Rice: Key Facts & Figures



Rice is a globally produced, milled and traded staple food with annual production and consumption worldwide of about 430 million metric tons. It is not yet possible to hazard an estimate to how much of this global supply is “fortfiable” with new rice fortification technologies.  Industry surveys and feasibility analysis from the point of view of fortification have not been done. However, general industry knowledge and data available from FAO, USDA and other sources provides a general picture of potential national opportunities to be pursued in the short and medium term.

Major Rice Producing and Consuming Nations (USDA FAS)

Opportunity #1: Major Producing & Consumers Nations
Thirteen rice countries account for more than half of global rice production and consumption. For countries as varied as China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Egypt and Nigeria there may be opportunities to fortify a reasonably significant share of rice consumption that comes from large mills. While the market share available for fortification needs to be defined, there are doubtless some immediate opportunities with large millers and distributors who supply centralized and urban markets, in some cases, government welfare programs as well as supply export markets. However, in these countries rice production and milling remains largely among farmers in small rural mills – where classic fortification technology is difficult to apply. For penetration in rural areas where rice is produced and milled locally on a small scale, a range of non-classic strategies can be explored including distributing small packets of fortified faux rice to be added to normal rice at the time of cooking.

Major Rice Exporting Nations in 000 MT
(USDA FAS 2008)

Opportunity #2: The Supply Side
About 30 million metric tons of rice annually is traded internationally - enough to supply about 800 million people with 100 grams daily throughout the year. This is a large scale business involving centralized facilities and sophisticated companies. And this business is concentrated in 10 countries which account for more than 90% of this global rice trade. About half of this international trade is supplied from Vietnam and Thailand. According to the USDA Foreign Agriculture Service, “The largest rice-importing region in the world is Sub-Saharan Africa,” and is supplied mainly from these South East Asian countries.
While there has been no full industry analysis of rice fortification feasibility, the supply chain that runs from producer to mill to distribution warehouse to loading container ships may have a number of critical points where fortification can be applied. These opportunities, concentrated among only a few countries need to be researched, identified and developed. Once technical feasibility is clear and fortification capacity is built, demand can be developed in key importing regions like Africa. 

Food Aid Share National Consumption
(FAO 2006)

In addition to commercial opportunities, this supply-side approach might be applied to international food aid programs. Over the past decade, the rice share of international food aid ranged from 0.5 to1.5 million MT annually. This is donated predominantly by the United States and Japan where the rice is milled and bagged at large scale facilities that are undoubtedly capable of effectively and efficiently integrating fortification technologies. With commitment of aid agencies, this new fortified food-aid supply could bring immediate benefits to eleven countries where rice as food aid represents 4-22% of total national rice consumption. Moreover, as a fortified product matching the micronutrient profile of wheat flour, maize meal or fortified blended foods, one might speculate that rice will become more heavily demanded by food aid programs. Food aid also represents a special opportunity because the investments in the rice fortification technology and supply have not yet been made. A commitment by donors and humanitarian food aid agencies to utilize fortified rice can begin to build the experience, systems and supply chain needed for large scale commercial rice fortification programs.

Opportunity #3: The Demand Side

Major Rice Importing Nations
(USDA FAS 2008)

Many countries import significant quantities of rice to meet national food security needs – and these tend to be among the poorer countries of the world. While rice represents less than 10% of all cereal imports on a global basis, according to FAO, rice represents 25-33% of rice imports to Least Developed Countries. Nineteen countries in Africa, Asia and South America import more than half of all international trade in rice. Some regions are particularly dependent on imports and may offer some short term opportunities to develop rice fortification.  For example, in the Pacific Island countries, average rice consumption is more than 100 grams per day and rice is virtually all imported by a handful of exporting companies.

Consumption & Import of Cereal Staples in West Africa
(FAO 2005)

The structure of rice consumption and trade in West Africa may offer some significant opportunities. With a population of 270 million and widespread micronutrient deficiencies, this region relies on a basket of 5 staple cereals including maize, millet, sorghum, wheat flour and rice. Average rice consumption is 31.3 kilograms per year or about 22% of total cereal intake. However, most other major staples like millet, maize and sorghum are domestically produced in small farms scattered throughout the country and not available for large scale fortification. On the other hand, about 60% of rice is imported by the large scale rice trade and an additional, though unknown, share is produced by large domestic processors. Therefore, it may be possible to fortify a large proportion of the rice consumed in this region. If 70% of consumption in the region were fortified with iron at levels recommended by WHO for wheat flour, the average consumer would benefit from an additional 3.6 mg/dy of iron, or about 27% of WHO Estimated Average Requirements for an adult woman (for a mid level bioavailability diet). Combined with wheat flour, which is virtually all imported and processed at large mills, an integrated fortification approach would supply nearly half her daily iron needs.

Scenario for Added Nutrition Protection with Fortified Rice
and Wheat Flour Fortified at WHO Recommended Levels
for Wheat Flour

Some Interim Conclusions
While new and appropriate technologies have been developed in recent decades, the promise of rice fortification to reduce the burden of micronutrient deficiencies remains untapped. Developing rice fortification faces many of the same opportunities and challenges as wheat and maize flour fortification. However, unlike other staples, there is little large scale industrial and commercial experience and feasibility has not been extensively analyzed. Moreover, rice fortification involves a more complex and costly supply chain than other classic fortification programs and therefore, faces steeper capacity and financial challenges. Still, given the severe and widespread impact of micronutrient deficiencies among rice consumers and the relatively low cost of potential rice fortification programs, rice fortification can be a very important component of a comprehensive approach to reduce the burden of vitamin and mineral deficiencies.  The challenges are real, the imperative to address them is powerful, and opportunities to further develop the promise of rice fortification are clear.