FOOD SHORTAGES, HERE WE COME!

4 04 2008

Corn Hits $6 a Bushel on Tight Supplies

Thursday April 3, 6:56 pm ET
By Stevenson Jacobs, AP Business Writer

Corn Prices Jump to Record $6 a Bushel, Driving Up Costs for Food, Alternative Energy NEW YORK (AP) — Corn prices jumped to a record $6 a bushel Thursday, driven up by an expected supply shortfall that will only add to Americans’ growing grocery bill and further squeeze struggling ethanol producers.

Corn prices have shot up nearly 30 percent this year amid dwindling stockpiles and surging demand for the grain used to feed livestock and make alternative fuels including ethanol. Prices are poised to go even higher after the U.S. government this week predicted that American farmers — the world’s biggest corn producers — will plant sharply less of the crop in 2008 compared to last year.

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Perils in The Price Of Rice

Thursday, April 3, 2008; Page A17

You may have missed the front-page article in the New York Times last Saturday, with the one-column headline written in clipped newspaperese: “High Rice Cost Creating Fears of Asia Unrest.” But this little story could be an early warning of another big economic problem that’s sneaking up on us.

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The price of rice in global markets has nearly doubled in the last three months, reports the Times’s Keith Bradsher. Fearing shortages, some major rice producers — including Vietnam, India, Egypt and Cambodia — have sharply limited their rice exports so they can be sure they can feed their own people.

Bradsher summarizes the evidence that food shortages and inflation are fueling political unrest: “Since January, thousands of troops have been deployed in Pakistan to guard trucks carrying wheat and flour. Protests have erupted in Indonesia over soybean shortages, and China has put price controls on cooking oil, grain, meat, milk and eggs. Food riots have erupted in recent months in Guinea, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen.”

World Bank President Robert Zoellick rang the alarm bell in a speech yesterday. He noted that since 2005, the prices of staples have risen 80 percent. The real price of rice rose to a 19-year high last month, he said, while the real price of wheat hit a 28-year high.

Zoellick warned that this inflation is having political repercussions: “The World Bank Group estimates that 33 countries around the world face potential political and social unrest because of the acute hike in food and energy prices.” To cope with the topsy-turvy economy, Zoellick made an innovative proposal that countries running a surplus, such as Saudi Arabia and China, devote 1 percent of their “sovereign wealth” funds to investment in Africa‘s poor countries. That could yield up to $30 billion in development spending.

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