Rice jumps as Africa joins race for supplies

Rice prices rose more than 10 per cent on Friday to a fresh all-time high as African countries joined south-east Asian importers in the race to head off social unrest by securing supplies from the handful of exporters still selling the grain in the international market.

The rise in prices – 50 per cent in two weeks – threatens upheaval and has resulted in riots and soldiers overseeing supplies in some emerging countries, where the grain is a staple food for about 3bn people.

The increase also risks stoking further inflation in emerging countries, which have been suffering the impact of record oil prices and the rise in price of other agricultural commodities – including wheat, maize and vegetable oil – in the last year.

Kamal Nath, India’s trade minister, said the government would crack down on hoarding of essential commodities to keep a lid on food prices. “We will not hesitate to take the strongest possible measures, including using some of the legal provisions that we have against hoarding,’’ he said on Friday.

Thai medium-quality rice, a global benchmark, traded at about $850 a tonne on Friday, up from $760 a tonne last week, while the price of less representative top-quality aromatic rice broke the $1,000-a-tonne level for the first time, traders said. They added that the grain was being sold to African destinations.

In Chicago, US rice futures hit an all-time high of $20.45 per 100 pounds.

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