The price of rice - a staple food for more than half the world's population – has more than doubled on world markets in recent weeks, leading to reports of price gouging and emergency restrictions on exports.

 

The rice cards are designed to benefit about a third of the poorest families in the capital, Manila, officials said on Monday.

 

The government said it would also distribute cash cards to help other families in the poorest 20 out of 81 provinces with quick money transfers.

 

Some Asian countries, including India and Vietnam, recently put a bar on rice exports in an effort to guarantee their own domestic supplies remain affordable.

The soaring price of rice


Global rice stocks have halved since hitting a record high in 2001

Financial speculators have helped lift global rice prices by about 80 per cent in 2008 alone

Restrictions on rice exports in effort to control inflation caused by rising fuel prices have squeezed international supply

Pressure on agricultural land for industrial uses has reduced the amount of rice paddy production

Shortfalls in production in some countries adds to demand on international markets, further fuelling price rises

In Malaysia on Monday the government unveiled plans to subsidise locally grown rice to prevent consumers from being hit by the record surge in global prices.

 

"The main priority is that the government wants to assure the lower income group that local rice will remain affordable to them", Shahrir Samad, the domestic trade and consumer affairs minister, said on Monday.

 

Malaysia's embattled prime minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, is already under pressure over the price rises.

 

The increasing cost of living was cited as one of the reasons for the ruling coalition's huge setback in a general election last month.

 

The dramatic reduction in the size of the majority in parliament and loss of five states to the opposition was a shock to Malaysia's ruling coalition of parties.

 

Also on Monday Vietnam's prime minister that warned anyone found speculating on the price of rice would be "severely punished".

 

State media quoted Nguyen Tan Dung as saying that supplies in Vietnam were "completely adequate" for domestic consumption.

 

Vietnam is the world's second-biggest rice exporter.

 

On Sunday reports in Vietnamese media said huge crowds of shoppers flocked to rice markets in Ho Chi Minh City, the country's largest city, to stock up on the grain after the price of rice rose by up to 100 per cent over just two days.

 

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, has warned that rising food costs threatened to cancel out strides made toward meeting the goal of halving world poverty by 2015.