TFR 16 – Reducing Malnutrition in Developing Countries: Increasing Rice Production in South and Southeast Asia


Over the last hundred years, the extent of starvation and famine in the world, extreme indicators of poor health and nutrition, has diminished considerably. Nevertheless, the extent of malnutrition and hunger is a global problem of the first order. According to the assessment prepared for the 1974 World Food Conference in Rome, at least 460 million human beings are malnourished in developing market economies.

Solid progress in dealing with malnutrition will depend on action on many fronts, in a great variety of national and local situations. Improvements in income distribution and food distribution are of much importance. For the very poorest of the world's population, increased food production and lower food prices alone will not be sufficient to eliminate malnutrition. Unless their incomes are increased, they will continue to receive less than adequate nutrition, even if commercial demand is being satisfied at reasonable prices. Rapid population growth multiplies problems concerning food and other fundamental human needs; population planning should be an integral part of social and economic development.

While progress on these fronts is necessary, strategies can be most readily implemented and have the most immediate impact in lessening the food deficit in the area of increasing food production, and reducing crop and food wastes. Increasing food production is itself a very complex process, involving more intensive and extensive use of land and water, increased availability of basic agricultural inputs (e.g. fertilizers), appropriate agricultural policies and rural institutions, and expanded agricultural research. The potential for increasing food production in the developing countries is substantial, if the effort is made.

This report focuses on increasing rice production in South and Southeast Asia. About two-thirds of the world's malnourished live in this area. The 1985 "gap" between projected food demand and extrapolated food production in developing countries is concentrated in rice in Asia. While it is necessary to substantially increase production of all food crops in South and Southeast Asia in the coming years, rice is the staple food of most of Asia (72 percent of foodgrain consumption). Agronomically it is the most suitable crop for a monsoon climate such as that found over most of Asia, and it offers the highest yield among food staple cereals per unit of arable land.

The productivity of rice cultivation in Asia remains low, while at the same time the potential for production increases is quite high. Japanese rice yields now average about 6 metric tons per hectare, while the average in South and Southeast Asia is still only about 2 tons per hectare. The history of Japanese agriculture provides the clearest example of what can be seen as a four-stage progression in agricultural development, from primitive rice farming in the first stage to the structural transformation of the rural economy in the fourth. In any attempt to raise significantly overall Asian production of rice, the South and Southeast Asian nations, which have generally not yet completed the first two stages, deserve attention first. The latecomers have advantages in accelerating the development sequence found in Japan and a few other neighboring countries, and it may not be impossible for the tropical Asian countries to double their rice production within fifteen years.

The major factors affecting increased rice productivity include the use of modern high-yield varieties, fertilizer, and agricultural chemicals; irrigation; and the improvement of rural institutions. There is a particularly close correlation between the irrigation rate and mean national productivity of rice cultivation. Such a correlation does not itself establish a causal link. Other factors interact with good water control, such as use of modern varieties and more fertilizer, in lifting yields. Nevertheless, adequate water control can be considered a basic prerequisite for full exploitation of modern rice production practices. Asian experts on rice production generally accept the idea that expansion and improvement of irrigation adequate water control is the most important factor in increasing rice production.

In order to find the most economical approach for irrigation development a series of careful and critical cost analyses have been made of several alternatives, based on recent experience in Asia. In general, all methods starting with previously uncultivated land are shown to be not advisable, because they cost more and take more time. The lowest capital costs for increasing paddy production by 1 ton per hectare per year are, first, in improving inadequately-irrigated land to adequately irrigated land and, second, in improving rainfed cultivated land to adequately-irrigated land. The shift from inadequate to adequate irrigation facilities in most cases requires primarily digging out farm ditches; maintenance of ditches, and good management of water supplies. There is no need for large capital investments. This may be a departure from the traditional idea of "irrigation development," but it has major economic advantages and can be considered an approach within which "appropriate" technology is suitably applied.

On the basis of this analysis, the report proposes a fifteen year international program for doubling rice production in South and Southeast Asia, focused on irrigation improvement as the leading factor in generating production increases. The emphasis is basically on farm ditch construction neglected in the past. The core of the program is the conversion of 30.4 million hectares of rainfed areas and 17.5 million hectares of inadequately-irrigated areas to adequately-irrigated areas in the fifteen years ending in 1993. The total capital cost of this effort is estimated at $52.6 billion in 1975 prices ($7 billion for conversion of inadequately-irrigated land, $45.6 for conversion of rainfed land), plus $1.4 billion in associated costs a total of $54 billion, or 3.6 billion per year.

Our best guess of current annual budgets for irrigation in South and Southeast Asia is $1.7 billion (in 1975 prices), including foreign exchange granted or loaned from abroad about one-half of the annual cost of the proposed program. In order to achieve the 1993 target, it is proposed that developed countries and OPEC countries provide increasing levels of capital resources (along the lines presented in Table 5), while the developing countries in the area continue their utmost efforts to share the burden. It may not be unrealistic to catch up with the required annual investment level around 1985. With subsequent increases, the average annual irrigation investment would reach $3.6 billion for the entire period to 1993. It must be stressed that we recognize that these improvements in water control will not automatically and in themselves bring about the desired product on increases. A wide range of actions will be needed, including the critical need to develop rural institutions, The difficulty in achieving social change, however, should not lead to defeatism about the prospects for the program proposed here. The institutional innovations would not be likely to emerge unless public investments in irrigation and progress in agricultural technology increase the profitability of making such innovations.

The proposed plan will have the effect of injecting a momentum into rural society for inducing institutional innovations. Today, unless a major effort is made to increase food production in the form of a feasible program, we are bound to lose what is now a dead heat between population and food supply; this will result in greater misery and greater social injustice.

The proposals in this report must take more concrete shape as implementation occurs. But implementation cannot be assumed to result directly from this report or any other report, for that matter. A series of follow-up activities at many levels must be carefully planned and executed if the proposals are to achieve their potential for reducing malnutrition in the developing countries. Developing countries must take the primary responsibility for preparing plans for expanding and improving irrigation facilities, as well as for modification of domestic policies and programs required to facilitate effective use of the expanded irrigation facilities. Developed countries and international agencies have the responsibility for creating the necessary mechanism for the transfer of resources, and for facilitating the speedy approval of appropriate projects for agricultural growth and improvement in the developing countries.


Umberto Colombo, Director-General, Research and Development, Montedison, Milan
D. Gale Johnson, Provost and Professor of Economics, University of Chicago
Toshio Shishido, President, Nikko Research Center

Yujiro Hayami, Professor of Economics, Tokyo Metropolitan Library (Special Consultant)
Kenzo Henmi, Dean, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Tokyo (Special Consultant)
Saburo Okita, Chairman, Japan Economic Research Center (Special Consultant)
Kunio Takase, Deputy Director, Projects Department I, Asian Development Bank (Special Consultant)

Table of Contents

Summary of Report
I. General Views on World Food Problems
A. Food Situation of Developing Countries.
B. Increasing Food Production in Developing Countries
- Higher Yields from Already Cultivated Land
- Importance of Good Water Management
- Increased Fertilizer Use and Integrated Pest Control
- Increased Agricultural Research in Developing Countries
- Appropriate Agricultural Policies and Rural Institutions
C. Summary
II. Why Focus on Asia, Especially Rice Production in Asia?
A. Why Focus on Asia?
B. Why Focus on Rice Production?
- Other Food Crops
- Advantages of Focus on Rice
- Potential for Increasing Rice Yield
III. Review of Rice Production in Asia
A. Recent Development of Rice Production in Asia
B. Water Control Most Crucial Factor in Increasing Rice Production
C. Economical Improvement of Water Control
D. Development of Rural Institutions
IV. A Program for Doubling Rice Production
A. Irrigation Development
B. Modern Farming Inputs
C. Capital Resources and Aid Procedures
D. Development of Appropriate Technology and Rural Institutions
F. Governmental Policies
V. Concluding Comments

  • Topics: Economics, Multilateral Cooperation
  • Region:  North America, Europe, Africa, Pacific Asia
  • Publisher:  The Trilateral Commission
  • Publication Date:  © 1978
  • ISBN:  0-930503-41-4
  • Pages:  55
  • Complete Text: Click here to download