South Korea Should Secure Stable Grain Supply
South Koreans are far too wasteful when it comes to food. A large portion of food served in restaurants is usually thrown away as waste or animal feed. A critic once said that if we save such waste, we could have more than enough to help famine-hit North Korea. It is neither a joke nor baloney. Rather, it shows that we take food for granted.
But now, we must wake up to worldwide shortages of food amid skyrocketing grain prices. Many leaders of advanced countries and chiefs of international organizations are calling for urgent action to tackle the deteriorating food crisis. In some developing countries, riots and protests have recently erupted, as people could not get their daily diet. There are growing concerns that hunger might soon hit millions of poor people in Africa, Asia and other parts of the globe.
Prices of wheat, corn and rice are continuing their upward march due to growing demand in China, India and other rapidly growing economies. Drought and climate change have also contributed to price hikes. Soaring oil prices and increasing production of ethanol from corn have put additional pressure, creating ``agflation'' ― the global phenomenon of a price surge in agricultural products.
Rice prices have shot up 75 percent over the last two months, while those of wheat jumped 120 percent over the past year. Rice producing countries such as China, India and Vietnam have restricted their rice exports, promoting riots and protests in importing countries. Haiti's Prime Minister Jacques Edouard-Alexis was ousted Saturday after at least five people died in a week of food-related rioting. Protests took place in Cameroon, Niger, Burkina Faso, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Against this backdrop, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed Monday for emergency action to deal with the rapidly escalating food crisis. He also warned that it could trigger political upheavals and security risks. His call came after U.S. President George W. Bush ordered the release of $200 million in emergency aid to help alleviate food shortages in developing countries.
On Sunday, World Bank President Robert Zoellick called on governments to quickly provide the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) with $500 million in emergency aid by May 1. He warned that the food crisis ``could mean seven lost years in the fight against worldwide poverty.'' Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), also warned that high food prices could lead to starvation and shake the survival of democracy.
South Korea cannot sit on its hands because its grain production can only meet 25 percent of total food demand. It is somewhat fortunate that the country produced 4.68 million tons of rice last year, exceeding its total demand of 4.16 million tons. Policymakers ought to take measures to increase the self-sufficiency rate by beefing up the nation's agriculture industry. It is urgent to work out and implement an action program for food security to ensure a stable grain supply.