The world's rice farmers will produce more rice than ever before in 2008, according to a new report from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. The FAO is predicting a rice harvest of 666 million tons, a 2.3 percent increase over 2007.
The increase in production won't be enough to significantly dent high prices, however, and may be slightly tamped down by the devastation wrought by Cyclone Nargis on Burma's rice bowl.
Why? Simply put, people are eating more rice.
According to the FAO, "Average world rice consumption per person is set to increase by 0.5 percent to 57.3 kilo per year, up from 57 kilo in 2007."
Whether that means going from one meal a day to two or three, or a Western-style epidemic of ballooning portion-sizes, the FAO doesn't say. But it should give some pause to those who would blame the spread of biofuels for everything that is suddenly awry in grain markets. While it is true that competition from other crops (corn, soy) is depressing rice production in the United States, almost everywhere else in the world, rice harvests are booming -- including Africa, where the FAO reports that "large expansions" are "anticipated in Ivory Coast, Egypt, Ghana, Guinea, Mali and Nigeria."