Monday, November 24, 2008

BBC: Rising food prices in Cambodia

I saw on BBC news this morning a segment on the rising food prices in Cambodia. The reporter followed a widow struggling to feed herself and her two young sons in Kampong Chhnang province. The report noted that rice has doubled in price from a year ago while fish and vegetables have risen 50%. The report said the Cambodian government would be giving handouts of rice. But obviously handouts are not sustainable.

I checked with a Cambodian I know who said rice used to cost 1200 riels a kg a year ago but now costs 2000 riels. She buys rice for 100,000 riels, or USD25, for 50 kgs of rice, which feeds her family (10 members) for a month. She confirmed that fish and veg have increased by 50%. (I am not in a position to judge prices because I have to buy my meat and veg from the Old Market here in Siem Reap, which is notoriously more expensive. This is because I do not have transport, and this is the most accessible market for me. Besides, I often get fleeced).

But prices have fallen from before the election, said this woman. Before the parliamentary elections in July this year, rice was 2500 riels a kg. The price of fish is also seasonal she said, depending on the supply. For instance, during the upcoming dry season, the price of fish will be higher. Fruit is currently more expensive, because of the fighting with Thailand, which supplies some of the fruit.

I could not find today's news segment online but the BBC also did a Special Report in October, called "Cost of Food: Global Roundup". The report pointed out that many farmers do not benefit from the higher prices of rice.

"The reasons are complex, and vary from country to country, but they underline a simple fact: whereas driving up the price of other smallholder agricultural commodities such as coffee or rubber often does enrich those who work the land, it rarely works that way in the case of rice.

"Many small rice farmers do not actually grow enough for their families to eat so they still have to buy rice at market prices. In Cambodia, for example, despite the government's pride in becoming one of the world's ten largest rice exporters, only a third of rice farmers produce any surplus they can sell - and one fifth of the population does not get enough to eat.

"This led to a bizarre situation where the government planned to sell 1.6m tonnes of locally grown rice on world markets this year, but was also forced to ask the Asian Development Bank for a $38m food security aid package for Cambodians who could not feed themselves."

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