Philippines, Indonesia…and Rice

This is an update to my blog post titled “Why does the Philippines have to import rice to feed its people” (March 2011).

There is something just very basic and comforting about being able to produce enough of a staple food…like rice…to feed the population.

A 2008 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicated the Philippines was the largest importer of rice in the world.

Several months ago there were rumors about a 2011 rice shortage in the Philippines (which government officials blamed on rice traders trying to manipulate market prices).

It seems the Philippines is producing more rice, but still not enough for the population, and so continues to import rice.

An ABS CBN news article featured an interview with Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala.  What I found interesting in the article is Mr. Alcala’s “revelation” that Indonesia has overtaken the Philippines as the top rice importer in the world.

“Indonesia has imported 1.5 million metric tons, tayo at 860. One-third nalang ang inorder natin kaysa sa inimport natin last year.” (Indonesia has imported 1.5 million metric tons, and we are at 860.  We have ordered only 1/3 compared to last year’s import).

So is it just me…but did they miss the obvious here?

  • Indonesia’s population, according to the World Bank data is about 230 million.
  • The Philippine’s population according to the latest UN data is at 93.6 million.

Though there is an improvement, there really is no bragging rights here just because Indonesia imports more rice.  If you look at the ratio of the population to what is being imported, the Philippines STILL imports more rice to feed its people compared to Indonesia.  It is  just less this year, so that in itself is the improvement.

The report states that “Alcala is confident the Philippines will soon be self-sufficient in rice, and may even be able to export rice in 2 years’ time”.

Newly Planted Rice Fields - Philippines

If you are in the rice industry, I would be interested in your thoughts on this prediction, and the self-sufficiency path for rice in the Philippines.

Thank you. ~Lola Jane

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

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

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 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.