Rice is Life - Recent trends of rice consumption in Sri Lanka

Rice is Life – Recent trends of rice consumption in Sri Lanka

Rice is the staple food of more than half of the world’s seven billion population. However, more than 90% of this rice is consumed in Asia, where it is a staple for a majority of the population, including the region’s 560 million hungry people. The success of the Green Revolution in the early 1960s witnessed a steady rise in Asia’s per capita rice consumption from 85 kilograms per year in the early ’60s to nearly 103 kilograms in the early ’90s.

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The world average annual per capita consumption of rice is 57.2 Kgs and forecasted value for the year 2024, is 58.4 Kgs with showing stability. The major consuming region as Asia and Pacific, the annual per capita consumption is 84.9 and is projected to 86.8 Kgs in the year 2024 with a slight increase. The annual per capita rice consumption is the highest in countries like Vietnam, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines and ranges 122 Kgs to 191 Kgs per person. Food and rice expenditures account for a high share of household expenditure with rice alone accounting for 75 per cent of total calorie needs in Cambodia.[/perfectpullquote]

Among all the foods and beverages, rice has long been the ‘star’ in Sri Lanka and the recorded history of rice consumption in the island goes back to the arrival of Prince Vijaya in the 6th Century BC. The nutritional characteristics of rice vary mainly according to the post-harvest activities. Among them, particularly influential are the type of processing, the degree of milling, storage, and cooking practices. Although rice can be consumed after the different degree of transformation, it also depends on the consumer taste. Nearly half of the total daily calorie intake of an average person in Sri Lanka comes from this food item

The rice consumption norm used by Cambodia for food budget planning exercises is high at 153 kg per capita per annum. The average annual consumption of rice per person fell to 61.8 kilograms in 2017, from 71.2 kg, 2011 in Korea. Meanwhile, the rice consumption has doubled in the US over the last 20 years. Current intake of rice in the US is approximately 21.2 pounds per capita/year, with more than 70% being enriched, fortified white rice. This may be the result of a public emphasis on healthy lifestyles, the rising demand for gluten-free foods, or continued introduction and domestic use of new rice-based products. Like most Asian governments, Sri Lanka still views rice as a strategic commodity due to its importance in the diet of the poor in employment and income generation of farmers. Paddy is cultivated in almost all parts of the country, except at very high altitudes. It is the main contributor to the rural economy, as the majority of rural households are engaged in rice production as their main or supplementary source of livelihood. The relationship between Sri Lankan life and rice cultivation is so intimate, that it permeates all aspects of Sri Lankan culture and history.

Among all the foods and beverages, rice has long been the ‘star’ in Sri Lanka and the recorded history of rice consumption in the island goes back to the arrival of Prince Vijaya in the 6th Century BC. The nutritional characteristics of rice vary mainly according to the post-harvest activities. Among them, particularly influential are the type of processing, the degree of milling, storage, and cooking practices. Although rice can be consumed after the different degree of transformation, it also depends on the consumer taste. Nearly half of the total daily calorie intake of an average person in Sri Lanka comes from this food item. And rice is also a major source of protein and it contains a substantial amount of zinc and niacin.

Paddy/Rice sector plays a vital role in the economy of Sri Lanka by providing livelihood to nearly 0.9 million farm families island-wide. After 2009 the country’s paddy production gradually increased due to the increase of the contribution to the national production from the Eastern and Northern provinces as a result of the ending of the prolonged war. During the period of 2008-2015, the country was able to achieve self-sufficiency in rice and produce more than the requirement in almost all years. In the year 2015 paddy production of the country reached the ever highest in history, which was 4.8 million metric tons. Sri Lanka ranks well among South Asian countries in terms of rice productivity. The present rice productivity is nearly 4.3 Mt/Ha and it was a more than six-fold increase after the independence.

Today, patterns of cultivation, marketing, and consumption of rice are changing faster than ever before. Yet there are strong forces working to stabilize and conserve rice systems. Key factors that affect the demand for rice are income, prices, population growth and urbanization in different ways. As income rises, consumers tend to shift from standard-quality rice to high-quality rice. The political economy of rice is changing, and that shapes rice production and consumption. Rice remains a strategic food security crop for policymakers and voters. There are tremendous variations in tastes and preferences for rice across the world. The demand for rice is shifting from lower-quality rice to higher-quality rice.

Demand for food commodities

The ratio of expenditure on food and drink to total expenditure is called food ratio. According to the 2016 report, the average food ratio is 34.8% in Sri Lanka and the sectoral composition is 31.2% in urban, 35.4% in rural and 48.5 in the estate sector. This implies that a household in the estate sector spends nearly 50 per cent of its expenditure on food. Among low-income groups, the percentage expenditure on rice is comparably higher.

The Household Income and Expenditure Survey of the Department of Census and Statistics revealed that the expenditure on rice as a percentage of total food expenditure in 2006/07, 2009/10, 2012/13 and 2016 was 13.9, 17.3, 13.6 and 12.5 per cent respectively. Changing prices, income, and other socio-economic factors have many implications for the demand for food commodities at household and country levels.

Per capita consumption of rice is an important indicator when analyzing the rice flow of the country within different sectors and within different income levels. According to the various Household Income and Expenditure Surveys, the annual per capita rice consumption was 103.7 kg, 107.9 kg, 108.8 kg, 107.8 kg and 104.5 in 1986/87, 2006/07, 2009/10, 2012/13 and 2016 respectively. It shows an increase, stabilizing and slightly declining trend during the last four decades of the period.

According to the consumption data, household rice consumption has declined over the decades in the urban sector from 1980 to 2016. The rural sector also shows a reduction of rice consumption during the period of 1980-2016. However, during that period consumption in the estate sector shows stability. In 1980/81 monthly household consumption of rice was 40.9 Kgs and it has declined in 2016 to 36.00 Kgs. When considering the variety of wise monthly rice consumption, raw rice is the highest at nearly 15 Kgs in 2016 survey. The rice consumption pattern among the sectors, households in rural sector show the highest consumption of Kekulu rice (raw red and white) and household in urban sector consumed the lowest quantity of Kekulu rice (raw red and white).

Regional variation of rice consumption

In Sri Lanka, two types of rice varieties are mainly grown: short grain (Samba) and long grain (Nadu) varieties. There is another categorization based on the type of processing; parboiled and raw (Kekulu). Statistics reveal that overall parboiled rice consumption represents 54.3% of the total rice consumption. Nadu consumption is dominant among parboiled rice consumers. However, there is a significant variation in rice consumption by varieties when provinces are considered. When provincial data is considered, it varies from 22.3 in the Northern province to 42 kg in Uva province.

This variation is mainly due to a change in consumption habits resulting from urbanization and ethnic differences. For instance, Tamil community residing in Northern Province consumed non-rice foods mainly made of black gram flour or wheat flour in addition to rice. In the Western province, rice consumption is relatively low due to urbanization. Urban consumers consume diverse foods due to convenience in preparation and increased incomes. It’s clear that the highest and the lowest consumption of rice have been recorded from Uva and Northern provinces respectively. The highest and the lowest Kekulu rice consumption was also recorded from Uva and Northern provinces respectively. When considering the samba rice consumption, the highest and the lowest consumption has noted from the Western and Uva provinces respectively. Parboiled Nadu rice consumption is high in North Western and North Central provinces. The lowest consumption of Nadu rice has also been recorded from Uva province.

Need of value addition to rice

While significant gains have been made in relation to poverty reduction and development in Sri Lanka, under-nutrition still affect a considerable number of people who survive on less than the minimum kcal per day in some rural and estate sector DS divisions. Rice is the major source of daily calorie intake source of all Sri Lankans. In some rural and estate sector, DS Divisions poverty rates are still high and a number of poor people exist. Those peoples are the highly vulnerable groups in terms of food security, especially during the peak rice pricing periods.

According to the Demographic and Health Survey, 2016, among under-five children’s 17.3% are stunted, 15.1% are wasting and 20.5% underweight. In some rural and estate sector areas, the rates are extremely high. Under-nutrition among women is still prevalent in the country. According to the Household Income and Expenditure Survey, 2012/13 the percentage of the population not receiving a minimum level of dietary energy consumption is 47.8. All those factors reveal that the need for nutritional intervention especially to the low-income poor populations in rural estate and urban sectors to increase the nutritional status of the people. One of the easiest ways for that is the increase of nutrition of the staple food rice. At present, the Ministry of Health and World Food Programme (WFP) initiate to scale up the food fortification programme. Rice fortification provides an avenue to help combat micronutrient deficiency. Some countries like Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Philippines and the United States produce fortified rice.

Fortified rice kernels contain added micronutrients, but the look, the taste and cooking like ordinary rice. Therefore, fortified rice can deliver essential vitamins and minerals missing in many people’s meals, and can help ensure the poorest get the nutrition they need for an active and healthy life in their present diets. Another way of enhancing the nutritional levels of the people is promoting the consumption of traditional rice varieties like Suwandel, Kaluheenatiand Ma vee. Therefore, attention is needed for this type of interventions for enhancing the upgrading of rice utilization to ensure the food and nutritional security of the nation. Food demand patterns of a particular country play a vital role in developing policies. They assist to improve the nutritional status of individuals and households through identifying the most appropriate policy interventions. It is clear that as a staple food, rice consumption behaviour is very important when formulating the intervention policies related to the food security.

(W. A. Nalaka Wijesooriya – The writer is Research Officer attached to Marketing Food Policy and Agribusiness Division, Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute)