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Global shortage of rice

To consider how the poor are suffering from the increase in food costs.

by James Lamont

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To consider how the poor are suffering from the increase in food costs.


  1. Rice is one of the world’s most important crops. More than half of the world’s population, over 3 billion people, rely on it as an everyday cheap and satisfying food. They tend to belong to the world’s poorer nations, and price rises in recent years have hit them the hardest.
  2. The problem is an increased demand meeting decreased supply. As China and other developing nations continue to gain wealth, huge numbers of people are migrating to the cities. This means that there is an increase in demand for both rice and wheat, and in turn this means less for domestic trading and less for valuable export. Other factors are important as well. The weather conditions over the past few years have been far from ideal, with extremes of drought and flooding. The increasing price of oil is squeezing farmers who rely on oil-based fertilizers and vehicle fuel. Higher costs for transportation of foods raise the price on the market.
  3. Another factor in the situation is the increasing demand for bio-fuels. Land previously used for food production has been replanted with crops harvested to provide fuel. It has been estimated that the land diverted from food to fuel production in the United States over the past two years would have provided enough food to feed 250 million people. Supporters of bio-fuel production argue that this land adoption will allow poorer people to farm themselves out of poverty by producing valuable crops.
  4. Over the past three years, the prices of all staple foods (e.g. rice, wheat) have increased by 80 per cent. The reactions have been predictable: violent protests against the cost of living took place recently in the Ivory Coast, a small country on the west coast of Africa. There have been similar protests, with different degrees of violence, in Bolivia, Yemen, Uzbekistan, Bolivia, Indonesia, Senegal, Mauritania, Mozambique, Cameroon and Haiti. In the Philippines, a nation dependent on rice for food, traders who hoard stocks of rice to drive up the price have been threatened with life imprisonment.
  5. A noticeable fact about all the nations mentioned in this assembly has been their relative poverty. This should not be surprising: it is often the poorest who suffer the most as the world adjusts to a massive market shift. In this case, the decline of cheap oil and the awareness of climate change have driven well-meaning people to be instrumental in causing a much deeper crisis. Unless there is a great change in attitudes from the rich, the world’s poor will continue to pay for our excesses.

Time for reflection

Take a moment to:

Think about the food that your family throws away each week: it’s reckoned to be about 20 per cent of a week’s shop on average.

Think of the fabulous diversity that our diet represents.

Think how much money that costs to grow, process, deliver and purchase.

Think how many people could be fed with the wasted food from this country.


Lord God, help us not to be so wasteful,

To buy only what we will eat.

To travel sensibly, when we need to.

To share, and recycle what we can.

To treat your world with respect.

And to pass on the benefits of our better habits to those who are in need.



‘When I needed a neighbour’ (Hymns Old and New, 726)

Publication date: June 2008   (Vol.10 No.6)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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