An additional 64 million poor in Asia this year
The Asian Development Bank says higher food and fuel prices will increase the ranks of the poor. Families that spend most of their revenue on food are most at risk. Long-term investments are needed to increase output, so are better social safety nets.
Hong Kong (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Food prices soared by an average 10 per cent in many Asian countries in the first months of this year, this according to a report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The latter has warned that if food and fuel prices remain high, due to unrest in the Middle East and North Africa, inflation would continue to rise, forcing tens of millions of people into poverty as well as reducing growth by up to 1.5 per cent this year.

According to the ADB's chief economist, Changyong Rhee, even if Asian economies have weathered recent economic shocks, "for poor families in developing Asia, who already spend more than 60 per cent of their income on food, higher prices [will] further reduce their ability to pay for medical care and their children's education.”

In many Asian economies, a 10 per cent hike in domestic food inflation can push an additional 64 million people into extreme poverty, a situation defined as living on less than US$ 1.25 a day.

In fact, food prices will continue to be very “volatile”, the ADB noted, especially because of declining grain stocks.

Corn prices were up by 90 per cent whilst wheat and soybeans increased by 40 per cent on global commodity futures markets in the past year. Rice futures surged to a two- month high on the Chicago Board of Trade yesterday.

Mother Nature has also played a negative role. Last year, bad weather and natural disasters, including flooding in Pakistan and fires in Russia and Ukraine, have negatively affected food output.

A weak US dollar (the international currency) and rising fuel prices did not help either. Indeed, oil traded at US1.57 a barrel today, its highest point in 31 months. This represents a 22 per cent climb this year.

Some countries responded to higher food prices by banning the export of certain food items, cutting taxes and duties on imports and offering subsidies to families and farmers.

For the ADB, such measures may be useful on the short run but eventually prices will go up again.

“To avert this looming crisis it is important for countries to refrain from imposing export bans on food items, while strengthening social safety nets,” Rhee said.

At the same time, "Efforts to stabilize food production should take centre stage, with greater investments in agricultural infrastructure to increase crop production and expand storage facilities," he added. This way, food produce is not wasted.

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