In China, a saying goes that after getting up in the morning you need seven things for your livelihood: firewood, rice, edible oil, salt, sauce, vinegar and tea. Rice, referring here to grain, is the most important necessity for life. Without it people cannot survive. But the past half year has witnessed an escalation in grain prices, which triggered a price hike in edible oil, vegetables, meat and other farm produces. This led to the price of grain dominating conversations around dinner tables and boardrooms.
About 10 years ago, an American expert wrote an article on the arduous task of solving the food problem for China’s huge population. This article set off a stream of debates on grain security.
Between the 1960s and 1970s, when China was an out-and-out agricultural country, Chairman Mao Zedong put forward the slogan of “taking grain production as priority.” Since China’s introduction of the reform and opening-up policy at the end of the 1970s, the country has seen swift development of secondary and tertiary industries. Mao’s slogan was replaced by “developing the agricultural sector for stability and developing industry for wealth.” Under this situation, the enthusiasm of Chinese farmers for growing grain tapered off, and many turned to other ways of making a living with quicker financial returns than farming. As a result, since 1999, China’s grain output has dropped consistently, with a total reduction of 60 million tons. Furthermore, economic development has increased grain demand. This led to the demand for grain outweighing supply. A solution to this problem is to import grain from other countries, which, of course, benefits grain exporters like the United States and Canada. But the Chinese people should be clearly aware that solving the problem of food for 1.3 billion people is their own responsibility, no matter how cheap grain is on the world market.
China solved its food problem years ago, but of late, shrinking farmland, particularly the grain-sowing land, caused by the requisition of farmland for industrial development, plus the plan to return 5.8 million hectares of farmland to forests and grassland in west China within 10 years, has affected the grain growing process. In addition, the already huge population is still increasing year on year, which adds to the demand of grain. Still, China’s agricultural sector is plagued by the high cost of production and weak resistance against natural disasters, such as drought, flood and insects. In many regions, grain production is still heavily dependent on the weather.
In short, China’s grain security is a big issue, which should not be neglected. The more the economy develops and the more the market is opened, the more attention should be given to this issue.
(Beijing Review October 16, 2004)