What do we know about the future of rice in relation to food system transformation?
CGIAR Initiative on Foresight
- Impact Area
By Harold Valera and Valerien Pede
Food, land, and water systems face daunting challenges in the future, and the body of research exploring these challenges is growing rapidly. This note is part of a series developed by the CGIAR Foresight Initiative to summarize what we know today about the future of various aspects of food systems. The goal of these notes is to serve as a quick reference, point to further information, and help guide future research and decisions.
- Global rice production remains more stable than maize and wheat in recent years, while rice consumption continues to increase, albeit at a slower pace.
- Rice production and consumption is projected to increase worldwide, and Asia to continue as the world’s leading source of rice through 2050.
- Southeast Asia’s rice surplus will increase by 2040 by closing the exploitable yield gap by half.
- The global rice sector will experience an increasing economic surplus and declining number of undernourished children and population at risk of hunger with faster productivity growth.
- Demographic changes and rice trade policy reforms will be the main drivers of rice demand and prices in rice-producing and rice-importing countries.
Recent trends and challenges
Rice production significantly increased in the past five decades with the efforts of international research centers and national governments . Global rice production is more stable than maize and wheat production in the past two decades. There has also been an upward trend in global rice consumption during the same period, though it has slowed in recent years. About 90% of current global rice production and 95% each of the world’s consumption and exports are from Asia, while Africa accounts for about 4% of global rice production and 8% of its consumption . The world rice market remains thin, accounting for just 8–11% of global production. World rice prices are also more stable now than in the 1990s and 2000s.
The global rice sector faces a challenge in meeting future rice demand due to the growing global population, which is expected to increase to 8.9 to 10.6 billion by 2050 . Such a growing population relies on rice for calories and nutrients, and meeting their future rice demand requires an acceleration in productivity improvement in the coming years . But prospects for future growth in rice production are uncertain as rice is susceptible to droughts and floods, plus climate change is expected to have a severe impact on the global rice sector by changing the patterns of droughts and floods and spreading more pests and diseases . Food security has also become more fragile since the COVID-19 pandemic, with major rice-exporting countries restricting exports for food security reasons in their own country.
What is the latest foresight research on this topic?
In this brief, we reviewed five studies that provide forward-looking perspectives to support improving food security, reducing poverty, and policy reform. Using the IMPACT-GLOBE model,  analyzed the global and regional impacts of a 25% increase in yield growth in rice and 19 other food crops from 2015 to 2030 and examined the changes in the value of production and economywide income. Large-scale perspectives on rice and other major cereals systems based on the IMPACT model were also provided by . The authors examined the impacts of six productivity enhancement scenarios on rice production, consumption, cropped land, and per capita land availability globally and across five regions.
The regional analysis by  focused on the impact of rice production potential on rice surplus by 2040 in six Southeast Asian countries. The authors estimated the yield potential for irrigated and rainfed lowland rice, and per capita rice demand based on the relative change in its average values between 2019–2020, and 2040. The authors compared the same current yield base scenario with the continuation of current yield trends, full closure of the exploitable yield gap, and half closure of the current exploitable yield gap. At a country level context,  estimated the combined total consumption of rice and wheat, and other food commodities in Uganda in 2030 using the Living Standards Measurement Study datasets. In their analysis,  simulated three scenarios based on high, medium, and low fertility rates of population growth. From the perspective of rice trade policy reform,  used the IRRI Global Rice Model (IGRM) in analyzing rice tariffication scenarios in the Philippines combined with higher yield and support price scenarios to quantify the potential impacts on prices, production, consumption, and imports by 2025.
What do those studies show?
Figure 1 displays projections on global rice production, consumption, cropped land, and per capita availability of cropped land . Under climate change, as modeled by HadGEM climate with RCP8.5, global rice production (consumption) is projected to reach 511 million tons (505 million tons) in 2050, or an 18% increase relative to 2010 . The projected increase in global rice production and consumption are mainly attributed to population growth . Asia is expected to be the world’s leading source of rice as production and consumption are expected to reach 439 and 427 million tons in 2050, respectively due to urbanization. Although  estimated that cropped land allocated for rice would be the same at the global level, per capita land availability would fall by 25% in 2050. In the case of Africa,  showed that the region’s rice consumption would double in 2050 because of changing diets driven by higher income.
Figure 1. Projected production, consumption, cropped land, and per capita availability of cropped land . Notes: MENA = Middle East and North Africa, SSA = Sub-Saharan Africa, LAC = Latin America and the Caribbean.
According to the faster agricultural productivity growth scenario by , global gross production value (GPV) of rice would increase by 75% from US$95.9 billion in 2015 to US$129.2 billion in 2030. Because of the increase in the GPV, economic surplus is estimated to reach as much as US$59.3 billion in 2030 while the global poverty count would decline from 20.7% in 2015 to 18.8% in 2030. In terms of nutrition outcomes,  estimated that faster productivity growth would lead to a reduction in global undernourished children by 361 thousand (0.3%) and the population at risk of hunger by 10.6 million (2.1%).
When current yield trends in the Southeast Asian region continue until 2040,  showed that the self-sufficiency ratio at a regional level would decline from 1.10 to 1.03, and the region’s rice surplus would be nearly eliminated. Assuming a full closure of the exploitable yield gap by 2040,  estimated a regional self-sufficiency ratio of 1.55 and a total rice surplus of 100 million tons. The Southeast Asia regional self-sufficiency ratio would increase to 1.29 with the rice surplus estimated to reach as much as 54 million tons when half closure of the current exploitable yield gap is assumed .
For country-level foresight analysis,  projected that the combined total demand for rice and wheat in Uganda would significantly increase in 2030 in line with its projected increase in income and population. Taking into account adjustments in per capita consumption,  projected that the combined consumption of rice and wheat in 2030 would range between 3.9 and 4.0 million tons for low and high fertility rates of population growth. Assuming constant per capita consumption,  estimated that the consumption of rice and wheat in 2030 would be in the vicinity of 1.3 million tons (low fertility) and 1.39 million tons (high fertility). In the Philippines, it is worth mentioning first that the government started implementing the rice tariffication policy in March 2019. Under the tariffication and higher rice yield scenario, imports are estimated to reach 3 million tons by 2025 , while farm (retail) price estimates are 21 pesos/kg (50 pesos/kg). The same scenario estimated that per capita and total rice consumption would reach 132 kg and 16 million tons, respectively .
Key gaps, questions, and opportunities for further foresight research on this topic
The above analyses of the future of rice consumption and production assume the prevailing paradigm of feeding the world with abundant and cheap agricultural produce out of sustained intensification. But the paradigm of agricultural and rice research in the recent decade has been shifting to incorporate food systems, considering economic, social, and environmental sustainability with food and nutrition security under a climate change imperative. This has led to the shift of focus of funding for technological development and other innovations in the food system to healthy, affordable, nutritious, and sustainably produced food, particularly nutritious rice. However, populations in developing and emerging economies continue to lack diet diversity, leading to micronutrient deficiencies. Iron deficiency anemia and zinc deficiency are two severe nutritional problems. Thus, foresight research should give considerable attention to the analysis of the future of nutritional rice varieties: low glycemic index rice, high-zinc rice, high-iron rice, and rice with high protein content. Also, the existing studies on the impact of the increase in demand from population expansion and income growth are outdated and need a fresh look.
Another major gap in foresight research is the implication of the fertilizer price increase, related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, for the rice sector . In particular, various scenarios on fertilizer price increase should be examined and take into account existing rice trade liberalization in some countries and trade restrictions currently in place in other countries, as well as trade agreements that are already set to take into effect in the medium-term for some countries. Analysis of the predicted impacts of the ongoing rice tariffication in the Philippines and other rice-importing countries makes clear that future studies also need to factor in the potential effects of the disruptions caused by the pandemic on both the supply and demand side in the short, medium, and long term at the same time. Incorporating the pandemic in the foresight analysis has implications for income growth, poverty, food security, and nutrition outcomes.
Authors of this note are Harold Valera, Scientist, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and Valerien Pede, Senior Scientist, IRRI. Ronald Jeremy Antonio, Jhoana Alcalde, Ellanie Cabrera, and Orelie Delas Alas also contributed to this work.
If you have any feedback or questions about this note, please get in touch with Harold Valera (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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Photo: Rice seedlings, Eastern China. Credit: Gwendolyn Stansbury / International Food Policy Research Institute.