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. Drought hits millions in Thai rice region: government

by Staff Writers
Bangkok (AFP) April 21, 2008
More than 10 million people in parts of Thailand's rice bowl region have been hit by drought, the government said Monday, causing further concerns as prices of the staple grain soar.

Thailand's Disaster Prevention and Mitigation department reported that 55 of the kingdom's 76 provinces were struggling with drought, mostly in the central, north and northeastern regions.

More than 151,000 rai (60,000 acres) of farmland has been affected, they said in a statement, including half of the key central rice growing provinces.

Vichien Phantodee, a member of the Thai Farmers Association, said rice farmers have been trying to exploit skyrocketing prices and an increased global demand for the grain.

"Farmers want to plant more rice because the price is so good," Vichien told AFP. "But the drought does affect rice production, particularly for farmland outside the irrigation areas."

The first rice harvest of the year in Thailand, the world's biggest rice exporter, traditionally ends in late March or early April. Farmers then let the fields recover, before planting a second harvest in May.

But as export and domestic rice prices hit record highs, many farmers are trying to plant a third crop or move their second harvest forward to take advantage of the boom.

The benchmark Thai variety, Pathumthani fragrant rice, was priced on April 9 at 956 dollars per tonne for export, up about 50 percent from a month earlier, the Thai Rice Exporters Association said in its price survey.

International demand for Thai rice has soared after other top exporters, Vietnam and India, imposed limits on exports to ensure domestic supply.

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Commentary: Not by bread alone
Washington, April 21, 2008
With the world consuming more food than it produces and global grain stocks at their lowest in 30 years, food prices are soaring from Indonesia to Indiana. Some experts called it the perfect storm and others a tsunami. More intense and more frequent weather disasters put an increasing number of people at risk of hunger. Food riots broke out in widely scattered parts of the world, even hounding the Haitian prime minister out of office.

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