History Podcasts

What was the staple food of the natives of South East Asia before rice?

What was the staple food of the natives of South East Asia before rice?


We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

According to Wikipedia, history of rice, rice was first brought to South East Asia region across the caravan routes of the central Asian steppes. Now many of the subcontinental people of South East Asia, like people of Nepal, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Philippines, many Indians, Pakistanis, have rice as a staple food. Though many other staple foods in different regions and ethnic groups exist, but mainly rice dominates the scene as staple.

My question is, what was the staple food of natives of South East Asia before rice became the staple?


From Pakistan to Japan is indeed a big region and "before rice" a long and varied time frame. But this question seems to imply that it is concerned with the early neolithic centers of agriculture in Asia and what the first main staple foods in these were, excluding all rice.

Short answer to that for the North-Eastern region in question, over the course of quite a few millennia: mainly millet, but also hemp, buckwheat, cucurbitaceous plants, and peas.

Jomon Japan as an example did all that (excluding hemp for while) from 5000 BCE before rice arrived only 2500 years ago via Chinese settlers. Compared to central Yangtze river society where rice first became the staple food 6000 years ago. Further South to the New Guinea system of agriculture starchy foods like sago, yam and taro went into cultivation and stomachs. Further West the influence of Mesopotamian innovation is felt and grasses like wheat make their mark after people relied on millet again and until people learned to know rice cultivation.

Despite the obsessive dominance of rice in the later Yangtze region of China, even in that area and North of millet species went into cultivation earlier, as early as >8000 years BCE. Conversely, rice itself did apparently not spread from China as the epicenter, but was domesticated independently in other regions of Asia as well. And the prehistory of rice cultivation in the early periods of China has some problems:

Research in South China emphasizes rice. Unfortunately, the literature is rife with unsubstantiated claims of early domestication. Zengpiyan cave (11,000 B.P.) has been assumed to have evidence of pig domestication and rice agriculture but recent research indicates that the occupants had no domesticated plants or animals. In particular, flotation samples document the collection of a range of wild plants, none of them small grain plants (Zhao 2003). The oldest directly-dated rice grains have been found in two areas: the Yangzi River drainage basin (6500 B.C.); and to the north in Henan at Jiahu (6000-7000 B.C.) (Crawford and Shen 1998).
Gary W. Crawford: "East Asian Plant Domestication", in: Miriam T. Stark: "Archaeology of Asia", Blackwell Studies In Global Archaeology 7, Blackwell: Malden, Oxford, 2006. (AoA)

In any regions South of mainland China indigenous forms of agriculture had developed, often perennial vegeculture alone or in addition to annual crops. These regions often displayed some kind of resistance to the whole "neolithic package". That is taking ceramics quickly and only slowly adopting millet and even slower in adopting rice.

Interestingly, while agriculture spread South and rice went along with it, the more tropical climate necessitated also to transfer the principle but refrain from rice as well, until cultivars more suited were bred:

We have no evidence that any of them grew rice in the equatorial islands of eastern Indonesia or in Oceania, and it seems that this subtropical cereal faded from the economic repertoire as people moved south (Dewar 2003). In equatorial latitudes rice was replaced by tubers and fruits such as yams, taro, coconut, breadfruit, bananas, pandanus, canarium nuts, and many others, all originally domesticated in the tropical regions from Malaysia through to Melanesia (Lebot 1999). Neolithic populations domesticated or acquired these crops as they moved southwards and eastwards through the islands, and some might have been domesticated independently in and around the island of New Guinea, where evidence for swamp drainage and presumably an independent agricultural tradition in the highlands dates back to beyond 6,000 years ago (Denham et al. 2003).
Peter Bellwood: "Agriculture, Languages, And Genes In China And Southeast Asia", (AoA).

So the even shorter answer would be the generic description of absolutely everything that can be found in the wild in the surroundings and yields anything starchy.
Be it in the tubers, roots, seeds, stems, foliage when identified as nourishing and only halfway productive in early forms of cultivation was cultivated. This the spread in all directions until soil and climate limits, which were then slowly expanded by breeding.

One thing should be quite clear: never has any staple food completely replaced another staple food where conditions to grow them are suitable. The relative importance of a single food crop compared to others might change over time. Such is the case for the millets, which were the most dominant species cultivated and today seen as "almost forgot". But all historic and prehistoric societies add food staples to their diets and diversify the available palette, increase yields and avoid catastrophic mono-crop failures.

Over several millennia, four main areas of extension of Neolithic agriculture developed from the four principal expanding centers. Neolithic agriculture from the Near Eastern center expanded step by step in every direction, starting 9,000 years ago. By the eighth millennium before the present, it had spread to the whole Near East and the eastern rivers of the Mediterranean. By the sixth and fifth millennia, it had spread to the western rivers of the Mediterranean and, via the Danube Valley, had penetrated into central Europe, then into northwest Europe. During the same time, it expanded toward the east as far as India and toward the south as far as central Africa, bypassing the large equatorial forest. By the fourth and third millennia, it had progressed toward the east, all along the thick band of broad-leaved forest that borders the south of the taiga, as far as the Far East where it came into contact with agriculture of Chinese origin. In Africa, it continued to expand toward the south, up until recent times.

By the ninth millennium before the present, agriculture of Chinese origin, with a base of millet, had hardly occupied more than the middle and lower valley of the Yellow River. By the eighth millennium, after having adopted the cultivation of rice, it extended as far as the Yangzi River, and 6,000 years ago it had spread to Manchuria, Korea, Japan, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, where it combined with agriculture of New Guinean origin, and South Asia (India), where it encountered agriculture of Near Eastern origin.
Marcel Mazoyer & Laurence Roudart: "A History of World Agriculture. From the Neolithic Age to the Current Crisis", Earthscan: London, Sterling, 2006.

Even for the lands connected geographically closer to "rice is China" in South East Asia itself:

From southern China rice and millet had spread further to mainland Southeast Asia by 4,000 years ago. Prior to the arrival of rice, there is evidence for the consumption of starchy foods, such as palm starch, bananas, arrow root, and Job's Tears, although it is unclear whether any of these were cultivated, as opposed to gathered. Once adopted, rice cultivation probably remained limited for some time, with evidence for population growth, and agricultural impacts on the wider landscape evident in erosional signatures in offshore ocean sediments, only from around 500 BCE.
Eleanor Kingwell-Banham & Cameron A. Petrie & Dorian Q. Fuller: "Early Agriculture in South Asia", in: Graeme Barker & Candice Goucher: "The Cambridge World History. Volume I. A World with Agriculture. 12000 BCE - 500 CE", Cambridge University Press: Cambridge New York, 2015. (CWHA)

Looking at the region of Thailand which lay in the middle of most of the Asiatic zones of cultural exchange and zones of agricultural expansion:

The majority of their samples consisted of millet (Setaria italica), some Panicum sp., and Coix sp. AMS dating of seeds and charcoal at these sites was good, but complicated by issues of disturbance; however, they feel that the chronology indicates use of millets from the late third millennium BCE with no evidence of rice in the foodways at any of these sites until the first millennium BCE. This again seems to indicate that while rice was present and possibly cultivated in the region by the second millennium BCE, it remained a minor component of the diet.
Huw Barton: "Early agriculture in Southeast Asia and the Pacific", CWHA.

That sounds complicated, because it is. To aid in an overview:

Figure 1 The earliest archaeobotanical records of selected domesticated crops in three regions of Eurasia: W (western region: Europe, the Eastern Mediterranean and Asia west of the Caspian Sea); S (southern region: India, Pakistan and Nepal); E (eastern region: China, Japan and Southeast Asia).

In terms of ecological opportunism, a notable feature of the earliest crops that spread across Eurasia is the brevity of their growth cycle and ripening period. Indeed, the order in which their range expanded relates inversely to the length of their growth cycle. The fast-maturing broomcorn millet was the first crop to spread across Eurasia, followed by buckwheat, foxtail millet and ultimately the relatively slow-maturing bread wheat. We can infer that the most opportune crops were those that could produce high yield under short-period growing seasons. On the one hand, this would permit optimal use of landscapes experiencing long winters and/or dry summers. On the other hand, it would allow crops to be inserted into multiple cropping systems in intensely farmed landscapes.
Martin Jones et al.: "Food Globalisation in Prehistory", World Archaeology, 43:4, 665-675, DOI: 10.1080/00438243.2011.624764

For Asia:

Figure 1 The spread of wheat and barley across Asia, with sites representing the earliest finds for each region shown. For a selection of sites with adequate data, the relative proportions of cereals (wheat, barley, rice, broomcorn millet, foxtail millet, and other millets) are shown in the pie graphs. Sites key: 1. Anau; 2. Gonur; 3. Shahr-i-Sokhta; 4. Mundigak; 5. Shortugai; 6. MiriQalat; 7. Mehrgarh; 8. Pirak; 9. Tarakai Qila; 10. Ghalegay; 11. Kanishpur; 12. Burzahom; 13. Semthan; 14. Harappa; 15. Kunal; 16. Mitathal; 17. Chanudaro; 18. Kanmer; 19. Rojdi; 20. Balathal; 21. Mahagara; 22. Lahuradewa; 23. Senuwar; 24. Chirand; 25. Kayatha; 26. Navdatoli; 27. Nevasa; 28. Apegaon and Paithan; 29. Tuljapur Garhi; 30. Adam Cave; 31. Daimabad; 32. Inamgaon; 33. Piklihal; 34. Hallur; 35. Sanganakallu; 36. Hanumantaraopeta; 37. Mebrak cave; 38. Begash; 39. Qunbake; 40. Yanghai; 41. Gumugou; 42. Xiaohe; 43. Lanzhouwanzi; 44. Huoshaogou; 45.Donghuishan; 46. Fengtai; 47. Xishanping; 48. Zhouyuan; 49. Zhaojialai; 50. Baligang; 51. Zaojiaoshu; 52. Tianposhuiku; 53. Dugangsi; 54. Wangchengang; 55. Liangchengzhen; 56. Zhaojiazhuang; 57. Nam River.

Crop movements between major agricultural centres in Africa and Eurasia discussed in this paper.
Nicole Boivin et al.: "Old World globalization and the Columbian exchange", World Archaeology Vol. 44(3): 452-469 Debates in World Archaeology, 2012. (DOI)

Only focusing on rice again reveals again that agriculture was invented several times in different places, and first the idea spread from there, then the crops, and millet being the most important of these at first. Notice the very SouthEastern influence of vegeculture from Newguinea and Indonesia:

Some hypotheses linking the distribution of subsistence cultures and language affiliation for ca. 3000 BC, with indication of the dispersal directions for north Chinese millets, middle Yangtze rice and millet systems, and possible Dawenkou-related coastal dispersal southwards (Tanshishan and Nanguanli). The basemap is from Fuller et al. (2011b) and shows in grey a reconstruction of land area under wet rice cultivation as a percentage of modern wet rice land area (the percentage scale is indicated in the shaded bar at the right). It is presumed that wet rice supported denser and expanding human populations. Language family abbreviations: AA Austroasiatic, AN Austronesian, P.Drav. Proto- Dravidian, ST Sino-Tibetan.

Some hypotheses linking the distribution of subsistence cul- tures and language affiliation for ca. 2000 BC. Indicated are the crop dispersal towards Southeast Asia and the diffusion of western crops into Longshan China, and Chinese crops, notable millets westwards and southwards (to South Asia, Yemen, Sudan). The basemap is from Fuller et al. (2011b) and shows in grey a reconstruction of land area under wet rice cultivation as a percentage of modern wet rice land area (the percentage scale is indicated in the shaded bar at the right). It is preseumed that wet rice supported denser and expanding human pop- ulations. The Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC) is indicated. Language family abbreviations: AA Austroasiatic, AN Austronesian, ST Sino-Tibetan. Munda languages are included in the Austroasiatic family.

Some hypotheses relating the rise to dominance of regional languages and state formation built on the infilling of Asian landscapes with intensive rice agriculture. The basemap is from Fuller et al. (2011b) and shows in grey a reconstruction of land area under wet rice cultivation as a percentage of modern wet rice land area (the percentage scale is indicated in the shaded bar at the right). AN Austronesian languages.
Dorian Q. Fuller: "Pathways to Asian Civilizations: Tracing the Origins and Spread of Rice and Rice Cultures", Rice (2011) 4:78-92, (DOI)


I am not going to even come close to answering this simple question. But it's worth a try because of perennial confusion on Southeast Asia. The region, concept and people of Southeast Asia is, to me, a living museum.

Southeast Asia Political Border

Source: Geographic guide. Country names in orange box, region is the larger dark blue box.

MSEA (mainland SEA), west to east: Burma (Myanmar), Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Camboadia, Vietnam

ISEA (island SEA), west to east: Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Philippines


Is there a straightforward answer?

This question is almost impossible to answer not because of how OP has framed the question. Yes, there are mistakes in the question itself (and I'll get to it below); the question itself is wonderfully simple but impossible to answer because of the diversity of this region.


What is Southeast Asia?

The dynamism and complexity of Southeast Asia (SEA), even to this very day (December 2018) is bewildering:

  • ethnic complexity. Scholars and some SEA governments have yet to figure out how to classify their own natives/indigenous groups.
  • linguistic. There are 5 (established) language classifications in SEA, but linguistic scholars recently discovered a new language, "Jedek", in 2018! (ScienceAlert).
  • physical geography. Historians and anthropolgist separate SEA into mainland and insular regions in their research. In reality the actual communities ignores this separation between islands or the landmass of Asia i.e. mainland SEA. The pattern (of living/communities) is actually based on coastal vs interior (insular region, tropical jungle) as well lowland against upland/highland (mainland region, altitude). Again, this is happening to this very moment. See Zomia, the region within SEA and Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States (2017) by James C. Scott, a specialist in political science and anthropology of SEA.
  • political border of SEA (thankfully, border disputes today are almost non-existent in SEA but here's the catch, is Malaysia part of mainland SEA or is it insular SEA? Answer: It is both - peninsular Malaysia is clearly part of the mainland, but eastern Malaysia is northern half of Borneo, Asia' largest island.

Staple Food for Whom?

Regardless of the agricultural revolution, before or after rice cultivation was introduced to the region, staple food refers to

… a food that makes up the dominant part of a population's diet. Food staples are eaten regularly-even daily-and supply a major proportion of a person's energy and nutritional needs. Food staples vary from place to place, depending on the food sources available… Most food staples are inexpensive, plant-based foods. They are usually full of calories for energy. Cereal grains and tubers are the most common food staples.

Source: National Geographic

So, just because rice has been introduced, it does not mean it is the main source of food. The natives in some parts of SEA (interior and upland) can and do take other forms of staple food. Even today, look up "swidden culture" in SEA, mainly for SEA upland inhabitants.

Nowadays, staple food in SEA is rice -- with a qualifier, we are speaking mainly of lowland areas of mainland SEA and coastal areas of insular SEA (see point on physical geography, above).

In prehistory, there was no SEA, and they were separated by altitude (lowland vs upland/highland, ethnic prestige goes to inhabitants of the former) and tropical jungle (coastal vs interior, and again, ethnic prestige goes to to inhabitants of the former). Pre-modern polities & states within the last 1,500 years were created in these "superior" spaces (as opposed to the interior and upland regions), e.g. Sukhothai kingdom, Champa polities, Srivijaya city-state, Malacca sultanate, etc.

Thus, given the qualifiers as explained, we could say the staple food of this region (SEA) in prehistory were:

  • plant-based: palm-sugar (e.g. sago), bananas, tubes (e.g. taro and yam)
  • protein: fish & maritime-based (for insular, coastal; for mainland, riverine)

This is clearly too broad and overly-generalised, yet to be any more precise, the research (question) has to be narrowed to the boundaries of physical geography (not so much political borders).


Ethnobiology

(Or, what we think we know about this region, their lifestyle and foodways.)

Ethnobiology is the study of "the way living things are treated or used by different human cultures. It studies the dynamic relationships between people, biota, and environments, from the distant past to the immediate present".

Jared Diamond made the mistake of believing his scientific education and brilliant mind could anticipate & avert food poisoning. The New Guineans put him in his place!

"I patiently explained to my Fore companions that I read about some mushrooms being poisonous, that I had heard of even expert American mushroom collectors dying because of the difficulty of distinguishing safe from dangerous mushrooms, and that although we are all hungry, it just wasn't worth the risk. At that point my companions got angry and told me to shut up and listen while they explained some things to me. After I had been quizzing them for years about names for hundreds of trees and birds, how could I insult them by assuming they didn't have names for different mushrooms?… This one, the tanti (mushroom), grew on trees, and it was delicious and perfectly edible."

Guns, Germs and Steel (Vintage, 2005), pg. 144.

He gets no sympathy from me because I experience this same telling off almost every other week.

Full Disclosure: Currently, I live amongst descendants of Malayo-Polynesian speakers, in Malaysia. Just yesterday, not half-hour before I first read this question on HSE, an Indonesian girl living in Malaysia told me about 2 potted plants I bought earlier: "Kita orang kampung buang ini!" (We, villagers / native folks throw such plants away!). Implication of her statement: these plants grows in the wild locally. Like I said, this region is a living museum, endlessly fascinating and much to learn.



Answers will vary depending on specific regions, cultures, and time period; many peoples would have been hunter-gatherers rather than farming anything. Millet is an ancient crop in east Asia and may have predated rice in some areas. In coastal communities, fish and shellfish were a major source of food. Animals were hunted (e.g. deer, antelopes, wild pigs, and smaller animals) and later raised (e.g. cows, pigs). Gathering nuts, fruit, and other vegetables was also common. In the Indian subcontinent, cultivation of cereals such as wheat spread from the middle east.

The Hoabinhian culture of northern Vietnam (until c. 2000 BCE) probably domesticated legumes, as well as eating seafood, meat, nuts, fruit, and other plants. Other cultures in Vietnam were largely hunter-gatherers such as the Đa Bút culture (c. 5000-1000 BCE). The Dapenkeng culture in Taiwan appear to have initially been largely hunter-gatherers, eating a lot of shellfish and fish, before later cultivating rice and millet.

It's a little vague from the question what region you're interested in, as you mention many countries. In Myanmar, people seem to have gone from hunting to rice cultivation (Prehistory of Myanmar). Further west, the Indus Valley Civilisation in what is now Pakistan farmed domesticated wheat and barley before rice.


Toyoda Y. (2018) Life and Livelihood in Sago-Growing Areas. In: Ehara H., Toyoda Y., Johnson D. (eds) Sago Palm. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-10-5269-9_3

It's sago and also possibly a tuber plant like taro.


East Asia

Farming communities arose sometime before 8000 bp in China, but how much earlier is not yet known. In general, people in northern China domesticated foxtail and broomcorn millets (Setaria italica and Panicum miliaceum), hemp (Cannabis sativa), and Chinese cabbage (Brassica campestris), among other crops, while their contemporaries to the south domesticated rice. Water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis), swine, and chickens were also domesticated, but their earliest history is not yet documented in any detail.

Agricultural communities began to flourish between 8000 and 7000 bp in China, some relying on dry field production and others dependent on the annual rise and fall of water levels along the edges of rivers, lakes, and marshes in the Yangtze River (Chang Jiang) basin. The ingenious invention of paddy fields eventually came to mimic the natural wetland habitats favoured by rice and permitted the expansion and intensification of rice production.

People in the Korean peninsula and Japan eventually adopted rice and millet agriculture. They also raised crops not grown initially in China. A clearly domesticated soybean (Glycine max) was grown by 3000 bp in either northeast China or Korea. The adzuki, or red, bean (Vigna angularis) may have become a crop first in Korea, where considerable quantities of beans larger than their wild counterpart have been found in association with 3,000-year-old soybeans. Both types of beans have been recovered from earlier sites in China, but a sequence of development with which to document their domestication has yet to be established. Wild buckwheat (Fagopyrum species) is native to China, but archaeological evidence for the plant in East Asia is found only in Japan. Barnyard, or Japanese, millet (Echinochloa esculenta or Echinochloa crus-galli utilis) is known only in the archaeological record of Japan and is assumed to have been domesticated there.


History of East Asia: Part 1

Before 8000 BCE, East Asia, like most of the rest of the world, was home to hunter-gatherer peoples. Throughout most of this vast region, small, mobile bands of hunter-gatherers roamed the land.

On the coast, however, comparatively large and stable communities had grown up, nourished by the rich and self-replenishing supplies of sea food available to them. These communities dotted the coastline in a thin chain stretching all the way from Vietnam in the south to Korea in the north, and along the western shores of the Japanese archipelago. They had a remarkably high level of material culture, making fine ceramics (the Jomon people of Japan produced the earliest pottery in the world, dating from c.10500 BCE), polished stone tools and other materials. There is strong evidence for advanced boat-building techniques, and the fact that sea turtles, crocodiles, whales and sharks all featured in their diet suggests that the people were making deep water fishing trips.

Sometime between 8000 and 6000 BCE, farming began in East Asia, in two separate areas. The plateau and central plain of the Yellow River (Huang He) gave rise to an agriculture based on millet, whilst to the south, in the central Yangtze river valley, wet-rice farming emerged. Of the two, the wet-rice agriculture of the Yangtze valley was probably the first to develop.

Wet-rice farming in the Yangtze valley

Wild rice is a marsh plant, so it is hardly surprising that the earliest wet-rice agriculture began in wetland environments of the central Yangtze river basin, on the margins of lakes and rivers.

In the areas where it grew, wild rice had always been a part of the hunter-gatherer diet. The Yangtze valley is on the northern edge of wild rice habitats, and the presence of wild rice there had fluctuated with climatic changes. It is possible that, as the climate cooled after c. 7000 BCE, techniques for cultivating rice were developed so that as the wild rice receded south, a domesticated variety remained, though retaining wild features such as small grains.

By c. 6500 BCE, rice cultivation had become fully established in the central Yangtze valley, although as only one element in a varied diet. Edible water plants such as lotuses and water caltrop were also prominent, and hunting and foraging were still important sources of food. This mix of wetland plant cultivation and hunter-gathering was well suited to this low-lying region of lakes and marshes, and enabled these early farmers to expand outwards into new lands.

Along with stone tools, which included the traditional flaked pebble choppers and axes which harked back to earlier hunter-gatherer times, these people made wooden spades specially to cultivate the soil, and also possessed pottery (in which rice husks were added to improve its firing qualities) and weaving technologies. They lived in permanent villages surrounded by defensive ditches, and their houses were raised on piles or posts above flood levels.

Intensification of rice cultivation

The early farmers soon benefited from the nutritious qualities of rice, and after 6000 BCE they relied more and more upon this plant. The mature domesticated strain was developed, soon dividing into its two main varieties, Indica and Japonica. By c. 4500 BCE, the Daxi culture people in the central Yangze valley lived in large villages containing rectangular, multi-roomed houses constructed of clay, bamboo and reed. They were located in swampy terrain suited to the establishment of rice fields, and the use of the plow shows a further intensification of rice cultivation. The Daxi people also raised cattle, sheep and pigs, and supplemented their diet with hunting and fishing.

Wet-rice agriculture spread out from the core lakelands of the central Yangtze valley and down towards the sea. It also spread upriver, into the Three Gorges area of the Yangtze valley.

The Yellow River region

Several hundred miles north of the Yangtze river, the Yellow River region is much drier and cooler, and unsuitable for rice cultivation. Here, millet became the major crop.

After rising in Tibet and crossing regions of mountain and grassland, the Yellow River cuts through a plateau covered by deep loess soil. Loess is a fine dust which has been blown in from the central Asian steppes over thousands of years, and is some of the most fertile earth on the planet.

The river carries vast quantities of loess as it flows eastward into the huge North China plain and on to the sea. The soil in the water builds up in places, making the river prone to frequent flooding. This has caused immense destruction during China’s long history, but it has also deposited the rich loess over the flood plain.

By c. 6000 BCE, farming villages had appeared in the Yellow River region, practicing a mixed economy in which millet cultivation and stock-raising were combined with hunting, gathering and fishing to provide a stable subsistence base. The villages contained sunken houses with walls made from wood and clay, and roofs made of thatch the inhabitants of these villages would have numbered in the low hundreds.

Later, two major Neolithic cultures developed, the Yangshao culture (c. 5200-3000 BCE), on the loess plateau, and the Dawenkou culture (c. 4300-2400 BCE, on the North China plain. As time went by, both cultures saw increasing population densities and social stratification. Surrounding ditches and wooden palisades showed the need for defense.

One interesting development that appears in the Yellow River region around 4000 BCE is pottery inscribed with symbols which look very much like primitive characters. These were probably marks of ownership, or something simple like that, but it represents strong evidence that what later became the Chinese writing system had its roots in this early period.

South-east China – and beyond

The expansion of rice farmers into the sub-tropical zone in south China was taking place by c. 3500 BCE.

Hundreds of miles to the south of the Yangtze valley, wet-rice farming reached the south coast of China, around the mouth of the Pearl River (near present-day Macao and Hong Kong), sometime after 3000 BCE. For millennia, this region had been occupied by hunter-gatherers and fisher groups. As elsewhere, the rich marine environment had enabled them to form impressively large communities. The intrusion of farmers into the area in the 3rd millennium BCE resulted in the emergence of a new hybrid culture.

From the coast of southern China, farming spread to Taiwan. Deep-water transport technologies had been developed by coastal populations by c. 3000 BCE at the latest. Similarities in material culture show that groups had crossed from the mainland to Taiwan by c. 2500 BCE. Such groups were probably ancestral to the Austronesian-speaking peoples who would go on to colonize much of South East Asia, the far-flung islands of the Pacific and as far west as Madagascar.

South-west China – and beyond

Rice farmers had reached the area of the modern-day province of Yunnan, in south-west China, in c. 2500 BCE, dotting the river banks with their villages.

Some of the greatest rivers of Asia flow through Yunnan, from sources high in Tibet or in Yunnan itself. On a map of East and South-East Asia, these rivers resemble the spokes of a wheel, with Yunnan as the hub. The Yangtze and Pearl rivers head east towards the coast of China the Red River heads south east into Vietnam the Mekong heads south towards Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam and the Salween and Irrawaddy rivers flow south and west through Burma and into the Indian Ocean. It is easy to see how Yunnan functioned as the hub for the movement of peoples and cultures from southern China into South East Asia.

The region has a densely wooded, mountainous landscape, and journeys are most easily undertaken by boat, even today. It was by boat that the rice-farming settlers had first arrived in the region from lower down the Yangtze, and it was by boat that their descendants carried their rice-farming culture down into the lands to the south. There they would become the ancestors of the Burmans, Mon, Khmer, Viet and many other groups in South East Asia.

Korea and Japan

Farming came to the Korean peninsula in c. 4500 BCE, from northern China, with the cultivation of millet. Wet-rice cultivation probably reached the peninsula from China early in the 2nd millennium BCE, but then took centuries of adaptation to adapt to the northern climate. After 1000 BCE, however, wet-rice became established as the staple crop, at least in southern Korea.

In Japan, meanwhile, the very successful Jomon hunter-gatherer-fisher culture continued to flourish, effectively keeping farming at bay. The large coastal settlements showed many similarities with farming communities elsewhere – the earliest pottery anywhere in the world comes from Japan, dated to as early as 10500 BCE. After c. 1000 BCE there is evidence that the Jomon people were familiar with rice cultivation, and had also begun to grow some local wild plants, such as yams and taro. However, farming did not become a major part of the economy until after 500 BCE.

Towards civilization

The growth of towns in the Yangtze region

In the central Yangtze valley, early walled and moated towns were appearing by c. 4000 BCE, the larger towns housing populations numbering hundreds, if not thousands. They consisted of stoutly constructed wooden longhouses with internal subdivisions for individual rooms. By c. 2500 BCE signs of social stratification were appearing in the varying sizes of the houses: many were simple one-room dwellings, while others were multi-roomed buildings, complete with corridors. Some graves contained many luxury objects – jade jewelry, fine pottery vessels, lacquerware and silk garments – as well as human sacrificial victims, showing that they belonged to powerful, high status individuals, probably chiefs.

The growth of towns in the Yellow river region

In the Yellow River region the Yangshao culture evolved into the Longshan culture around 3000 BCE. Technological advances around this time included the introduction of the potter’s wheel and the production of high quality jade ornaments. By c. 2500 BCE, professional craft specialists were producing fine jades and ceramic vessels. This technological advance accompanied increasing population densities and more marked differences in social ranking, with an elite ruling class emerging. Pottery fragments have been recovered which are inscribed with composite ideographs, which would become the basis of the highly sophisticated Chinese writing system.

Influences from the west

Metallurgy reached China sometime around 2500 BCE, almost certainly from the west. It first appears in East Asia in the central Asian steppes, where semi-nomadic peoples, with a culture clearly linked to those in the Caspian and Black Sea regions, lived. Amongst these peoples, a pastoral economy based on the rearing of sheep and cattle predominated.

These people were, unlike in later times, Indo-European speakers, who had been the first people to domesticate the horse. Horse transport offered the potential for quick, long-distance movement across the steppes, and this factor was probably key to the spread of new technologies from west to east.

These semi-nomadic peoples had brought copper metallurgy to the eastern steppes as early as 3000 BCE, and cultures capable of manufacturing forged copper knives and bangles had emerged in present-day north-west China by c. 2500 BCE.

The steppes of central Asia reach deep into northern China, and cultures here, whilst not as advanced as those in the Yellow River region, seem to have played a crucial role in the transference of western technologies to the rest of China. Sizable walled sites covering more than 10 hectares (25 acres) appeared in north China, with smaller defended sites clustered nearby, indicating that political and/or religious authority was spread out over a sizable area. Bronze objects are present which very probably came from the west, as they share characteristics with bronzes from central Asia. As in the Longshan, the drilling and heating of animal bones for divination was widespread.

Several clay female figures, as well as jade representations of dragons and birds, recovered from burial mounds made of stone, are in styles similar to later Shang and Zhou dynasty figures. This may suggest that the later dynastic states of China were formed when these northern groups intruded southwards into the Yellow River region.

The emergence of urban civilization

From the 4th millennium BCE onwards, there is increasing evidence of contact between the various cultures within China. The painted pottery of the north-west, the distinctive black-burnished pottery of the east, and the jade of the south-east, were all items of long-distance exchange between the Yangtze and Yellow River valleys, and far into the peripheral regions. The jade objects and marine shells found in northern China had an origin a thousand miles and more away in southern China.

The Yellow river region: the Shang dynasty

The Longshan culture of the Yellow river region, which as we have seen evolved from earlier Neolithic cultures, grew in complexity and sophistication until, step by step, an urban, literate, Bronze Age civilization emerged. The earliest-known cities of East Asia made their appearance around 1800 BCE, and China finally came into the full light of history with the Shang dynasty. Cultural advance continued: Chinese craft workers were soon making some of the most beautiful bronze vessels ever produced.

The Shang kingdom has a special place in Chinese historiography as being ancestral to all the dynasties which came after, right up to the 20th century. However, it is clear that it originally formed only one state amongst many in the Yellow River region of northern China, albeit the wealthiest and most powerful.

The Yangtze regions

The Shang kingdom stood at the center of a trade network spanning the whole of East Asia. Trade routes between the Yellow River and Yangtze regions were particularly strong. The Yangtze valley produced a level of civilization rivaling that of the Shang, and large, wealthy urban centers emerged, displaying a distinctive southern bronze-working tradition.

Sanxingdui, in particular, was a large walled city in Sichuan, reaching its height during the late Shang period and rivaling Anyang (the Shang capital at the time) in splendor. It was about 450 hectares (1112 acres) in size, with an area outside the walls covering at least 15 sq km (6 miles). As in the Shang cities further north, these suburbs incorporated specialist workshops for the manufacture of bronzes, lacquerware, ceramics and jade, together with residential areas for the craftsmen and others. The walls, which date to c. 1400 BCE, had a width of 47 m (154 ft) at their widest.

Sanxingdui bronzes were of a size and form unparalleled in China. The bronzes were of a striking design, their quality of a very high level. They were undoubtedly the products of a wealthy and sophisticated society, although no evidence of writing has yet come to light.

Down the Yangze, other wealthy cities dating to the late Shang period, but outside the Shang area of control, displayed a distinctive southern bronze tradition, including, for example, the casting of tigers onto the handles of bronze vessels. The splendid royal tombs at Xin’gan indicate the existence of a powerful and sophisticated kingdom in this part of the Yangze valley, rivaling the Shang state further north yet entirely ignored by traditional Chinese historians.

Towards a unified China

Cultural progress was not impeded by political upheavals, as when, in the Yellow River region, the Shang dynasty was violently replaced by the Zhou.

The Zhou period was one of marked advance in Chinese society. In the first centuries of the Zhou dynasty the whole of the Yellow River region was brought firmly under the rule of a single kingdom (albeit one organized along quite loose, semi-feudal lines). From the 8th century BCE onwards, through war and diplomacy, more and more of the Yangtze river valley was also brought within the Zhou political system – even though (or perhaps because) the Zhou kings progressively lost power to regional lords. Iron technology had become established by 600 BCE, leading to an increase in agricultural productivity. The population grew, towns and cities increased in both size and number, government became more sophisticated and society more complex.

Korea and Japan

Bronze technology reached the Korean peninsula from northern China in c. 1000 BCE, along with other cultural traits such as the building of dolmens for the burial of chiefs.

Links between Korea and Japan grew stronger after 1000 BCE, but farming did not become a major part of the Japanese economy until the mid-1st millennium BCE. At that time there seems to have been a migration of people from Korea to Japan. The migrants took with them their culture, based on wet-rice cultivation, and their knowledge of bronze working.

The Steppes

In about 1000 BCE a major development took place on the steppes, with the breeding of horses large enough to bear humans on their backs. This enabled the nomadic peoples to herd their animals, particularly of course their horses, much more effectively than before. It may be that this enabled them to exploit the eastern steppes, which have a harsher environment than the western steppes, better.

Horseback riding also gave the nomads a significant advantage in war, even over chariot-warriors.

From this time onwards the Indo-European speaking peoples gradually began to lose ground on the steppes to Mongoloid peoples. These would become the ancestors of the Huns and the Mongols, who in later times would have a major impact on the histories of settled peoples across Eurasia.

Subscribe for more great content – and remove ads


Grain

Grain is the harvested seed of grasses such as wheat, oats, rice, and corn. Other important grains include sorghum, millet, rye, and barley.

Biology, Experiential Learning, Geography, Human Geography, Physical Geography

Grain is the harvested seed of grasses such as wheat, oats, rice, and corn. Other important grains include sorghum, millet, rye, and barley. Around the globe, grains, also called cereals, are the most important staple food. Humans get an average of 48 percent of their calories, or food energy, from grains. Grains are also used to feed livestock and to manufacture some cooking oils, fuels, cosmetics, and alcohols.

Almost half of the grains grown around the world are harvested for people to eat directly. People turn wheat flour into bread, steam rice, and make corn tortillas. Grains are a food staple in almost every culture on Earth. A food staple is food that is eaten frequently, often at every meal. Staple foods can be eaten fresh or stored for use all year. Rice, corn, and wheat are the most common staple foods on Earth.

Grains are so important because they are a good source of important nutrients called carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are a type of sugar that provides energy for organisms to function. Grains have carbohydrates as well as other important nutrients, such as vitamins. While grains fill many nutritional needs, they often lack some important proteins. In many cultures, grains are part of a staple diet when combined with protein-rich legumes, such as beans. Together, grains and legumes make a healthy diet: corn and beans, rice and tofu, wheat bread and peanut butter.

A third of the world&rsquos grain supply is fed to animals. Most domestic animals, from cattle to dogs, are fed food rich in grains and grain products.

The rest of the world&rsquos grain supply is used in the manufacture of industrial products. Biodiesel is a fuel used for vehicles. One type of biodiesel is ethanol, which can be made from corn.

Grains are annual plants. This means they have only one growing season per year, yielding one crop. Every growing season, grasses grow, reach maturity, produce seeds, and then die. Grains are harvested from dead, or dry, grasses.

Some grains are winter grains, such as rye. They are able to withstand cold, wet climates. Others are summer grains, such as corn. Corn usually grows best in warm weather.

Grains can grow in almost any climate. Rice is the most important grain in many tropical areas, where it is hot and humid year-round. Rice is especially common in Asia. In Southeast Asia, rice is grown and harvested in flooded fields called paddies. Rice paddies can be flat or terraced. Terraced rice paddies look like steps on a green hill. This type of grain agriculture has been used for centuries.

Unlike rice, sorghum does not grow well in a wet climate. Sorghum favors an arid climate. The nations of West Africa, including Senegal, the Gambia, Burkina Faso, and Cape Verde, are the world&rsquos largest producers of sorghum.

In temperate areas&mdashthose with warm summers and cold winters&mdashwheat is the most common grain. Wheat fields are common in the Great Plains of the United States and Canada, for instance. Corn, which is native to the Americas, is now grown in many temperate areas throughout the world. Oats, another grain that grows in temperate areas, are also used as a livestock feed.

Harvesting Grain

People first began eating grains about 75,000 years ago in western Asia. These grains, including einkorn and emmer, were ancestors of today&rsquos wheat. Einkorn and emmer grew wild near the banks of rivers. People harvested the grasses that grew naturally near their communities.

People began cultivating, or growing, grain more recently. In 2009, scientists announced that they had discovered the world&rsquos oldest known grain silos at Dhra in what is now the nation of Jordan. The silos, which date back 11,000 years, contained remnants of barley and an early type of wheat.

Ancient people ate grains in much the same way we do today. Wheat grains were made into flour and used in breads. Rice was steamed and eaten hot or cold. Oats were mashed with water or milk to make oatmeal. Beer, one of the oldest manufactured beverages in the world, is made from grain such as barley. Ancient beers had a very low alcohol content, but were good sources of carbohydrates.

In some ancient civilizations, grain products served as wages or forms of currency. Many of the workers who built Egypt&rsquos pyramids at Giza, for instance, were often paid in bread and beer.

Today, grain silos are a familiar sight to many people in the developed world. Harvesting is done almost entirely with enormous, expensive machinery. The most important piece of agricultural machinery for grain crops is the combine harvester. This remarkable machine does three jobs: it cuts the grain, threshes the grain, and winnows the grain. Cutting, of course, is removing the grain from the stalk of grass. Threshing is loosening the edible grain from its casing, called the chaff. (Chaff is inedible organisms cannot digest it.) Winnowing is the process of removing the grain from the chaff. Combine harvesters help farmers expand the amount of grains they can harvest by combining three activities into one.

In the developing world, few farmers have the huge fields of grain that agribusinesses in the developed world do. Farmers in the developing world typically have a few acres, and provide grain for their local community. These farmers usually thresh and winnow with separate machines (threshers and winnowers) after harvesting the field. In many places, harvesting is still done with hand tools such as the sickle, a long, curved blade used for cutting many stalks of grain at once.

Photograph by Glenn Upton, MyShot

Grain
A grain (gr) is a unit of measurement based on the mass of a typical grain, such as wheat. A grain is 64.8 milligrams.

Grain Elevator
A grain elevator is just what it sounds like. It's a large storage facility for grain that is equipped with lifting mechanisms, so large amounts of grain can be lifted and poured into trucks, railroad cars, or other storage facilities.

Maize
In most countries, the grain of the Zea mays plant is called maize. In the United States, it's called corn.

Rice is Life
Rice is a staple food in much of Asia. The average person eats it two or three times a day. In Myanmar, the average person eats 195 kilograms (430 pounds) of rice each year. That's a lot more than the average American, who eats just 7 kilograms (15 pounds) or the average European, who eats only 3 kilograms (7 pounds).


What was the staple food of the natives of South East Asia before rice? - History

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 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 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 a period of 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 live, 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, less 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 additional area under rice or under 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.

2.1 Production-Consumption Scenario

Rice is the crop of the Asia-Pacific Region. The projected demand by the year 2025 is mind boggling (Hossain, 1995), as in major Asian countries rice consumption will increase faster than the population growth. In summary, in Asia, the rice consumption by the year 2025, over the base year 1995, will increase by more than 51 percent (Table 1). Another significant change will be the development of many mega cities of the size of 10-15 million people over and above the general urbanization of the populace. Thus, the number of consumers will grow and the number of producers will be reduced dramatically. The current demand of 524 million tonnes is expected to increase to over 700 million tonnes. Rice will continue to supply 50-80 percent of the daily calories, and thus the average growth rate in production has to keep pace with the growth rate of the population.

Table 1. Projections of Population in Major Rice Producing and Consuming Countries in Asia, 1995 to 2025

Annual Growth Rate
(% per year)

Projected
Population
(mill.) in 2025

Percent
Increase
1995-2025

2.2 Rice Balance in the Region

Aggregate rice output growth rate for Asia increased from 2.2 percent per annum during 1950-1965 to 2.9 percent during the 1965-1980 period, outstripping the annual population growth of 2.23 percent. This growth declined to 2.6 percent during 1980-1990 and to 1.8 percent during the 1987-1997 period. Despite an anticipated decline in per capita rice consumption, aggregate demand for rice is expected to increase by about 50 percent during 1990-2025. As income grows, per capita rice consumption is expected to decline as consumers substitute rice with high-cost quality food containing more protein and vitamins such as processed preparations of rice, vegetables, bread, fish and meat. Japan and the Republic of Korea have already made this transition, and rest of the Asia will be making it in proportion to the pace of their economic growth. But these declines will be offset by the population growth (Table 1) and additional income (Table 2), increasing the net demand of rice to over 700 million tonnes by 2025. It is frightening to note that the rice production growth rate of 1975-85 (3.2 percent) which declined to 1.8 percent during 1987-97 (Table 3) is declining further. As a result in the next 10 to 20 years most Asian countries will find it hard to be self-sufficient and in fact, helped by trade liberalization under the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATT), will likely become net rice importers. Several countries that are now self-sufficient in rice may find it more profitable to import rice in exchange for diverting production resources to more remunerative activities. But who will produce this rice is yet another issue to be understood and answered.

Table 2. The Demand Response to Incomes and Prices for Rice (Estimates for Selected Asian Countries)

Percent Increase in Demand
from 1% Increase in Income

Percent Increase in Demand
from 1% Increase in Prices

Table 3. Rice Production, Yield, Area and Growth Rates in Production (P), Yield (Y) and Area (A) in the Asia-Pacific Region (1987-1997)

Production (P)
(000 tonnes)
in 1997

The task of producing the additional rice to meet the expected demands of the year 2025 poses a major challenge. The danger is that stability in rice production is linked to social and political stability of the countries in the Asia-Pacific Region (Hossain, 1996). The scope of area expansion in some countries is offset by the reduction in rice lands in major rice producing countries. So far irrigated rice which occupies about 57 percent of the area and produces 76 percent of total rice has helped double the rice production. It will be easier to produce the necessary increases in productivity under irrigated conditions than under rainfed or other ecosystems. The question turns more problematic when we think that production increases have to be realized annually using less land, less people, less water and less pesticides. There are additional difficulties of putting more area under modern varieties and using more fertilizers for closing the yield gap, or bringing in additional area under rice or under irrigation. The irrigated rice area would be hard to increase as the problems of soil salinity, high cost of development, water scarcity, alternative and competing uses of water, environmental concerns of the emission of green house gases like methane (rice fields contribute 20 percent) and nitrous oxide (fertilizer contributes 19 percent). The difficulties are further amplified when potential consequences of increased cropping intensity are taken into account. Estimates of the Inter Centre Review instituted by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) indicate that about 70 percent of additional production will have to come from the irrigated rice ecosystem and almost 21 percent from rainfed lowland. To achieve this, it was estimated that the yield ceiling of irrigated rice in Asia, for example, would need to be increased from its late 1980s level of about 10 tonnes/ha to around 13 tonnes/ha in 2030. Simultaneously the yield gap would have to be reduced from 48 to 35 percent to produce average yields of about 8.5 tonnes/ha or about double the current level. One of the several ways GATT will affect research will be through funding and comparative resource allocation. With the movement from subsistence to a market-oriented economy, rainfed rice production may bring additional changes in many countries which depend on this ecosystem heavily and have no resources to convert rainfed to irrigated systems (Pingali et al. 1997).

3.1 Germplasm Availability and Varietal Development

In the past agriculture, plant germplasm, and crop varieties were treated differently from the industry and industrial products with respect to Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). When the UPOV convention initiated a patenting right for the plant varieties and micro-organisms in 1961 (UPOV, 1991), only a few countries had become signatories. Most of the Asian countries that had not signed had sizeable public research investments for technology generation, which was seen as government support to feed the people. The IPR has its roots embedded in World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) established by a convention in 1967, enforced in 1970, and attached to the United Nations Organization (UNO) as a specialized agency in 1974 (WIPO, 1988 WIPO, 1990). It is generally argued that IPR and patenting will assure returns to research investment by providing product secrecy, and will attract private investment for agricultural research. In GATT, there is provision for patenting along the lines of IPR. Although, only a recommendation, it yet becomes binding for the signatory country to “provide some alternative means of protection for such plants”. The GATT provisions state: “The only types of inventions that countries can exclude from patentability are those whose exploitation would prejudice public order or morality, those involving diagnostic, therapeutic or surgical methods for the treatment of humans or animals, and inventions of plants and animals or essential biological processes for their production”. Countries taking advantage of this provision to preclude the grants of patents for new plants must, however, provide some alternative means of protection of such plants. In the absence of IPR and patenting, germplasm moved unrestrictedly and made contributions globally (Chaudhary, 1996), which can no longer be tolerated.

The historic discovery of the semi-dwarfing gene (sd1) of De-Geo-Woo-Gen variety in the district of Taichung in Taiwan ROC (province of China), revolutionized rice production in the world. Today varieties carrying this gene are cultivated in almost all the tropical rice growing countries. Can one imagine if the world has to pay Taiwan for this gene? Grassy stunt virus during the 1980’s threatened the cultivation of rice grown without the use of costly and hazardous pesticides. A single accession of Oryza nivara had the requisite gene later named as gsv . Ever since, all the IR varieties starting from IR 28 incorporating this gene were developed and released. Dr. G. S. Khush ( personal communication ) mentions that at its peak a single variety IR 36 carrying gsv gene was planted in 11 million ha in the 1980’s. IR 64, another variety carrying gsv gene is planted in about 8 million ha. There is no fair estimate available of the area under gsv gene but a rough guess is that in Asia alone it will be more than 100 million ha. One can very well imagine the production impact of a single freely available gene simply taken from a rice producing area in the eastern part of Uttar Pradesh in India. Can one imagine if this gene was patented by a private company? What if the world has to pay for this gene to the community from where the accession carrying this gene was collected?

3.2 Stagnation, Deceleration and Decline of Productivity

Yield decline is noticed when in order to get the same yield level, increased amounts of inputs are needed. This trend has been felt by farmers in irrigated rice systems, and reported by Cassman et al. (1997). Yield decline may occur when management practices are held constant on intensive irrigated rice systems, owing to changes in soil properties and improper nutrient balance. It also leads to a depletion of soil fertility when inputs do not replenish extracted nutrients. The need for designing regional programmes of action to enhance and sustain rice production and to attain durable food security and environmental protection in the Asia-Pacific Region was also recommended by an earlier FAO Expert Consultation (FAO, 1996). It was recommended that different countries should undertake systematic studies on the actual and potential downward yield trends (deceleration, stagnation, and decline), quantify these processes and delineate the affected areas as accurately as possible. These could find a place in the research agenda of the CGIAR institutions like IRRI, WARDA and other centres. The development of more location specific technologies for crop management, Integrated Pest Management, Integrated Nutrient Management, technology transfer to further reduce the yield gap, and manpower development in appropriate areas would have to be handled by NARS. The sharing, testing and utilization of technology and knowledge across national boundaries have to be facilitated by the CGIAR institutions and FAO through various networks supported by them (Tran, 1996). FAO’s work on agro-ecological zones (AEZs) and the CGIAR’s Eco-Regional approach have lots of common ground for this new paradigm in technology assessment and transfer.

3.3 Declining Production Resources

Rice land is shrinking owing to industrialization, urbanization, crop diversification and other economic factors. Under these pressures in China, the rice area declined from 37 million ha in 1976 to 31 million ha in 1996. A similar trend of negative growth is visible in many countries even over a relatively shorter period from 1986-1996 (Table 3). Similarly, the number of rice farmers is also declining fast in most countries. In the Republic of Korea during 1965-95, the numbers of rice farmers declined by 67.3 percent. It is estimated that by the year 2025, more than 50 percent of people will live in urban areas compared to 30 percent in 1990. Growing urbanization and industrialization will further reduce the agricultural labour, increase the labour wages and farm size, needing more mechanization.

The Green Revolution technologies used in irrigated and favourable rainfed lowlands, which stabilized rice production and reduced prices, are almost exhausted for any further productivity gains (Cassman, 1994). In fact, a net decline in the irrigated area may be expected if problems of salinization, waterlogging, and intensification-induced degradation of soil is not handled forthwith. It is predicted that quality and quantity of water for agriculture will be reduced. Water will become scarce and costly for agriculture (Gleick, 1993) and the next war may be fought over water. The water to rice ratio of 5,000 litres of water to 1 kg of rice has remained unchanged over the last 30 years, yet the availability has declined by 40 to 60 percent in Asia. In addition industrial and agricultural pollutants have degraded the water quality in most countries.

3.3.1 Declining factor productivity

A significant problem in Asia is the yield decline now noticeable in irrigated and rice-wheat rotation areas. Long-term experiments conducted at IRRI, the Philippines, have indicated that the factor productivity has gone down over the years. At the fixed level of fertilizer, the productivity has been going down, and to get the same yield a higher level of fertilizer has to be added. Cassman and Pingali (1995) concluded that decline in the productivity is due to the degradation of the paddy resource base. They analyzed that at any nitrogen level, the long term experiment plots at IRRI are giving significantly lower yields today than in the late 1960’s or and early 1970’s. The same may hold true for farmers’ fields. Productivity of rice has been declining faster in mono-crop rice areas as well as under rice-wheat rotation (Cassman et al. 1997). Sizeable areas in Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and some in Vietnam and Thailand are under rice-wheat rotation. Thus, this problem needs attention soon without any sense of short-term complacency.

3.3.2 Deteriorating soil health

The continuous cropping of rice, either singly or in combination, has brought about a decline in soil health through nutrient deficiencies, nutrient toxicity, salinity and overall physical deterioration of the soil (Cassman et al. 1997). Saline and alkaline soils cover millions of hectares in several South and South-East Asian countries. Also upland rice cultivation has promoted soil erosion in the fields and clogged irrigation and drainage canals down stream. The over use or improper use of irrigation without drainage encouraged waterlogging, resulting in salinity build-up and other mineral toxicities. Proper technology backed by policy support and political will is needed for addressing these issues.

3.3.3 Low Efficiency of Nitrogen Fertilizers

Urea is the predominant source of nitrogen (N) in the rice fields. But its actual use by the rice plant is not more than 30 percent meaning thereby that 70 percent of the applied nitrogen goes either into the air or into the water, endangering the environment and human health. Further research is needed to understand and avert this situation. Related to nitrogen use efficiency is the area of proper use of nitrogenous fertilizer. Use of the chlorophyll meter and leaf colour chart to improve the congruence of N supply and crop demand is a good tool, for example, to save on fertilizer and optimize factor productivity. However, this knowledge intensive technology has its own hidden costs.

3.3.4 Ever-changing balance of rice and pests

Pests (including insect-pests and diseases) of rice evolved under the influence of host genes are changing the rice-environment. Thus, scientists are in a continuous war with ever changing races, pathotypes and biotypes of rice pests. New and more potent genes, being added continuously using conventional or biotechnological tools, fight a losing battle. But these efforts are essential to add stability to production and avoid the recurrence of the great Bengal famine of the Indian sub-continent, or brown plant hopper catastrophe of Indonesia and the Philippines, or blast and cold damage experienced in the Republic of Korea and Japan during 1996.

3.3.5 Aging of rice farmers

The average age of rice farmers is increasing in almost every country in proportion to rate of its industrialization. The younger generation is moving away from agriculture in general, and backbreaking rice farming in particular. The result is that only the old generation is staying with the rice farming, which has manifold implications. This also raises a serious socio-political issue.

3.3.6 Increasing cost of production

By the adoption of modern rice varieties and technologies, the unit cost of production and global rice prices came down. But since the beginning of the 1990’s, unit production costs are beginning to rise and rice farmers are facing declining profits. A stagnant yield frontier and diminishing returns to further intensification are the primary reasons for the reversal in profitability. Contemporaneous changes in market factors - especially land, labour and water - are driving up input prices. Rapid withdrawal of labour from the agricultural sector, diversion of land for other agricultural and non-agricultural purposes, increased competition for water, and withdrawal of subsidies for inputs have contributed to the current situation and may worsen it in the future. Politically, sound lower rice prices are welcome but who is losing?

3.4 Rice Trade and Price Incentive

Although less than 5 percent of the rice production is traded in the international market, yet it influences the local rice prices. GATT has increased pressure to liberalize trade and to open up rice markets in the middle and high-income countries. It has also an indirect effect on research priority setting and rice production by introducing a market-oriented decision making process. Though a modest expansion in rice trade can be expected due to opening of the closed markets of Japan and Republic of, yet due to a special “rice clause” the Philippines and Indonesia negotiated for tariff reductions. The tariff reduction by USA and EU may lead to additional exports of specialty rice and global trade may increase in general. Subsidies at input level by individual countries may reduce production costs marginally. The movement from subsistence to market-oriented rainfed production may bring in additional changes (Pingali et al., 1997). Given the long-term impact of GATT on increasing competitiveness among ecosystems, irrigated ecosystem may get 50 percent of the research share. Issues of intensification versus diversification, yield enhancement versus quality improvement, knowledge-intensive technologies versus farmers time, private sector versus public funded research need further investigation and alignment to set research priorities (Pingali et al., 1997).

It is extraordinary that the tremendous efforts being made to lift rice productivity through modifications and manipulations of the rice plant and its environment, are not matched by corresponding efforts to address the dramatic post-harvest losses of 13 to 34 percent (Chandler, 1979) that continue to occur through much of the rice growing world. Part of the productivity gains that have been laboriously achieved through decades of research and development are simply thrown away after harvest in many cases.

Weeds reduce rice yield by competing for space, nutrients, light and water, and by serving as hosts for pests and diseases. Under farmers’ conditions, weed control is not generally done properly or timely, resulting in severe yield reduction. In Asia, losses run up to 11.8 percent of potential production. Effective weed control requires knowledge of the names, distribution, ecology, and biology of weeds in the rice-growing regions. One or another form of weed control has been used during the last 10,000 years (De Datta, 1981), but no single weed-control measure gives continuous and best weed control in all the situations. Various weed control methods including complementary practices, hand weeding, mechanical weeding, chemical weeding, biological control, and integrated approaches are available (De Datta, 1981). As mentioned earlier, these methods need to be fine-tuned for specific regions, ecosystems, cropping systems, and economic groups.

It is worth mentioning also that red or wild rice has become a major problem of rice production in Malaysia, the Central Plain in Thailand and the Mekong Delta in Vietnam where direct seeding has been increasingly practiced.

3.7 Biotic and Abiotic Stresses

Rice has been under cultivation over thousands of years and in 115 countries. As a result, it has served as a host for a number of diseases and insect-pests, 54 in the temperate zone, and about 500 in tropical countries. Of the major diseases, 45 are fungal, 10 bacterial, 15 viral (Ou, 1985), and 75 are insect-pests and nematodes. Realizing the economic losses caused by them, efforts have been directed to understand the genetic basis of resistance and susceptibility. The studies directed to understand the host-plant interaction in rice have given rise to specialized breeding programs for resistance to diseases and insect-pests. Ten major bacterial diseases have been identified in rice (Ou, 1985). The major ones causing economic losses in any rice growing country are bacterial blight, bacterial leaf streak, and bacterial sheath rot. Many of the serious rice diseases are caused by fungi. Some of the diseases like blast, sheath blight, brown spot, narrow brown leaf spot, sheath rot and leaf scald are of economic significance in many rice growing countries of the world. Twelve virus diseases of rice have been identified but the important ones are tungro, grassy stunt, ragged stunt, orange leaf (in Asia), hoja blanca (America), stripe and dwarf virus (in temperate Asia). Brown plant hoppers, stem borers and gall midges are among the major insect-pests in rice production.

4.1 Raising the Yield Ceiling

The yield barrier of about 10 t/ha set by IR 8 (140 days) has been broken on a per day productivity front only by the shorter duration varieties (110 - 115 days). But to raise the yield ceiling by breaking the yield barrier set by IR 8, new approaches need to be implemented vigorously. These could be feasible by using the concepts of hybrid rice and the New Plant Type (“super rice”). However, the New Plant Type is not yet available to the farmers, and hybrid rice remains the only viable means to increase yield potential in rice at present.

In narrowing the yield gap it is also necessary to raise the ceiling of yield potential for further increase in rice yield, where applicable. The yield potential of rice is 10 t/ha under tropical conditions and 13 t/ha under temperate conditions. The present technology of hybrid rice can increase the yield ceiling by 15-20 percent compared to the best commercial varieties. The New Plant Type of rice, which has been developed by IRRI, may raise the present yield potential by 25-30 percent (Khush, 1995). Rice biotechnology, which has recently made considerable progress, may also provide an opportunity to increase the rice yield in a more effective and sustainable manner.

To break the current yield potential barrier, IRRI scientists proposed New Plant Type (NPT) rice, referred to in the media as “Super Rice”. The basic architecture of the plant has been redesigned to produce only productive tillers (4-5 per plant), to optimize the allocation of assimilates to the panicles (0.6 harvest index), to increase nutrient and water capture by roots (vigorous roots), and thicker culm to resist lodging under heavy fertilization. Reduced tillering is thought to facilitate synchronous flowering, uniform panicle size, and efficient use of horizontal space (Janoria, 1989). Low-tillering genotypes are reported to have a larger proportion of high-density grains. A single semi-dominant gene controlled the low tillering trait, and this gene has a pleiotropic effect on culm length, culm thickness, and panicle size. The future rice plant (NPT) is also expected to have larger panicle (200-250 grains) as compared to 100-120 of current varieties, sturdy stems to bear the weight of larger panicles and heavy grain weight, and give high (13-15 t/ha) yields (Khush, 1995). The NPT rice will be amenable to direct seeding and dense planting and, therefore, would increase land productivity significantly. While architecturally, the design is virtually complete, it has not been possible to realize the full potential (15 t/ha) of the New Plant Type. One of the principal limitations is the inability to fill all of the large number of 200-250 spikelets. Addressing this problem will require further intensive research into the physiology of photosynthesis, source - sink relationships, and translocation of the assimilates to the sink. Incorporation of better disease and insect-pest resistance and improvement of grain quality would be highly desirable, which are also being currently addressed.

Hybrid rice has become a reality over a period of 30 years. The rice area in China (Virmani, 1994 Yuan, 1996) under hybrid rice has reached more than 60 percent. Countries like India, Vietnam, Myanmar and the Philippines have a strong interest in this direction. The Government of India has set a target of putting 2 million ha under hybrid rice by the year 2000. All the rice hybrids grown in India, Vietnam, the Philippines, and most in China are indica hybrids. In the northern part of China, japonica hybrids are under cultivation. Now it is proven beyond doubt that indica x tropical japonica hybrids give higher yields than indica x indica hybrids. It is apparent that the next breakthrough in yield may be set in motion by the use of indica x tropical japonica and indica x NPT rice (Virmani, 1994). Currently the three-line system of hybrid rice production is being followed. But it is known that the two-line system, based on the Photosensitive Genetic Male Sterility System (PGMS) or the Thermosensitive Genetic Male Sterility System (TGMS) are more efficient and cost effective. NARS must re-orient their hybrid rice breeding programmes accordingly. The one-line system using the concept of apomixis is under active research at IRRI and NARS will benefit the moment any system becomes available.

Over the last two decades humanity has acquired biological knowledge that allows it to tamper with the very nature of creation. We are only at the beginning of a process that will transform our lives and societies to a much larger extent than all inventions of the last decades. Ownership, property rights, and patenting are terms now linked to living matter, and tools to create them. No global code of conduct is yet in sight. Biotechnological developments (James, 1997) are poised to complement and speed up the conventional rice improvement approaches in many areas (Khush, 1995), which could have immediate and long term impacts on breaking the yield ceiling, stabilizing the production and making rice nutritionally superior. In summary, the tools of genetic engineering will help to increase and stabilize rice yields under varied situations of its growing, and thereby reducing the yield gap. These tools could be used to introduce superior kinds of plant resistance through wide hybridization, anther culture, marker aided selection, and transformation. These tools, and tagging of quantitative trait loci would help enhance the yield potential. Rice transformation enables the introduction of single genes that can selectively perturb yield-determining factors. Approaches like differential regulation of a foreign gene in the new host for partitioning sucrose and starch in leaves, the antisense approach as used in potato, and transposable elements Ac and Ds from maize have opened up new vistas in breaking yield barriers (Bennett et al. 1994). Identifying the physiological factors causing differences in growth rate among rice genotypes seems fundamental to success in germplasm development for greater yield potential. Increasing the rate of biomass production, increasing the sink size, and decreasing the lodging susceptibility would enhance these efforts (Cassman, 1994).

4.1.4 Stable performing variety

Superior yielding varieties are available (Chaudhary, 1996), which can take farmers’ yield to 8.0 tonnes/ha if grown properly. But their performance is variable due to higher proportion of Genotype X Environment (G X E) interaction. G X E interaction is a variety dependent trait (Kang, 1990 Gauch, 1992 Chaudhary, 1996). While the genetic reasons of stability in the performance may be difficult to understand, resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses, and insensitivity to crop management practices are the major reasons. There is a need to identify and release stable yielding varieties even on a specific area basis, as against relatively less stable but on a wide area basis. There are strong genotypic differences among varieties for this interaction, providing opportunities for selecting varieties which are more stable across environments and methods are available to estimate these (Kang, 1990 Gauch, 1992). Thus, two varieties with similar yield may have different degrees of stability. During the final selection process, before release, it is possible to select varieties which are more stable and thus giving stable performance even in poorer environments or management regimes.

4.2 Agronomic Manipulation

Other than using genetic means of raising yield ceiling, avenues of agronomic manipulation need to be explored. The success story of Bangladesh in becoming a self-sufficient country with stable yield by using Boro rice instead of deepwater rice is a case in point. This is a case of matching a technology in its proper perspectives.

4.2.1 Improving nitrogen (N) recovery efficiency, resourcing and management

Nitrogen being the major nutrient and in demand, it is applied in every crop season. Thus, efforts in improving the N recovery-efficiency will save quantity and cost, and reduce the cost of rice production. Avenues exist to enhance the recovery further, and also to augment its supply (Table 4).

Nitrogen is the nutrient that most frequently limits rice production. At current levels of N use efficiency, the rice world will require at least to double the 10 million tonnes of N fertilizer that are annually used for rice production. Global agriculture relies heavily on N fertilizers derived from petroleum, which in turn, is vulnerable to political and economic fluctuations in the oil market. N fertilizers, therefore, are expensive inputs, costing agriculture more than US$45 billion annually (Ladha et al., 1997).

Rice suffers from a mismatch of its N demand and N supplied as fertilizer, resulting in a 50-70 percent loss of applied N fertilizer. Two basic approaches may be used to solve this problem. One is to regulate the timing of N application based on needs of the rice plant, thus partly increasing the efficiency of the plant’s use of the applied N. The other is to increase the ability of the rice root system to fix its own N (Table 4). The latter approach is a long-term strategy, but it would have enormous environmental benefits while helping resource-poor farmers. Although N use has increased, still a large number of farmers use very little of it, primarily due to non-availability, lack of cash to buy it, and poor yield response or high risk. Furthermore, more than half of the applied N is lost due to de-nitrification, ammonia volatilization, leaching and runoff. It is in this context that biologically fixed N assumes importance. Furthermore, farmers more easily adopt a genotype or variety with useful traits than they do with crop and soil management practices that may be associated with additional costs.

Table 4. Conventional and Future Biological Nitrogen Fixation (BNF) Systems, their Potential and Feasibility


Cash crops

Asia is noted for several plantation cash crops, of which the most important are tea, rubber, palm oil, coconuts, and sugarcane. Jute, a commercial fibre, though it has decreased in significance, remains a major export crop of Bangladesh. Cotton is important to the states of Central Asia and is also a major crop in India and Pakistan. Rubber was brought to Asia from Brazil in the 19th century the major producers are Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia, with lesser amounts from India, China, and the Philippines. Palm oil has become important in Indonesia and Malaysia. Tea is grown on commercial plantations in the uplands of India, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia and China, Taiwan, and Japan produce several types of tea on smallholdings. Coconuts are an important crop in the Philippines, Indonesia, India, and Sri Lanka. India, the world’s leader in sugarcane production, grows primarily for domestic use, whereas the Philippines, Indonesia, and Taiwan produce for both domestic consumption and export. Tobacco is grown widely, notably in China, India, Turkey, Central Asia, Pakistan, and Indonesia. Date palms are cultivated, particularly in the Arabian Peninsula. Licorice is grown in Turkey. A large variety of spices are grown in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia.


2 HISTORY AND FOOD

Liberia was founded in 1822 for the resettlement of freed American slaves. Its name comes from the Latin word that means ȯree." The capital city of Monrovia is named after the U.S. president James Monroe, who established the Republic of Liberia. Much of the culture and foods from Liberia are adapted from African American culture. This can be seen in the American currency that is often used to purchase groceries and in the American English language that is spoken on the streets of Monrovia. Rioting Liberians calling for cheaper rice in 1980 supported a failed coup against the American-Liberian government. There are thirty native Liberians for every one American Liberian, but American Liberians have control over the official government. Native Liberians fought a civil war against American Liberians from 1988�. Since then, the country has struggled to recover and make enough food for its people.


Interesting facts about rice

Rice is a grain or cereal, like wheat or oats.

A grain is the whole seed of a plant that is grown, harvested and processed for consumption.

Rice is the seed harvested from the long, grass-like stalk of the Oryza sativa plant (Asian rice) or the Oryza glaberrima (African rice).

As a cereal grain, it is the most widely consumed staple food for a large part of the world’s human population, especially in Asia.

Rice is grown on every continent on Earth, except Antarctica.

It is the third-highest worldwide production, after sugarcane and maize (corn).

Chinese legends attribute the domestication of rice to Shennong, the legendary emperor of China and inventor of Chinese agriculture.

In 2011, genetic evidence showed that all forms of Asian rice, sprang from a single domestication that occurred 8,200–13,500 years ago in the Pearl River valley region of Ancient China.

From East Asia, rice was spread to South and Southeast Asia. Rice was introduced to Europe through Western Asia, and to the Americas through European colonization.

There are more than 40,000 varieties of cultivated rice (the grass species Oryza sativa) said to exist. But the exact figure is uncertain.

African rice has been cultivated for 3500 years. There are also varieties of African rice.

Although its parent species are native to Asia and certain parts of Africa, centuries of trade and exportation have made it commonplace in many cultures worldwide.

Rice, a monocot, is normally grown as an annual plant, although in tropical areas it can survive as a perennial and can produce a ratoon crop for up to 30 years.

The rice plant can grow to 1–1.8 m (3.3–5.9 ft) tall, occasionally more depending on the variety and soil fertility.

It has long, slender leaves 50–100 cm (20–39 in) long and 2–2.5 cm (0.79–0.98 in) broad.

The small wind-pollinated flowers are produced in a branched arching to pendulous inflorescence 30–50 cm (12–20 in) long.

The edible seed is a grain (caryopsis) 5–12 mm (0.20–0.47 in) long and 2–3 mm (0.079–0.118 in) thick. It can come in many shapes and colors.

Brown rice is whole grain rice, with the inedible outer hull removed white rice is the same grain with the hull, bran layer and cereal germ removed. Red rice, gold rice, black rice and purple rice are all whole rices, but with a differently-pigmented outer layer.

Rice cultivation is well-suited to countries and regions with low labor costs and high rainfall, as it is labor-intensive to cultivate and requires ample water.

However, rice can be grown practically anywhere, even on a steep hill or mountain area with the use of water-controlling terrace systems.

Methods of growing differ greatly in different localities, but in most Asian countries the traditional hand methods of cultivating and harvesting rice are still practiced.

The fields are prepared by plowing (typically with simple plows drawn by water buffalo), fertilizing (usually with dung or sewage), and smoothing (by dragging a log over them).

The seedlings are started in seedling beds and, after 30 to 50 days, are transplanted by hand to the fields, which have been flooded by rain or river water.

During the growing season, irrigation is maintained by dike-controlled canals or by hand watering. Depending on the variety, a rice crop usually reaches maturity at around 105–150 days after crop establishment. The fields are allowed to drain before cutting.

Harvesting activities include cutting, stacking, handling, threshing, cleaning, and hauling.

Rice Production in 2016 was 472.04 million tons. The three largest producers of rice in 2016 were China (145 million tonnes), India (106 Mt), and Indonesia (41 Mt).

Asia alone both produces and consumes more than 90% of the world’s rice.

Rice provides 20% of the world’s dietary energy supply, while wheat supplies 19% and maize (corn) 5%.

Nutrients provided by rice include carbohydrate, B vitamins (e.g., thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate), iron, zinc, magnesium and other components such as fibre.

Rice does not have sodium or cholesterol and barely any fat. Rice is naturally gluten free.

The health benefits of rice include its ability to provide fast and instant energy, regulate and improve bowel movements, stabilize blood sugar levels, and slow down the aging process, while also providing an essential source of vitamin B1 to the human body. Other benefits include its ability to boost skin health, increase the metabolism, aid in digestion, reduce high blood pressure, help weight loss efforts, improve the immune system and provide protection against dysentery, cancer, and heart disease.

The nutrient value of rice depends on the variety and cooking method.

The varieties of rice are typically classified as long-, medium-, and short-grained. The grains of long-grain rice tend to remain intact after cooking medium-grain rice becomes more sticky. A stickier medium-grain rice is used for sushi the stickiness allows rice to hold its shape when molded. Short-grain rice is often used for rice pudding.

Sake is a Japanese rice wine made by fermenting rice that has been polished to remove the bran.

Grains of rice are used by some jewellery designers to make personalised pieces of jewellery. The most classic example is one’s name written on a grain of rice, which is then kept in a small glass vial, and worn as a pendant.

Rice has been found in mediaeval Chinese walls where they were added for strength and stability.

The Banaue Rice Terraces are 2,000-year-old terraces that were carved into the mountains of Ifugao in the Philippines by ancestors of the indigenous people. The Rice Terraces are commonly referred to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”.

In Burma the average person consumes about 500 pounds (225 kilograms) of rice a year. In the United States, the average person consumes 25 pounds (11 kilograms) of rice per year.

The Chinese word for rice is the same as the word for food in Thailand when you call your family to a meal you say, “eat rice” in Japan the word for cooked rice is the same as the word for meal.

First used in English in the middle of the 13th century, the word “rice” derives from the Old French ris, which comes from Italian riso, in turn from the Latin oriza, which derives from the Greek ὄρυζα (oruza).

In Japan where there is an almost mystical aura surrounding the planting, harvesting and preparation of rice it is believed that soaking rice before cooking releases the life energy and gives the eater a more peaceful soul.

In India, rice is associated with prosperity and the Hindu god of wealth, Lakshmi. In Japan, it’s
associated with the sun-god Amatereshu-Omi-Kami, and in Thailand, where men aren’t allowed to enter rice paddies, the deity Mae Posop, who is considered to be the ‘mother of rice’ deity.

Rice is a symbol of life and fertility, which is why rice was traditionally thrown at weddings.

In China a typical greeting, instead of “How are you?” is “Have you had your rice today?”. A greeting to which one is expected to always reply, “Yes”.


In 2012, the world produced about 738.1 million tons of rice. About 162.3 million hectares of land was dedicated to rice cultivation in the same year. In 2012, 4.5 tons per hectare was the average farm yield for rice.

Developing countries are the major players in the world rice trade. Only about 1% of the rice produced globally is traded. Developing countries account for about 83% of exports and 85% imports of rice. While many countries are significant importers of rice, only five countries are the major rice exporters. The ranking of these countries by export volume of rice has greatly altered over the years. In 2002, Thailand, Vietnam, China, the US, and India, the five top rice exporters in decreasing order of exported quantities, were responsible for about three-quarters of the world’s rice exports. In 2010, however, the three top exporters were Thailand, Vietnam, and India. By 2012, India became the world’s top rice exporter while Thailand slipped to the third position after Vietnam. The three countries accounted for 70% of the world’s rice exports.

According to the latest figures of 2016/2017, the five principal rice exporting countries in the world are India, Thailand, Vietnam, Pakistan, and the United States in decreasing order of amount of rice exported. The primary variety of rice exported by India is the aromatic Basmati variety. Thailand and Vietnam specialize in the export of the Jasmine variety of rice.


Coffee, couscous, and rice

Sometime before 1000 AD, soldiers in East Africa also began to eat coffee beans when they needed extra energy for fighting. Soon East African traders were selling coffee to Islamic traders from Yemen. Around the same time, people in North Africa began to make their millet into couscous, which replaced millet porridge (puls) as the basic staple food of North Africa from the Atlantic to Tunis. The adoption of rice in East and West Africa may have influenced the switch, because couscous looks a lot like rice.

By this time, most people in North Africa, West Africa, the Congo river basin, and East Africa were farmers. In south-east Africa most people were cattle herders. Only in the most dry desert areas, or in the wettest, thickest part of the rain forest, were people still hunting and gathering most of their food.

Did you find out what you wanted to know about medieval African food? Let us know in the comments!