Grain reserves hoarded by both the State and rural families in China look set to offset an expected fall in output this year, agricultural experts say.
The grain output slump will not weaken the country's ability to maintain supplies, said Xie Yang, deputy director of the Rural Economy Department of the Development Research Centre under the State Council.
The assurance came amid reports that the country is expected to fail to reach the 490-million-ton grain production target set by Minister of Agriculture Chen Yaobang at the beginning of the year. The grain output last year was 503 million tons.
This year's yield of summer and winter crops is predicted to record a fall of 6-8 percent from last year, the sharpest fall in 20 years.
But Xie ruled out the possibility of huge fluctuations in grain prices or panic buying -- which often follows a fall in the supply of a foodstuff -- because China has "sufficient'' supplies, boosted by bumper harvests over the past few years.
The country has had good harvests and an oversupply since 1995, with a yearly grain output of about 500 million tons.
Xie said state reserves stood at 250 million tons and conservative estimates have put non-state reserves held by rural families at more than 135 million tons.
The huge amount of grain reserves is sufficient to meet the urban demand in lean year, experts said.
Meanwhile, urban grain consumption has been decreasing due to increasing consumption of meat and other non-staple foods, said Song Hongyuan, a researcher with the Rural Economy Studies Centre under the Ministry of Agriculture.
The researcher said annual per capita grain consumption of urban dwellers fell 10 kilograms from 94.68 kilograms in 1996 to 84.91 kilograms in 1999.
The fall in grain yields has been partly attributed to a decrease in grain growing as part of an agricultural restructuring plan aimed at encouraging more special-purpose crops, according to an agriculture report.
The state has lowered prices for government-bought grain in an effort to encourage farmers to grow a better mix of crops.
Low grain prices have resulted in farmers growing more lucrative products, such as oil-producing crops, which are expected to increase by 10.9 percent this year.
Li Guiqun, of the ministry's Market and Economic Information Department, reportedly said the growing area for autumn crops is down by more than 66,000 hectares from last year.
Ministry statistics indicate that the total grain growing area has been cut by 5 percent this year to 110 million hectares.
Record droughts since 1949, plus insects and diseases, have also wreaked havoc on agricultural production, he said. Crops in more than 20 provinces have been affected by serious droughts this year.
(China Daily 12/06/2000)