Global rice prices rose another 10% on Friday leading to a doubling of prices in the last two weeks. The Guardian reports that China, India, Egypt, Vietnam and Cambodia have imposed tariffs or export bans on rice. Rice is the staple food for more than half the world's population (over three billion people) and the Guardian reports that this is the second year running in which production has failed to keep pace with population growth.
Rice requires significant amounts of water to grow the crop. Rice accounts for around one fifth of the water used in crop production worldwide. It takes around 3000 litres to produce one kg of rice (Source: waterfootprint.org). This compares with around 1100 litres of water to produce a kg of wheat.
The harvest has been affected by drought especially in Australia and China. The Ricegrowers Association of Australia provides the following facts:
- there are approximately 2500 rice farms in Australia;
- they produce around 1.3 million tonnes of rice per year;
- the rice industry contributes to supporting 63 regional towns;
- rice is exported to over 70 countries;
- Australian rice feeds up to 40 million people a day.
If countries such as Australia need more of the available water to supply their own urban populations this will mean less water to provide crops for export. We can debate the interacting issues of transition diets, biofuels, climate change at leisure in developed countries and even bemoan the fact that our chinese and indian takeaway prices need to rise to cover the costs of a portion of rice, but for half the worlds population this is a real and present crisis.