Food crisis building up across the globe has come home to Americans too. Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, has announced rationing of rice.
It said Wednesday that it would ration the amount of rice each customer can purchase at its Sam's Club warehouse stores because of recent "supply and demand trends."
"We are limiting the sale of Jasmine, Basmati and Long Grain White Rices to four bags per member visit," the company said in a statement. "This is effective immediately in all of our U.S. clubs, where quantity restrictions are allowed by law."
Wal-Mart is the second-major grocer to limit the purchasing of a commodity because of the recent run-up in prices. The company said it is not limiting the purchase of other basic food products like flour or oil.
The price of rice, which is the primary foodstuff for the majority of the human population around the world, rose to $894 a metric ton according to the Thai Rice Exporters Association. That's compared to the $327.25 a ton average price in the same month last year.
In Chicago, the price of export-quality rice rose to $24.745 per 100 pounds on Tuesday, reports Fox News.
The run up in price in rice is primarily related to poor harvests and countries curbing exports. Thailand, Asia's largest exporter of rice, said it may curb exports.
The World Food Program called the recent run up in prices of rice and other basic commodities a "silent famine."
Wal-Mart did not say when the rationing would end, but it was "working with our suppliers to address this matter to ensure we are in stock, and we are asking for our members' cooperation and patience."
Costco, the nation's largest warehouse retailer, said yesterday that it had seen increased demand for basic food staples as well like rice and flour. The company had a two 50-lb limit on rice purchases as well to keep people from hoarding and reselling the rice.
Jordan Mandelberg of FOX Business said a San Francisco-based Costco has basically sold completely out of its supply of rice. Only one pallet of white rice was left by the late morning in California.
Joe Morris of the California Rice Commission said the supply concerns stem from imported long-grain rice, not the domestic medium-grain rice grown here in the states.
Astonishing accounts of panic buying and rationing are surfacing from Tokyo to New York as world leaders are breaking out in cold sweat over tightening food supply chain, writes Chidanand Rajghatta in Times of India.
Japan, one of the world largest food importers, announced that it had exhausted its annual grain budget with two months remaining even as the country ran out of butter -- both as a consequence of rising prices and shortage of supply from countries such as Kazakhstan and Australia.
Assurances by US producers and grain analysts that there was enough cereal in the pipeline did little to arrest the panic in a country where forecast of a few inches of snow is enough to clear out the supermarket shelves. The tabloid New York Post story on the subject was headlined: Pain, No Grain.
Ironically, amid all this vexation, it was news from India that calmed the markets a bit.
The announcement from New Delhi that India would produce a bounteous harvest of wheat (and rice) this coming summer beat back wheat prices to a six-month low in the US market. With the US acreage under wheat also improving under good weather conditions, the International Grains Council has forecast a seven per cent increase in global wheat production.
India is now the world's second largest producer of both wheat and rice, and but for its appalling storage and distribution systems that wastes more than ten per cent of its harvest, it is in a position not only to feed itself but also help other countries.
In an interview earlier this week, Nobel laureate Dr Normal Borlaug, father of India's Green revolution, had said there was still plenty of upside to food production in India and there was no need for panic.
"The only thing that has held back higher grain production is complacency. New techniques and technology is available to increase food production," Dr Borlaug said.
But that will take some time to kick in. For now though, it is panic stations from Tokyo to San Francisco, not to speak of Philippines to Haiti, where there have been reports of foot riots going beyond hoarding and rationing.
In fact, it is India's restriction on export of all rice, except for basmati, that is being blamed in part for the rice stampede. Other major rice producing countries such as China, Thailand, and Vietnam have also banned exports as they seek to first meet local demand. Similar action has followed among major wheat producing nations such as Ukraine and Kazakhstan.
The consequences of the developing world's mantra of feed-your-own-first has not been happy for the US, which has diverted some of its grain to bio-fuels, and Japan, which is the world's biggest net food importer. On Wednesday, Tokyo announced that it will ask the World Trade Organization as early as next week to introduce rules to prevent countries from restricting exports of wheat, rice and other grains.
Whether the move is a recipe for a new food fight in the international arena amid what appears to be needless panic is something that will unravel over the next few weeks.