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Rice is a staple for a large part of the world's human population, especially in East and Southeast Asia, making it the most consumed cereal grain. Rice is the world's third largest crop, behind maize (corn) and wheat.
Rice cultivation is well suited to countries and regions with low labour costs and high rainfall, as it is very labour-intensive to cultivate and requires plenty of water for irrigation, much like the licorice crops found in Eastern Europe.
However, it can be grown practically anywhere, even on steep hillsides. Although its species are native to South Asia and certain parts of Africa, centuries of trade and exportation have made it commonplace in many cultures.
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Rice cultivation is considered to have begun simultaneously in many countries over 6500 years ago. Two species of rice were domesticated, Asian rice (Oryza sativa) and African rice.
Throughout history rice has been one of man's most important foods. Archeological evidence suggests that rice has been feeding mankind for more than 5,000 years. Today, this unique grain helps sustain 2/3rd of the world's population.
World production of rice has risen steadily from about 200 million tons of paddy rice in 1960 to 700 million tons in 2006. Milled rice is about 68% of paddy rice by weight. In the year 2004, the top three producers were China (31% of world production), India (20%), and Indonesia (9%).
India accounts for more than 75 percent of global trade. Japonica rice accounts for around 12 percent of global rice trade, followed by Basmati rice that accounts for around 10 percent and Glutinous rice for most of the remainder.
World trade figures vary, as only about 5-6% of rice produced is traded internationally. The largest three exporting countries are Thailand (26% of world exports), Vietnam (15%), and the United States (11%), while the largest three importers are Indonesia (14%), Bangladesh (4%), and Brazil (3%).
Rice is the most important crop in Asia. In Cambodia, for example, 90% of the total agriculutral area is used for rice production (see "The Burning of the Rice" by Don Puckridge for the story of rice production in Cambodia.
Why global rice production is plunging!
The major rice growing areas in India are West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Maharashtra, Kannataka, Haryana, Gujarat, Kerala, Jammu- Kashmir, Tripura, Meghalaya, Manipur, Rajasthan, Nagaland, Arunanchal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Mirozam, Goa, Pondicherry, Sikkim, Andaman & Nicobar Island and Dadra & Nagar Haveli.
Indian rice cultivars include long-grained and aromatic Basmati (grown in the North), long and medium-grained Patna rice and short-grained Masoori. In South India the most prized cultivar is 'ponni' which is primarily grown in the delta regions of Kaveri River. Kaveri is also referred to as ponni in the South and the name reflects the geographic region where it is grown.
Rice in East India and South India, is usually prepared by boiling the rice in large pans immediately after harvesting and before removing the husk; this is referred to in English as parboiled rice. It is then dried, and the husk removed later. It often displays small red speckles, and has a smoky flavour from the fires. Usually coarser rice is used for this procedure. It helps to retain the natural vitamins and kill any fungi or other contaminants, but leads to an odour which some find peculiar. This rice is easier on the stomach to digest. In South India, it is also used to make ‘idlis’.
The main rice varieties grown in India are:
Abhaya, Aditya, ADT 37, ADT 38, ADT 40, Ajaya, Ananda, APD 36, APHR-1, APHR-2, AU 2, Avinash, Barkat, Basmati 217, BASMATI 370, BHADRA, BTP 5204, CHINA 988, CNRH-3, CO 45, CR 1016, CR 138 928, CTH 3, DRRH-1, FR 43 B, Gayatri, Gora types, Himalaya 741, Himdhan, HKR126, Huskalam, Intan, IR 22 / 36 / 28 / 34 / 42 / 50 / 62 / 64, Jagannath, Jaishree, Janki, JAYA, Jyothi, Jyoti, K 332, K 39 KALINGA 3, KANCHAN, KASTHURI=IET 8580, Kasturi, KAU 1531, Kaveri, KHITTISCH, KHP-2, KIRAN, KRH 1, Krishna Hamsa, KUNTI, Madhu, MAHSURI, Mahsuri white, Manasarovar, MANGALA, MGR-1, MO 5, MTU 7029, MUKHI (CTH 1), Nagarjuna, NIDHI (IET9994), PANT DHAN 10 / 12 / 4 / 6, PAVIZHAM=MO 6, PHALGUNA, PR103 / 106, PRASANA, Pravana, PRH-1, Pusa basmati 1, PY3, RADHA, Rasi, Salivahana, SARJOO 52, Sasyasree, SUDHA, Suraksha, SUREKHA, SWARMA, Swarnadhan, SWARNAPRABAHA, TULSI, UDAYA, Vibhava and Vikramarya.