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Grain Output Increases
China's grain output rose by 1 per cent from 2001 to hit 457.1 million tons last year, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said Thursday.

This was the first time since 1999 that the country saw production pick up on a year-on-year basis.

However, the outcome may not necessarily mean that the downward trend of China's grain production will be curbed in the years ahead, experts said.

The result also dashed the hopes of the Ministry of Agriculture, which, in February, predicted a 2002 grain harvest of 500 million tons.

"China's grain production was 4.48 million tons more than that in 2001, with its acreage for grain crops shrinking by 2 per cent -- or 2.09 million hectares -- to reach 104 million hectares in 2002,'' said Wang Minghua, an NBS official.

The official attributed the increased grain output to more favourable climate conditions, especially in the second half of last year, which added 129 kilograms of grain to each hectare.

As a result, per-unit grain production grew by 3 per cent from 2001, indicated the NBS figures.

The acreage shrinkage was due partly to the country's efforts to cut farmland for inferior grain strains and to return reclaimed farmland to forest, Wang said.

The grain growth momentum may not be sustained in the new year, given that the chronically low grain price has dampened farmers' enthusiasm to expand production, and many have instead turned to growing cash crops, said Wang.

In 2000, China's grain production plunged by 9 per cent from the 1999 level, after recording bumper harvests for five years in a row, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.

Then, compared with 2000, the country's grain output further downed by 1.9 per cent to slightly exceed 450 million tons in 2001, according to official statistics.

But the decrease should cause no fears of food shortage thanks to the country's huge amount of grain stockpiles. Supply has outstripped demand for years.

In addition, China has greatly improved its grain production capacity, which enables it to be self-sufficient in food, according to Minister of Agriculture Du Qinglin.

Hong Tao, a grain professor at the Beijing Industry and Commerce University, said China used to set 490 million tons of annual grain output as a warning line for food security.

By taking into account the supply-demand relations and the experience of past years, the warning line should be revised to 450 million tons, Hong said.

Asked if the grain output growth last year will contribute to the increase of farmers' income, Wang said farmers earn more from non-agricultural sectors than from selling grain.

(China Daily January 3, 2003)

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