The Annual Rice Harvest Hit a New Record High Of 518 million Tons In 2021
Rice is a dietary staple and major agricultural commodity feeding over 3.5 billion people globally. In recent years, world rice production has steadily increased, reaching unprecedented levels in 2021. According to new data from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the total global rice harvest hit 518 million tons last year. This represents a 1.8% gain from 2020 and sets a new record high. Several major rice producers posted production gains, enabling the global rice supply to keep pace with rising consumption.
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Asia Dominates World Rice Output
Asia is by far the leading producer of rice worldwide, accounting for 90% of production. China and India alone produce over half of the global rice supply. In 2021, India harvested a record 129 million tons of rice, up around 2% from 2020. Favorable monsoon rainfall boosted yields in major rice growing states. China also saw bumper rice production, with its harvest rising almost 2% year-over-year to 148 million tons. Though typhoons impacted southern rice areas, improved farming practices lifted yields in other regions.
Outside of China and India, Asian nations like Indonesia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, and the Philippines comprise the other major rice producers. However, Indonesia suffered a decline in rice production for 2021, as adverse weather affected plantings. On the other hand, Vietnam, Thailand, and Myanmar all reported strong rice harvests. Overall, collective gains in Asia enabled the region to drive the growth in total world rice output.
Technology Adoption Is Improving Rice Yields
Several factors underpin the uptrend in global rice production over the past decades. One is the rapid adoption of improved farming technologies across Asia’s rice growing nations. High-yielding rice varieties have been developed by research institutions like the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). IRRI estimates that improved strains now account for around 80% of rice grown in Asia.
Hybrid rice varieties are also being planted more extensively, notably in China as well as parts of India and the Philippines. Hybrids can boost yields by 15-20% over conventional inbred varieties. At the same time, modern irrigation techniques have expanded, enabling more precise water control in rice paddies. Mechanization has further enhanced efficiency, with rice transplanters and harvesters becoming more common. According to IRRI, over 90% of rice in China is now transplanted by machine rather than manual labor.
Sustainability Initiatives Are Gaining Traction
While raising productivity remains crucial, sustainability is becoming an increased focus in the rice sector. One initiative gaining ground is alternate wetting and drying (AWD) for rice cultivation. AWD curbs methane emissions by periodically drying paddies instead of keeping them permanently flooded. The approach can cut water usage by 30% while maintaining yields. AWD is now practiced across nearly 2 million hectares of rice farms in Asia.
The widespread integration of rice-fish co-culture is another sustainability strategy. Fish raised in rice paddies provide an extra income source for farmers, while benefiting soil nutrition and reducing pests. As climate risks also threaten production, developing resilience will be key to future rice supply stability. Overall, balancing yield growth with sustainability will shape the trajectory of world rice output going forward.
Rice Prices And Trade Trends
In tandem with rising production, the global rice trade has expanded over the past decade. Thailand and Vietnam are the top rice exporting nations, accounting for more than half of world trade. India and Pakistan are other major suppliers. Top importers include China, Africa, the Middle East and Indonesia. Exports from Thailand and Vietnam help meet demand from rice-deficit regions.
Despite record harvests, international rice prices remained elevated through 2021 due to strong demand. Prices are projected to stay relatively firm in 2022 and 2023 as consumption continues climbing. Therefore, maintaining production growth will be imperative to balance the global rice market. With population expansion, the world rice harvest may need to reach 540 million tons by 2025. Further yield improvements through technology and targeted investments will be essential to sustainably achieve expanded output.
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Rice Production Reaching New Highs
Global rice production has been on an upward trend over the past decade, reaching record levels in recent years. According to data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), world rice output rose from 465 million tons in 2011 to 518 million tons in 2021. This represent an increase of around 11% over the past decade. With population growth, particularly in Asia, demand for rice has continue to climb. To meeting rising consumption, farmers have expanded planted area and yields for rice. The result is rice production hitting new highs almost every year since 2013.
Exports on the Rise
Alongside higher output, global rice trade has also expanded. According to FAO statics, world rice exports rose from 37.7 million tons in 2011 to 49.3 million tons in 2021. This reflect a 31% increase in just 10 years. Thailand and Vietnam have remained the top global rice exporters, accounting for over 50% of trade. Shipments from these major hubs help supply key importers like China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Bangladesh and many African countries. With rice deficits in Africa and the Middle East projected to grow, export will play an even more important role in balancing world supply and demand.
Sustainability Becoming Crucial
While further yield growth will be needed, sustainability is becoming an urgent priority for the rice sector. Rice cultivation accounts for up to 10% of global methane emission due to organic matter decaying in flooded paddy fields. Alternative rice growing methods like alternate wetting and drying (AWD) can reducing emissions and water usage. According to projections from the Environmental Defense Fund, AWD technique could cut rice related emissions by nearly 50% if fully adopted across major producers like China and India. Overall, the rice industry will have to focus more on sustainable production in order to keep supplying rising world consumption.
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