Asian countries are eating more wheat


SO CENTRAL is rice to life in Asia that in many countries, rather than asking “how are you?” people ask, “have you eaten rice yet?” Around 90% of the world’s rice is consumed in Asia—60% of it in China, India and Indonesia alone. In every large country except Pakistan, Asians eat more rice than the global average. Between the early 1960s and the early 1990s, rice consumption per head rose steadily, from an average of 85 kilograms per year to 103. As Asia scraped its way out of poverty people began to consume more food, and rice was available and affordable.

But rice consumption is now more-or-less flat in Asia as a whole. In better-off countries rice is going out of fashion. Figures from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggest that rice consumption per head has fallen since 2000 in China, Indonesia and South Korea, and has crashed in Singapore. Asians are following a rule known as Bennett’s law, which states that as people become wealthier they get more of their calories from vegetables, fruit, meat, fish and dairy products. And many of them are starting to replace the rice in their diets with wheat.

Wheat consumption is rising quickly in countries like Thailand and Vietnam. South-East Asian countries will consume 23.4m tonnes of wheat in 2016-17, estimates the USDA—up from 16.5m tonnes in 2012-13. Almost all of it will be imported. In South Asia consumption is expected to grow from 121m to 139m tonnes over the same period.

This trend has a long way to run, predicts Rabobank, a bank. South-East Asians still eat only 26kg of wheat a year, much less than the world average of 78kg. They seem unperturbed by price rises: wheat-eating kept growing even as the grain became more expensive between 2009 and 2013. Still, rice will remain central to many Asian cultures. People are unlikely to start greeting each other by asking if they have eaten bagels just yet.


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