IPI International Potash Institute
IPI International Potash Institute

Research Findings: e-ifc No. 10, December 2006

Rice in Asia and the global food supply

Pasuquin J.M.C.A., and C. Witt

Rice is the main staple food in Asia, where about 90% of the world's rice is produced and consumed.

China continues to be the world's biggest producer, growing one-third of Asia's total on 29 million ha (Table 1). India produces nearly a quarter on 43 million ha. Other top rice-producing countries in Asia include Indonesia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Japan. Average yields in these countries range from 2.6 t ha-1 to 6.5 t ha-1.

Country or Area Production
(Mio t)
Area harvested
(Mio ha)
(t ha-1)
China 179.0  28.7 6.2
India 129.2  42.8 3.0
Indonesia   52.4  11.7 4.5
Bangladesh   38.5  10.9 3.5
Vietnam   34.2    7.5 4.6
Thailand   26.1    9.9 2.6
Myanmar   22.7    6.2 3.6
Philippines   13.6    4.1 3.3
Japan   11.0    1.7 6.5
Other Asian countries   35.8   10.9 3.3
Asia 542.5 134.4 4.0
World 597.8 151.0 4.0
Table 1. Average annual rice production, area harvested, and yield in selected Asian countries, 2000-2005 (FAO 2006).

Worldwide, around 79 million ha of rice is grown under irrigated conditions. While this is only half of the total rice area, it accounts for about 75% of the world's annual rice production. In Asia, nearly 60% of the 130 million hectares devoted to rice production annually is irrigated, where rice is often grown in monoculture with two to three crops a year depending upon water availability (Huke and Huke, 1997). Other rice ecosystems include the rainfed lowland (35% of total rice area), characterized by a lack of water control, with floods and drought being potential problems, and the upland and deepwater ecosystems (5% of total rice area), where yields are low and extremely variable.

Thailand has maintained its position as the world's major rice trader, exporting an average of 8 million tons of rice annually (Fig. 1). Vietnam and India export a total of 7 million tons. A positive trade balance for rice has been maintained by Asia, Australia and the United States. Latin America, Africa, and Europe, however, continue to be net importers of rice.

Fig. 1. Global rice trade. Data are the average of five years in 2000 to 2004 (FAO 2006).
Fig. 1. Global rice trade. Data are the average of five years in 2000 to 2004 (FAO 2006).

The demand for rice is expected to grow for many years to come largely because of population growth, particularly in Asia, where population is expected to increase 35% by 2025 (United Nations 1999). An increase in total rice production may come from an increase in the area planted, increased yields, and increased cropping intensity. However, the scope for expansion of rice-growing areas is limited because of loss of agricultural land to urbanization, land conversion, and industrialization. Therefore, future increase in rice supply must come from increased yields and intensified cropping, particularly in the irrigated rice ecosystem.

Rice terraces in Bali, Indonesia
Rice terraces in Bali, Indonesia

There is substantial scope to increase current rice yields as farmers in Asia, on average, achieve only about 60% of the yield potentially achievable with existing varieties and climatic conditions. The main limitation to achieving higher yields and associated higher profitability for rice farmers per unit of arable land is often the ineffective use of inputs (particularly nutrients, seed, and pesticide) in an environmentally sustainable fashion. If the demand for food is to be met, rice production will need to become more efficient in the use of increasingly scarce natural resources. Better crop, nutrient, pest, and water management practices, along with the use of germplasm with a higher yield potential, are required in order for rice production to be profitable for producers and to supply sufficient affordable staple food for consumers.


  • FAO. 2006. FAOSTAT agriculture data [online]. In: www.fao.org. Available at http://faostat.fao.org (last update 2006; accessed 18 May 2006). Rome, Italy: Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
  • Huke, R.E. and E.H. Huke. 1997. Rice area by type of culture: South, Southeast, and East Asia, a revised and updated data base. Los Baños, Laguna: International Rice Research Institute. p 1-59.
  • United Nations. 1999. World population prospects: The 1998 revision.
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