Essential Rice, Escalating Prices

15 Apr

I have often written about food in Sri Lanka. It was a delightful part of my experience there, and continues to be a part of my life even today. I sip Dilmah Tea (actually, I used to until we ran out last month), and I still can’t stop eating with my fingers every now and then (it’s especially useful for those last morsels of a nearly-completed meal!).

Chilies. Dozens of coconut derivatives. Mangosteens, wood apples, and rambutans. Dhal. Gourd and brinjal. Bread. Amanda Hesser of International Herald Tribune wrote a great article here a few years ago about the majesty that is Sri Lankan food. And there is rice, of course.

Rice is food. Literally. The Sinhala word for food is bath, which also means rice. To ask someone if they want food is to say literally, “Do you want rice?”

Which is why I have read with some alarm the news about the global food emergency. Sri Lanka, with its heavy reliance on imported rice, is extremely vulnerable as many other nations are. The World Food Programme (WFP) has identified Sri Lanka as one of the 11 “hunger’s global hotspots,” while the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) lists Sri Lanka as one of 14 countries facing “food emergencies.”

Some of the current prices for rice and bread listed in various news articles are astounding. A kilo of local rice in Colombo is now sold at Rs. 112. I vaguely remember it being around Rs. 50-60 while I was there. Food prices overall have increased 37% in the past year. The World Socialist Web Site reports that “the government has admitted that bread prices could rise to 100 rupees by the end of this year…” I distinctly recall buying a loaf of bread for Rs. 23, a nationwide price set by the government.

23 rupees to 100 rupees in less than two years? That’s like bread jumping from $2.00 to $8.00. No way can people living on the edge of poverty sustain their families with such unreasonable prices. I’m worried about what’s going to happen in Sri Lanka in the next several months.

3 Responses to “Essential Rice, Escalating Prices”

  1. Mr. Sandman 15. Apr, 2008 at 7:24 pm #

    Hate to burst your hopes, my friend, but this is how it’s going to be. The root cause of a lot of world issues today is overpopulation, and the planet is at or over its carrying capacity. Add to that the end of the Oil Age, and we’re all looking at a precipice. Unfortunately, the 2nd and 3rd worlds will suffer first, and suffer the hardest.

    I’ll keep your friends in Sri Lanka in my thoughts, but it’s going to be a very bumpy ride for the next generation or two. As a historian, I’m fascinated; as a human being, I’m terrified.

  2. Adam 16. Apr, 2008 at 5:09 am #

    That’s exactly the sentiment I wanted to express but couldn’t find the words. As a writer/observer, I’m fascinated by what’s going to happen. I wonder what I’ll see while I’m there. As a friend, I’m terrified. Thanks!

  3. dw 16. Apr, 2008 at 10:20 pm #

    The reasons for escalating rice prices may be more complex than overpopulation per se — see link below for some other possible factors that have led to the increase in price — some of these factors include an increase in *global* demand (more rice being exported than before leading to less supply within the exporting country):

    http://www.sepiamutiny.com/sepia/archives/005143.html#comments