Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Oil vs. Rice | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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“In search for alternatives”, “shortage in supply”, and “fears of an increase in prices” are frequently used expressions, however this time they do not relate to oil but rice. Nevertheless, the question is: Are we about to face a war that alternates between oil and rice, as some of us would imagine, where the outside world would avenge us by increasing the price of the most important food commodity in response to the [increase in] oil prices?

In reality, this accusation is true to some extent since increases in prices are normal as a result of the price of oil and its derivatives, which operate everything around us. It is certain that this rise will have an impact on all products worldwide, including Indian basmati rice. If the rice traders believe that they can get their hands on Arab oil money by using rice, they might succeed if the kitchens [of the Arab world] surrender and refuse any alternatives. But politicians should not interfere by reducing the prices of rice forcibly or by providing subsidies to it, but rather by advising people to reduce their intake of rice; especially as it is a starchy food that causes obesity etc.

Politics is organically and historically associated with food. The French Revolution broke out with the apathetic words of Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France. When people complained about the high prices of bread, she said, “Then let them eat cake!” There are arguments that this has been fabricated as no one has proved that the Queen actually said this and it has only been attributed to her. Undoubtedly, however, it was bread that inflamed the Egyptian people in 1977. Furthermore, the bread revolution in Tunisia led to the overthrow of President Habib Bourguiba and the chaos relating to sugar prices in Sudan contributed to undermining the outcast democratic regime during the era of Sadiq al Mahdi. Perhaps the most prominent event in this respect is the Boston Tea Party that sparked the American Revolution and led to independence from the British Empire. In brief, the British colonialists had imposed inflexible taxes on exports to the United States and this had caused the anger amongst the people. The British then withdrew the tax except with respect to tea. This led to the Boston Tea Party [December 16, 1773] when Americans attacked the English ships and threw crates of tea bricks into the water. England was furious to the extent that Parliament considered the act barbaric and decided to punish Boston by closing the port until the price of the tea was covered. In 1775, real battles had erupted between soldiers and inhabitants and ended with the independence of the United States.

However, there is no connection between the events of contemporary history and the prices of rice today since for over half of the world, rice is a primary staple. Another reason is that rice traders do not have the capacity to set up a production cartel in the same way as OPEC has done, because there are over 80 countries producing rice, making competition rife, including the Iraqi al Anbar rice, which is the best in the world.

Moreover, there are more alternatives to rice than oil. However, the task is not easy, despite the ability of science to develop and process rice after discovering its genetic code. Therefore, it is recommended that rice traders do not push people to revolt against their commodity, in the way that Americans revolted against tea and boycotted it. For approximately 300 years now, they have been drinking coffee as a substitute. The upcoming holy month of Ramadan will be the greatest test between consumers and importers.