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FOOD SECURITY IN CHINA

by Qin Chuan

The growing importance of food security to China, which has roughly one fifth of the world's total population, can be seen from a fact that when the Chinese government made its Tenth Five-Year Plan (2001-2005), it put for the first time the term "food security" in the plan. Does this mean that there appear some problems for the food security in China?

Currently there is a surplus in China's total food volume. However, the situation of food security in the country is far from satisfying. Last year, land area used for producing food decreased by 90 million (6 million hectares) and dropped to the least since 1949. It is said that some regions are still planning to lessen land area used for food production. Is food in China really overmuch? Chen Jiyuan with China Academy of Social Science said no. For example, if every Chinese drink a cup of milk every morning, the surplus of food will turn nothing. He said that once destructive natural disasters occur, the problem of food will get extremely sharp. Therefore, China will adopt strict rules so as to protect cultivated land and land area that is used for food production in the country must stand at 1.65 billion (150 million hectares), Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji has pointed out.

Although China has a large quantity of food, the problem of food insecurity in the country is still far from being settled from a medium and long-term perspective, for the country has too large a population and is short of cultivated land and water resources.

Currently it seems that the food security in China is ensured. However, the surplus in food supply will probably lead to a decrease in food production because farmers will feel that producing food is not a promising way of make a living.

What is worse is that farmers may then lose interest in planting crops and turn indispensable resources for food production, such as land and water, to other use. And once such resources can't get recovered as to produce food again, food security will be endangered in the future. Food security is also not ensured in some towns and villages where a number of people have low income or have difficulty in getting enough clothes and food. Natural disasters, too, can cause food insecurity in some regions in the country.

Food security will also affected by the fast pace of China's modernisation, which will claim more use of land. For example, the infrastructure construction and urbanisation in China will occupy a certain amount of cultivated land. The Chinese government began to seek ways to ensure the county's capacity of food production and at the same time to make the output of food in accordance with the demand in the market.

The central government realised that to set solely a guide for the food volume, as it used to do in the past, is not good to the demand and supply of food as well as the interest of farmers.

In the past, including the previous Ninth Five-Year Plan period (1996-2000), much emphasis was put on producing more food, because at that time the per capita food in China was low.

However, China is now capable of producing enough food for its people. According to statistics, an annual output of about 480 million tons of food is enough for the domestic need in China. The fact is that since 1996, the annual output of food in China has been exceeding 400 million tons, with only one exception that the output in last year failed to reach 490 million tons due to natural disasters such as drought.

So the government hopes that while maintaining a capacity of producing enough food for people, the output of food can fluctuate in accordance with the market demand. The Ministry of Agriculture will put much emphasis in addressing the problem of food security in the following years.

The ministry will work to supervise food production in the key food production zones in the country and turn them into commercial food bases that have stable output. Farmers will be encouraged to produce food. The government will set a preferential price to purchase food from farmers to protect the interest of farmers. Farmers will also be encouraged to produce high-standard food, which will have higher prices.

Qin Chuan is an Environmental Reporter at China Daily in Beijing, China.