Answer to Map #56

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Answer: This week’s map was a cartogram in which each country was enlarged in proportion to its total production of rice.

The country that produces the most rice is China, which (according to estimates) will produce 145 million metric tons of rice in 2017–2018. The estimates used to make this map came ultimately from the U.S. Department of Agriculture; you can find a convenient table of them here. Since those estimates lump all the countries of the European Union together, we had to be a little creative to figure out the data for those countries. Fortunately, the E.U.’s Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development has a statistical report from a few years ago that breaks down the percentages of the total E.U. rice crop produced by each country, so we multiplied those percentages by the USDA’s total estimate for the E.U.

As this cartogram makes clear, most of the world’s rice crop is grown in Asia. The countries that grow the most rice have warm, wet climates. These include the countries of South and Southeast Asia as well as China. Thursday’s hint drew your attention to the fact that the Chinese provinces that grow the most rice are the inland provinces in the south and southeast, especially Hunan. In more northerly parts of China, where there are colder temperatures and less rainfall, farmers are more likely to grow wheat than rice. China is the world’s leading producer of both wheat and rice.

Some people who submitted answers to this map guessed that it represented total rice consumption rather than production. We gave half credit to those who submitted this answer, though it is not correct. Presumably, rice can be eaten in every country in the world, but there are many countries that do not grow rice and which thus have zero area on our cartogram. On a cartogram of rice consumption, you might also expect Japan to be significantly larger. Japan, which has a large population and a cuisine based on rice, but which is extremely densely populated and highly urbanized, is a major importer of rice grown in other countries.

The country that imports the most rice is China, which is interesting because China is also the country that grows the most rice. That’s because China has the world’s largest population and a cuisine that depends on rice.

The world’s leading exporter of rice is India, followed by Thailand. India has overtaken Thailand only in the past few years as a result of a significant drought in Thailand. Because of Thailand’s (relative) water shortage, the Thai economy has been moving toward the growing of crops that require less water than rice. In 2016, there was actually a global rice shortage—a reminder that, in a time of expanding populations and changing climates, food situations are often precarious around the world.

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