Existing Rice Production

Economic Impacts

Rice is an extremely important staple crop across the world and especially in Southeast Asia. According to Khush (2005), “90 percent of 90% of the world’s rice is grown and consumed in Asia.” In Asia, rice is primarily cultivated as a subsistence crop, and surplus is sold into the market place. Profits from rice exports and trades vary depending on the cultivation type of rice. While as much as 50% of rice crops enter the market place, most is sold locally (FAO, 2008). Asia accounts for approximately 79% of global exports, and although China is the largest rice producer, Thailand and Vietnam lead the export market (Stoop, 2009).

Societal Impacts

It can be inferred from the production and demand of rice that it is socially significant in Southeast Asia. It is an important staple crop that provides anywhere from 35 percent up to 75 percent of the daily calorie intake for 3 billion Asians (Khush 2005). Rice may be a subsistence crop for rice farmers but in broader scope, rice is considered a “luxury commodity” (Khush 2005). As noted in the Khush paper, rice is one of the more affordable, high energy food sources that is preferred in Asian countries. The most impoverished individuals may only be able to afford the cheapest foods such as sweet potatoes. With slightly higher incomes, trends show that people often switch from sweet potatoes and other grains, to rice. Then as incomes continue to increase, rice demand decreases as people incorporate more diversity in their diets and decrease reliance on rice. These societal trends and their effect on rice demand can be seen throughout Asia. In Japan, China, and northern Asian countries, incomes have generally risen to the point that rice production has decreased from historical levels while demand for meats and vegetables have increased. In contrast, rice demand is increasing in south and southeast Asia where the most impoverished are now earning enough money to transition to a diet heavier in rice (Khush 2005).

Environmental Impacts

Due to the social and economic importance of rice in southeast Asia, its high production inevitably has an environmental impact. Rice production utilizes approximately 11 percent of the arable land worldwide.The environmental impact of each rice paddy varies depending on water management, pesticide use, and intensity of production. 

The phrase “rice paddies” immediately conjures the image of thousands of tall plants in a vast pool of water, covering the soil. It should then be no surprise that rice production requires high inputs of water, higher than any other staple grain. To be exact, rice requires double or triple the amount of water as the other cereal crops to produce the same dry weight (Barker et al. 1998). In water-stressed areas, diverting freshwater to irrigate rice paddies can have detrimental environmental effects, as well as economic and societal impacts. In other areas, water stress may not be a concern; however, as both population growth and climate change impact water consumption, water stress could potentially become a bigger concern in rice production throughout southeast Asia. Regardless of regional water strain, the total amount of freshwater used for irrigation is tremendous; 50 percent of all diverted freshwater in Asia is used for rice fields (Tuong et al. 2005). To compound this problem, irrigation is crucial to maintain rice production. Currently, 75 percent of rice produced in Asia came from irrigated croplands (Dawe 2005).

Higher intensity production reduces environmental impact in some regards by reducing the overall area of rice paddies necessary to satisfy demand. This decreases the land developed into rice paddies, preventing the diversity loss that would result from development. On the other hand, the high intensity rice fields often rely on one or two crop varieties that produce the highest yields. This means that there is less genetic diversity and as a result raises the risk of pests impacting yield. Due to decreased pest resistance in low diversity rice fields, farmers apply more pesticides that pollute the environment.

Beyond impacts on the land and water, rice production has atmospheric impacts. Rice fields produce methane that is a powerful greenhouse gas.  According to Van Bodegom et al., “rice fields may produce as much methane as all the world’s natural wetlands combined” (2002; Donald, 2004).



Barker, R., Dawe, D., Tuong, T.P., Bhuiyan, S.I., Guerra, L.C., (1998). The outlook for water resources in the year 2020: challenges for research on water management in rice production. Assessment and orientation towards the 21st century, 19th session of the International Rice Commission, Cairo, Egypt, 7-9 September 1998. FAO. : 96-109

Dawe, D., & Unnevehr, L. (2007). Crop case study: GMO Golden Rice in Asia with enhanced Vitamin A benefits for consumers. AgBioForum, 10(3), 154-160. Available on the World Wide Web: http://www.agbioforum.org

Donald, P.F., (2004). Biodiversity Impacts of Some Agricultural Commodity Production Systems, Conservation Biology, 18(1) 17-37, DOI: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2004.01803.x

FAO. (2008). Food outlook: global market analysis: June 2008. http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/ah864e/ah864e00.htm Accessed: (4/26/2013).

Khush, G. (2005). What it will take to Feed 5.0 Billion Rice Consumers in 2030, Plant Molecular Biology, 59, 1-6, DOI: 10.1007/s11103-005-2159-5

Stoop, W. A., Adam, A., & Kassam, A. (2009). Comparing rice production systems: a challenge for agronomic research and for the dissemination of knowledge-intensive farming practices. Agricultural Water Management, 96(11), 1491-1501.

Tuong, P., Bouman, B.A.M., Mortimer, M. (2005). More Rice, Less Water – Integrate Approaches for Increasing Water Productivity in Irrigated Rice-Based Systems in Asia, Plant Prod. Sci. 8(3), 231-241, Retrieved from: https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/pps/8/3/8_3_231/_pdf

Van Bodegom P. M., P. H. Verburg A. Stein S. Adiningsih and H. A. C. D. Van Der Gon. (2002). Effects of interpolation and data resolution on methane emission estimates from rice paddies. Environmental and Ecological Statistics 9 : 5 – 26.

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