A rice plant.
Several factors contributed to the rice shortage in 2008, from reduced rice exports from many Asian countries to prolonged drought in Australia. All of these factors played into the broader context of rising food prices in 2007 and 2008, and the impact of shortages was felt in a variety of ways across the world.
One of the main causes of rice shortages was weather conditions. In Australia, a major rice producer, a long drought led to a drastically reduced harvest. In many parts of Asia, floods destroyed rice fields before the grain could be harvested, further reducing the harvest. These conditions have affected the availability of many special types of rice, especially long-grain varieties, which tend to be extremely popular.
Boiled jasmine rice in a bowl with chopsticks.
Land conversion also played a role in rice shortages. In many Asian nations, farms are being replaced by growing cities, thanks to the growing human population. Farmers are also encouraged to plant highly profitable crops for export, such as corn and soybeans, reducing the amount of space available for growing rice. The decision to grow crops for conversion into fuel and animal feed also played an important role.
A rice field.
In Asian nations, rice is the main staple food, and the growing demand for rice began to exert strong pressure on national agriculture in 2007 in many Asian countries. As rice stocks began to dwindle, some countries such as Thailand restricted exports to ensure there would be enough rice to feed citizens, and rice prices rose in these nations in response to the apparent shortage. As a result, some people have totally missed the price of rice, a big problem in areas where rice can play a big role in the diet.
Outside of Asia, people began to experience rice shortages in 2008 in the form of reduced availability of certain Asian rice varieties such as basmati. In fact, there was no shortage of short-grain rice varieties, thanks to large plantations in California and the southern United States, but many consumers prefer long-grain rice, for cultural, ethnic, or culinary reasons. As a result, long-grain rice prices rose in response to consumer demand.
While the restricted supply of certain rice varieties and the generally high prices of rice were certainly a cause for concern, the biggest problem was the general increase in food prices. 2007 and 2008 saw a dramatic rise in global food prices, not just a rice shortage, increasing food insecurity for people across the world. Food shortages also tend to lead to political and social instability, creating the potential for food riots and other civil unrest in nations with large impoverished populations such as Haiti.