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Grain Consumption to Outpace Output
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China's annual grain production is expected to hit a new high of 520 million tons in five years but rising consumption will still leave a shortfall, a top government think-tank said yesterday.

Consumption may surge to 550 million tons in 2010, when the population is projected to reach 1.345 billion.

In addition to soybeans, the country may need to import around 20 million tons of grain in 2010, the last year of its 11th Five-Year Plan, estimated Cheng Guoqiang, deputy chief of the State Council Development Research Center's (DRC) Market Economy Research Institute.

In China, the main foodgrains include rice, wheat, corn and soybean.

Stockpiles and imports will ensure that there will be no threat to food security in the short term, even though consumption has been outpacing production, said Han Jun, a division director of the DRC.

Agricultural officials and policy advisers have been analyzing data and making forecasts on supply and demand as the country's top legislators meet for their annual session early next month to discuss the country's new five-year plan.

The country's food supply will become a more pressing problem in the long run because of an irreversible increase in food demand as a result of population and income growth as well as accelerating urbanization, Han said.

The key to guaranteeing food security is to raise production by increasing productivity, he said.

Minister of Agriculture Du Qinglin said the country will strive to raise grain production capacity to 500 million tons annually during the 11th Five-year Plan period (2006-10), when per-unit yield will be improved.

Starting this year, China will activate a "grain production capacity enhancement program" which includes measures to render more policy support to the agricultural sector, protect farmland, stabilize crop acreage, and improve quality of arable land, the minister said.

The ministry will see to it that per-hectare harvest will top 4.88 tons between 2006 and 2010, compared with an average of 4.42 tons for the previous five years.

China's domestic grain needs are expected to increase by at least 2 million tons annually, pushing its total demand to up to 550 million tons in 2010, Han said, quoting the latest forecast by DRC's Department of Rural Economy.

In addition to per-unit yield, grain output is also contingent on crop acreage, which is unlikely to expand by a big margin in the years ahead, forecast Han and his colleagues Qin Zhongchun and Zhang Yunhua.

Accordingly, it might be difficult for the country's total grain output to surpass 520 million tons by 2010, they said.

Cheng of the DRC said that to ensure food security, the country must rely on its own production, while importing "appropriately."

"The food security of a populous country is more than just economics and trade," Cheng said. "A drop of 1 percentage point of China's grain output means extra imports of nearly 5 million tons or 2.5 percent of the world's total grain trade volume."

Li Xiaozhong, a farm trade expert with the Southern Yangtze University in east China's Zhejiang Province, yesterday said there is still a "large room" for the country to use the international market to ensure its food security.

(China Daily February 24, 2006)

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