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Japanese rice cookers, African demand pushing up global rice prices
Our Bureau
Date of posting: 13-03-08
      Blame it on the Japanese- their rice cookers which revolutionized humble Asian kitchens decades ago by making rice cooking quick and easy, are now being blamed for a global spurt in the price of rice.

      Rice prices are trading at $500 a tonne which is nearly double of what it was an year ago. The worst is yet to come as prices have jumped 10% in the last fortnight alone, which is higher than the price rise for a basket of cereals comprising wheat, maize and others.

      Research done by the US-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) indicates that the easy availability of Japanese rice cookers and Asian rice in the African markets is helping to increase rice consumption in many parts of Africa which did not have a rice eating tradition until a few years ago.

      “Countries such as Angola, Uganda and Mozambique are experiencing higher growth in their economy as they have all come away from conflicts. As a result, there has been growth in individuals’ income,” said an IFPRI researcher to an Indian business newspaper.

      One of the reasons for these African countries to shift to rice is because it is easy to cook and eat. Rice, when compared with other grains, is also cheaper. Again, West African countries such as Mali, Nigeria have begun to consume rice. During 1970s, these nations use to grow pearl millets and sorghum on the banks of river Mali. That is disappearing slowly now, according to the IFPRI researcher.

      Rice is also seen as a grain easy to import rather than grow in Africa because of high input costs, especially in areas where there are no irrigation. In Africa, less than four per cent of the lands have irrigation facility.

      In traditional rice growing countries such India, Thailand and Pakistan, the total area under rice cultivation is reducing as farmers are moving away from rice cultivation to the so called ‘cash crops’ such as tobacco, cotton and pulses as harvesting cycles are faster, there is good market demand and the return per acre is higher than in rice.

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