Food security remains a problem
At present, food security remains a thorny problem troubling many developing countries worldwide. According to a report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the total number of people suffering from starvation or malnutrition worldwide exceeds one billion. Of them, over 300 million live in Africa, accounting for one third of the total African population. Compared with African countries, China has been relatively successful in developing its agriculture. Since the 1970s it has reached and even exceeded the FAO food security standard, performing the miracle of feeding 20 percent of the world's population on only about 7 percent of the world's cultivated land. Its food self-sufficiency rate is now over 95 percent. China's agricultural production is characterized by rapid and stable development.
Lester Brown's article evoked an international discussion about China's food problem. Fourteen years later, Brown did not change his original opinion but insisted on its correctness when talking to Chinese journalists on June 23, 2008. He recognized the historical fact that the Chinese people could feed themselves independently and did not deny that this was a great achievement. However, he pointed out there were many problems affecting China's food security, and these problems could not be solved in a short period of time.
China's agricultural minister told the same journalists that it would be impossible for China to solve its problem of food by relying on other countries. The reason is that grain production is a strategic industry concerning the security of the nation, and providing food for 1.3 billion people is always the most important task in running a country and ensuring peace and security. At no time should the security of food be taken lightly. As China has a huge population, it is imperative to guarantee national food security by insisting on the policy of self-reliance to achieve self-sufficiency in grain. This is the position of the top leaders of the CPC with regard to the grain issue.
In fact, food supply is a worldwide problem. According to one estimate, in the past decade the global demand for grain has increased by 220 billion kilograms, or a 1.1 percent annual average growth rate, whereas the global grain output increased by 100 billion kilograms, or a 0.5 percent annual average growth rate only. The gap between the supply and the demand was about 20 billion kilograms in 2007 and 2008. Although the supply was a bit higher than the demand, the supply of rice would tend to fall short of demand on the international market according to the prediction of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
In fact, the volume of the international grain trade is very small, about 240 billion kilograms every year, less than one half of China's total grain output. Rice is the main part of China's grain consumption, accounting for nearly 60 percent of the total. The annual rice consumption ranges from 185 billion kilograms to 187.5 billion kilograms, while the total volume of rice trade on the international market stands at only 25 billion kilograms to 30 billion kilograms, accounting for 15 percent of China's total rice consumption, and leaving very limited room for the international market. In addition, the impact of China as a major country is very apparent, as is shown in the saying, "Whatever product China purchases, the price of that product will increase; whatever product China sells, the price of that product will decline."
Many foreign personages have shown concern for such a situation. For example, Fidel Castrol, first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, raised the following question on more than one occasion during his visit to China in 1994: "Will you buy up all the grain?" If China imports a large amount of grain, the grain prices will increase correspondingly. As a result, the developing countries will suffer untold miseries and hardships.
Judging from China's grain supply, the six years since 2004 have seen successive bumper harvests, and the total grain output exceeded 500 billion kilograms for three consecutive years, which shows that China has an annual grain production capability of up to 500 billion kilograms. Barring severe natural disasters, the grain output can stand at 500 billion kilograms in normal harvest years. There will be an inevitably growing demand for grain in China because of its rapid industrialization and urbanization, and the constant improvement in its people's living standards. It is estimated that the total demand for grain will top 572.5 billion kilograms in 2020. Judging from the demand-and-supply relationship, in China there is a "tight balance" between supply and demand despite bumper harvests for six consecutive years. To meet the total demand for grain in 2020 it is imperative for China to increase its grain output by four billion kilograms each year in the next decade. It can be seen that guaranteeing food security remains a formidable task.
China still faces many unfavorable conditions in increasing its grain output. First, China is one of the 13 countries most in need of water. China's water resource situation is severe, as the distribution of water resources is totally out of line with the demands of population and cultivated land.
Second, China is susceptible to frequent floods and droughts. In 1998 the drought-stricken area covered as much as 22.7 percent of the national land; in 2000, severe droughts hit over 20 Chinese provinces; and in 2009 droughts affected 12 Chinese provinces. In 2010 there were both floods and droughts in China.
Third, the productive capacity of China's high-quality cultivated land is shrinking, and the quality of other cultivated land is even more difficult to guarantee. Some 91 million mu (6.07 million hectares) of cultivated land in China is on a slope of 25 degrees or over. According to statistics, only 40 percent of China's cultivated land is irrigated by irrigation equipment and ensures stable yields despite drought or excessive rain; and the trend in the decrease of cultivated land is irreversible.
Fourth, of the over 80,000 reservoirs in China, more than 20,000 need repairs and maintenance. Moreover, the dykes on the Yangtze and Yellow rivers are unstable. In addition, soil erosion, desertification and alkalinization are very serious. Grassland degradation and damage to forests are severe as well.
China can only rely on itself, not other countries, to feed itself. Despite various unfavorable factors, the CPC still keeps a sober mind in addressing the problem of food security. Past experience has shown that the main methods of solving the problem are policy, investment, and science and technology. China is intensifying its efforts in these respects. Therefore, world public opinion holds that China has confidence in and the capability of addressing the problem of food, as it has successfully demonstrated in the past few decades.
(To be continued...)
Excerpts courtesy of the New World Press. All rights reserved.