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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rising food prices hit home

Rising food prices hit home



A man caries pork at a market in Phnom Penh. An array of factors, from rising food demand and high oil prices to global warming, could make high costs for essentials such as rice wheat and milk a permanent fixture, experts say.

Chrang Chamres – On the long, gently sloping bank of Cambodia's

Tonle river, Doem Lao chops half a dozen large fish heads in the early morning

for the one meal that her family will eat that day.

It is the 45-year-old farmer's fourth unseasonably cold dawn

in this quiet Muslim neighborhood on the outskirts of Phnom

Penh, where her extended family has set up camp with others from

their village in the southern province

of Takeo.

Like tens of thousands of rural Cambodians, they have joined

the annual migration to the river to buy enough fish to make a year's worth of prahok, the pungent fermented paste that

is the only source of protein for many in the Kingdom’s impoverished rural


But the rice they brought from home has nearly run out and

the fish have yet to appear in the large nets strung across the river in front

of their camp.

The crude bamboo and metal mesh processing stalls on the

riverbank are silent – and February is the last month of the fishing season.

A sudden drop-off in the numbers of prahok fish has seen

their price more than triple this year, up to as high as 50 US cents a kilogram

from around 12 cents, putting this most basic of Cambodian commodities out of

reach for many.

While not normally a benchmark by which to measure food

security, prahok prices have highlighted the spiraling costs of staple goods

that are threatening Cambodia's

poorest with hunger.

"We eat prahok every day. Last year we made so much

that we could sell some or trade it for rice," Doem Lao said, sitting in a

tight circle with other village women and a few young children.

"This year I'm not at all hopeful. Some of us have left

already. We're not going to have enough prahok. We're not even going to have

enough rice," she said.

Across Asia the cost of

food is rising, for a variety of reasons, from higher demand and spiking global

oil prices to environmental factors like global warming which disrupt the

normal agricultural cycles.

But while other regional governments have responded by

cutting import tariffs or establishing national food stockpiles, Cambodia

appears reluctant to step in and halt the 
upward climb of food costs.

For poor Cambodians, this means that in addition to losing their

prahok, they are not able to supplement their already meager diets with other

foods, particularly meat.

"Everything now is so expensive," said another

village woman, Bhum Sap, rattling off the current prices of chicken, pork and

beef, which can cost as much as $5 a kilogram.


A victim of its own

economic success 


in some ways, has become a victim of its own economic success. The country has

recorded economic growth averaging 11 percent over the past three years,

spurred on by a galloping tourism sector and strong garment and building


Growing interest by foreign investors and a real estate boom

that has helped create more than a few overnight millionaires have resulted in

an unprecedented explosion of wealth.

But the sudden influx of cash into the fragile economy has

not come without its pitfalls.

Over the past year inflation has spiked at 10.8 percent,

compared with 2.8 percent at the end of 2006, driving up the cost of food and

other staple goods and pushing the most vulnerable deeper into poverty.

"About 8.5 percentage points of December's inflation

rate of 10.8 percent was accounted for by food price inflation," said the

International Monetary Fund's Cambodia

representative John Nelmes.

For as many as 2.6 million people living in extreme poverty,

the situation has been worsening over the last several years, which have been

marked by poor harvests brought on by natural disasters such as flood or


"Too many Cambodians still suffer from hunger and

malnutrition for some or most of the time," the World Food Programme (WFP)

said on its website.

The unrelenting rise in food costs only adds more depth to

their misery.

"WFP is very concerned about the general increase of

the cost of the staples, in Cambodia

as well as elsewhere," said WFP country director for Cambodia,

Thomas Keusters.

Food inflation has affected aid efforts at a crucial time,

as aid agencies anticipate the need for more handouts in rural areas facing a

leaner than normal year ahead.

In January last year, the WFP paid $237 per metric tonne of

rice, a cost that has now risen to $367 a tonne, Keusters said.

"For every dollar received from the international and

local donor community, we buy 55 percent less rice. With the general increase

in the cost of food, the need for food assistance will not decrease," he


"On the contrary. As Cambodia faces new challenges such

as climate change, changes in food availability, high energy prices,

globalization and many more, we all need to strategize better," he said. (AFP)



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