China's grain output slightly exceeded 450 million tons in 2001, down 1.9 per cent from the previous year's, Minister of Agriculture Du Qinglin said yesterday in Beijing.
Grain production of 2000 had already plunged by 9 per cent from the 1999 level, according to ministry statistics.
The country has greatly improved its grain production capacity. It has the need but also has the ability to rely on itself to ensure an adequate food supply, he said.
"In average years, China usually maintains its grain production at around 500 million tons," Du said.
But last year, partly due to severe droughts and shrinking acreage, the harvest was down to something more than 450 million tons of grain, he told a press conference.
"Every 1 percentage point drop in grain output in China will result in an increase of 5 million tons in grain imports," Du said.
Such large import volumes will certainly lead to a price surge in the world grain market, he claimed.
The situation would influence the economic welfare of more than 30 developing countries, according to the minister.
The influx of foreign agricultural products, following the country's entry to the World Trade Organization (WTO), will have "some impacts" on domestic farm produce, especially the major products that are land intensive, Du said, without specifying them.
Chen Xiwen, deputy director of the State Council Development and Research Centre, said any increase in grain imports will pose some threat to the domestic market, where grain supply still outstrips demand.
Earlier last month, Minister Du said China will fight an uphill battle this year to reinforce its agriculture industry, in a bid to sharpen the sector's global competitive edge and improve farmers' income.
Yesterday he said his ministry will augment support and protection of agriculture under the framework of the WTO, so as to create favourable conditions to facilitate the sector's expansion and growth of farmers' income.
One of the massive efforts is to cut the growing area for inferior strains and reserve farmland for quality crops. By last year, more than half of China's paddy fields - 16.66 million hectares - were devoted to high-grade rice varieties, he said.
The minister also said Chinese farmers' per capita net income grew more than 4 per cent in 2001, thus reversing the weakening trend in income growth for four years in a row.
He attributed the increase to higher prices for major farm products, development of animal husbandry and increased income gained by farmers through working in non-agricultural sectors.
(China Daily February 5, 2002)