Page last updated at 09:51 GMT, Thursday, 17 April 2008 10:51 UK

Action to meet Asian rice crisis

Man unloads rice imports in Manila
The Philippines wants to reduce its reliance on rice imports

The authorities in China and the Philippines have vowed to take fresh action to tackle the escalating cost of staple foods, particularly rice.

Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao said food inflation was the country's most "prominent" economic problem and urged efforts to boost grain output.

Food prices in China have risen more than 20% so far this year.

Manila, meanwhile, has banned all future conversion of farmland for uses other than agricultural production.

Social unrest

There have been warnings of dire economic consequences for developing countries across Asia and increased social unrest in wealthier nations should food prices continue to rise at their current rate.

The wholesale price of rice, a staple product for more than 2.5 billion people across the continent, has more than doubled in the past three months, while global supplies have fallen to a thirty-year low.

Against this backdrop, the UN's World Food Programme has said it will cost an extra $160m (81m) a year to feed Asia's poorest people.

Reacting to the spiral in food prices, the Chinese Premier acknowledged that food costs were "high" and said controlling prices should be a priority for the government.

People queuing for cheap rice in Manila
As rice prices rise, the queues for the staple food lengthen

However, he announced no specific measures to increase farm output, instead reminding administrative regions of the need to follow government directives on the economy.

The Philippine government, on the other hand, is acting to protect farmland by indefinitely ring-fencing it for agricultural use.

Agriculture Secretary Nasser Pangandaman said the move would stop the "unabated" transformation of farmland into residential property developments.

The Philippines is struggling to grow enough rice to provide for its 90 million strong population and is heavily reliant on exports from Thailand and Vietnam.

Ministers recently pledged to spend $1bn to become self-sufficient in rice by 2010.

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