Nutritional problems in rice-consuming countries

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The nutritional situation in rice-consuming countries varies substantially depending on a web of interacting socio-economic, developmental, cultural, environmental and dietary factors. Regardless of the region, most rice-dependent economies have high population growth rates, low rice yields (except for China, Korea and Indonesia) and low gross national product (IRRI, 1989), (Table 9). Landholdings are small, low percentages of the population are economically active and literacy rates are variable in tropical Asia (Asian Development Bank, 1989), (Table 9).

TABLE 9 - Key indicators of developing Asian countries, rough rice yield and income elasticity for rice

Country Economically active population, 1985 (%) Percent agriculture in economically active population, 1985 Cropped land per caput, 1985 (ha) Literacy rate 1985 (%)(yr) Life expectancy at birth, 1985 Per caput GNP, 1987 (US$) Rough rice yield 1988 (t/ha) Income elasticity for rice 1988a
Afghanistan 30.1 57.9 0.49 23 (37) - 2.29  
Bangladesh 28.5 71.8 0.09 33 51 160 2.36 0.125
Bhutan 44.6 91.6 0.07 (10)b 44 - 1.66  
Cambodia 49.5 72.3 0.42 (66) - - 1.33  
China - - - (59) 69 300 5.35 0.299
Hong Kong 51.7 1.6 0.00 88 76 8260    
India 38.6 68.1 0.22 43 57 300 2.54 0.237
Indonesia 38.1 52.8 0.13 74 55 450 4.11 0.446
Korea                
Republic of 40.7 30.1 0.05 (96) 69 2 690 6.56 0.174
Laos 48.9 73.7 0.22 84 45 - 1.91  
Malaysia 39.7 36.7 0.28 73 70 1 800 2.68 -0.349
Myanmar 44.9 50.0 0.27 81 59 - 2.26 0.524
Nepal 41.7 92.4 0.14 25 47 160 2.26 0.435
Pakistan 29.7 52.1 0.20 29 51 350 2.35  
Philippines 36.5 49.2 0.14 86 63 590 2.64 0.324
Singapore 47.9 1.3 0 .00 86 73 7 940 - 0.522
Sri Lanka 36.5 52.5 0.14 87 70 400 3.04  
Taiwan,Province of China - - - 92 73 - 4.86 -0.591
Thailand 51.9 67.7 0.38 91 64 840 2.15 -0.328
Viet Nam 48.2 64.1 0.11 (84) 65 - 2.97  

a Japan, 0.530.

b Figures in parentheses are 1980 values.

Sources: Asian Development Bank, 1989: IRRI, 1991a (rough rice yield); Huang, David and Duff, 1991 (income elasticity).

Malnutrition is not just a problem of food availability; it is also a problem of income and food and income distribution (Flinn and Unnevehr, 1984). Because rice is a major source of income in rural Asia as well as a key component of private expenditure, increased productivity can reduce malnutrition both by increasing the incomes of the poorest rice producers and by increasing the availability of rice and the stability of rice prices.

A summary of nutritional problems prevalent in rice-consuming countries is presented. As 90 percent of the rice is produced and eaten by populations in Southeast Asia, the description is biased toward that region.

Among the major nutritional problems prevalent in rice-consuming countries, inadequate and unbalanced dietary intake is the most important one. In combination with other compounding factors, it leads to widespread prevalence of protein-energy malnutrition (PEM), nutritional anaemia (particularly from iron deficiency), vitamin A deficiency and iodine deficiency disorders (Chong, 1979; Scrimshaw, 1988; Khor, Tee and Kandiah, 1990). In addition, dietary deficiencies of thiamine, riboflavin, calcium, vitamin C and zinc are prevalent in many areas but often are not manifested in overt clinical syndromes.

These nutritional problems are not caused directly by the consumption of rice per se but reflect an overall impact of multiple causative factors similar to those of other developing countries where rice is not a major staple.

Food availability and dietary intake

Data on availability of food and nutrients are derived from FAO Food balance sheets and from nutrition surveys and studies on food consumption.

Food balance sheet data provide estimates of per caput food and nutrient availability taking into consideration food production, imports, exports, non-food uses, manufactured foods and wastage at the retail level. A comparison of daily nutrient supply for developed and developing countries (FAO, 1990b), (Table 10) shows that the Far East has the lowest availability of fat, retinol, thiamine, riboflavin and ascorbic acid. Individual data pertaining to rice-eating countries (Table 11 ) show that in addition to dietary energy many rice-consuming countries have unsatisfactory levels of fat, calcium, iron, riboflavin and ascorbic acid. When wastage at the household level, including cooking loss, is taken into account the supply situation becomes more precarious.

Available data from nutrition surveys are often fragmentary and do not pertain to all countries. Even when data are available they may not always be representative and are often out of date. Table 12 presents examples of available data on average consumption of energy and protein from selected countries. Overall this consumption is unsatisfactory when compared with availability of these nutrients, except in China and Mauritius (Table 11). There appears to be a large gap between availability of food and actual consumption, which indicates a significant influence of factors related to food access and utilization. However, these intake values strongly suggest the possibility of widespread prevalence of protein-energy malnutrition in young children. There is also enough indication from available consumption studies to suggest that special groups such as young children and pregnant mothers have dietary intakes that are low in energy, protein, vitamin A, iron, riboflavin and calcium.

TABLE 10 - Comparative daily provisional supply of nutrients per caput in developing and developed countries, 1986-88

Region Energy (kcal) Protein (g) Fat (g) Calcium (mg) Iron (mg) Vitamin A (g retinol equivalents) Thiamine (mg) Ribo- flavin (mg) Niacin (mg) Ascorbic acid (mg)
World 2 671 70.0 65.8 472 14.4 900 1.39 1.01 15.4 94
Developed countries 3 398 102.7 128.7 860 16.1 1329 1.61 1.68 20.9 138
Developing countries 2 434 59.4 45.4 346 13.9 760 1.31 0.79 13.5 80
Africa 2 119 51.1 37.4 363 17.8 859 1.37 0.80 13.8 89
Latin America 2732 69.1 68.6 499 13.5 712 1.32 1.14 14.6 103
Near East 2 914 77.2 68.7 498 18.9 854 1.87 1.12 15.9 103
Far East 2 220 53.2 39.2 352 13.3 588 1.22 0.70 13.2 55
Others 2 379 51.3 61.8 402 14.3 1342 1.16 1.06 15.4 202

Source: FAO, 1990b.

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