Bahrain eyes farmland in Philippines

Reuters | Wednesday, 11 June 2008

by Summer Said

Bahrain wants to invest in rice farmland in the Philippines, the world's top importer of the grain, in a move to boost food security as global food supplies become increasingly expensive, traders said on Wednesday.

The soaring price of staples such as rice - dubbed a "silent tsunami" by the World Food Programme - has sparked violent protests in parts of Africa and Asia.

"The ministers of agriculture of both countries [Bahrein and Philippines] agreed on the idea, and they will soon reveal details of an official deal," a Gulf-based importer said.

"Bahrain needs food security, particularly rice, and the Philippines needs investment and both parties are keen to see this deal happening," he told newswire Reuters.

The Bahraini minister of agriculture has said that he agreed with his counterpart to invest in farmland in the Philippines but gave no details.

Bahrain imports around 45,000 tonnes of rice a year, mainly from India and Pakistan, traders said. Around 5 percent of the Gulf Arab kingdom's staple imports come from Thailand, the world's biggest rice exporter, traders said.

Last week, traders said Thailand had agreed to supply more rice to Bahrain for the rest of 2008.

New Delhi's decision in March to ban non-basmati rice exports and curb sales of the superior basmati variety, triggered measures by others to secure supplies.

The Philippines is talking to possible suppliers, including Japan, China, Pakistan, Thailand and Vietnam, to buy more rice.

The Southeast Asian nation has contracted to import 1.7 million tonnes of rice to fill a supply gap, helping to push up benchmark Thai rice prices to a record of about $1,080 a tonne in April, up three-fold from early January.

"Most of the Gulf countries are looking at all possible options to secure food supplies, and though the Philippines itself struggles with self-sufficiency in food, it has plenty of land that can be used," one source said.

Bahrain is also inviting private companies to set up joint ventures to invest in farmland in Thailand, traders and industry sources have said.

They added that Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, was likely to start investing in rice farms in Thailand by end-2008 to boost food supply security.

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