Page last updated at 10:31 GMT, Wednesday, 23 April 2008 11:31 UK

Rice at fresh peak on supply fear

Man unloads rice imports in Manila
Rice importing countries are being hit by export bans in key producers

Rice prices have scaled fresh heights in Asian trade amid concern that export bans by key producers will hit supply.

Rough rice for July delivery touched $24.745 per 100lb for the first time, before falling slightly.

Curbs are in place in India and Vietnam to protect domestic supply and there are fears that Thailand, the world's largest exporter, could follow suit.

The global food crisis is a "silent tsunami" with an extra 100 million people facing poverty, the UN said.

"This is the new face of hunger - the millions of people who were not in the urgent hunger category six months ago, but now are," said the head of the United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP), Josette Sheeran.

Perfect storm

The international price of rice - a staple food for half the world - has risen about 68% since the beginning of the year.

The prices of soybeans, corn and wheat have also been marching higher and are currently near their all-time peaks.

A combination of high fuel costs, bad weather and land allocated to biofuels is constraining food supply. At the same time, producer countries are seeking to conserve food for their own people by curtailing exports.

But Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej said Thailand would continue to be known as the "world's kitchen", as the government considers using abandoned government land to increase agricultural output.

Thailand's Office of Agriculture Economics projected that rice production after milling would be 20.4 million tonnes from this year's crop, with 55% for domestic consumption and the remainder for export.

Thailand produced 19.6 million tonnes last year.

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