Rice prices in Thailand, the world's leading exporter, reached a record of over one-thousand dollars a ton.  As Ron Corben reports from Bangkok the increase in rice and food prices generally will be the center of debate at a U.N. conference next week.

The surge in rice prices in Thailand continues, with traders reporting benchmark rates climbing more than five percent on Thursday.

Prices have tripled since January, with a ton of Thai rice now selling for more than one-thousand dollars.  Rising food prices around the world already have led to food riots in some African nations and Haiti, and protests elsewhere.

There are fears prices could go higher in Thailand, the world's largest exporter, if Iran and Indonesia decide to buy rice on the international market.

U.N. officials have put food prices at the top of the agenda for an Asia-Pacific ministerial meeting in Bangkok next week.

Noeleen Heyzer is executive secretary for the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific - ESCAP.  She says part of the problem has been poor oversight of farming in several countries.

"Growth has been centered on the urban areas and also the townships, and there has been a terrible neglect of the agricultural sector.  For example, in India where the overall growth rate is nine percent, but the agricultural sector is 2.2 percent," Heyzer said.

The Thai Rice Exporters Association says there is a shortfall of 30 million tons in world rice stockpiles.  The shortage is the result of several factors, including rising demand from countries such as China and India, a severe drought in Australia, and the conversion of farm land to industrial and urban use.

"You have speculation the of food prices and you also have the fact that there is a growing middle class and a wealthy population that is changing in its food intake as well as its food patterns," Heyzer said.

The food inflation also hurts aid organizations trying to feed refugees and the poor around the world.  An official at one agency helping Burmese refugees in Thailand says rising prices have left his organization with a $6 million budget shortfall.  He says that without additional funding, the organization may be forced to halve the ration given to individuals.