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

Articled updated on September 22, 2014 with recent USDA data on world rice trade.

Rice photo by LolaKo.com

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 Philippine population 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.

Almost Ready to Harvest, Rice Field in the Philippines.  Photo LolaKo.com

As of 2014, the Philippines still import rice, and it has actually increased as of September, 2014, per chart below from the US Department of Agriculture data (USDA).

Note: 1,600 Thousand Metric Tons — the amount listed for 2014 / 2015 on the table below — equal 3,527,360 lbs.  The average Filipino eats about 271 lbs of rice per year (123 kg), among the highest in the world, according to the IRRI.

World Rice Trade by Thousand Metric Tons

Philippines still import rice as of Sept 2014

More LolaKo.com rice related articles are under “Rice, Rice & More Rice” category under the parent topic, 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 like to know what you think.