Why does the Philippines have to import rice to feed its people?

More on rice — it must be an important topic for me, and well, being from the Philippines and growing up with family farming rice, I now understand why!

A big portion of the earth’s population survives on rice.

Years ago, someone told me that the Philippines does not produce enough rice to feed its people.  I wondered if this was still true, did some research, and indeed, this remains true today.

It is interesting that the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is located in the Philippines.  Sixty percent of the rice grown on the planet today come from seeds developed through IRRI.  One would think that as this respected research organization is in the Philippines, the Philippines would eventually produce enough rice to feed its people.

But it is a complex issue, and in fact, the Philippines is currently the largest importer of rice in the world, importing around 1.8 million tons of rice in 2008 (Source: United States Department of Agriculture).

According to the IRRI, there are three main factors which explain why the Philippines imports rice:

  • Land area: The Philippines has around 300,000 square kilometers, of which around 43,000 square kilometers of harvested area are used for rice production.
    As most of the country is very mountainous and consists of many small islands, suitable land is limited to expand rice production into without affecting wetlands, forests, or areas producing other crops. Urban areas also continue to expand rapidly.
  • Population growth: The population of the Philippines is estimated at 97 million (IRRI Data and UN Data from 2010 lists 93.6 million). Its annual growth rate of around 2% – among the world’s highest – means that just to keep pace with growing demand the country would have to increase rice production and yield at rates rarely seen in history.
  • Infrastructure: Irrigation infrastructure is not used and maintained as efficiently as it could be, thus reducing productivity potential. Transport infrastructure, particularly good-quality roads, is lacking in the Philippines, which affects the transport of rice and hinders the rice trade.

The IRRI continues work to help Filipino farmers raise rice harvest yields, which at this time, is more than Indian or Thailand rice fields, but still under those produced by Chinese and Vietnamese rice farmers.

NOTE: More rice related articles can be accessed by visiting the “Rice, Rice & More Rice” category under the parent topic, The Philippines.

Almost Ready to Harvest, Rice Field in the Philippines

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So were you surprised that the Philippines imports a lot rice, despite seeing rice fields pretty much WHEREVER you travel in the Philippines? Please comment…I would really like to know what you think.