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U.S. Department of Agriculture
Rice is the most important crop in the world, measured
of the number of persons for whom it is the staple. A subtropical
grass, it probably originated in the deltas of either the Tigris and
Euphrates, Ganges, or Yangtze river deltas. It
been cultivated for at least
six thousand years, and there are many Asian languages in which the
rice is synonymous with the word for food.
Rice is traditionally cultivated by plowing, dunging,
smoothing the paddy, which is then flooded. Rice seedlings raised
beds are then transplanted into the paddy. When the harvest is
paddy is drained to make harvesting easier. Rice can also be grown on
dry land, but paddy cultivation reduces competition from weeds, creates
a suitable environment for growth of nitrogen-fixing blue-green algae,
and promotes availability of soil phosphorus.
In spite of its widespread consumption in Asia, rice is
particular nutritious grain. It is low in fat and protein
compared with other
grains, and it contains little gluten, so that rice flour cannot be
bread unless it is blended with wheat flour. Polished rice is low
but brown rice retains its vitamins and minerals. In many parts of Asia, rice is traditionally eaten
with soybeans, which makes up for many of its nutritional deficiencies.
Oddly, Japanese consumption of soybeans was just 8 grams per day
(mostly as condiments) and most of the protein in the Japanese diet
came from an average consumption of three ounces of fish per capita per
The rations consumed by the Japanese Army were based on
and were so poor in thiamine (vitamin B1) that
Japanese troops sometimes showed signs of beriberi even in garrison. The Army
was aware that this could be prevented by mixing rice with barley, but
the mixture was considered too difficult to transport and it was disliked by the troops.
Japan had ceased to
be self-sufficient in rice by the time of the Pacific War, in spite of
the development of highly productive rice varieties, improved and
intensive cultivation, and heavy use of fertilizers.
Nitrogen was particularly important, and was provided by ammonium
sulfate added to the paddy with limestone to neutralize acidity. Japan
had ample ammonia production facilities and ammonium shortages were not
significant before 1944. Phosphate was relatively unimportant for rice
cultivation, nor was potash very critical.
As a result, rice production remained high through most of the war
while dry grain production plummeted for lack of phosphate and potash
rice was imported from the river deltas of Southeast Asia, particularly
the Mekong in French Indochina and the Irrawady in Burma. Production had dropped
from 10,027,474 tonnes in 1942 to 8,783,827 tonnes in 1944. Production
shortfalls threatened catastrophe in 1945, an unusually cold and wet
growing season that ended with a series of tropical storms in
September-October 1945. The government estimated in November that the
yield would be only 6,355,000 tonnes.
The Allied blockade of Japan produced severe rice shortages, with a corresponding rise in civilian mortality rates. At one point there were estimates that ten million persons would starve. MacArthur and Truman arranged for some 800,000 tons of food to be shipped to Japan in 1946, which helped prevent widespread famine.
(thousand metric tons)
(thousand metric tons)
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InfoPlease.com (accessed 29 December 2006)
The Rice Economy of Asia, Volume I (accessed
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