The most important crops that make up the world's food chain are the main cereals, in particular, maize, wheat and rice.The production of sugar is actually higher than any one of the above in tonnage but not in area allocated.
Based on FAO data
Areas devoted to global agricultural production are dominated by the area allocated to and the annual production of three cereals, namely: maize, wheat and rice. They are mainly grown for domestic consumption with only
5% of rice,
19% of wheat and
12.6% if maize
traded to other countries.
Yet, changes in the traded proportions lead to global price volatility. The situation is further complicated by the fact that the three crops are far too important for most major producing countries to leave fully to market forces (with the exception probably of Cambodia which operates a near free market) which leads to a myriad of forms of state intervention to protect poor farmers and consumers. Some measure of protection is common in developed as well as developing countries.
In 2007, the three leading producers of wheat are China, India and USA, followed by Russia and France. Total production is around 600 million tons per annum. Of which, an estimated 130 million tons are traded.
Based on FAO data
The two leading producers of wheat, India and China do not export significant proportions of what they produce although in some years either can export around 2 million tons. In most years they are minor exporters although they often export and import within a given year. USA, Russia and France, the next three most important producers, are the leading wheat exporters, followed by Australia, Canada and Argentina.
A large part of the surplus in the European Union is exported to other members and the internal trade amounts to around 20% of the global trade. North africa and the Far East are the two most important importing regions outside Europe.
Based on FAO data - Wheat Exporters
In the case of maize, the USA is by far the most important producer. Nearly 800 million tons are grown with USA accounting for over 250 million tons of that. Between them, China and USA grow nearly half the global total.
The leading 10 exporting countries of maize are
Developments in the USA are very important in determining what is happening to prices. The current enthusiasm for using maize for ethanol in the USA with the help of strong subsidies is distorting the market, although it is not clear precisely how large a distortion results. The recession has thrown doubts as to the viability of the end use.
There could well be three markets for maize in the future: as food for humans, for animals and for ethanol. It will make projections nearly impossible.