Friday, February 04, 2011

profit -seeking, not supply drove the MENA governance crisis



Reuters | Record high global food prices showed no sign of relenting following a rash of catastrophic weather, highlighted by a major U.S. snowstorm and a cyclone in Australia, which could put yet more pressure on prices and spark further unrest around the world.

The closely watched U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization Food Price Index on Thursday touched its highest level since records began in 1990.

The index rose for the seventh month in a row to 231 in January, topping the peak of 224.1 in June 2008, when the world was last gripped in a food crisis.

"These high prices are likely to persist in the months to come," FAO economist and grains expert Abdolreza Abbassian said in a statement.

Surging food prices have helped fuel the discontent that toppled Tunisia's president in January and that has spilled over to Egypt and Jordan, raising expectations other countries in the region would secure grain stocks to reassure their populations.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick urged global leaders to "put food first" and wake up to the need to curb price volatility.

"We are going to be facing a broader trend of increasing commodity prices, including food commodity prices," he told Reuters in an interview.

SUPPLY THE KEY
Catastrophic storms and droughts have been battering the world's leading agriculture countries in recent months, including flooding and a massive cyclone in Australia and a powerful winter storm that swept across parts of the United States.

Dubbed "Stormageddon," one of the biggest snowstorm in decades dumped up to 20 inches of snow in some parts of the U.S. grain belt this week, paralyzing grain and livestock movement. Meanwhile, more cold weather in the U.S. Plains ignited concerns the region's winter wheat lacked adequate insulating moisture.

U.S. wheat prices surged to 2-1/2 year highs on Thursday before retreating slightly on profit taking, along with prices of the other big crops such as corn and soybeans. But traders said pressure remains on wheat prices with forecast for more cold in the U.S. Midwest.

Sugar prices also surged to three-decade highs on fears of damage Cyclone Yasi would bring to the Australian cane crop. Prices for Malaysian palm oil, a cooking staple in the developing world, hit 3-year highs on flooding.

Big companies have had to adjust to higher raw material costs. Kellogg Co, the world's largest breakfast cereal company, said on Thursday it has boosted prices on many of its products to offset rising costs for ingredients such as grains and sugar.

"Today's announcement by the Food and Agriculture Organization should ring alarm bells in capitals around the world," said Gawain Kripke, a policy and research director for Oxfam America, an international development group.

"Governments must avoid repeating the mistakes of the past when countries reacted to spiraling prices by banning exports and hoarding food. This will only make the situation worse and it is the world's poorest people who will pay the price," he said.