Rice is the staple food of Asia and part of the Pacific. Over 90 percent of the world's rice is produced and consumed in the Asia-Pacific Region. With growing prosperity and urbanization, per capita, rice consumption has started declining in the middle and high-income Asian countries like the Republic of Korea and Japan. But, nearly a fourth of the Asian population is still poor and has a considerable unmet demand for rice. It is in these countries that rice consumption will grow faster.
The Asian population is growing at 1.8 percent per year at present, and the population may not stabilize before the middle of the next century. A population projection made for the year 2025 shows an average increase of 51 percent and in certain cases up to 87 percent over the base year 1995. So far the annual growth rate for rice consumption in the Asia-Pacific Region over 45 years (1950 to 1995) has kept pace with the demand, more through yield increase rather than area expansion.
Improved varieties have made a significant impact (Khush, 1995) in an ever-increasing order during this period. The world rice supply has more than doubled from 261 million tonnes in 1950 (with Asian production of 240 million tonnes) to 573 million tonnes in 1997 (including the region's production of 524 million tonnes). Production has more than doubled overtaking the population growth of nearly 1.6 times in Asia. A measure of this success is reflected by the fall in the price of rice in the world markets.
The Asia-Pacific Region, where more than 56 percent of the world's population lives, adds 51 million more rice consumers annually. As a result of this, the thin line of rice self-sufficiency experienced by many countries is disappearing fast. How the current 524 million tonnes of rice produced annually will be increased to 700 million tonnes by the year 2025 using less land, fewer people, less water, and fewer pesticides is a big question. The task of increasing substantially the current level of production will face additional difficulties as the avenues for putting more area under modern varieties and using more fertilizers for closing the yield gap, bringing in an additional area under rice or irrigation are becoming limited.
The irrigated rice area currently occupies about 56 percent of the total area and contributes 76 percent of the total production. It would be hard to increase this area due to the problems of soil salinity, high cost of development, water scarcity, alternative and competing uses of water, and environmental concerns. Thus, increased productivity on a time scale has to make the major contribution across ecosystems by using more advanced technologies.