Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Rice? What rice? What price rice?

Rice is a staple food eaten all over the world. The top producers of rice are:

China, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Brazil and Japan.

Of these countries, only Thailand and Vietnam export (send out of the country) any measurable amounts. The third largest exporter of rice is the United States and by the numbers, is not in the top ten producing countries.

China and India consume much of their production. The Philippines cannot produce enough to meet demand and must import a certain amount of rice annually.

Rice is inexpensive, nutritious and filling. It can be used a main dish and augmented with other foods such as meat and vegetables to create a healthy meal.

And now the problem.

Because of demand, weather and costs, rice has become difficult to buy. Check out this story from Costco's CEO. This is taking place in the U.S. Not some third world country, but here.

The demand for rice is outstripping the supply. As I said, there are many causes. A healthier economy in Asia. A colder than expected winter in China and Vietnam. Higher demand from third world nations. Even commodity speculation.

With so few countries exporting, then the other shoe drops. India announces that they are curtailing their exports to keep prices low at home. Thailand, which usually holds a large surplus, has found itself with a three month supply and multiple customers including oil-rich, cash in hand nations like Iran shopping for a dwindling supply.

Food, once considered a boring commodity, is now a hot resource, much like petroleum and precious metals.

How does this affect us?

Rice, like wheat, constitutes a large part of our preparedness stores. At our home, we regularly keep 100 to 400 pounds of rice on hand in storage buckets. I recently checked at our Costco and found no rice in stock at all, save for the 10 lb bags of basmati rice which is not a big favorite at our house.

Rice, which used to be cheap and could be counted on as an everyday and emergency food stock is now hard to obtain and more costly when available. This can seriously hurt our preparedness plans.

What can we do?

First, we are facing a demand problem and not necessarily a shortage. Rice is available, but it might be hard to find.

Second, the time to buy was last year, but the time to buy is also now before the shipments stop and there are no restocks.

A few suggestions;

- Purchase smaller bags (1, 2 and 5lb) from your grocer.
- Check big box retailers like Walmart. Often they have the big bags like Costco or Sams.
- Check with Asian and Middle Eastern retailers. I would buy 25 and 50 lb bags from the Asian market near our house anyway. Also check the Hispanic oriented supermarkets if they are in your town.
- Keep an eye out at Sams and Costco. Ask the manager when shipments may arrive. According to the news, new stock arrives daily.
- Buy in reason. There is no need to snatch every 50lb bag you see. Buy what you can afford and reasonably store.
- Store what you buy, eat what you store.
- Consider other grains which may be in stock.

A note.

There have been a number of news articles about food shortages and riots. So far, this has not happened in the U.S. yet and I don't see it happening for some time.

Also, there is plenty to eat (real long term storage food) in the markets. I have not seen the all edged shortages of flour, sugar, salt or yeast some are hysterically reporting nor have my retailers placed any limits on purchases.

Finally, the government has not issued a statement on the rice demand. When the government issues a statement like "please limit purchases" or worse, "we have implemented price controls and rationing", then you have a real problem on your hand.

That does not mean to say that you should not continue to store food. On the contrary, we prepare for all eventualities which includes short term shortages such as what we are experiencing in addition to more serious events.

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