Food prices soar in drought-hit Yunnan

Social unrest fears grow amid grain shortages

Choi Chi-yuk
20 March 2010

Staple food prices in some areas hit hard by the severe drought in Yunnan, where seven million people face grain shortages, have risen by roughly 40 per cent over the past month, residents said yesterday.

The provincial civil affairs bureau said more than half of the province’s summer grain would be destroyed by the severe drought, which would cost the province 10 billion yuan (HK$11.3 billion) just from crop failure, a report carried by the Xinhuanet news portal added.

Meng Jiaxue, a primary school teacher in the town of Fucun in Qujing, said yesterday that he was very worried about social stability in the local community due to panic and anxiety triggered by the rapidly rising cost of basic food as a result of the once-in-a-century drought that began in September.

“For example, the price of a 25kg bag of rice is now 105 yuan to 110 yuan while it only cost us about 75 to 80 yuan before the Lunar New Year,” Meng, 46, said. “Aside from grain, prices of other staple foods, including vegetables and cooking oil, have also risen by between 5 per cent to 30 per cent over the past month.

“Worst of all, living costs have kept rising and rising, with the prices of basic necessities even surging in just two days,” he said. “That, in turn, may prompt chaos and even threaten social stability here.

Meng said other residents shared his fears, with unconfirmed but widely-circulated news reports saying that food had been stolen nearby and that others had begun stockpiling grain for speculation.

Yunnan Daily said provincial party secretary Bai Enpei had pledged to protect people from the drought, saying: “Millions of residents in our province are now struggling against shortages of drinking water and food. Ensuring them a normal living is the overriding priority [for local government].”

Flower prices have also risen markedly. The province accounts for 80 per cent of the mainland’s flower supply, but more than 30,000 hectares, or approximately 80 per cent, of its flower fields have been affected by the disaster, an official with the Yunnan Provincial Flower Industry Office told Xinhua.

The official said the price of a good quality rose had recently surged to four yuan, more than double the price this time last year.

Yunnan is also the mainland’s second largest sugar producer but output is expected to fall by 30 per cent or 4.5 million tonnes this year. Sugar prices in Beijing have already risen to 6.5 yuan a kilogram, compared to 5.8 yuan in January.

Meanwhile, an official with Yunnan’s flood control and drought relief command was quoted by China Economic Times as warning that up to 10.14 million people – a quarter of the province’s population – could face drinking water shortages if the drought did not break before May.

Meng said the residents of Fucun had to fetch water from five kilometres away.

The Central Meteorological Observatory in Beijing predicted on Thursday that the drought would worsen, with no substantial rainfall expected for the next 10 days.

During a meeting in Beijing yesterday, unnamed officials of the National Disaster Reduction Committee said more than 51 million people were suffering from the drought in Guizhou, Yunnan, Guangxi, Sichuan and Chongqing, Xinhua said.

More than 10,000 armed police had been dispatched to the five regions to help with relief efforts.

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