Manila: Asia’s governments are scrambling to head off the potential impact of a weather phenomenon that in the past has driven food prices to levels that sparked social unrest.
With lessons learned, Indonesia’s government is handing out calendars to farmers setting out early planting dates. Malaysia and the Philippines are working to manage water supplies and India has bolstered its food stockpiles.
They are aiming to reduce the impact of the so-called El Nino, a weather pattern that can bring drought to Australia, Southeast Asia and India.
Drought linked to a 2007 El Nino sparked a surge in food prices, including a trebling in the cost of rice to a record over $1,000 a metric ton in 2008 that sparked riots in countries as far afield as Egypt, Cameroon and Haiti. The last El Nino in 2009 brought the worst drought in nearly four decades to India, cutting rice output in the world’s number two producer by 10 million tonnes and boosting global sugar prices to the highest in nearly 30 years.
A majority of weather forecasting models indicate an El Nino is likely to develop around the middle of the year, according to the U.N. weather agency.
“Traditionally, the countries that are affected most are Indonesia and the Philippines,” said David Dawes, a senior economist at the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organisation in Bangkok.
“Certainly for rice because of a combination of two things: it’s their production most likely to be affected, and they’re importers so would have to go onto a world market with potentially rising prices.”