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Asean Affairs  10  February 2011

Food, glorious food

By  David Swartzentruber

AseanAffairs     10 February 2011

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Almost every day while sifting through Asian news of the day, a song from the Broadway hit, “Oliver!,” comes to mind. The title of today’s Asean Analysis gives it away, “Food, glorious food”.

In August 2010 at the third Save Our Planet, this one held in Kuala Lumpur, speaker M.R. Chandran, said, “The days of cheap food are over.” And so his prognostication has come to pass. Countries short on food are stocking up, including Asean’s largest economy, Indonesia. As food prices hit an all-time high, wealthier as well as poorer nations, such as Bangladesh, are increasing their stocks of the Asian staple, rice.

Some agricultural produce, such as corn and palm oil, have a “double whammy” as both can be used to produce energy, ethanol and biodiesel, respectively. This reduces the amount left over to feed people. The United States indicates that corn is in the tightest supply situation since the “dust bowl” era of the Great Depression in the 1930s.

During that period, farms were abandoned and land was left uncultivated, producing tremendous dust storms that destroyed even more cultivatable land.

The food crisis, if one wants to call it that, has even hit home in the some of countries that are bastions of food security. In Canada, the impending drought in the North China Plain, has media calling for increased food security management for Canada, a very large country with a population of only 34 million.

Canadian media report that total expenditure on food research and development has dropped to 9 percent from 35 percent of all research and development funding in Canada. Meanwhile, Canada has imported even more food during the same time frame.

The food issue is particularly significant for Egypt during its current political crisis as Egypt is the world’s largest wheat importer. Egypt increasingly purchases less expensive wheat from Russia and Ukraine, leaving the United States and Canada with a diminishing share of the Egyptian import wheat market.

Nonetheless, the current tight food supplies won’t go away. Watch the prices in the commodity markets.

Paul A. Ebeling, Jnr

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This year in Thailand-what next?

04 January 2011
By David Swartzentruber      

It is commonplace in journalism to write two types of articles at the transition point between the year that has passed and the New Year. As this writer qualifies as an “old hand” in observing Thailand with a track record dating back 14 years, it is time take a shot at what may unfold in Thailand in 2011.

The first issue that can’t be answered is the health of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol, who is now 83 years old. He is the world's longest reigning monarch, but elaborate birthday celebrations in December failed to mask concern over his health. More

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