we actually self-sufficient in rice?
The coming Yala harvest is
expected to yield a surplus of about 200,000 metric tons over the
demand for the current year. This no doubt prompts people to think
that the country has achieved self-sufficiency in rice. Are we in
fact actually self-sufficient in rice?
in rice has been a cherished national goal and objective of successive
governments and politicians from even before independence. It is
an emotive issue often enmeshed with patriotism. Self-sufficiency
in rice is frequently confused with food security and economic arguments
are often of no consequence when either issue is discussed.
discussed here is neither the desirability of self-sufficiency nor
the broader issue of food security. It is a simpler one of whether
the country is self-sufficient in rice or not. Simple though the
issue is, the emotive connotations even on this issue could render
the discussion irrational and misleading. Therefore as to whether
we are really self-sufficient in rice at present is a controversial
situation is that at the present level of demand for rice, the country
does not require to import rice. In fact the supply from domestic
rice production is expected to exceed demand. There is no denying
the fact that rice production has increased significantly over the
past five decades.
At the time
of independence with a population of about 7 million the country
imported over one half the requirements of rice.
a population of 19 million we do not require to import rice. Part
of this self-sufficiency is owing to a shift in consumption to imported
wheat. Per capita wheat consumption has risen over the years to
reach 50 kilos per person now. Rice consumption per capita is about
twice that. Not withstanding this the higher level of self-sufficiency
in rice is an undeniable fact.
of self-sufficiency in rice is based on the present level of demand
for rice. However, If rice prices could be brought down, there would
be an increased demand for rice. This could reverse the trend towards
self-sufficiency. Rice consumption would increase and wheat consumption
would decline. This could have both economic and nutritional benefits
to the country, but the level of self-sufficiency would decline.
since a large proportion of people in the country, perhaps as much
as one fourth, do not have adequate food, if these persons are provided
with adequate food that would include more rice, we could be far
from being self-sufficient.
It must also
be recognised that good harvests are followed by lean periods. Therefore
the surplus of this year could well be followed by seasons of poor
harvests. To pronounce ourselves as self-sufficient in rice our
production in the good years must be able cope with the shortfalls
in production in drought or flood ridden years.
about self-sufficiency must also be tempered by the recognition
that there is an increase in our population by little over 1 per
cent each year. This means there are additional 200,000 mouths to
feed each year for at least the next five years. If the incomes
of persons rise their per capita rice consumption too would increase.
This increase in demand must be taken into account in determining
paddy production and marketing policies.
current situation can easily change with this increase in population.
When all these considerations are taken into account the fact is
that we cannot still celebrate the attainment of self-sufficiency.
We still require enhancing our paddy production, especially by increasing
national yields that are much lower than the potential. If the euphoria
of the increased rice production leads to complacency in our paddy
production strategies, then we may soon find ourselves once again
a rice deficit country.
It is most
important to realise in this context that agricultural development
policies that increase rice production have a rationale and justification.