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China Letter-News and Human Rights

China human rights news with focus on the Uygur of Xinjiang, Tibetans and Tibet, Chinese mining workers, religion, corruption and censorship.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Food alarm sounded as grain production falls


>>> AsiaNews.it :

China's Rural Crisis"....on Feb. 8 the government had increased public financing of farmland to around 3 billion dollars, a 25% overall increase, as part of a rare emergency financial measure. Such state provisions signal a growing alarm over a potential food emergency, especially in terms of the country's growing need for grain. "

In 1950 grain production in China was 90 million tons. In 1998 it reached a record of 329 million tons. In 2003 this had declined to 323 million. To put it in perspective the amount decline equaled the total production of Canada, itself a leading world grower.

The ability of China to feed itself into the future is in serious doubt as wheat is not the only crop suffering declines in a nation that increase it's population by 11 million per annum.

What has precipitated this decline and what are the ramifications not only for China but also the world? The linked article puts forward some hypothesis.

The article contends that obviously demand for food and wheat in particular will only go up in China, this is obvious given it's steady population growth. But the growth in the economy that has seen per capita income increase considerably over the last ten years has also grown demand at a greater rate than population pressure alone. More money means a desire for more food can be more easily accommodated and this trend will continue as China's wealth grows.

So we have rapidly increasing demand with reducing supply. Why has supply not only failed to keep pace with demand but has actually slipped backwards?

The article points at a number of factors. Firstly the sum of land put aside for cultivation has and will continue to decline. Reducing water supplies generally and a need to divert this limited resource to urban areas has had an impact on the amount of crop sustainable land available, desertification and the policy of reclaiming land and planting trees to offset it and pollution generally is also impacting.

Increased industrialization and urbanisation is gobbling up land stocks. An interesting example provided was that for each additional fifty motor vehicle hitting the roads of China one hectares needs to be set aside for roads and parking space, incredible. In a recent post I mentioned the sales of luxury vehicles numbered some 95,000 in 2003 that is 1,900 hectares alone just for luxury cars,assuming of course they are incremental to the national fleet.

Add to this infrastructure requirements such as a national transportation system to move people and manufacturing goods for export. All land hungry.

We also see a drift of workers from the poorer rural areas to the cities restricting labour availability. One factor I would like to put forward is the effects of the one child policy on rural economies. Traditionally in rural areas world wide large families were had as a means of supplying cheap and available labour to marginal farmlands. People had several children and employed them in working the land and they did so at little cost. The one child policy has put paid to that. Marginally productive land is no longer viable if it requires hired labour. The one Child policy is 25 year old this year. The first generation of farm labour not to be born must now be having it's effect.

All this does not mean starvation for the Chinese in the foreseeable future, they have through their headlong rush to industrialization given themselves the means to pay for any shortfalls in national food production for some time. What ultimately it will mean for the rest of the world is rising food prices as Chinese demand pushes prices up.

Linked Article Read Rating: Worthwhile