Rice as a Crop

Who Grows Rice


Traditional small-scale rice producers

In developing countries, rice is usually produced the way it has been for centuries, on small plots using enormous amounts of human labor.

Rice farmers in Asia

rice-growers-in-asiaMost of the rice is grown and consumed in Asia, from Pakistan in the west to Japan in the east. ‘Rice-producing Asia’ (defined as Asia excluding Mongolia and the countries of Central Asia) accounts for roughly 90% of world rice production. Because rice-producing Asia is a net exporter of rice to the rest of the world, its current share in global rice consumption is slightly less, at about 87%. 

Asia has more than 200 million rice farms, most of which are smaller than 1 hectare. Rice-based farming systems are also the main economic activity for hundreds of millions of rural poor, many of whom do not own their own land. For the extreme poor (less than $1.25/day), rice accounts for nearly half of their food expenditures and a fifth of total household expenditures, on average. This group alone annually spends the equivalent of $62 billion (PPP) for rice. 

Rice farmers in Africa

In Africa, rice is the fastest growing food staple. It has been the main staple food for at least 50 years in parts of western Africa (Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia and Sierra Leone) and for some countries in the Indian Ocean (Comoros and Madagascar). 

In these countries, the share of calories from rice has generally not increased substantially over time. In other African countries, however, rice has displaced other staple foods because of the availability of affordable imports from Asia and rice’s easier preparation, which is especially important in urban areas. In Côte d’Ivoire, for instance, the share of calories from rice increased from 12% in 1961 to 22% in 2007. In Senegal, the share increased from 20% to 31% during the same time, whereas, in Nigeria, the most populous country on the continent, it increased from 1% to 8%. 

rice-growers-in-africaOn balance, in Africa, production has grown rapidly, but rice consumption has grown even faster, with the balance being met by increasing quantities of imports. Western Africa is the main producing subregion, accounting for more than 40% of African production in 2006-08. In terms of individual countries, the leading producers of paddy (2006-08) are Egypt (7.0 million t), Nigeria (3.8 million t), and Madagascar (3.2 million t). 

Rice farmers in the Americas

In Latin America and the Caribbean, rice is one of the most important and fastest growing staple foods, especially among urban consumers and the poor. Like Africa, the region is a net importer of rice, with a projected annual deficit of 4 million tons by 2015. 

Rice was a preferred pioneer crop in the first half of the 20th century in the savannas of Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Uruguay, and Venezuela, and in forest margins throughout the region. Today, rice is the most important source of calories in many Latin American countries, including Ecuador and Peru, Costa Rica and Panama, Guyana and Suriname, and the Caribbean nations of Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Haiti. It is less dominant in consumption than in Asia, however, because of the importance of wheat, maize, and beans in regional diets. Brazil is by far the largest producer, and it accounts for nearly half (46% in 2006-08) of paddy production in the region. After Brazil (11.6 million t), the largest producers are Peru and Colombia (2.5 million t each in 2006-08), followed by Ecuador (1.6 million t). 

Rice farmers in Oceania

Rice consumption in the Pacific islands has increased rapidly over the past two decades. Rice, which is all imported apart from a small amount grown in Papua New Guinea, is displacing traditional starchy root crops as a major staple due to changing tastes, ease of storage and preparation, and sometimes cost. The annual national consumption of imported rice in the Solomon Islands doubled from 34 kg to 71 kg per capita during 2002-07 and tripled in Samoa (from 6 kg to 19 kg) and the Cook Islands (5 kg to 15 kg) in the same period. 

Industrial-scale rice farmers

In industrialized countries, rice is grown on huge holdings with maximum use of technology and large expenditures of energy from fossil fuels. The most important production centers are in the United States (California and the southern states near the Mississippi River), which produced 9.0 million t of paddy on average in 2006—2008. The leading European producers are Italy, Spain, and Russia. Australia used to be an important producer, but its output has declined substantially in recent years because of recurring drought. 


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