Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Roots of Asia's rice crisis

Tight supplies reflect population boom and neglect of farming.

Supply low: A boy watches as a woman purchases government-subsidized rice from a store operated from the back of a truck in Manila. Local prices have risen 30 percent in recent weeks.

Darren Whiteside

About these ads

Gantallan Plorensio's farm is a paradox at the heart of Asia's growing rice crisis. The fields that get enough water have never been more productive, contributing to a 5 percent annual increase in rice production over the past two years.

"We have a lot of rice fields, but no irrigation," he says. "They're just sitting there."

As a regional rice crisis looms, threatening political instability and social unrest, the idle fields in Mr. Plorensio's village underscore a failure of policy and foresight repeated across the region: For decades, governments have been encouraging a boom in services and skyscrapers, but not the capacity to grow more rice. Financing in agriculture has stagnated, and fewer farmers are expected to produce more rice for exploding populations.

That neglect is one of the central causes of what some analysts call the "perfect storm" – including rising global oil prices, drought in Australia, and inclement weather – behind the rice crisis.

"It's a failure to recognize the importance of agriculture," says Duncan Macintosh, a spokesman for the International Rice Research Institute, based in Laguna, about 40 miles from Manila, the capital of the Philippines. "Agriculture is becoming a very unfashionable industry."

Philippines at the center of crisis


Page 1 of 6

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.