The author is currently a consultant to the Department of Agriculture and the department’s undersecretary for policy and planningfrom 1987 to 1992.

An anecdote often related as gospel truth about the dietary preferences
of Filipinos – especially of the so-called “masses” – is that a common
Filipino meal consists of a “mountain” of rice, flavored by a bit of
soup or viand. This observation then leads to a conclusion that
“Filipinos eat too much rice.” A further conclusion is then hazarded –
that: “If only Filipinos ate less rice, then we won’t have to worry
about imports!”

Yet cross-country evidence shows that on the contrary, Filipinos eat too little rice!

Comparative data on a number of Asian countries show that Filipinos
consume 95 kilos of rice per capita per year. This comes to about 260
grams of milled rice – or about three cups of milled rice per day – or
a cup of milled rice per meal.

In sharp contrast, the Vietnamese consume up to 165 kilos of rice per
capita per year, and the citizens of Myanmar eat as much as 213 kilos
of rice per capita per year!

The statistics on rice consumption is one that many Filipinos find
difficult to accept. It seems that the anecdote on the rice-gorging
Filipino is an enduring story.

Rice is very expensive in the Philippines

Why do the Vietnamese, Thais, Indonesians, Myanmarese, Indonesians,
Cambodians, Bangladeshi and Laotians eat much more rice than Filipinos?

The most important reason why Filipinos eat much less rice than most
other Asians is that rice is so much cheaper in Vietnam, Thailand,
Bangladesh, Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia.

For example, the prices of rice in the Philippines are two to three times than rice prices in Vietnam and Thailand!
When rice is cheap, more of it is consumed.

A distinguishing feature of contemporary Thai and Vietnamese cost of
living is very cheap food – relative to cost of living in the
Philippines. More often than not, Filipino travelers to those countries
return with stories about “How cheap and plentiful is food in Thailand
and Vietnam!”

This has become increasingly evident since the 1980s as Vietnam and
Thailand adopted market-oriented economic policies and invested heavily
in their agriculture and rural sectors.

In countries where rice is cheap, more rice is eaten at the table, and more is also used as animal feed.

Moreover, more rice is processed as a cheap principal raw material and
input into secondary products such as rice cakes, flakes, crispies,
breakfast cereals, noodles, cookies, sweets, desserts, wine and so
forth and so on. Many of these products also have export potential.

Current Philippine policies in the rice sector have intended to keep
rice “affordable” at the retail level, but have only succeeded in
constraining total supply and has kept domestic prices high relative to
those of our neighbors.