Rice in the shadow of skyscrapers

In many countries of East and Southeast Asia, rice plays a very significant role in society, typically accounting for the largest single share of food calories and food expenditure, playing an important role in the agrarian system and livelihoods of a majority of farmers, being a leading user of land and water resources, and featuring heavily in local cultures and traditions. As an illustration, the share of rice in total cereal production is very high in the region: around 43 percent in East Asia and 86 percent in Southeast Asia versus around 28 percent for the world.

Yet, the role of rice is changing in Asia along with broader changes in society, including changes in agrarian and broader economic structures, demographic shifts (including urbanization), rising per capita income and major changes in food consumption patterns. Rice as a share of agricultural Gross Domestic Product (GDP), rural employment, food calories and food expenditures is falling − in some places slowly; in others more rapidly.

The agricultural labour force is becoming older, and women’s role in farm management is increasing.

Hence, we employ a regional metaphor of rice being produced under a widening shadow of skyscrapers.

In most of East and Southeast Asia, manufacturing, construction and services have been growing at a fast pace. For many countries, visions for the future tend to highlight gleaming buildings and high-tech industries. Rice is considered a necessity, a staple food, a source of livelihood for many poor (or near poor) households and an object of considerable cultural and social importance, yet it is rarely cast as a growth engine in a modern economy.

Download the full report at FAO.

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