Free trade, changing diets to put pressure on rice production: expert

MANILA, Oct 23, 2007 (AFP) – Free trade, changing diets, and rapid urbanisation is leading to a decline in rice production, one of the world’s leading experts on the crop said. “As prosperous rice-growing countries move toward free trade in agricultural production, they may increasingly find it difficult to sustain producers’ interest in rice farming,” said Mahabub Hossain, a former economist at the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute.

Writing in the forthcoming issue of the quarterly IRRI journal Rice Today he said the potential for increased productivity followed the Green Revolution that lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in Asia.

He said global rice demand growth has slowed as rapid urbanisation and rising per capita income in middle and high-income countries in Asia and Latin America prompt people to diversify their diets, while population control has reduced population growth rates in rice-eating China, Malaysia and Thailand.

However, he said this may be offset by “increased consumption due to poverty reduction among low-income households” in such areas as West Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and South America, where rapid migra