Indonesia had a large rise in rice imports for the first eight months of the year compared to the same period in 2022, the country's statistics agency reported on Friday, as the government aims to replenish stockpiles of the staple.

Indonesia, Southeast Asia's most populous country with 270 million people, imported 1.59 million metric tons of rice in the January-August period, up from 237,146 tons imported during the same period a year ago, said Amalia Adininggar Widyasanti, the acting chief of Statistics Indonesia, during a briefing on the country's trade data.

More than a half of the shipments originated from Thailand at 802,000 tons, she said, followed by shipments from Vietnam at 674,000 tons, 66,000 tons from India and 45,000 tons from Pakistan.

The government assigned state procurement food company Bulog to import 2.3 million tons of rice this year to blunt the impact of the El Nino weather pattern, which causes dry weather in Southeast Asia. However 453,000 tons is yet to be contracted, a Bulog official said earlier this week.

"Global rice price is rising. We want to increase our strategic rice reserve, but even to import it is difficult to get," Indonesian President Joko Widodo said at a separate event on Friday, adding that the difficulties to secure rice from overseas driven by export restrictions by some countries.

Hot weather in key growing regions across Asia threatens harvests, driving up rice prices by as much as 20%, with countries led by top exporter India limiting shipments to rein in inflation and ensure food security for their people.

Indonesia's total rice imports for 2023, including for hotels and restaurants, are estimated at 2.9 million tons, the National Food Agency said earlier this week.

(Reporting by Stefanno Sulaiman and Bernadette Christina; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)