ASEAN is ready to implement a number of measures, including the strengthening of its existing food security mechanisms, to tackle the rising food prices and ensure longer-term adequacy of rice supply to prevent any adverse impact on the ASEAN economies.

ASEAN Secretary-General Dr. Surin Pitsuwan said that the ASEAN region, being a net exporter of several food commodities has sufficient amount of food for its people and to supply the world.  According to Dr. Surin, the region has more than enough in rice and several oil-seed and oil-palm production to feed the region and meet the growing regional as well as global demand. 

Data derived from the ASEAN Food Security Information System (AFSIS) shows that total ASEAN production of paddy has increased steadily from 120.7 million metric tons in 1993 to 178.8 million metric tons in 2006.  The region’s exports of rice also play an important role in the world market, accounting for almost 50% of the total global exports, based on the 2006/2007 production year.

“However, given that high food prices are likely to persist in the medium-term, a regional coordinated approach, both from the supply and demand sides, to addressing the issue is needed, to allow a more appropriate set of responses for protecting the poor and ensuring food security in the region,” Dr. Surin said.  He added that “If we manage our food production, processing, storage and distribution well we can also help relieve the world’s anxiety and pressure. We can share our food surpluses with other regions.”

Currently, ASEAN has existing mechanisms that are directly related to food security in the region, including the ASEAN Food Security Reserve (AFSR) and the East Asia Emergency Rice Reserve (EAERR) comprising the ASEAN plus Three Countries of China, Japan and Korea.  In addition, an information network on food security among these countries has been established through the ASEAN Food Security Information System (AFSIS).  These mechanisms are designed mainly for sharing of rice stocks among countries in times of disasters and other natural emergencies. 

“Obviously, to prevent spiralling food prices, we need a concerted effort to further strengthen the scope of regional cooperation in food security, including stabilization of prices,” Dr. Surin said.  He further suggested that both short-term and long-term measures have to be implemented to stabilize market prices and maintain proper levels for rice stocks that are beneficial for both producers and consumers.

High food prices have already caused concerns in ASEAN, particularly in Indonesia and the Philippines.  With assistance from the World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organization, the Governments of ASEAN Member States are addressing the rice supply problems.