There is no single food commodity that is uniformly consumed by people around the world. Though the cuisine and taste greatly differs in different parts of the world, many of the basic food ingredients remain the same. Going by the demand-supply relationship, we can consider wheat, rice, potatoes, maize (corn) and sugarcane as basic food items and the top five commodities produced in the world when measured in tons.

The analysis of production of top five commodities reflects that there has no change in the position of these commodities over the last five years. Rice, wheat and potatoes have stayed at the third, fourth and fifth slots with a largely constant production level over the years. Even production of maize has been more or less constant but for the last year when its production took a leap, increasing from 877 million tons to 1 billion tons. Sugarcane, the world’s most produced commodity has steady witnessed a rise in output to reach 1.9 billion tons, which is way ahead of any of the other commodity. 

food production

Top Producers

Let’s look at the countries producing these commodities in bulk.

  • China

China has a huge agricultural sector (farming, forestry, animal husbandry and fisheries) that contributes to 10 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP). China is a spectacular combination of an industrial and agricultural economy. On one hand, it is called the “world’s factory” for the massive manufacturing done in the country, and on the other hand, it is the largest agricultural economy. The contribution of agriculture to GDP has largely remained the same at 10 percent over the last decade, though it has substantially decreased from what it was two to three decades back. The agricultural sector employs about one-third of the country’s total employed population. China is the world’s largest producer of wheat, rice and potatoes. It is the second-largest producer of maize and the third-largest producer of sugarcane. (Related reading, China's GDP Examined: A Service-Sector Surge.)

  • United States

The United States is the world’s largest and most powerful economy with a GDP of $17 trillion. The agricultural sector in the US is highly mechanized, which has resulted in it being among the top producers despite the fact that just one percent of the total employed population is employed by agriculture. And while agriculture contributes only about one percent to the GDP, the US is the world’s largest producer of maize (corn), the third-largest producer of wheat, fifth-largest producer of potatoes, tenth-largest producer of sugarcane and twelfth-largest producer of rice. (Related reading, Top Ten US Economic Indicators.)

2:05

Who Produces The World’s Food?

  • India

Although the importance of agriculture for India’s economy has substantially decreased over the years, it remains an important sector, contributing around 18 percent to the country’s GDP and providing employment to approximately 45 percent of its population. While the share of the sector towards the GDP has reduced from more than 30 percent in 1980’s, the overall modernization, productivity and resources have increased. According to the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP), the nation’s agricultural machinery and services sectors attracted foreign direct investment (FDI) equity inflows of $365.79 million (April 2000-September 2014). India is the second-largest producer of sugarcane, wheat, rice and maize and the sixth-largest producer of potatoes. (Related reading, The Top Indicators For India's Economy)

  • Russia

Russia’s economy has undergone a transformation since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, transforming into a market-based open economy from an earlier centrally planned economy. The agricultural sector, which employs 10 percent of the population, accounts for four percent of the $2.05 trillion economy. It uses just about 13 percent of Russia’s land area because of the country's climatic and geographical limitations. Out of the total agricultural products produced, about 40 percent is from crop farming and the remaining 60 percent from livestock, including wool, meat and dairy farming. Russia is the third-largest producer of potatoes, fourth-largest wheat producer and twelfth-largest producer of maize.

  • Brazil

Brazil is among the most prominent South American economies. Brazil’s economy is primarily service sector-oriented, and agriculture contributes just about six percent to its GDP of $2.24 trillion. The agricultural sector employs 15 percent of the workforce and uses 30 percent of the land area. Brazil is the largest sugarcane producer, third-largest producer of maize and ninth-largest producer of rice.

The Bottom Line

Some other countries specialize in one or two of the top commodities. For example, Indonesia is the third-largest producer of rice, Canada is the largest lentil producer, and Nigeria is the top producer for cassava. But on the whole, China, the US, India and Russia contribute a major chunk to the world’s food basket. (Related reading, The World's Top 10 Economies.)

Rankings, graph and analysis are based on the latest data from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations Statistics Division (FAOSTAT).