(dpa) - An estimated 200,000 tons of rice, worth 100 million dollars, has gone missing from national warehouses in Thailand this year as world prices of the commodity soared, state media reported Monday.
The grain has disappeared from the government's rice stockpile of 2.1 million tons, kept in national warehouses as a means of curbing high prices on the local market and assuring a food supply for the poor, said Bank of Thailand (BoT) senior economist Benjamas Kotenongbua.
Benjamas told the Thai New Agency (TNA) that the "missing" rice was worth an estimated 3.2 billion baht (101.5 million dollars), and rising.
Rice prices have almost doubled this year, as artificial shortages have been created in the world market by bans on rice exports in India and Vietnam, usually two of the world's largest rice traders.
In Thailand, which is expecting a bumper rice crop this year, exporters are having trouble meeting orders recently because of domestic shortages of the grain caused by hoarding.
The government is also having trouble buying new supplies of rice for its stockpile, and holding on the stocks that are supposed to be in the warehouses, said the TNA.
The government-sponsored "mortgage programme," by which the state purchased rice at a favourable price to fill its warehouses, saw commitments of only 240,000 tons of rice in the 2007-2008 rice-growing season, compared to earlier estimates of 8 million tons, said Benjamas, who works at the central bank's Khon Kaen office.
"The major reason for the sharp drop of rice participation in the programme was the result of soaring of rice prices which persuaded farmers and middlemen not to sell rice to millers," she said.
In the first three months of this year, Thailand exported a total of 3.26 million tons of rice, almost double of exports during the same period in 2007.
But there are doubts that Thai exporters will be able to meet orders in the future as the domestic supply dries up.