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  • Rice is a type of grass (genus Oryza) that belongs to a family of plants that includes other cereals such as
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    Rice as a plant

  • Rice is the most important human food crop in the world, directly feeding more people than any other crop. In 2012,
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    Rice as a crop

  • Cultivating rice is the – and source of income – for millions of households around the globe. Rice is grown in more than
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    Rice as commodity

  • Rice is the most important food crop of the developing world and the staple food of more than half of the
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    Rice as food

  • Challenges


    For every one billion people added to the world’s population, 100 million more tons of rice need to be produced each year. But the challenges facing rice production are great. Read More
  • Culture


    Rice is a central part of many cultures – some countries even credit rice cultivation with the development of their civilization. It is remarkable that almost every culture has its own way of harvesting, processing and eating rice and these different traditions are, in fact, part of the world's cultural heritage. Read More
  • Rice around the world

    Rice around the world

    Following are detailed descriptions of selected rice-producing countries in rice regions (Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean [LAC], Africa, North America, and Europe). Of the top 10 countries in the world during 2005-09, nine are in Asia, in order: China, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, Philippines, and Japan. Completing the top 10 Asian countries is Cambodia. Read More

General information

  • GNI per capita at PPP$, 2011:2,230
  • Internal renewable water resources, 2011: 120.6 km3/year
  • Incoming water flow, 2011: 355.5 km3/year
  • Main food consumed: rice, fish, vegetables, cassava, maize, bananas, meat
  • Rice consumption, 2009: 160.3 kg milled rice per person per year

Production seasons





Write-up taken from the IRRI's Rice Almanac (2013):

Cambodia lies in the Mekong Peninsula of Southeast Asia, with a total land mass of 178,520 km2, of which about 22% is arable. The country is bounded by Laos to the north, Thailand to the west, and Vietnam to the east; it faces the lower Gulf of Thailand in the south. Much of the country is taken up by a central plain, in the middle of which is the huge freshwater lake Tonle Sap. This plain is the country’s grain basket; it is bounded by mountain ranges in the southwest and northeast.

The climate is tropical monsoonal; there is a short rainy season, prolonged dry season, and irregular rainfall both from year to year and within years. Most rain falls from May to mid-November. Often, a 10- to 15-day dry spell (called the short dry season) occurs in July or August. 

The population in 2011 was 14.3 million. An estimated 66% of the population is dependent on farming. Agriculture made up 36.7% of GDP in 2011. The main agricultural products are rice, rubber, maize (corn), vegetables, cashew, cassava, and silk. Rice is the country’s staple food, providing 65–75% of the population’s energy needs.

Cambodia’s economy has been driven more by other sectors in recent years, particularly garment manufacture, as well as construction and tourism. Oil and mineral deposits hold promise of future major contributions to the country’s GDP. 

Recent developments in the rice sector

As a result of food shortages in the late 1970s, many Cambodian farmers were forced to eat their rice seed and traditional varieties were lost. In the 1980s, IRRI reintroduced more than 750 traditional Cambodian rice varieties to the countryfrom its seed bank in the Philippines—a vivid demonstration of the foresight that created the seed bank in the 1960s. With assistance from the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), IRRI also introduced improved rice varieties, better crop management, and extensive training programs, as a result of which Cambodia became self-sufficient in rice in the 1990s for the first time in 30 years.

On average, Cambodia’s rice yield has increased at 5.4% per year since 1994, from 1.6 t/ha between 1994 and 1997 to 2.3 t/ha between 2003 and 2008; average yield in 2010 reached nearly 3 t/ha. This yield increase has been largely attributed to improvements in access to fertilizers and other inputs. The productivity of dry-season crops is much higher than for those of the wet season, mainly due to the use of higher-yielding seeds and better water management during the dry season. However, rice is mainly produced during the wet season, which accounts for more than 75% of the total paddy output per year. Dry-season paddy cultivation remains an important component of rice cultivation, particularly for consumers with a clear preference for dry-season varieties.

Cambodia became a rice-exporting country in the late 1990s, with a modest export of 6,000 t in 2000, climbing to 51,000 t in 2010. However, the country imports more rice than it exports, between 30,000 t and 80,000 t annually since 1995.

Rice environments

Rice in Cambodia is grown in four different ecosystems: rainfed lowland, rainfed upland, deepwater, and irrigated. The rice area has been expanding since the 1990s, from about 1.9 million ha in 1995 to 2.8 million ha in 2010. The proportion of rice area under irrigation increased from 15% in 2006 to 25% in 2010. 

The rainfed lowlands of Cambodia are bunded fields that are almost completely dependent on local rainfall and runoff for water supply. Rainfed lowland rice is cultivated in all provinces. The largest concentration is around Tonle Sap, the Tonle-Basaac River, and the Mekong River.

The rainfed uplands are unbunded fields that depend entirely on rainfall. They are generally found scattered on rolling lands, some of which are mountainous forested areas. They form only a small proportion of the total rice land in Cambodia. 

Deepwater rice is grown in low-lying areas and depressions where maximum water depth can reach more than 3 m. The floodwaters originate from Tonle Sap and the Mekong and Tonle-Basaac rivers and their tributaries.  

Production constraints 

Reports from the Asia Foundation and the United States Department of Agriculture point to several constraints to rice production growth in Cambodia:

  • Extremely low production and availability of improved rice seed compared with other Asian countries.
  • Underuse and nonusage of arable land. Most Cambodian farmers cultivate one paddy rice crop each year.
  • The lack of a farm credit system affects not only rice farmers but also the milling industry, resulting in low use of fertilizer and uptake of farm mechanization, at both the production stage (planters, harvesters) and processing stage (mills, grain dryers, storage facilities).
  • Poor transportation and related infrastructure such as roads, railways, and milling and handling equipment for the rice sector.
  • A lack of good and effective agricultural crop extension programs, primarily due to a lack of funding. This has resulted in a severe lack of educated and experienced extension officers, as well as insufficiency of on-farm technology transfer and farming systems training and assistance.
  • Inadequate funding for scientific agricultural research. The government relies almost totally on international donors for crop research.

Production opportunities

Cambodia has sufficient land and water resources to enhance productivity and increase rice production. Sufficient investment in irrigation infrastructure can further increase cropping intensity and crop productivity. International donors could be tapped for irrigation development, in line with the government’s goal of becoming self-sufficient in rice and a rice exporter.

The government recently adopted a new rice policy to promote growth in paddy production and milled rice exports to match the growth seen in the garment and service sectors. This new rice policy will aim to introduce new technologies,improve agricultural practices, and provide incentives to commercial banks to increase loans for agriculture.

Source: FAOSTAT database online and AQUASTAT database online, as of November 2012.

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General information

  • GNI per capita at PPP$, 2011: 35,330
  • Internal renewable water resources, 2011: 430 km3/year
  • Incoming water flow, 2011: 0 km3/year
  • Main food consumed, 2009: vegetables, milk, seafood, rice, fruits, wheat, meat, soybean 
  • Rice consumption, 2009: 54.0 kg milled rice per person per year

Production seasons




Main, North
Main, Central
Main, South

Write-up taken from the IRRI's Rice Almanac (2013):

The Japanese islands lie off the eastern coast of Asia, roughly in a crescent shape. The country consists of four main islands with about 4,000 smaller ones. The northern limit of rice cultivation is 44° N. Rice is grown up to 1,400 m altitude in the central region of the main island.

The climate is humid temperate and oceanic with four distinct seasons. Rainfall during the rainy season in June and July is indispensable to rice cultivation. The temperature and solar radiation from April to October are ideal for rice growing. 

The country’s population in 2010 was nearly 127 million with a density of 337 per km2. The agricultural population declined from about 29 million in 1960 to about 3 million in 2010 due to diversification of the economy and very slow population growth during recent decades. The country’s population grew at barely 0.02% per year in 2005-10. 

Japan has few natural resources; its industrial sector greatly depends on imported raw materials and fuel. The economy is technologically developed and very efficient in foreign trade. In 2010, 73.8% of the country’s GDP came from the service sector; the industrial sector contributed 24.8% whereas agriculture contributed only 1.2%. 

Recent developments in the rice sector

Japan continues to be self-sufficient in rice. Rice remains important and is embedded in Japanese culture.  With the shift in people’s diet, rice consumption has fallen since the 1970s. Annual per capita rice consumption declined from 63 kg in 1995 to 54 kg in 2009. Consequently, per capita caloric intake from rice fell from 23.1% (675 kcal) per day in 1995 to 21.3% (581 kcal) per day in 2009, while the share of wheat rose slightly from 12.3% per day in 1995 to 14.2% per day in 2009. In parallel, per capita protein intake from rice declined from 12.3% per day in 1995 to 11.5% per day in 2009, whereas wheat accounted for 10.0% per day in 1995 and 11.9% per day in 2009.

The small agricultural sector is heavily subsidized and protected. The rice sector is supported by high prices paid by consumers that allow many farm households to maintain small farms. The government controls trade through a tariff quota, with a high tariff on imports outside the quota. The country has a crop diversion (or rice area reduction) program wherein farmers are paid to substitute rice with other crops (e.g., wheat, soybean) or let the land remain fallow, so that the rice supply will not exceed demand at market price levels. 

Because of the government’s restrictions on rice area, the area harvested to rice fell from 2.1 million ha in 1995 to 1.6 million ha in 2010; this contraction amounted to 1.1% per year in 2005-10. Rice yield grew by only about 0.2% per year in 2005-10. The mean rice yield in 2010 was 6.5 t/ha, very close to the 6.3 t/ha harvested in 1995. The overall result was a 1% per year fall in rice production in 2005-10. 

Japan’s rice exports improved slightly from 10,000 t in 1995 to 38,000 t in 2010. Under the auspices of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Japan allows market access to imported rice of 8% of the country’s rice requirement. Hence, rice imports increased from 30,000 t in 1995 to 660,000 t in 2010. Most of these rice imports, however, are not released directly to the domestic market but are placed into government stocks and later used in the form of aid to developing countries or sold as an input to food processors.

Below are some of the major policies of the Japanese government that directly affect the rice economy: 

  1. For decades, Japan pursued the goal of food self-sufficiency by using a number of commodity programs such as a producers’ quota, income stabilization policies, deficiency payments, and rice diversion programs. 
  2. To revitalize the agricultural sector, younger segments of the population are encouraged to take up farming activities through incentives. 
  3. The New Food, Agriculture, and Rural Areas Basic Plan, developed in March 2010, is a major change in agricultural policy to swiftly renew and revitalize food and communities. This plan sets 50% as the target for the food self-sufficiency ratio on a supplied calorie basis and 70% on a production output basis to be achieved in 2020. This policy provides government subsidies to support farmers whose main agricultural products are rice and other cereals at a level depending on certain production targets that are decided by prefectural and city governments and municipalities based on a food self-sufficiency target rate. The subsidies are calculated based on the difference between the nationwide average production cost and the nationwide average retail price. Every farmer participating in this scheme has been given a basic subsidy of 1 million yen per hectare.

Rice environments

Rice ecosystems in Japan cover an extensive range of latitudes, including subtropical, temperate, and subfrigid areas. Most rice fields are on the plains of the major river basins. Many are also located in terraces and valleys. 

Japan’s rice culture is characterized by cultivation in the higher latitudes. To handle the cold weather in the northern part of the country, early-maturing cold-tolerant varieties were developed. Rice cultivation in the cold area is based on good-quality older seedlings for early transplanting, deepwater irrigation to protect crops from low night temperature, windbreak nets, and the application of organic matter to improve soil fertility.

Rice is grown under irrigated conditions. Japanese paddies feature concrete irrigation ditches largely constructed as public works projects. Many paddies have underground drainage systems that allow water to drain into the canals during the off-season. These paddies are easy to manage but can affect wildlife.

Nearly 85% of the 2.3 million farms in Japan cultivate rice. Farming is highly mechanized. Average landholding is very small, about 0.8 ha. Most farmers with smaller farm size consider rice farming a part-time job. 

Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido, is the country’s leading rice producer. Also, the broad coastal plain of Shonai near the Sea of Japan has plenty of water and nutrient-rich soil and is considered to be one of Japan’s most fertile granaries. 

Improved varieties of japonica rice are planted in most of the prefectures or regions in the country. The popularity of a rice variety in the country depends on its taste. Hokkaido’s Yumepirika variety and Niigata’s Koshihikari are popularly known for their palatability and command a premium price in the market. 

Rice production constraints

Japan has an aging population and very low population growth, which could result in labor shortages and will likely constrain future rice production. Many rice fields are being abandoned after the owners die or become too old to cultivate them. With the changing level of education, rice farming is not attracting the younger generation. As of April 2010, 23% of the population was aged 65 or older. Projections made in 2006 indicated that the population of 127 million would decline to 90 million by 2055, when 41% of the population would be 65 or older.

Rice farmers are often also engaged in nonagricultural employment due to the small size of landholdings used for rice farming. 

Because of global warming, high summer temperature and erratic rainfall are reducing yields. Some farmers are trying heat-resistant varieties but their taste is significantly different. Some experts say that it may take many years for consumers to accept heat-resistant, high-yielding varieties.

In spite of substantial farm subsidies and price support provided by the government, rice farming cannot compete with other economic activities, and income from it is lower than from nonagricultural earnings. Despite mechanization, production costs are many times higher than in tropical Asia because of exorbitant land prices and the high opportunity cost of farm labor. 

Rice production opportunities

Japanese rice research will also help solve problems in neighboring low-income rice-growing countries of South and Southeast Asia, while regional research by IRRI and partners will benefit Japanese rice farming also. Reducing production cost, increasing productivity through the application of advanced technology, and multipurpose use of rice fields in agriculture are important for sustaining rice cultivation in Japan. 

Using rice as alternative flour in making bread and noodles can stimulate demand for rice. The potential of rice as poultry and livestock feed can also help increase the demand for rice and hence more farmers would be encouraged to engage in rice farming. As a result, the country would maintain its self-sufficiency in rice and attain food self-sufficiency as well. The government can export rice in excess of domestic demand to other countries that have a shortfall in rice production.

The population projections suggest that the government may have to consider immigration as a solution to unbalanced worker-retiree ratios to augment the possible labor shortages in coming years. Rice farming would benefit from strategies to encourage working couples to have children.

Source: FAO’s FAOSTAT database online and AQUASTAT database online, as of September 2012.

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Basic Statistics:

General information

  • GNI per capita at PPP$, 2011: 4,140
  • Internal renewable water resources, 2011:  479 km3/year
  • Incoming water flow, 2011: 0 km3/year
  • Main food consumed, 2009: rice, fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, starchy roots, wheat, sugar and sweeteners 
  • Rice consumption, 2009-10: 123.3 kg milled rice per person per year

Production seasons




Wet, north
Dry, north
Wet, south
Dry, south

Write-up taken from the IRRI's Rice Almanac (2013):


The Philippines is an archipelago of some 7,107 islands located between 4° and 21° N latitude and 116° and 127° E longitude. The country is bounded by the South China Sea to the west, the Pacific Ocean to the east, the Sulu and Celebes seas to the south, and the Bashi Channel to the north.

It is divided into three main geographic areas: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. The climate is tropical marine, which is mainly moderated by the surrounding seas, with a November to April northeast monsoon and a May to October southwest monsoon. Climate varies within the country because of the mountainous topography. There are four general climatic types: (1) two pronounced seasons, dry from November to April and wet the rest of the year (Central Luzon, western Visayas), (2) absence of a dry period, but with maximum rains from November to January (eastern Luzon, eastern Visayas, and northeastern Mindanao), (3) dry from November to February and wet the rest of the year (central Visayas, western Bicol, northern Mindanao), and (4) more or less even rainfall distribution throughout the year (central Mindanao).

The population of the Philippines has more than tripled since IRRI developed the first high-yielding variety and released it in the mid-1960s. Back then, the population was only 32.7 million. The country’s population surpassed 93 million in 2010, with about 313 per km². The population grew at 1.9% per year for 2005-10, which was lower than the 2.4% for 1985-95. Urbanization has continued in recent years. The proportion of the urban population increased from 57% in 2000 to around 65% in 2010. Employment in the agricultural sector accounts for 31% of the about 39 million-person labor force.

The Philippines economy is vastly dependent on service and manufacturing. The country’s most vital industries are food processing, textiles and garments, electronics, and automobile parts. It also has substantial reserves of chromite, nickel, copper, coal, and recently discovered oil. The nation’s GDP rose from $2,056 in 1995 to $3,952 in 2010. About 13% of GDP is contributed by the agricultural and fishery sector.

In addition to rice, the Philippines produces other major crops such as sugarcane, coconut, banana, pineapple, mango, coffee, maize, and cassava.

Recent developments in the rice sector 

The Philippines is the world’s eighth-largest rice producer. Its arable land totals 5.4 million hectares. Rice area harvested has expanded from nearly 3.8 million hectares in 1995 to about 4.4 million hectares in 2010. However, the country’s rice area harvested is still very small compared with that of the other major rice-producing countries in Asia. More than two-thirds (69%) of its rice area is irrigated. The country’s production increased by a third, from 10.5 million t in 1995 to 15.8 million t in 2010. Seventy-one percent of rice production came from irrigated areas. Although yield improved from 2.8 t/ha in 1995 to 3.6 t/ha in 2010, it was still way below the yield potential of modern varieties.

Rice is a staple food for most Filipinos across the country. The nation’s per capita rice consumption rose from 93.2 kg per year in 1995 to 123.3 kg per year in 2009. Similarly, per capita caloric intake from rice rose from 917 kcal per day in 1995 to 1,213 kcal per day in 2009. Protein requirements from rice, on average, increased from 29.7% in 1995 to 34.8% per person per day in 2009. 

The Philippines imports about 10% of its annual consumption requirements. In 2010 and 2011, the country was the biggest rice importer. Its rice imports amounted to 2.38 million t in 2010, mostly coming from Vietnam and Thailand. Despite these imports, rice prices for consumers are some of the highest in developing Asia (as are farm-gate prices for farmers). The high prices are enforced through an import control by the National Food Authority (NFA), a government agency, which also procures paddy from farmers at a government support price. The NFA is also involved in rice distribution by selling rice through the agency’s licensed and accredited retailers/wholesalers in strategic areas at a predetermined price.

Although rice is the main staple in the country, it is a highly political commodity. The Philippine rice sector has always been the center of the government’s agricultural policies. The focal points of the policies revolve around promoting rice self-sufficiency and providing high income to farmers while making rice prices affordable to consumers. 

One of the most significant programs of the government for the rice sector is “The Philippine rice master plan 2009-13—enhancing provincial rice self-sufficiency.” This rice master plan envisions a 100% self-sufficient rice economy by 2013 through improved rice productivity, and increased income of rice farmers. This plan pursues location-specific interventions that can help farmers achieve higher yield. It focuses on how interventions can improve productivity toward sufficient yield. These include improvement of the effectiveness and efficiency of irrigation systems through rehabilitation; the use of high-quality hybrid and inbred seeds and farmers’ varieties; integrated and sustainable crop management technologies; the provision of soft loans for the establishment of shallow tube wells and surface water pumps; and delivery of extension support services. Rice seed subsidy schemes for farmers were implemented to acquire high-yielding varieties, including hybrid rice varieties. 

The government also extends support for farm mechanization through its Rice Mechanization Program. It aims to procure and distribute postharvest (drying and milling) units and on-farm machinery through a financing scheme wherein the government shoulders a big part of the cost.

Rice environments

The major rice-producing parts of the country are Central Luzon (18.7%), western Visayas (11.3%), Cagayan Valley (11%), Ilocos region (9.8%), SOCCSKSARGEN (7.5%), and Bicol region (6.8%). SOCCSKSARGEN is a newly created region in central Mindanao comprising North Cotabato, Sarangani, South Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat provinces.

Almost 70% of the total rice area is irrigated and the remaining 30% is rainfed and upland. Much of the country’s irrigated rice is grown on the central plain of Luzon, the country’s ricebowl. Rainfed rice is found in the Cagayan Valley in northern Luzon, in Iloilo Province, and on the coastal plains of Visayas and Ilocos in northern Luzon. Upland rice is grown in both permanent and shifting cultivation systems scattered throughout the archipelago on rolling to steep lands.

Because of their higher profitability for farmers, modern high-yielding varieties account for the vast majority of rice production, with less than 3% of production coming from traditional varieties. Labor use on rice is lower than in many developing Asian countries at about 60 person-days/hectare/crop. Some of the reasons for the relatively low labor use are the widespread use of direct seeding and the mechanization of land preparation and threshing in many parts of the country. 

Farm-level rice yields in the Philippines have grown in the last decade without a significant change in inputs (fertilizer, herbicides) and crop establishment methods. This progress in rice yields could be related to the use of good-quality seeds: hybrid and certified seeds. With strong partnership and support from IRRI, the country recently released a rice variety for irrigated lowlands, the IRRI-bred Tubigan 18 (NSIC Rc222 or IRRI 154), which yields up to 10 t/ha and has an average of 6 t/ha, 12–13% higher than that of the popular and widely used rice variety PSB Rc82, also bred by IRRI and known as IRRI 123. The high-yielding Tubigan varieties are recommended for irrigated lowland areas but tests done nationwide showed that they can also perform well in rainfed areas, particularly during the wet season.

The Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) has also recently produced one aromatic rice variety, Mabango (NSIC Rc128), and four glutinous rice varieties: Malagkit 1 (NSIC Rc13), Malagkit 2 (NSIC Rc15), Malagkit 3 (NSIC Rc17), and Malagkit 4 (NSIC Rc19). 

Rice production constraints

Climate change, growing population, declining land area, high cost of inputs, and poor drainage and inadequate irrigation facilities are the major constraints to rice production in the Philippines. Some of these constraints are interrelated. Unabated conversion of some agricultural land to residential, commercial, and industrial land reduces the area devoted to rice production, which leads to a shortage in domestic supply. 

Climate change and the vulnerability of crop production to drought and heavy rainfall, especially during the typhoon season, severely affect production. The Philippines bears the brunt of typhoons coming in from the Pacific Ocean. Successive heavy rains cause severe drainage problems in paddy fields, thus resulting in a significant reduction in rice yield and quality. There is also concern about the deterioration of irrigation systems at least partially because of a lack of funding for maintenance. Rainfed lowland rice suffers from uncertain timing of the arrival of rains, and drought and submergence—often in the same fields over the course of a single season or in different fields within a farm over the same season. Weeds, drought, diseases (blast), acidic soils, and soil erosion are major problems of upland rice in the Philippines. The high cost of inputs, particularly fertilizer, hinders farmers from applying optimal fertilizer amounts to input-responsive high-yielding varieties.

Rice production opportunities

For the Philippines to become self-sufficient in rice, it has to adopt existing technologies such as improved varieties and know-how to have yield increase by 1–3 t/ha. Better quality seed combined with good management, including new postharvest technologies, is the best way to improve rice yields and the quality of production.

Since current rice yield is way below the yield potential of most modern varieties, improved fertilizer use and crop management, better irrigation facilities, and high-yielding varieties can boost the country’s rice output. The main source of additional rice production is improved yield growth. However, the government must implement a strategy to reduce population growth since the actual volume of rice produced by the country is not enough to match rice demand because of the high increase in population. If population growth will be higher than the growth in yield, the country will continue to import rice from other countries to meet domestic demand for rice in the coming years.

Source: FAO’s FAOSTAT database online and AQUASTAT database online, as of September 2012.

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General information

  • GNI per capita at PPP$, 2011: 8,360
  • Internal renewable water resources, 2011:  224.5 km3/year
  • Incoming water flow, 2011: 214.1 km3/year
  • Main food consumed, 2009: rice, fruits, vegetables, sugar and sweeteners, meat, fish, wheat, oil crops, starchy roots
  • Rice consumption, 2009: 133 kg milled rice per person per year

Production Seasons




North and Central, major
North and Central, minor
South, major
South, minor

Write-up taken from the IRRI's Rice Almanac (2013):

Thailand is a peninsular country in Southeast Asia sharing boundaries with Myanmar in the west, Laos and Cambodia in the northeast, and Malaysia in the south. The South China Sea touches the east coast, while the Indian Ocean and Andaman Sea border the west coast. Thailand has a land area of 51 million ha, of which one-third is cultivated for annual crops and about 7% is under permanent crops.

 Four seasons are recognized: southwest monsoon from May through September, a transition period from the southwest to the northeast monsoon during October, the northeast monsoon from November through February, and a premonsoon hot season during March and April.

Temperatures in the Central Plain during the rainy season (May to November) average 27 °C, with only 8–10 °C between the daily minimum and maximum. There is a brief cool period (December and January) with temperatures as low as 2–3 °C in the northern highlands. 

Economic growth in nonagricultural sectors over the past three decades greatly reduced the relative importance of agriculture as a contributor to gross domestic product (GDP) and export earnings. However, agriculture remains a significant economic activity in rural Thailand. In spite of having an industrialized economy, 66% of the population in Thailand is still rural. The country’s population was 69.1 million in 2010 and grew at 0.76% per year in 2005-10. The population density was 132 per km² in 2010. 

The Thai economy is export dependent, in which exports—which include rice—account for more than half of GDP. Aside from rice, the country’s major agricultural exports are tapioca, rubber, maize, pineapple, durian, longan, palm oil, and herbs. The leading manufactured exports are computers and computer accessories, integrated circuits, textiles, electronics, automobiles and spare parts, gems and jewelry, and televisions and television accessories. GDP fell to –2.3% in 2009 during the global economic crisis but rebounded to 7.8% in 2010. However, in 2011, growth was again low at 0.1%. In 2010, industry accounted for 44.6% of GDP, services shared 43%, while agriculture contributed 12.4%. Although agriculture has the lowest contribution to GDP, it employs about 42% of the total labor force.

Recent developments in the rice sector

Thailand’s arable land declined from 16.8 million ha in 1995 to 15.3 million ha in 2009. However, the area harvested to rice improved to 10.9 million ha in 2010 from 9.1 million ha in 1995. Higher prices of rice in the world market are encouraging farmers to grow more rice per crop year. In general, rice yield is low because of the prevalence of rainfed ecosystems and farmers’ preference to grow high-quality, low-yielding traditional varieties that command a premium price in the domestic and world markets. Rice yield, 2.9 t/ha in 2010, diminished by 0.5%/year in 2005-10. Nevertheless, with the expansion in the area harvested to rice, rice production has improved in recent years, from 22 million t in 1995 to about 32 million t in 2010, and it grew at 1.2% per year in 2005-10. 

Liberalization of rice policies in Thailand in the past decade seemed to have been quite similar. In 2001, the government implemented a rice price guarantee policy that functioned as a mortgage program, wherein farmers could obtain government loans at a low interest rate. With this policy, farmers could sell their paddy to government agencies and also buy it back within 90 days at 3% interest rate. The program was managed by the Bank of Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC) and supervised by the Ministry of Finance. Since the guaranteed price was set much higher than the market price, the policy became too costly for the government because it ended up with very large procurements. Consequently, the program was suspended for two years. But the succeeding government relaunched it for the first harvest of 2008 and even increased the pledged price for the second harvest of 2008—at about 20% higher than the market price. The price support helped farmers increase their income and it gained support from millers who also benefited from the price support. However, the pledged prices resulted in distortions in production and caused trade problems. Rice-importing countries delayed their imports to await cheaper rice from other rice-exporting countries.

Aside from the above policies on prices, the government also supports rice production through its crop insurance program, through which subsidized fertilizers are available. However, farmers are required to register with BAAC to enable them to join the program. Farmers can either buy fertilizers on a cash basis or borrow from BAAC at 7% annual interest.

Rice is the staple food, with an average per capita consumption of 133 kg per year in 2009, comparatively much higher than in 1995, which is only 96.4 kg per year. As a result, per capita caloric intake increased from 42.8% (960 kcal) per day in 1995 to 46.2% (1,323 kcal) per day in 2009, while wheat’s share increased from 2.9% in 1995 to 4.1% in 2009. In terms of protein requirements, per capita intake from rice increased from 29.2% per day in 1995 to 36.9% per day in 2009, whereas wheat’s share of intake increased from 3.6% per day in 1995 to 5.9% per day in 2009.

Thailand is not only one of the world’s largest rice producers; it also remains the world’s largest rice exporter. Its rice exports surged from around 6.2 million t in 1995 to 8.9 million t in 2010 and grew at about 4% per year in 2005-10.

Rice environments 

Rice production in Thailand can be classified into four ecosystems; irrigated, rainfed lowland, deepwater, and upland. Rainfed lowland is the most predominant, followed by irrigated, deepwater, and upland. 

Administratively as well as geographically, Thailand is divided into four regions: central, north, northeast, and south. Each region has different rice-growing environments. 

Northeastern region. The northeastern region is also known as the Khorat plateau, a saucer-shaped tableland situated at 90–200 meters above sea level. Almost one-third of the land area and nearly half the rice land of Thailand are located in this region; the average size of rice farms is smaller than in other regions. Irrigation potential in the region is limited due to undulating topography. Moreover, soil erosion and drought during the dry season are acute. The water-holding capacity of the soil is extremely poor. The northeastern region produces both long grain and glutinous rice.

Central region. The central region is an intensively cultivated alluvial area. During the rainy season, rice covers the major part of the region, which accounts for about one-fifth of the total cultivated rice land of the country in the wet season. The average farm size is large, and a large proportion of the rice land has access to irrigation facilities, allowing many farmers to grow two rice crops during the year. Almost 75% of the dry-season rice grown under irrigated conditions is located in this region. Farm operations are almost entirely mechanized, and farmers adopt the direct-seeding method of crop establishment to save labor. This region produces mostly long-grain rice. The main rice surplus comes from this region.

Northern region. The northern region contains almost one-third of the land area of Thailand. Upland rice is grown in the lower altitudes of high hills and in upland areas. Lowland rice is grown mainly in lower valleys and on some terraced fields where water is available. The northern region has about 20% of the total rice land in the country. 

Southern region. The southern region, touching the west and east coasts of the peninsula, constitutes about 14% of the total area of the country. The region has only 6% of the total rice land. The soil is acidic. With limited rice fields under cultivation, there is always a shortage of rice for local consumption. 

Rice production constraints

Even though the country is still one of the world’s largest rice producers and the largest rice exporter, its rice sector faces the following production constraints:

  • The major production constraints are rainfall variability, drought, submergence, and inherently low soil fertility. These constraints affect the different rice ecosystems to varying degrees and imply that the production systems are very vulnerable to climate change, which will exacerbate extreme climate events. Drought at the early vegetative phase and long-term deep flooding from the late vegetative phase to early ripening phase and weed competition are the most important production constraints in the deepwater ecosystem. Drought and poor soil fertility affect upland systems the most. 
  • In irrigated ecosystems, production constraints are generally not related to climatic factors but to biotic factors such as pests and diseases. Water scarcity in the dry season is another important constraint in irrigated environments.
  • Stagnating yield is both a short-term and long-term problem. Mean rice yields nationally for the last 10 years were almost constant, ranging from 2.8 to 2.9 t/ha.
  • Labor shortages during peak periods because of better employment opportunities in urban areas are a further constraint, especially in the central region, where industrial employment is higher. However, this constraint is partly being solved through mechanization.

Rice production opportunities

The Rice Research Institute of the Department of Agriculture is the major government institution directly involved in rice research, primarily in increasing productivity through continuous development and deployment of high-quality varieties with varying maturity periods to suit different production conditions, acid-tolerant rice varieties, and varieties with added attributes such as disease and pest tolerance, designed to improve rice yields. The institute also has the mandate for research and extension activities for better crop protection and water and soil management technologies that can help improve yields. 

The National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) under the Ministry of Science and Technology is also involved in rice research. Their Rice Program aims to increase the rice industry’s competitive capability throughout the production chain while reducing the environmental impact. Key operation plans include

  • Developing technologies to increase rice production efficiency, for example, breeding rice varieties that are resistant to pests and can adapt to climate change caused by global warming, transferring high-quality grain production technology to farmers, developing and transferring agricultural equipment and machine production technology for higher efficiency and lower planting and harvesting costs, and developing information and communication technology to monitor rice disease and pest outbreaks;
  • Improving milling and drying efficiency, and reducing energy use and milling waste for small and medium-sized enterprises; and
  • Developing production process technology and rice-based products.

Rice varieties developed outside the country are also proving useful in improving productivity. An IRRI submergence-tolerant variety was recently found to perform well also in mildly improved (with the application of a small amount of lime) acid-sulfate soil in Narathiwat Province, southern Thailand, giving significantly higher yield than two Thai varieties used in the area.

Sources: FAO’s FAOSTAT database online and AQUASTAT database online, as of September 2012.

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If you want to learn more, please read the Rice Almanac. You can purchase it on Kindle or download for free as a PDF.

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