Rice Scare Gets People Eating Potatoes

The expectation of higher rice prices has generated a jump in potato consumption, farmers organizations said yesterday. Several grocery chains confirm that potato purchases are up.

David Levy, CEO of the Kama district industries, said yesterday there is customarily a period of stability with a tendency for potato prices to drop after the Passover holiday. This year has been different. Wholesale prices of potatoes sold to grocery chains and markets have shot up 10% since the holiday ended this year.

"The soaring price of rice has discouraged many consumers from buying this product, and encouraged consumption of potatoes, whose price (NIS 5 per kilo) has remained stable for many months," Levy said.

Willy Food CEO Yossi Williger said yesterday that rice consumption in Israel was down 3% last week compared to the week before. The rising price of rice, he said, is expected to be curbed. "There is no reason not to buy any quantity of rice from a rice-producing country, especially Thailand. No substantial shortage is expected, and the price of this product is expected to increase only moderately," Williger said. "There has also been no hoarding of rice by importers or traders, because news of the crisis came suddenly. By the end of 2009 or early 2009, the price of rice will even drop, because farmers in Asia will increase their cultivated acreage with the recent rise."

The director of the Agricultural Research Organization (Volcani Center), Professor Yitzhak Spiegel, agrees that the price of rice, which has increased because of the involvement of speculators, is expected to drop. "The fear of a shortage of rice is artificial. Within a year or two the problem will be solved, when governments ensure the flow of water in countries that are suffering from a lack of water," says Spiegel. The Agricultural Research Organization is currently preparing a strategic plan, he added, that will provide a solution to a possible shortage of food in Israel and other countries.