Ministers debate food security in times of crisis
Southeast Asian countries are discussing plans to build a regional rice reserve to help ensure food security for half a billion people in times of crisis, RFA's Burmese and Lao services report.
Agriculture ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) met in Kuala Lumpur to discuss ways to create emergency stocks of the grain, which is a staple food for half a billion people in the region.
"It's all about creating food security and helping a friend in need," Azmi Mat Ahkir, a Malaysian official, said.
During the meeting, ministers approved the East Asia Emergency Rice Reserve System, in recognition that rice is the "staple food for about two-thirds of the world population and is 90 percent grown in Asia," a statement issued after the meeting said.
The project will be run out of Thailand, which is the world's biggest rice exporter. But it would be administered by a committee of other major exporters, including possibly Vietnam, Burma, and China. Details of how the reserve will be funded, and when it would be launched, have yet to be decided.
"We are still working out the details but, in terms of food security, it may be bigger than whatever we have in ASEAN, as it will also involve trade arrangements and contracting," Azmi said.
Current food security agreements in the region are non-binding, and many of ASEAN's members have expressed concern at ensuring a steady supply of rice.
In 1991, after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines, the country was forced to buy rice from Indonesia, as most of its paddy crops were wiped out by the disaster.
"And almost every year, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam are hit by floods from the Mekong Basin, destroying their crops," Azmi said.
Southeast Asia produced 150 million tonnes of rice a year and consumed 95 percent of it by itself. Regional demand is forecast to rise to 160 million tonnes by 2020.
The ministers, who represented regular ASEAN members Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Burma, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, together with China, Japan and South Korea, vowed to extend and continue agricultural cooperation in a number of other areas.
Apart from food security, ASEAN plus 3 will continue its cooperation on research and development in the food industry, agriculture, fisheries and forestry, human resource development, and trade facilitation for agricultural products in the region.