Philippines calls for Asia food meet as China rebuffs bid to buy wheat
Manila (AFP) April 11, 2008
The Philippines has urged Asian governments to hold talks on the sharply escalating cost of food, officials said Friday as China rebuffed a bid by Manila to buy wheat.
Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap wants a ministerial-level meeting of Asian governments to discuss means to raise food production and provide interim food aid, the International Rice Research Institute said.
"We must address the plight of food-poor families in the countries most affected by the rice price crisis," an IRRI statement quoted Yap as telling an IRRI board of trustees meeting this week.
The board of the world's premier rice research institute met at its headquarters south of Manila to discuss ways of easing rising rice prices that have swept the region and caused unrest in some countries.
The institute warned that rice prices were likely to keep rising for some time as production fails to keep up with soaring demand.
Manila, one of the world's biggest rice importers, has been struggling to procure enough rice for its 90 million people. Philippine rice farms are mainly small plots and cannot meet domestic food needs.
Producers warned Friday that bread, noodles and processed meat prices are likely to follow rice prices in coming weeks as Trade Secretary Peter Favila said China had turned down a Philippine request to buy wheat.
This would force the government to buy more expensive wheat from the United States.
"I am saddened that China did not grant our request and I have already received official communication to that effect. They did not give any reason. They just said the demand in China is also large," he said.
Kevin Cleaver from the UN International Fund for Agricultural Development, met with President Gloria Arroyo in Manila earlier Friday to discuss implications of the food crisis on the Philippines.
Cleaver said "in some 33 countries there is now civil disturbance, food riots caused by food shortages and higher prices. This is one of the subjects we discussed."
He said people were suffering because the "price of rice and food has increased and we discussed a little bit what to do about that," adding he and Arroyo agreed a solution was to ramp up production.
Arroyo has pledged to make rice supplies available to every Filipino, drafting the military to distribute supplies and crack down on hoarders.
The president said the government had a plan for better irrigation facilities, according to Cleaver. That would help in the coming year but the shorter-term problem was more difficult to cure, he said.
He added the world was taken by surprise because "most people have been complacent," but governments could take steps to deal with the crisis.
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