Caixin
Nov 18, 2020 07:18 PM
ECONOMY

China Tells Farmers Not to Misuse Farmland in Nod to Food Supply Concerns

Rice fields in Jilin City, Jilin province, on Aug. 30.
Rice fields in Jilin City, Jilin province, on Aug. 30.

China wants to make sure farmland is prioritized for grain production rather than other economic purposes, stressing the importance of stable food supply in the latest sign that authorities are making a bigger issue of food security.

Farmland should be prioritized especially for three main types of grain — rice, wheat and corn — but not for other uses including illegally planting trees and digging ponds, according to a Tuesday guideline (link in Chinese) issued by the General Office of the State Council, China’s cabinet.

The new guideline was hinted at back on Nov. 11, when Agriculture Minister Han Changfu said (link in Chinese) at a forum in Beijing that the expected bumper harvest this year was largely due to China’s prioritization of food security and farmland protection.

Government officials have sought repeatedly this fall to reassure the public that the nation’s food supply is secure. Concerns over food security in the world’s largest grain consumer intensified this year after severe flooding in southern China hit swathes of agricultural land over the summer and the coronavirus pandemic disrupted global supply chains.

Those efforts have been in line with a nationwide campaign calling to minimize food waste (link in Chinese) launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who said that the country should maintain a sense of crisis regarding food security, despite years of good harvests.

China’s domestic grain production is more than 95% sufficient (link in Chinese) to feed its 1.4 billion people. The country’s total grain output reached a record of 664 million tons (link in Chinese) in 2019, up 0.9% from the previous year and remaining above 650 million tons for five consecutive years.

But China’s grain production and consumption have long been in “a tight balance,” with consumption growing faster than output, said an article (link in Chinese) published on the website of the country’s top graft-fighting organization in August, as it urged against extravagance.

 Read more 
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In that context, the State Council guideline called for regions that produce relatively little grain due to natural and economic conditions to stabilize or improve their self-sufficiency.

Researchers with the government-backed Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences found (link in Chinese) that China’s 11 non-major grain production provinces had an average self-sufficiency ratio of 97% in 2003, but the average for nine of them dropped to 58.5% in 2018, compared to the national level of over 90%. “The overall grain self-sufficiency ratio (in such regions) is declining,” they wrote.

The southern province of Guangdong, the country’s most populous province (link in Chinese) that relies on buying grain, was “politically tasked” by the central government to expand planted areas for early rice by over 300 square kilometers this year, according to an April notice (link in Chinese) released by the provincial agriculture department.

The guideline also urged both the agriculture and natural resources ministries to better monitor and assess cultivated land nationwide every six months with technologies such as satellite remote sensing and disclose cases of misuse of farmland.

Contact editor Gavin Cross (gavincross@caixin.com)

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