Growing population, increasing demand
Based on population projections from the United Nations and income projections from the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI), global rice demand is expected to rise from 439 million tons (milled rice) in 2010 to 496 million tons in 2020, to 555 million tons in 2035. This is an overall increase of 26% in the next 25 years, although demand will decline over time as population growth slows and people diversify from rice to other foods. Asian rice consumption is projected to account for 67% of the total increase, rising from 388 million tons in 2010 to 465 million tons in 2035 despite a continuing decline in per capita consumption in China and India. In addition, 30 million tons more rice will be needed by Africa, an increase of 130% from 2010 rice consumption. In the Americas, total rice consumption is projected to rise by 33% over the next 25 years.
Worldwide, there are more than 150 million hectares of rice fields. Irrigated lowland fields make up over half of this area and produce 75% of the world’s rice. These remain the most important rice production systems for food security – especially in Asian countries.
Because land is scarce and expansion is unlikely, global rice yields need to rise faster than in the recent past if world market prices are to be stabilized at affordable levels for billions of consumers. Globally, farmers need to produce at least 8–10 million tons more paddy rice each year – an annual increase of 1.2–1.5% over the coming decade. This is equivalent to an average yield increase of 0.6 t/ha during the next 10 years, taking into account the expected slowdown in global rice consumption in the longer term. But yields will still have to grow faster because of pressure on rice lands in the developing world from urbanization, climate change, and competition from other, high-value agriculture. Rice yield growth of 1.0–1.2% annually beyond 2020 will be needed to feed the still-growing world and keep prices affordable.
The way forward
Projected demand for rice will outstrip supply in the near-to-medium term, unless something is done to reverse current trends of slow productivity growth and inefficient, often unsustainable, management of natural resources. Steep and long-term price increases would wreak havoc on the lives of the poor and send dangerous reverberations throughout the political and economic landscapes of the world’s most populous regions.
Rice will remain the dominant feature of the nutritional and agricultural landscape of many countries far into the foreseeable future. But the way rice is grown will have to change. The heavy ‘water footprint’ of some traditional cultivation methods is not sustainable in many parts of Asia, where scarcities of water and labor are becoming major drivers of change. More efficient management systems are needed.
Scientific research has successfully increased rice yields in the past, and is also finding ways to protect ecosystems without compromising productivity. Under the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP), more then 900 research and development partners are coming together to help increase the productivity of rice to meet food security needs.