Madrid: Soaring food prices may stoke civil unrest among Asia’s poor and the region must raise food production to meet rising demand, Japanese Finance Minister Fukushiro Nukaga said on Sunday.
A 43 % rise in global food prices in the year to March sparked violent protests in Cameroon and Burkina Faso as well as rallies in Indonesia following reports of starvation deaths.
Many governments have introduced food subsidies or export restrictions to counter rising costs, but they have only exacerbated price rises on global markets, Nukaga said.
“Those hardest hit are the poorest segments of the population, especially the urban poor,” Nukaga told delegates to the Asian Development Bank’s annual meeting in Madrid.
“It will have a negative impact on their living standards and their nutrition, a situation that may lead to social unrest and distrust,” he added.
The Asia-Pacific region is home to two thirds of the world’s poor with 1.5 billion people -- three times the population of Europe -- living on less than $2 a day.
Rice is a staple food in most Asian nations and any shortage could lead to unrest and instability, making governments extremely sensitive to its price.
Rising inflation, driven by food and raw materials costs, has topped the agenda of the annual meeting of the ADB, which has a mission to fight poverty in the Asia Pacific region.
The Bank on Saturday called for immediate action from global governments to combat soaring food prices and twinned it with a pledge of fresh financial aid to help feed the Asia Pacific region’s poorest nations.
Japan, China and India backed the ADB’s long-term strategy to provide low-cost credit to raise agricultural productivity in Asian nations through irrigation projects and better seeds.
Smaller countries such as Cambodia urged the ADB to focus its lending on the poorest Asian states.
The United States has criticised the Manila-based multilateral lender for pumping too much money into middle-income countries such as India and China.
Japan is one of 67 member economies of the ADB which is meeting in Spain to discuss measures to counter severe weather, rising demand among developing nations and other factors that have ended decades of cheap food.
The ADB uses policy dialogue, loans, equity investments, guarantees, grants and technical assistance in its mission to fight poverty in the region.