The importance of rice

1. Rice as a global staple food


Rice, wheat, and maize are the three leading food crops in the world; together they directly supply more than 50% of all calories consumed by the entire human population. Wheat is the leader in area harvested each year with 214 million ha, followed by rice with 154 million ha and maize with 140 million ha. Human consumption accounts for 85% of total production for rice, compared with 72% for wheat and 19% for maize.


Rice provides 21% of global human per capita energy and 15% of per capita protein. Although rice protein ranks high in nutritional quality among cereals, protein content is modest. Rice also provides minerals, vitamins, and fiber, although all constituents except carbohydrates are reduced by milling.


The world average consumption of rice in 1999 was 58 kg, with the highest intake in some Asian countries; Myanmar has the highest annual consumption at 211 kg/person. Rice eaters and growers constitute the bulk of the world’s poor: according to the UNDP Human Development Report for 1997, approximately 70% of the world’s 1.3 billion poor people live in Asia, where rice is the staple food.



The table shows that in many south-east Asian countries,

rice makes up a big proportion of the daily diet.

To some extent, this reflects Asia’s large population, but even in relative terms malnutrition appears to affect a substantially larger share of the population in South Asia than in Africa. For these people, rice is the most important commodity in their daily lives. In countries such as Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Myanmar, the average citizen consumes 150–200 kg annually, which accounts for two-thirds or more of caloric intake and approximately 60% of daily protein consumption. Even in relatively wealthier countries such as Thailand and Indonesia, rice still accounts for nearly 50% of calories and one-third or more of protein.

2. The effect of rice on the global economy


Rice is also the most important crop to millions of small farmers who grow it on millions of hectares throughout the region, and to the many landless workers who derive income from working on these farms. In the future, it is imperative that rice production continue to grow at least as rapidly as the population, if not faster. Rice research that develops new technologies for all farmers has a key role to play in meeting this need and contributing to global efforts directed at poverty alleviation.


Agricultural population densities on Asia’s rice producing lands are among the highest in the world and continue to increase at a remarkable rate. Rapid population growth puts increasing pressure on the already strained food-producing resources. The aggregate population of the less developed countries grew from 2.3 billion in 1965 to 4.4 billion in 1995. Asia accounted for 60% of the global population, about 92% of the world’s rice production, and 90% of global rice consumption. Even with rice providing 35–80% of the total calories consumed in Asia and with a slowing of growth in total rice area, rice production more than kept up with demand in 2000. The largest producing countries—China, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Thailand —together account for more than three quarters of world rice production.


The world’s annual rough rice production, however, will have to increase markedly over the next 30 years to keep up with population growth and income-induced demand for food.

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