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Back in the Soup: Now What?

This article for AJAD presents the outlook for the world rice market as of early September 2023. It builds on the author's AJAD article from a year ago ( and on multiple articles in the East Asia Forum (

A year ago, the world was facing a severe food crisis. All the ingredients for significant shortages of food grains and vegetable oils were already boiling. An article in this journal at the time asked how to manage such a crisis (Timmer 2022). The answer was a series of steps designed to build confidence in the availability of supplies. Leadership was sought from Indonesia, chair of the G20 in 2022, and soon to be chair of ASEAN.

Indonesia had deep and long experience managing food crises facing its own economy. The hope was that this experience, plus President Joko Widodo’s diplomatic skills, could deliver a G20 consensus declaration at the Bali Summit in November 2022. If clear, substantive, and politically feasible steps were laid out in the declaration, the signatories could return home with some confidence that food prices would not spiral out of control. By stabilizing expectations about food prices, the need for panicked hoarding would be minimized. Somewhat higher prices were inevitable, but sharp spikes might be avoided.

Indonesia delivered (Editorial Board, ANU 2023a). World food markets remained relatively calm, rice prices actually declined for several months, and the world’s consumers breathed a bit easier. But the breathing space was short-lived. A combination of factors, especially the ramped-up attacks by Russia on Ukrainian food export infrastructure and the emergence of a vigorous El Niño in Asian rice bowls, has led to renewed concerns about an impending food crisis. This time the focus is on rice, rather than wheat, maize, and vegetable oils. But rice is increasingly the “food of the poor” in Asia and in Africa (Timmer 2013). A spike in rice prices will cause widespread hunger.


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