Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has imposed ceilings on rice prices across the country amid an “alarming” increase in retail costs of the staple grain and reports of hoarding by traders.

Regular milled rice will be capped at 41 pesos ($0.72) per kilogram while well-milled rice is at 45 pesos a kilo,  according to an executive order issued late on Thursday that takes effect immediately. 

Prior to the ceiling, regular milled rice was sold as much as 34% higher and the well-milled variety was 24% costlier, based on retail prices monitored by the Department of Agriculture.

Faster increases in the prices of rice, which makes up 9% of the Philippine consumer basket, may spur inflation that has cooled to a 16-month low in July. The central bank expects inflation to quicken in August for the first time in seven months, amid rising costs of fuel and rice.

In 2018, surging rice prices due to a supply crunch stoked Philippine inflation and triggered interest rate hikes that year. Rice prices in Asia soared to the highest in almost 15 years last month as top exporter India curbed shipments further.

The agriculture and trade departments reported “widespread practice of alleged illegal price manipulation, such as hoarding by opportunistic traders and collusion among industry cartels,” Marcos’s communications office said in a statement. The Russia-Ukraine conflict, India’s ban on rice exports and unpredictability of global oil prices have pushed up retail prices of the Philippines’ staple food, it added.

Rice supply for the second half of the year will reach 10.15 million metric tons, or more than enough to meet current demand of 7.76 million MT, according to estimates by the agriculture department. Ending stock is forecast at 2.39 million MT, which will last up to 64 days.

Marcos ordered the police to assist the government in ensuring the strict implementation of the price ceilings. The Bureau of Customs will intensify inspections and raids of rice warehouses to combat hoarding and illegal importation.