory, told a conference the problem of rising food prices would persist for some years.

Market forces should eventually help rebalance supply and demand, especially in markets which are not highly regulated, but this could take some time.

“(It could be) a few years at most before the situation returns to normal,” Delodder said.

He said grains and oilseed futures markets, which have corrected down recently after meteoric rises, may already be signaling that supply will rise as farmers raise plantings.

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Analyst Predicts Corn Rationing in 2008

NEW YORK – A BB&T Capital Markets analyst said Monday corn rationing may be necessary this year, following a U.S. Department of Agriculture report predicting farmers would plant far fewer acres of corn in 2008.

According to the March Prospective Plantings Report, farmers intend to plant about 86 million acres of corn this year, down 8 percent from 2007, when the amount of corn planted was the highest since World War II.

Analyst Heather L. Jones said in a note to investors if the USDA estimate proves accurate, the year may produce just 200 million bushels of corn. That, she said, wouldn’t be enough to meet demand, given current export and feed demand trends and higher ethanol demand. Both ethanol and animal feed are made with corn.

“That is an untenable inventory demand, in our opinion,” she said. “Consequently, we believe demand must be rationed or there needs to be a big supply response from other growing regions of the world.”

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2008: The year of global food crisis

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IT IS the new face of hunger. A perfect storm of food scarcity, global warming, rocketing oil prices and the world population explosion is plunging humanity into the biggest crisis of the 21st century by pushing up food prices and spreading hunger and poverty from rural areas into cities.

Millions more of the world’s most vulnerable people are facing starvation as food shortages loom and crop prices spiral ever upwards.

And for the first time in history, say experts, the impact is spreading from the developing to the developed world.

More than 73 million people in 78 countries that depend on food handouts from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) are facing reduced rations this year. The increasing scarcity of food is the biggest crisis looming for the world”, according to WFP officials.

At the same time, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has warned that rising prices have triggered a food crisis in 36 countries, all of which will need extra help. The threat of malnutrition is the world’s forgotten problem”, says the World Bank as it demands urgent action.

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The bank points out that global food prices have risen by 75% since 2000, while wheat prices have increased by 200%. The cost of other staples such as rice and soya bean have also hit record highs, while corn is at its most expensive in 12 years.

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Already we have riots, hoarding, panic: the sign of things to come?

The spectre of food shortages is casting a shadow across the globe, causing riots in Africa, consumer protests in Europe and panic in food-importing countries. In a world of increasing affluence, the hoarding of rice and wheat has begun. The President of the Philippines made an unprecedented call last week to the Vietnamese Prime Minister, requesting that he promise to supply a quantity of rice.

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Food fear beats climate change

A WORSENING global food shortage is a problem far more urgent than climate change, top Australian scientists have warned.
The Australian Science Media Centre briefing heard why prices for some staple foods had risen by as much as 60 per cent in the past year, and how dramatic price rises are expected to sweep across all staples in the near future.

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Famines May Occur Without Record Crops This Year


Feb. 20 (Bloomberg) — Grain farmers will need to harvest record crops every year to meet increasing global food demand and avoid famine, Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc. Chief Executive Officer William Doyle said.

People and livestock are consuming more grain than ever, draining world inventories and increasing the likelihood of shortages, Doyle said yesterday in an interview on Bloomberg Television. Global grain stockpiles fell to about 53 days of supply last year, the lowest level since record-keeping began in 1960, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“If you had any major upset where you didn’t have a crop in a major growing agricultural region this year, I believe you’d see famine,” Doyle, 57, said in New York.

Potash, the world’s largest maker of crop nutrients, has more than doubled in market value in the past year as record crop prices allowed farmers to spend more on fertilizer to boost yields. The company has more than doubled net income in the past two years to $1.1 billion and expects gross profit from potash to expand to $8 billion within five years from $912 million in 2007. Potash is a form of potassium that helps plants grow.

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