Taiwan must reduce reliance on imported food: premier


TAIPEI — Premier Wu Den-yih proposed yesterday that Taiwan should seek to reduce its reliance on imported food to enhance the country’s food security, which he said should be considered a national security issue.

As part of such efforts, the government should boost Taiwan’s rice production by encouraging local consumers to eat domestic rice, Wu said in a weekly Cabinet meeting.

He asked the Council of Agriculture (COA) to strengthen a publicity drive toward a new consumer culture and step up its efforts to promote domestic rice products.

According to the COA, the land in Taiwan given over to rice has been decreasing over the past decades, from 668,000 hectares in 1981 to 255,000 hectares in 2009.

In addition, annual rice consumption was down from an average 98 kg per person in 1981 to 48 kg in 2009.

The COA estimated that for every kilogram increased in annual consumption per capita, the area of fallow farmland in Taiwan would drop 5,600 hectares, while the output of rice-related businesses would rise NT$1 billion, and the self sufficiency rate would move up 0.24 percent.

The council said it hopes that through various promotional efforts, the annual rice consumption per capita will increase to 51 kg by 2014.

On the issue of local food price hikes as a result of soaring global food prices, the premier reiterated that the government will continue its efforts to stabilize prices to minimize the impact on consumers.

Besides flexibly lowering tariffs on imported food staples, the government will also regulate speculative hoarding and excessive price hikes of imports, Wu said. Government Battles to Stabilize Rice Prices

Taiwanese authorities plan to inject tens of thousands of tons of rice into the market next month in a bid to stabilize domestic prices, officials said.

The move came as World Bank president Robert Zoellick warned food prices rose by 15 percent between October and January, pushing 44 million people into poverty in developing countries since June last year.

The pinch has been felt in Taiwan where the prices of corn, mostly imported from the United States and a major ingredient in animal feed, have surged 27 percent during the same period, pushing up meat prices.

To help reduce the cost of local livestock and poultry, the COA said that up to 65,000 tons of rice would be released from its inventory for sale to local animal farmers in March.

“This step is part of the government’s efforts to stabilize domestic consumer prices,” Yu Sheng-feng, deputy chief of the council said.

Although Taiwan’s consumer prices have remained relatively stable, the island has felt the knock-on effect of drastic global fluctuations, with the economy heavily reliant on imports of various commodities.

The pressure posed by mounting prices prompted President Ma Ying-jeou to order government agencies to adopt countermeasures, including reducing import duties and cracking down on hoarders.