Deputies to the ongoing fourth session of the Ninth National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing have taken note of the use of the new term "grain security" in place of grain output in the draft outline of the 10th five-year plan under review.
This is the first time for China to use the term in any official document.
Talking about grain security, NPC deputies could not but mention the sharp drop in grian output last year following five successive good harvests.
But Chen Jiyuan, former head of the Institute of Rural Economic Development of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, came out with quite a different interpretation. "What China worries most is in no way the crisis of aggregate grain output," he said. "It is the difficulty in increasing the farmers' income due to grain price drops that China is really worrying about."
"This situation has made the target of grain production quite irrelevant," said Chen. "By grain security, it means, first of all, to ensure the aggregate agricultural production. But another important connotation of the term is to balance supply and demand through import and export and the handling of inventories, and the adjustment of crop distribution and ensure the low-income group to have enough to eat."
NPC deputy Lin Can, a long-time agricultural expert, said that the new approach represents a renewal of the traditional concept about agriculture and grain production. It shows that the Chinese government is attempting to build a cost-effective and low-risk grain insurance system to replace the traditional way of regulating demand and supply by using grain reserves. Associated with the system will be the protection of cultivated land, increase in input in agroscience, strategic adjustments of agricultural structure and the employment of import and export in regulating supply and demand.
Experts' prediction shows that China's population will reach its peak of 1.6 billion by 2030, while the area of farmland and available water resources will decrease by about a quarter. This will bring greater pressure to bear upon the agricultural sector, which will have to ensure that each person in China has 400 kilograms of grain every year on average. What is more serious is that the excessive grain supply in recent years has hurt the farmers and that might lead to less grain production and the use of farmland and water for other purposes.
"We are not demand much increase in grain production. Rather, we cannot bear to see the grain production capacity damaged or reduced and the very survival of future generations threatened," Chen said.
The latest information from the Ministry of Land and Resources shows that China will adopt the toughest measures in the world to protect the cultivated land to make sure that the total cultivated land in the next five years would remain at no less than 128 million hectares.
To check the current structure-induced grain oversupply, Vice- Minister of Agriculture Liu Chengguo, said coastal regions and suburbs of major cities should focus on the production of high value-added cash crops and export-oriented operations; the middle part of the country should put emphasis on the production of quality and specialty grains and feed; and the western part of the country should restore farmland reclaimed from forests or grassland and develop ecological agriculture.
NPC deputies agreed that with China's expected accession to the World Trade Organization, the development potential to be tapped merely by relying on encouragement policies is becoming daily limited. Instead, the government should give more attention to technologies that can reduce cost and enhance quality of farm produce and technologies for secondary processing of farm produce to increase their added value and make them more competitive on the international market, the deputies said.
The Ministry of Science and Technology has pledged to increase input in agricultural technology and take measures to encourage businesses and venture capitals to invest in agriculture-related research and development.
China also plans to realize low-cost grain security by manipulating imports and exports. This is no doubt a good news for the world's major grain exporters.
(People’s Daily 03/12/2001)