The Grain Issue in China

The Chinese government has always attached great importance to the grain issue. With a population of more than 1.2 billion, China is a major grain producer as well as a major grain consumer.

What is the food situation in China? What is the country's grain production potential? Can the Chinese people feed themselves? And how will China improve its grain production? Through scientific analysis the Chinese government, in the manner of seeking truth from facts, now addresses these questions of universal concern as follows:

I. New China Has Solved the Problem of
Feeding Its People

The semi-colonial and semi-feudal old China before Liberation in 1949 was perennially haunted by the specter of starvation. For long periods of time in the old days 80 percent of the population suffered from starvation or semi-starvation because of the extreme backwardness of agricultural production. Natural disasters nearly always resulted in wide"ispread deaths from starvation. In 1949 when the People's Republic of China was founded, the national grain yield per hectare was only 1,035 kg, and the per capita share of grain was only 210 kg a year.

After the founding of the People's Republic, the feudal ownership of land was abolished. Under the leadership of their government, the Chinese people devoted themselves to developing grain production through self-reliance and hard work. As a result, China is now able to feed 22 percent of the world's population on about seven percent of the world's cultivated land. Total grain output in 1995 more than quadrupled the 1949 figure, or an average increase of 3.1 percent a year. At present, China ranks first in total grain output in the world, with the per capita share of grain reaching approximately 380 kg (including legume and tuber crops), which is the global average. The per capita production of meat, aquatic products, eggs, fruit and vegetables has reached 41 kg, 21 kg, 14 kg, 35 kg and 198 kg, respectively, which are all higher than the world's average. Statistics from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization show that China contributed 31 percent of the world's increased grain output in the 1980s. China's significant achievements in developing grain production have not only basically eradicated the problem of people not having enough to eat and wear and gradually raised the living standards of the Chinese people, but also made great contributions to the worldwide efforts to eliminate starvation and poverty.

The development of grain production since the founding of New China can be divided roughly into three phases:

The first phase (1950-1978): China's total grain output increased from 113.2 million tons in 1949 to 304.8 million tons in 1978, an average annual growth of 3.5 percent. During this 29-year period land ownership was first reformed and the peasants were led on to the road of mutual-aid and cooperation to liberate the productive forces, and remarkable success was achieved in improving agricultural infrastructure and the quantity and quality of farming equipment, and in promoting progress in agricultural science and technology. Therefore, a solid foundation was laid for the continued development of grain production.

The second phase (1979-1984): In 1984 China's total grain output rose to 407.3 million tons, increasing by an average of 4.9 percent a year during the six years from 1979 to 1984. This second phase saw the highest increase rate in the country's grain production, which was made possible mainly by a series of reform policies and measures initiated in the rural areas by the Chinese government, including, among others, the household contract responsibility system with remuneration linked to output, the two-layer management system featuring the integration of centralization and decentralization, and raising, by a fairly large margin, of the prices of grain purchased by the state. These important policies and measures greatly stimulated the enthusiasm of the farmers, brought into full play the potential for agricultural production accumulated through years of efforts to improve agricultural infrastructure, the level of science and technology and the amount of investment. In this way an end was put to the situation of China's chronic grain shortages.

The third phase (1985-present): In 1995 the country's grain output totaled 466.6 million tons, increasing by an average of 1.2 percent a year over the previous 11 years. While continuing to develop grain production in this period, the Chinese government has initiated measures to readjust the structure of agricultural production and develop a diversified agricultural economy. At the same time rapid progress was achieved in the production of various other kinds of foodstuffs, with the output of meat (pork, beef and mutton), aquatic products, eggs, milk and fruit reaching 42.54 million tons, 25.17 million tons, 16.76 million tons, 5.62 million tons and 42.11 million tons respectively, or 2.8, 4.1, 3.9, 2.6 and 4.3 times the 1984 figures, respectively. Despite a lowered increase rate of grain production, the quality of people's life was greatly improved because of increased non-grain food supply during this period.

The successful experiences of the People's Republic of China in solving the problem of feeding the whole population can be summarized as follows: It has always stuck to the principle that agriculture is the basis of the national economy, giving top priority to agriculture in national economic development. It has made the increase of grain production the key point in rural economic work, making all possible efforts to ensure a steady increase in total grain output. It has carried out the reform of rural relations of production, including implementation of the policy of the household contract responsibility system with remuneration linked to output and the two-layer management system featuring the integration of centralization and decentralization. In addition, the scope of market readjustment for grain has been expanded and the price of grain adjusted rationally so as to mobilize the enthusiasm of the farmers for grain production. The basic conditions for agricultural production have been continuously improved by expediting scientific and technological advances in agriculture, improving the quality and quantity of farming equipment, increasing agricultural input and protecting the ecological environment. Given the precondition that grain production is never to be compromised, land resources have been developed and made full use of in a comprehensive way while a diversified economy has been vigorously developed to raise farmers' income.

At present, the great majority of both urban and rural residents in China have adequate food and clothing. The tasks ahead for the Chinese government are, while ensuring a continued increase in grain output, to vigorously promote diversified food production, readjust the food structure, and continue to raise the people's quality of life from the stage of simply having enough food and clothing to leading a relatively well-off and comfortable life. However, the Chinese government is aware that the level of balance between the supply of and demand for grain in the country will have to be further enhanced, and the tense situation between supply and demand will continue to exist for a long time to come. Meanwhile, because of adverse natural conditions and shortage of cultivated land and water resources in some places, there were, by the end of 1995, 65 million people (about five percent of the whole population) who still did not have adequate food and clothing. To tackle this problem the Chinese government has initiated the ``poverty-alleviating program'' to lift those people above the poverty level by the end of this century.