Rice, wheat, and maize are the world's three leading food crops; together they directly supply more than 42% of all calories consumed by the entire human population. Human consumption in 2009 accounted for 78% of total production for rice, compared with 64% for wheat and 14% for maize. Of these three major crops, rice is by far the most important food crop for people in low- and lower-middle-income countries. Although rice consumption is spread across income classes relatively equally in low-income countries, the poorest people consume relatively little wheat.
Rice is the staple food of more than half of the world's population – more than 3.5 billion people depend on rice for more than 20% of their daily calories. Rice provided 19% of global human per capita energy and 13% of per capita protein in 2009. Asia accounts for 90% of global rice consumption, and total rice demand there continues to rise. But outside Asia, where rice is not a staple yet, per capita consumption continues to grow. Rice is the fastest-growing food staple in Africa, and also one of the fastest in Latin America. Global rice consumption remains strong, driven by both population and economic growth, especially in many Asian and African countries.
In Asia, rice consumption is very high, exceeding 100 kg per capita annually in many countries. For about 520 million people in Asia, most of them poor or very poor, rice provides more than 50% of the caloric supply. It is widely expected that per capita rice consumption in a majority of Asian countries will start or continue to decline in the future with rising income as people diversify their diets.
Among high-income Asian countries such as Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea, as well as in Hong Kong, a significant decline in per capita consumption has been witnessed in the last four decades. Similar patterns have started to emerge in middle-income countries such as China, Malaysia, and Thailand in the last two decades as people there have begun to consume proportionately more meat and vegetables.
In many other developing Asian nations, including India, Vietnam, and Indonesia, per capita consumption in recent years has also started to decline with rising income, but at a rather slow pace. On the other hand, many other middles- to low-income Asian countries, including the Philippines, Myanmar, Cambodia, Bangladesh, and Laos, continue to witness rising per capita consumption.