A senior Chinese agricultural official shrugged off worries about China's grain production Monday, saying that China has maintained a "basic balance" between supply and demand for major agricultural products since the late 1990s.
Zhang Baowen, vice minister of agriculture, told the China Agricultural High-Tech Forum 2003 in Xi'an, capital of northwest China's Shaanxi Province, that "China's grain reserve is abundant and the grain market remains stable."
The Chinese people "have greatly improved their diet structure and received better nutrition" since 1998 when China's grain production reached its peak.
China's annual gross grain output was only 300 million tons in the 1980s and maintained a relatively stable level of about 500 million tons since 1996 when the grain output for the first time topped 500 million tons, according to Zhang's report on the issue.
However, the rising grain prices in the global market this year has sparked fears about China's grain production.
Some hold that the grain issue will remain a continuing challenge for the Chinese government to provide enough food for its 1.3 billion population, especially its 900 million peasants.
As one of the world's largest agricultural countries, China is now the major producer of grains, cotton, fruit, meat, eggs and aquatic products.
In 2002, China yielded 4.92 million tons of cotton, 65.87 million tons of meat, 45.66 million tons of aquatic products and 14 million tons of milk, according to the Ministry of Agriculture's statistics.
"China's agriculture is now undergoing strategic restructuring," Zhang said. "It is the central government's top priority to increase peasants' income and restructure the agricultural industry."
The proportion of farm production in China's agriculture has kept falling since 1998, dropping from 58 percent to the current 55.2 percent while animal husbandry and fishery has risen to 30.4 percent and 10.8 percent respectively, from 28.6 percent and 9.9 percent in 1998, Zhang said in the report.
Zhang acknowledged the shrink in area of cultivated land and rapid increase of population still pose a challenge to China's agricultural industry as the grain demand keeps soaring amid fast economic growth.
He said China would promote production capacity in its major grain production belts over the next five years and set up more grain production bases in the central regions like Hubei, Hunan and Henan provinces.
"Meanwhile, efforts to protect cultivated land must also be strengthened to stabilize and restore the grain production areas, "Zhang said, emphasizing the importance of bringing into full play the initiative of peasants to grow crops.
According to customs statistics, China's imports and exports of agricultural products reached some 28.82 billion US dollars in the first nine months of the year, a year-on-year increase of 35.2 percent.
(Xinhua News Agency November 6, 2003)