Chinese Minister of Agriculture Du Qinglin said Monday that China has set the overall grain output for 2004 at 455 million tons with the acreage for grain crops not less than 100 million hectares.
The target indicates China's renewed stress on food security following years of decrease in grain output due to little profitability of grain production. China's grain output dipped from a record high of 512 million tons in 1998 to 435 million tons in 2003.
Addressing a national telecast meeting on grain production for this year, the minister called for efforts to raise both grain output and farmers' economic returns on grain production by increasing the acreage for grain crops, using more techniques and improved varieties of grain, and improving farming infrastructure.
The minister said the total acreage for grain crops is expected to grow by 1.6 million hectares in 2004 over the previous year.
Abrupt grain price hikes caused by a rumored grain shortage in late 2003 prompted the Chinese government to improve the country's food production capacity as well as food security.
Ma Xiaohe, director of the Institute of Industrial Development under the State Development and Reform Commission, said it is the highest priority to reserve grain production capacity.
In order to accomplish that, efforts must be made to reserve enough arable cropland to curb the depletion of farmland by industrial development projects, increase investment in projects to improve farmland productivity, and boost farmers' enthusiasm for grain production.
China's arable cropland has shrunk by 667,000 hectares each year on average over the past seven years, partly due to local governments requisitioning croplands to cash in on a nationwide real estate and development boom.
The Ministry of Land and Resources disclosed that some 168,000 cases of illegal land requisition were reported in 2003.
Although China, which has to feed one-fifth of the world's population on seven percent of the world's arable land, will not encounter any food security problems in the next two or three years, it nevertheless has hidden risks, as rapid economic growth eats away at arable land, said Ma.
China's agricultural infrastructure facilities have become outdated and of inferior quality. Nowadays, two-thirds of the country's irrigation facilities are badly run.
The Chinese government has pledged to boost its investment in updating agricultural infrastructure and research into agricultural technologies.
The government will also strive to reduce or cancel agricultural taxes, in an effort to further encourage farmers to plant cereal crops.
(Xinhua News Agency January 13, 2004)