‘Food intelligence’ could prevent price hikes

‘Food intelligence’ could prevent price hikes

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Rome, Italy: Accurate and timely information on the food stocks held by major grain exporters and importers, or “food intelligence”, could help prevent the sudden and abnormal price hikes that threaten food security. This was one of the proposals put forward at a day-long meeting of the inter-governmental groups (IGGs) on grains and rice at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), held in Rome, Italy.

In the absence of accurate planting data from many countries, the FAO and the US Department of Agriculture rely on satellite imagery to produce crop estimates. “But one cannot really tell [from a satellite image] whether it is maize or wheat; besides, one needs information on other food crops, such as cassava and potato, to build a comprehensive food security scenario,” said Abdolreza Abbassian, an economist who is also secretary of the IGG on grains.

“We need to look at innovative solutions and new technologies, such as the use of cellphones. Farmers could use cellphones to let a central authority know how much they had planted, or simply whether the expected harvest was ‘good’ or ‘bad’.”

Abbassian proposed, “We need better information on the food stocks, especially from the CIS countries [Commonwealth of Independent States – a regional organisation comprising the Russian Federation and other members of the former Soviet Union].”

Since July 2010, droughts and fires in Russia, a major wheat producer, have caused global prices to soar by about 60 to 80 per cent, while maize has spiked by about 40 per cent. The IGGs meeting dealt with these “unexpected” price hikes at length and pronounced that they were “a major threat to food security”.

The meeting blamed “national policy responses and speculative behaviour”, rather than “global market fundamentals” (global demand and supply of grains), as the major causes of the price hikes.

Meanwhile in Philippines, Grain farmers are opposing the National Food Authority’s (NFA) abolition of price support for rice and corn saying its removal violates the Magna Carta for Small Farmers and contradicts national policy on food security.

According to Manila Bulletin, Roger Navarro, President, Philippine Maize Federation Inc. (PMFI), said in a statement, “The marketing and price support policy of the DA (Department of Agriculture)-NFA as provided for in the Magna Carta for Small Farmers should be strictly observed. This support is mandated as part of our own food security.”

PMFI has also urged DA to provide rice and corn farms with GIS capabilities to ensure accurate assessment of the country’s production performance and enable systematic planning.

To support the government’s goal of achieving self-sufficiency, particularly in major commodities, PMFI said the government should provide the following: Planting intentions survey, seed sales report, field validation on planting, field validation on plant pollination, GIS validation, and end-user crop harvest buying report (harvest monitoring).

Source: Guardian