News Analysis: Feed China, starve the world?

February 5, 2015 6:33 am 

BEIJING, Feb. 4 — Whether one is a farmer of winter wheat in Kansas, or a statesman in Washington, he might have a good reason to note a new policy outline released in China, a country that has 1.3 billion people to feed.

China's increasing grain imports in recent years have ignited concerns that the world's most populous country is on a global grab for food. The "No. 1 Central Document" revealed on Sunday, however, may reassure the worriers by promising "a good grasp of the scale and pace of agricultural import".

The document said china should better utilize both domestic and overseas agricultural resources, but that it will also improve its own grain production and encourage competitive farm produce exports.

"It indicates that China's grain market is open and that competition among importers is equal. Meanwhile, the country will control its food security risk and count on modernized farming to feed itself in the future," said Li Guoxiang, a rural development researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

According to official data, china imported 19.51 million metric tonnes of cereals in 2014, marking a record year-on-year increase of 33.8 percent. During the same period, its grain imports, including soybeans, topped 90 million metric tonnes, compared with less than 15 million metric tonnes in 2002.

However, Chinese business insiders, academics and officials believe the surging figures are not as alarming as they appear, arguing that rising imports were not caused by food shortages, but by cheaper global prices, and that China is safely self-sufficient in grain consumption.

Currently, prices of Chinese cereals are about 400 to 800 yuan (about 64 to 128 U.S. dollars) per ton higher than foreign cereals, said Cheng Guoqiang, a researcher with the Development Research Center of the State Council.

Cheng added that a large proportion of the cereals imported in 2014 was used for animal feed.

The country's imports of the rice, wheat and corn that dominate Chinese dinner plates are equivalent to just 2.4 percent of the domestic output, and will not rise sharply in the future, Ministry of Agriculture spokesman Bi Meijia said at a press conference in December. He stressed that China poses no threat to global food security.

China takes great pride in feeding a fifth of the world's population with a quarter of the world's grain yielded from a tenth of the world's farmland. Last year, its grain output rose 0.9 percent to 607.1 million metric tonnes, marking the 11th consecutive year of growth.

Nevertheless, the expanding imports, which have led to excessive supply in the domestic market, highlight grave challenges.

In recent years, surging production costs, loss of rural labor, a low level of large-scale farming, as well as poor use of technology, have significantly weakened the competitiveness of Chinese grain in terms of both price and quality, according to Li Guoxiang.

The policy document gives solutions including transformation of the traditional agricultural development mode, which pursues high output but relies on heavy consumption of resources, and research on technological innovation.

The "No. 1 Central Document" refers to the first major policy document of each year released by the central government. This is the 12th consecutive year in which the document has focused on agriculture and rural issues, signaling the importance the leadership attaches to filling the rice bowls of their people. (PNA/Xinhua)

FPV/EBP

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