China's significant drop in grain output last year has not affected the market supply thanks to sufficient reserves, according to Minister of Agriculture Chen Yaobang.
But the fall in yields will increase the government's concern for food security, a paramount issue that is linked to national economic growth and social stability, according to some analysts.
After scoring bumper grain harvests five years in a row since 1995, with annual outputs exceeding 490 million tons, China last year saw its grain output plunge by 9 percent, Chen told a three-day national agricultural conference that concluded on Friday in Beijing.
Lingering droughts and the decrease in the amount of arable land due to desertification and urbanization were partly to blame for the output decrease in 2000, according to sources from the conference.
Unlike the previous national work conferences on agriculture in recent years, which highlighted agricultural reform, the conference this year stressed that strengthening grain production is both a prerequisite for the sector's structural readjustment and key to improving farmers' incomes.
"Guaranteeing grain supply will always be the most important thing in agricultural and rural work," Chen said. "Any problems with grain production may thwart the country's efforts to optimize its agricultural sector and increase farmers' incomes."
Ensuring food supplies in China could be a very arduous task, given that the country's population is set to continue rising for a long time to come, which means that the amount of arable land and water per capita will continue to shrink, he said.
It is therefore vitally important to support grain production by protecting arable land and water resources and developing high-yielding and top-grade crop varieties, the minister said.
Chen Xiwen, vice-director of the State Council Development and Research Center, said enhancing food security in China meant sustaining the current grain production capacity. What is also of central importance is providing adequate food to poor people.
Falling crop yields are not, as yet, a major problem in China, because supply outstrips market demand at present. What does matter is decreases in the resources needed for grain production, such as water and land, according to Chen Xiwen.
"Grain security will be threatened if these resources are earmarked for other purposes," the vice-director said.
Apart from securing increases in grain production capacity, Chen Yaobang set another big task for this year - to increase the incomes of farmers, which is something his ministry has promised to do for several years, but in vain.
Farmers' incomes grew by a meagre 2 percent last year, compared with a 9 percent rise in 1996.
(China Daily 01/08/2001)